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The Blue Flower: A Novel Paperback – Illustrated, October 14, 2014
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The Blue Flower is set in the age of Goethe, in the small towns and great universities of late eighteenth-century Germany. It tells the true story of Friedrich von Hardenberg, a passionate, impetuous student of philosophy who will later gain fame as the Romantic poet Novalis. Fritz seeks his father’s permission to wed his “heart's heart,” his “spirit's guide”—a plain, simple child named Sophie von Kühn. It is an attachment that shocks his family and friends. Their brilliant young Fritz, betrothed to a twelve-year-old dullard? How can this be?
The irrationality of love, the transfiguration of the commonplace, the clarity of purpose that comes with knowing one’s own fate—these are the themes of this beguiling novel, themes treated with a mix of wit, grace, and mischievous humor unique to the art of Penelope Fitzgerald.
“An extraordinary imagining . . . an original masterpiece.” —Hermione Lee, Financial Times
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From the Back Cover
The Blue Flower is set in the age of Goethe, in the small towns and great universities of late eighteenth-century Germany. It tells the true story of Friedrich von Hardenberg, a passionate, impetuous student of philosophy who will later gain fame as the Romantic poet Novalis. Fritz seeks his father s permission to wed his heart's heart, his spirit's guide a plain, simple child named Sophie von Kuhn. It is an attachment that shocks his family and friends. Their brilliant young Fritz, betrothed to a twelve-year-old dullard? How can this be?
The irrationality of love, the transfiguration of the commonplace, the clarity of purpose that comes with knowing one s own fate these are the themes of this beguiling novel, themes treated with a mix of wit, grace, and mischievous humor unique to the art of Penelope Fitzgerald.
An extraordinary imagining . . . an original masterpiece. Hermione Lee, Financial Times
PENELOPE FITZGERALD (1916 2000) was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction for The Blue Flower, the Booker Prize for Offshore, and three of her novels The Bookshop, The Gate of Angels, and The Beginning of Spring were short-listed for the Booker Prize.
About the Author
- ASIN : 0544359453
- Publisher : Mariner Books; Illustrated edition (October 14, 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780544359451
- ISBN-13 : 978-0544359451
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.83 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #134,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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For a historical novel, The Blue Flower is vanishingly slim. It has 55 brief chapters--essentially vignettes of a few pages each--concluding with an incredibly spare and moving afterword. The German I found off-putting at first, but it’s mostly people’s names, nicknames, and place names and adds a lovely antique shade to the prose. (If audio is your speed and German is not, I definitely recommend the audiobook read by Derek Perkins—he gives marvelous voice to the ensemble cast and dispatches the German with utmost fluency!)
So what is The Blue Flower? Better to start with what it’s not: it isn't, first of all, anything like an 18th-century Lolita story, although it’s hard not to make that link. Surely Fitzgerald wrote with this knowledge, although we don’t see her dropping any hints to that effect: the story feels deeply rooted in its time period. While the poet and philosopher Fritz von Hardenberg is attracted to young Sophie von Kuhn's looks, the way he describes her to others and speaks to her directly makes it clear that he’s primarily attracted to his self-created idea of the girl.
Fritz calls Sophie “my heart’s heart.” For me, the “heart’s heart” of The Blue Flower lies in how it imagines the lives of two very different families, and in the questions its asks about the fragility of childhood and youth. Childhood and young adulthood in The Blue Flower look all the more fleeting and strange given how uncertain it was at that time for a person to survive to any great age.
Social expectations for young women and girls also weave into the novel's reflections on youth: Fritz’s family and friends are startled and even shocked at his attachment to a twelve-year old girl, but since she is expected to marry at sixteen, how much (or how little) time has she left for childish things anyway? Does she become genuinely attached to him, and if so, in what ways? In the case of Fritz’s close friend Karoline Just, what happens if you are only in your twenties, yet feel that life has passed you by?
But I don’t mean to make the book sound like a puzzle to be labored over. While some have experienced this as a dry or demanding read, or felt that Fitzgerald is overly harsh to her characters, the families’ emotions struck me as powerful and deeply felt. I think I will continue living with this book, again and again.
BTW, the question about pace offers no really relevant answers. The book appears to move very slowly--and then slam! bang! I should add that, although I knew in advance the THE BLUE FLOWER is based on the early life of the famous poet known as Novalis, I completely forgot that as I read the book--which I regard as a compliment to the book's intrinsic interest.
Top reviews from other countries
‘The Blue Flower’ is a short novel, 223 pages. The chapters are concise [mostly only two or three pages each] and this encouraged me to ‘just read another’ and so, gradually, almost without realizing, I fell into the story. Fitzgerald recreates this particular time in German history with a delicacy that, despite the language and sometimes confusing names, makes the people become real.
It is 1794 and Fritz, an idealistic and passionate student of philosophy and writer of poems, stays with some family friends and meets their youngest daughter, Sophie von Kühn. Love is instant for Fritz and, despite a little bemusement on the part of Sophie, and astonishment by his siblings and friends, he proves himself constant.
It is the sort of novel that, when you are reading it you ‘get’ it but afterwards, when trying to describe it to someone else, you struggle to grasp it. I still do not really understand the meaning of the blue flower. But although the deeper meaning may elude me, there are passages I love. Particularly the opening chapter when a guest arrives at the Hardenberg house in Kloster Gasse; it is washday, the annual occasion for washing personal and household linen, and his arrival effects an introduction to the household. This starts a juxtaposition which runs throughout the novel, of the ordinary everyday mundanity of life alongside Fritz’s poetic sensibilities. He calls twelve-year old Sophie his Philosophy, his guardian spirit. Knowing he must wait for her, he trains as an official in the salt mines and Fitzgerald treats us to some of the practicalities and science of this industry.
This is not a lazy read. Be prepared to invest something into it yourself. Fitzgerald does not put it all onto the page, she expects the reader to think, to research, to work it out, as she did when writing. If each book is the visible bit of an iceberg above the waterline, with the research submerged, ‘The Blue Flower’ is the snowball on top of the iceberg.
To be honest probably the more you know of Novalis the greater will be your appreciation of this novel, as otherwise you will probably not realise the importance of certain aspects here. We are thus shown the young man as he is growing up, his teaching and his own thoughts, and of course the love he had for Sophie, a girl he met when she was only twelve, and he was older. By all accounts the real life Sophie was no beauty, or as bright as her wannabe lover, but they did have an understanding of each other, and in some ways not only as a muse for Hardenberg, she was a perfect foil for him, and he did mourn her for the rest of his short life. Taking us through these years so we read of the beginning of the work known as The Blue Flower, which was never finished but became not only a symbol of the German Romantic movement, but also its emblem.
This is one of those tales that leaves perhaps too many things out for a lot of people to enjoy, mainly I suppose as the author did not want to lecture readers and bore them with things that may seem patronising, as I suppose as many would expect if you are going to read this book then you obviously already know about the main character and his history. Ultimately this is a tragic tale because of the death of the young Sophie, and after the story finishes you can clearly see in the afterword so many others, including Novalis himself, from tuberculosis, which has been making a bit more of a comeback in recent decades due to a few reasons, one of course being the anti-vaccination movement.
I may as well add that the same applies to the other historical novels that she wrote at the end of her career, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels. They form a trilogy of masterpieces
The book is written in a slightly curious style in order to give the flavour of the German background but this is valid and helps to set the scene though some might find it mildly irritating. Fitzgerald never states the obvious, leaving the reader to do some of the work which makes it rather more interesting - this is a really good book for a book club to discuss. In this particular edition, there is an introduction that I would suggest reading after you read the book, rather than before, as it is erudite and rather wordy.