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The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Blue Flower (original 1995; edition 1997)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

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1,418355,332 (3.59)172
Title:The Blue Flower
Authors:Penelope Fitzgerald
Info:Mariner Books (1997), Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library, Books Marly has read
Tags:Fiction, Booker Prize, English Literature, England

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The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (1995)


Checked out 2016-09-01 — Due 2016-10-25 — Overdue



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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
The thing about Heinrich von Ofterdingen that probably grates most on a modern reader is the way it treats the poet's Great Love. Poor Mathilde only has about three lines in the whole book (when she blushingly agrees to teach him the guitar, marry him, etc.). The irony here is that this probably reflects very closely Novalis's own Great Tragic Love, for the unfortunate teenager Sophie von Kühn. He met her during a visit to her family when she was 12 and he in his early twenties, they became engaged on her thirteenth birthday, and she died a couple of years later, before they could marry. Penelope Fitzgerald takes this incident as the hook for her historical novel about Novalis, The Blue Flower. Significantly, we never see him as anything other than a charming but rather selfish young man who is training to be a mining official, whilst Sophie is just a dim and slightly puzzled little girl. Fitzgerald puts the focus on the busy social life around them: their various siblings (as usual Fitzgerald handles the eccentric child-characters brilliantly), the frustrated intelligent young women who are rather hoping that Friedrich might notice them, their parents, teachers and doctors.

The book has its irritating aspects - for instance, I didn't like the slightly clumsy Germanisms she puts in to disguise the fact that we're reading the book in English ("the Bernhard"), but on the whole it's an amusing, moderately thought-provoking palate-cleanser when you've been exposed to the worst aspects of Romanticism. And it's not quite a satire: there's a strong element of explaining where the Romantics were coming from, trying to give us a feel for what it might have been like to live in a time when science had made all questions ask able but - at least for practical everyday purposes like healthcare - hadn't yet answered very many of them. ( )
3 vote thorold | May 7, 2016 |
I picked up this book because it had a pretty cover. I noticed it had a blurb on the front from A.S. Byatt, whom I rather like, and it also noted that the author, Fitzgerald, was a winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. So I looked at the back cover, and saw that it was a historical novel about the early life of the German Romantic poet Novalis - which was quite a coincidence, since I'd just that month been reading about Novalis and looking at some of his poetry online. So I grabbed it!

However, at first I couldn't get into the book, and as I read through it, it began to actively annoy me.
Fitzgerald obviously did a lot of research for the book, reading Novalis' letters, writings, documents from the time period... (late 18th-century).
Unfortunately, rather than working these period details subtly into the narrative, she just bluntly inserts random facts into the text, even when they don't really serve a purpose in the story. It's distracting, and struck me as poor writing technique.
Her personal, 20th-century opinion on everything also shines through - and it's not a positive opinion. In my opinion, the 'job' of historical fiction is to take the reader into the time and place described, and to make the reader see things from the characters' point of view. Instead, we find out that Penelope Fitzgerald thinks that people in 18th-century Germany ate disgusting cuisine, were unhygenic, penurious - and for some reason she seems to think they were always freezing cold, even though Germany has a mild climate and particularly nice summers. I'm sorry, but if the characters would think that a pig's nostril was a delicacy, I want to FEEL that it's a delicacy while I'm reading the book. I don't care if the author personally thinks it's gross. By the end of the book, I wondered why she even chose to write about these people, since her opinion of not only their culture and lifestyle - but of them personally - was so low.

Fritz (Novalis) is portrayed as faintly ridiculous and a cad, and his love interest, the young Sophie, as air-headed and ugly. Both of their families come across as caricatures - one of the ridiculously strict and religious variety, and one of the jolly yet greedy and grasping type... I can certainly appreciate books where the characters are all unlikable - but I didn't get the impression that these people really were, historically, that bad - just that Fitzgerald personally regards them with a kind of snide contempt. There's no one in the novel that the reader gets to even really, feel that you know, due to the distancing style of the writing. Fitzgerald uses an odd style of referring to people using an article: "The Bernhard," "The Mandelsloh." Even if this was a custom at the time (I don't know if it was - it's not a modern German usage), such a construction should be saved for dialogue, not when the author is talking about her characters.

I couldn't believe the multiple pages of rave reviews printed inside the front of the book - I really didn't think it was impressive in any way. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This book didn't really do anything for me one way or the other. When I finished reading I wasn't sure of a lot of things. I wasn't sure if I liked what I read and I wasn't really sure I remembered what I read either. I picked this book because it was longlisted for the Orange Prize (Now Women's Prize for Fiction) and I assumed that meant it would be an enjoyable read or have some aspect to it that would capture me somehow. I didn't dislike my time with this book, but I certainly didn't find it entertaining, nor did I see what the fuss was about. I feel somewhat pressured by the four and five star reviews I have seen to go back, read this again and try and work out where the book and I went so wrong before, but I can't really make myself think about doing that right now. Maybe in a few years I'll give it another go. For now I will just admit that other readers found something in this book that I didn't have a clue even existed. I can't find the greatness, but I won't say it's bad either. ( )
1 vote mirrani | Jan 5, 2016 |
a really hypnotically brilliant love story ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
a really hypnotically brilliant love story ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Penelope Fitzgerald's writing is rife with odd, almost impossible contradictions: She is a minimalist who celebrates an abundance of details, a miniaturist who can unravel the mysteries of human character with five words of dialogue. In the closely observed realm of her slim, 1995 novel titled The Blue Flower, readers are plunged so suddenly, intimately and irrevocably into the physical and intellectual world of 18th-century Germany – which produced, among others, Goethe and Hegel – the 21st century becomes merely a faintly remembered acquaintance.....Sensual feast that it is, however, this book brings the reader back again and again to the growing, transmogrifying child – the blue flower – at its heart....

Penelope Fitzgerald uses fiction to examine an 18th-century German poet and his doomed love for a 12-year-old ...It is hard to know where to begin to praise the book. First off, I can think of no better introduction to the Romantic era: its intellectual exaltation, its political ferment, its brilliant amateur self-scrutiny, its propensity for intense friendships and sibling relationships, its uncertain morals, its rumors and reputations and meetings, its innocence and its refusal of limits. Also, ''The Blue Flower'' is a wholly convincing account of that very difficult subject, genius.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fitzgerald, Penelopeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
D'Amico, MasolinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dehn, EdmundNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krüger, ChristaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peters, DonadaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history.'
F. von Hardenberg, later Novalis, Fragments und Studien, 1799 - 1800
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Jacob Dietmahler was not such a fool that he could not see that they had arrived at his friend's house on the washday.
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Book description
This historical novel based on 18th century Germany that tells of Novalis, a poet, and his inspiration, a teenage girl named Sophie.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0395859972, Paperback)

Penelope Fitzgerald wrote her first novel 20 years ago, at the age of 59. Since then, she's written eight more, 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 destined 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 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 quality of genius becomes most tangible. Even his unlikely love affair with young Sophie von Kühn makes perfect sense as Penelope Fitzgerald imagines it.

The Blue Flower is a magical book--funny, sad, and deeply moving. In Fritz Fitzgerald has discovered a perfect character through whom to explore the meaning of love, poetry, life, and loss. In The Blue Flower readers will find a work of fine prose, fierce intelligence, and perceptive characterization.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:44 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Set in Germany at the end of the 18th century, this book tells the story of the brilliant young Fritz von Hardenberg, later to become the great romantic philosopher & poet. He announces his engagement to a 12 year old girl, to his family's consternation.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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