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The Blue Flower

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Penelope Fitzgerald wrote her first novel 20 years ago at the age of 59 Since then she's written eight three of which have been short listed for England's prestigious Booker Prize and one of which Offshore won Now she's back with her tenth and best book so far The Blue Flower This is the story of Friedrich von Hardenberg Fritz to his intimates a young man of the late 18th century who is de Oh dear Awful Just awful Even so given how much I adored my first Penelope Fitzgerald last summer Offshore see my review HERE and that AS Byatt called this a masterpiece I'm baffledThe prose is plodding even though it's portraying a poet short banal sentence after short banal sentence I found the characters setting and plot hard to imagine care about or believe in even though it's based on real life I forced myself to finish it thinking there must be something worthwhile to come I failed to find it I was just bored And irritatedTrue StoryThis is a fictionalised account but it seems to be fairly close to the facts and some of the diary entries uoted here are genuine historical documentsIt's set in a noble pious Protestant family in Germany in the late 1700s It concerns Fritz who later became a famous romantic and philosophical poet known as Novalis This book covers the slightly earlier period around the time he succumbed to a coup de foudre over twelve year old Sophie Given the period it's all very chaste; nothing like Lolita see my review HERE which is a far disturbing book but is beautifully written and hence powerful and compelling So no nothing like thisPlotFritz attends university in several towns studying a variety of subjects and dabbling in philosophy He meets various people Afterwards he trains to be a salt mine inspector like his father He meets people including Sophie's family He is welcomed and spends a lot of time there It's another large family but utterly different from his own Goethe makes an appearance and gives his opinion on the relationshipThe French Revolution is going on in the background Some are slightly fearful; others vaguely support itThe brief afterword made me laugh it was like a satirical summary of a typical operatic plot Even less appropriately it reminded me of a scene in comedy sci fi show Red Dwarf view spoilerHolly to Lister They're all dead Everybody's dead Dave hide spoiler


Eccentric father and high strung mother; his loving sister Sidonie; and brothers Erasmus Karl and the preternaturally intelligent baby of the family referred to always as the Bernhard are limned in deft sure strokes and it is in his interactions with them that the ephemeral uality of genius becomes most tangible Even his unlikely love affair with young Sophie von Kühn makes perfect sense The Blue Flower is another of the books my dear old dad got me at Christmas and like the other one I read What a Life by JB Priestley it is a stone cold turkey I’m not sure what my pa asked for when he went into the bookstore but I’m pretty sure it was “I want to bore my son like he’s never been bored before what books do you suggest”The novel looks at the short life of Novalis an obscure late 18th century German Romantic philosopherpoet and his relationship with his 14 year old betrothed Sophie On the edge of your seat yet But wait there’s Novalis is also administrator of a salt mine and then Sophia dies at 15 of a brain tumour or something Novalis dies shortly after aged 28 Yeah that sounds like something I’d be interested in grumble Don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this guy or wanting to read about this era but whatever thanks dad I’m really not sure what Penelope Fitzgerald was going for in this book Novalis and Sophie’s story isn’t very exciting and I’m not sure what writing about it was meant to elicit in me I suppose it’s a bit scandalous today that a twentysomething was interested in a child for his bride but it was acceptable back in the 18th century Why was he so obsessed with Sophie was he just a pedo albeit mentally he never actually sleeps with her No clueI also didn’t really understand much about Novalis’ work or its relevance to Western culture He kept calling Sophie his “philosophy” but I never really got what that meant or what his work and art was about Then again I was nodding off every other paragraph This 282 page book took nearly a month for me to get through because it’s so easy to put down the pacing is so slow and plodding It’s also annoying that the book has a lot of untranslated German which I don’t speak and the characters and places have long German names and titles A common sentence went along these lines“Johanturmhiem went to Turineingemain for the Polaintenurgin Werntingethenineign was talking to Desingtineoiengiengn about the Kolieingeinteininininin’s Tuinhugjnguun at which the Versingintineugh was very much Gerugugunaeughuhunniinginging” Say whaaaaaaaat A lot of the characters were very flat I got a rough idea of who Sophie and Novalis were but everyone else was a blank and everyone speaks in the same voice I suppose it was mildly interesting in comparison to the rest of the novel towards the end when Sophia was dying or maybe that was just my excitement at nearing the end of this dreary muck This novel is like someone mildly dramatised a Wikipedia entry on Novalis Read The Blue Flower if you want to feel the mental anguish young Sophie was going through Gah there are 8 books on the Christmas pile Oh no is that Proust Goes looking for noose

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Stined to become one of Germany's great romantic poets In just over 200 pages Fitzgerald creates a complete world of family friends and lovers but also an exhilarating evocation of the romantic era in all its political turmoil intellectual voracity and moral ambiguity A profound exploration of genius The Blue Flower is also a charming wry and witty look at domestic life Fritz's family his I feel The Blue Flower similar to the ‘historical’ half of Ali Smith’s How to Be Both isn’t and wasn’t intended to be so called historical fiction Both writers use the frame of the life of a real person to hang their themes on; though the characterization usually through thought is vivid Plot is not foremost though the details of The Blue Flower are accurate as far as I can tell; the research had to be extensive and is worn lightly Due to its style I felt a distance which may be intentional The style is different from The Bookshop the only other Fitzgerald novel I've read so far except in that her humor is terse and easily missed as is her deflection Each short chapter ends with a line or thought that propelled me to read on yet at times I had no trouble putting the book down near the start of a consecutive chapter The book’s opening is memorable with a visitor’s view of the family on clothes washing day and then the rescuing of a brother by the main character Fritz on a day beyond the novel's scope he will be known as the poet Novalis We are then thrust back in time after just a few short chapters By the time the book gets back to the ‘beginning’ I’d assumed we were done with that timeplace and with the visitor and I’d been wondering what its and his point were I wish we’d gotten back sooner when we do it’s a bit awkward and confusingThe two mothers are fertile yet inert A niece and older sisters are the caretakers The men hang their own interpretations on the framework of the women The women mostly keep their thoughts to themselves When one speaks up she asks a uestion Do you know my sister She does not say this to Fritz though it would apply to him as well The uestion is unanswered but the reader knows Fritz’s story of the blue flower is read twice by him to two different females and then repeated in part and with slight differences a third time as a brother’s reimagining The story of the blue flower now seems to belong and easily to someone else The dreamer does not know what his dream means and sadly is disappointed when another doesn’t know either He silently judges that lack in one but excuses the same in another Once again the woman is burdened with the man’s expectation and I started to believe that this is Fitzgerald’s main themeThe dialogue between the brothers and their sister Sidonie probably my favorite character is delightful I have a soft spot for that kind of thing as it reminds me of my own siblings I’ve seen such varying opinions of this book and I feel so ambivalent toward it I’m forced to believe it’s one of those that you get out of it what you already have

  • Paperback
  • 226
  • The Blue Flower
  • Penelope Fitzgerald
  • English
  • 07 April 2019
  • 9780395859971