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The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Blue Flower (original 1995; edition 1997)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

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1,553397,234 (3.58)192
Title:The Blue Flower
Authors:Penelope Fitzgerald
Info:Mariner Books (1997), Edition: 1st U.S. Ed, Paperback, 240 pages
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The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (1995)



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Set in the late 1700s in Germany, The Blue Flower is a fictional account of the life of Fritz von Hardenberg, who would later become known as the romantic poet and philosopher Novalis. Born into a noble, pious family, young Fritz's future has already been mapped out for him; he will follow in his father's footsteps in the Salt Mines Directorate. Yet as he studies, Fritz's predisposition for thought and romanticism leads to him becoming utterly entranced with the 12 year old Sophie whom he believes to be his muse.

The Blue Flower was a lot more 'readable' than I'd expected. Whilst Fitzgerald plays with Fritz's elevated thinking (which touches on humorous madness at times), there was so much more to this novel than simply being an account of the early life of this renowned man of literature and philosophy. With well researched historical detail, we are swept back to the times of eighteenth century nobility in Germany, as von Hardenberg breaks all the expected rules of his position and intellect in his pursuit of this vacuous child from a lower class family.

4 stars - first class historical fiction that swept me away with it. ( )
  AlisonY | Feb 3, 2019 |
Eh. I think I am not good enough at this type of fiction to get it. ( )
  jeninmotion | Sep 24, 2018 |
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.
  Cultural_Attache | Jul 21, 2018 |
If ever there is a book to persevere with, to have patience with, and to go back and re-read again, it is ‘The Blue Flower’ by Penelope Fitzgerald. When I bought it, I didn’t realize it was the last novel by the Booker prize winner; published five years before her death in 2000 aged 83. For someone about to read it, it can seem a trifle intimidating. Set in 18th century Germany, Fitzgerald tells her imagining of the teenage story of real German poet and philosopher Fritz von Hardenberg, later called Novalis. He is a young man so self-contained, so absorbed in his thoughts, that I wondered where the drama would arise. But it does, because he falls in love.
‘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.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
2 vote Sandradan1 | Nov 18, 2017 |
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. ( )
4 vote thorold | May 7, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (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 (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fitzgerald, Penelopeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
D'Amico, MasolinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dehn, EdmundNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krüger, ChristaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McWilliam, CandiaIntroductionsecondary 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 3 descriptions

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