The Blue Flower: A Novel

Overview

“An astonishing book . . . Fitzgerald’s greatest triumph.” —New York Times Book Review

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...

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The Blue Flower

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Overview

“An astonishing book . . . Fitzgerald’s greatest triumph.” —New York Times Book Review

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the introduction to his translation of Novalis's Henry von Ofterdingen, Palmer Hilty described Sophie von Khn as "a callow, undistinguished girl of Thuringia." Not a terribly inspiring subject, unless the writer is Fitzgerald, the author of the 1979 Booker Prize winner Offshore and a shortlist perennial for the prize. Fitzgerald presents a brilliant, subtly ironic portrayal of Friedrich von Hardenberg (aka Novalis) as an anti-Pygmalion who takes an unformed, all-too-human girl and fires her into an image of chaste muse. After a strict Saxon upbringing and an education at Jena that revolved around Fichte's idealism, Hardenberg meets the 12-year-old Sophie and falls immediately in love. Sophie is neither particularly pretty nor smart (her diary entries run to "We began pickling the raspberries" or "Today no-one came and nothing happened"), but she is optimistic, innocent, malleable. Their three-year courtship parallels her losing battle with tuberculosis; when she dies at 15, she is petrified as the vulnerable, ethereal and pure muse. There's scads of research here, into daily life in Enlightenment-era Saxony, German reactions to the French Revolution and Napoleon, early 19th-century German philosophy (by page two, a fellow Fichte devotee announces, "there is no such concept as a thing in itself!"). But history aside, this is a smart novel. Fitzgerald is alternately witty and poignant, especially in her portrayal of the intelligent, capable women who are too often taken for granted by the oblivious poets. Fitzgerald has created an alternately biting and touching exploration of the nature of Romanticismcapital "R" and small. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Fitzgerald never repeats herself, and her latest novel, named Book of the Year by 19 British newspapers in 1995, is her most original book yet. Here she reconstructs the life of 18th-century German romantic poet Novalis, focusing on his boisterous family, his struggle to articulate his longings, and, most tellingly, his passion for 12-year-old Sophie, a simple child he intends to marry despite the furious reservations of family and friends. Fitzgerald doesn't make it entirely clear what draws Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis's real name) to little Sophie-but that is precisely the point. Throughout, he is carried aloft by an inchoate desire for something beyond that is summed up in his little story of the blue flower: "I have no craving to be rich, but I long to see the blue flower....I can imagine and think about nothing else." As a counterpoint to her protagonist's beautifully captured romanticism, Fitzgerald successfully evokes the sights, sound, and smells-and the constant sorrows-of domestic life in 18th-century Germany. A little treasure; highly recommended.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544359451
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/14/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 744,333

Meet the Author

Penelope Fitzgerald

Penelope Fitzgerald wrote many books small in size but enormous in popular and critical acclaim over the past two decades. Over 300,000 copies of her novels are in print, and profiles of her life appeared in both The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. In 1979, her novel OFFSHORE won Britain's Booker Prize, and in 1998 she won the National Book Critics Circle Prize for THE BLUE FLOWER. Though Fitzgerald embarked on her literary career when she was in her 60's, her career was praised as "the best argument.. for a publishing debut made late in life" (New York Times Book Review). She told the New York Times Magazine, "In all that time, I could have written books and I didn’t. I think you can write at any time of your life." Dinitia Smith, in her New York Times Obituary of May 3, 2000, quoted Penelope Fitzgerald from 1998 as saying, "I have remained true to my deepest convictions, I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities, which I have done my best to treat as comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?"

Biography

Although some of her novels were published previously in the U. S., Penelope Fitzgerald remained little known to a general American audience until 1997, when Houghton Mifflin's trade paperback imprint, Mariner, published The Blue Flower, which was chosen as an Editor's Choice by the New York Times Book Review, and won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award.

The then 81-year-old Fitzgerald was selected as winner of the NBCC Award over fellow nominees Don DeLillo, Philip Roth and Charles Frazier, winning her first American literary award. In her native England, Fitzgerald had long been a favorite of critics and writers. Her novel Offshore won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, and three of her novels -- The Bookshop, The Gate of Angels, and The Beginning of Spring -- were finalists for the Prize.

Fitzgerald began her writing career late in life. She was sixty years old in 1977 when her first novel, The Golden Child, was published, a book she wrote to entertain her husband, who was dying of cancer. Much of her previous sixty years' experience informs her writing, from her days as a lowly assistant at the BBC (Human Voices), to a stint living on a houseboat in the Thames (Offshore), to working at a bookstore in a seaside village (The Bookshop).

Fitzgerald was born into a distinguished intellectual and professional family, the daughter of E. V. Knox, who was editor of Punch, and the granddaughter on both sides of Anglican bishops (her father and three uncles are the subjects of her biography, The Knox Brothers). She won a scholarship to Oxford and graduated shortly before the Second World War.

With her husband, Desmond, she ran a small literary journal called the World Review, which reprinted pieces by such writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Dylan Thomas.

Author biography courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.

Good To Know

Dinitia Smith, in her New York Times obituary of May 3, 2000, quoted Penelope Fitzgerald from 1998 as saying, "I have remained true to my deepest convictions, I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities, which I have done my best to treat as comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?"

While studying on scholarship at Oxford, one of Fitzgerald's fellow students was J.R.R. Tolkien.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      December 17, 1916
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lincoln, England
    1. Date of Death:
      May 3, 2000
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      Somerville College, Oxford University, 1939

Table of Contents

1 Washday 1
2 The Study 5
3 The Bernhard 8
4 Bernhard's Red Cap 11
5 The History of Freiherr Heinrich von Hardenberg 16
6 Uncle Wilhelm 20
7 The Freiherr and the French Revolution 24
8 In Jena 28
9 An Incident in Student Life 32
10 A Question of Money 36
11 A Disagreement 39
12 The Sense of Immortality 43
13 The Just Family 47
14 Fritz at Tennstedt 51
15 Justen 55
16 The Jena Circle 58
17 What is the Meaning? 60
18 The Rockenthiens 64
19 A Quarter of an Hour 69
20 The Nature of Desire 73
21 Snow 76
22 Now Let Me Get to Know Her 79
23 I Can't Comprehend Her 86
24 The Brothers 89
25 Christmas at Weissenfels 92
26 The Mandelsloh 98
27 Erasmus Calls on Karoline Just 103
28 From Sophie's Diary, 1795 107
29 A Second Reading 109
30 Sophie's Likeness 115
31 I Could Not Paint Her 119
32 The Way Leads Inwards 125
33 At Jena 129
34 The Garden-House 132
35 Sophie is Cold Through and Through 135
36 Dr Hofrat Ebhard 137
37 What is Pain? 139
38 Karoline at Gruningen 142
39 The Quarrel 146
40 How to Run a Salt Mine 148
41 Sophie at Fourteen 154
42 The Freifrau in the Garden 159
43 The Engagement Party 166
44 The Intended 173
45 She Must Go to Jena 181
46 Visitors 183
47 How Professor Stark Managed 190
48 To Schloben 195
49 At the Rose 200
50 A Dream 205
51 Autumn 1796 208
52 Erasmus is of Service 211
53 A Visit to Magister Kegel 213
54 Algebra, Like Laudanum, Deadens Pain 216
55 Magister Kegel's Lesson 218
Afterword 225
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