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The Blue Flower

The Blue Flower

3.8 7
by Penelope Fitzgerald

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In eighteenth-century Germany, the impetuous student of philosophy who will later gain fame as the Romantic poet Novalis seeks his father's permission to wed his true philosophy -- a plain, simple child named Sophie. The attachment shocks his family and friends. This brilliant young man, betrothed to a twelve-year-old dullard! How can it be? A literary sensation


In eighteenth-century Germany, the impetuous student of philosophy who will later gain fame as the Romantic poet Novalis seeks his father's permission to wed his true philosophy -- a plain, simple child named Sophie. The attachment shocks his family and friends. This brilliant young man, betrothed to a twelve-year-old dullard! How can it be? A literary sensation and a bestseller in England and the United States, The Blue Flower was one of eleven books- and the only paperback- chosen as an Editor's Choice by the New York Times Book Review. The 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner in Fiction.

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"

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)

What People are Saying About This

A.S. Byatt
A masterpiece. How does she do it?

Meet the Author

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?"

Brief Biography

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

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Blue Flower 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is possibly my favorite book of all time. I fell in love with the words, the pictures it allowed my mind to imagine, the characters, their joys and misfortunes. It is simply beautiful, so romantic and inspiring. Whenever I glimpse at it, it reminds me that no matter what happens, life is nothing without love.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Flawlessly written
Guest More than 1 year ago
Discover the poet Novalis and the historical setting of the 1700's in Fitzgerald's THE BLUE FLOWER. Her writing, as always, is truly unique and fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this for what it was supposed to be, a glimpse into the life of a poet and his unexplainable love for a young girl he considers his muse, his Philosophy. However, I did not find myself rooted to the story in anyway, it seemed plodding and pointless at times, especially for such a short novel. And I didn't really find in reading a reason for the acclaim it's received.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Aelius More than 1 year ago
Cutting straight to the chase after reading the very polarized views of other reviewers: Although Penelope Fitzgerald's slender novel contains much to admire, it is most certainly not composed to be a popular entertainment, and its successes will appeal more to admirers of "literary fiction"--and, hence, to "critics"--than perhaps to the general reader. Fitzgerald presumes the reader knows something, and cares, about the late 18th Century context; she hopes we might be stimulated by imagining contemporaries of Fichte and Kant discussing their ideas; she presumes that, to us, "romanticism" is more than a word or a line from Shelly and that, by recovering, or compiling, everyday details from a time and world long lost, she can help us understand the romantic sensibility and, ultimately, Hardenberg's--and our--ambiguous longing for "the Blue Flower." I particularly enjoyed Fitzgerald's vignette approach--55 short chapters, each of which is a set piece, generally with a wry punchline--which allows Fitzgerald to view Friedrich von Hardenberg's improbable romance at odd angles. I for one marvel at this choice of subject, a decision by a professional author as seemingly improbable and hopelessly romantic as the subject itself. And yet, despite the author's absolute mastery of her material, her strong cast of winning characters, and the wonderful--although irretrievably high-brow--sense of humor suffusing the entire narrative, I never felt myself emotionally drawn in. One reads on because each page is delightful, and, for many readers (obviously, me included) this is sufficient. But on the basis of slender narrative evidence, we are expected to understand, rather than led toward empathy with, Hardenberg and his inconceivable attachment. Perhaps Fitzgerald's plan was, in writing the simplest of love stories, to avoid cluttering the universe with additional examples of cheap sentimentalism, leaving us with a "mystery of love." In different hands, the novel clearly might have become just that--dismissively sentimental. Instead, she goes the other way: Fitzgerald is a cool observer keenly attuned, in a very modern sense, to the ironies her story poses, but she never truly enages our hearts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really who cares about german poets except in germany?