Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever

by Deborah Moggach


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Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

A sensual tale of art, lust, and deception—now a major motion picture

In 1630s Amsterdam, tulipomania has seized the populace. Everywhere men are seduced by the fantastic exotic flower. But for wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort, it is his young and beautiful wife, Sophia, who stirs his soul. She is the prize he desires, the woman he hopes will bring him the joy that not even his considerable fortune can buy.

Cornelis yearns for an heir, but so far he and Sophia have failed to produce one. In a bid for immortality, he commissions a portrait of them both by the talented young painter Jan van Loos. But as Van Loos begins to capture Sophia's likeness on canvas, a slow passion begins to burn between the beautiful young wife and the talented artist.

As the portrait unfolds, so a slow dance is begun among the household’s inhabitants. Ambitions, desires, and dreams breed a grand deception—and as the lies multiply, events move toward a thrilling and tragic climax.

In this richly imagined international bestseller, Deborah Moggach has created the rarest of novels—a lush, lyrical work of fiction that is also compulsively readable. Seldom has a novel so vividly evoked a time, a place, and a passion.

Praise for Tulip Fever

“Sumptuous prose . . . reads like a thriller.”The New York Times Book Review
“An artful novel in every sense of the word . . . deftly evokes seventeenth-century Amsterdam’s vibrant atmosphere.”Los Angeles Times
“Need a brief escape into a beautiful and faraway world? Deborah Moggach’s wonderful Tulip Fever can offer you that.”New York Post
“Taut with suspense and unexpected revelations.”Entertainment Weekly
“Elegantly absorbing.”The Philadelphia Inquirer

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385334921
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/10/2001
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 152,717
Product dimensions: 5.01(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Deborah Moggach is the author of many successful novels, including The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Tulip Fever, and two collections of stories. Her screenplays include Pride and Prejudice, which was nominated for a BAFTA. She lives in North London.

Read an Excerpt


Trust not to appearances.
— Jacob Cats, Moral Emblems, 1632

We are eating dinner, my husband and I. A shred of leek is caught in his beard. I watch it move up and down as he chews; it is like an insect caught in the grass. I watch it idly, for I am a young woman and live simply, in the present. I have not yet died and been reborn. I have not yet died a second time — for in the eyes of the world this will be considered a second death. In my end is my beginning; the eel curls round and swallows its own tail. And in the beginning I am still alive, and young, though my husband is old. We lift our wine flutes and drink. Words are etched on my glass: Mankind's hopes are fragile glass and life is therefore also short, a scratched homily through the sinking liquid.

Cornelis tears off a piece of bread and dips it into his soup. He chews for a moment. "My dear, I have something to discuss." He wipes his lips with his napkin. "In this transitory life do we not all crave immortality?"

I freeze, knowing what is coming. I gaze at my roll, lying on the tablecloth. It has split, during baking, and parted like lips. For three years we have been married and I have not produced a child. This is not through lack of trying. My husband is still a vigorous man in this respect. At night he mounts me; he spreads my legs and I lie there like an upturned beetle pressed down by a shoe. With all his heart he longs for a son — an heir to skip across these marble floors and give a future to this large, echoing house on the Herengracht.

So far I have failed him. I submit to his embraces, of course, for I am a dutiful wife and shall always be grateful to him. The world is treacherous and he reclaimed me, as we reclaimed our country from the sea, draining her and ringing her with dykes to keep her safe, to keep her from going under. I love him for this.

And then he surprises me. "To this effect I have engaged the services of a painter. His name is Jan van Loos and he is one of the most promising artists in Amsterdam — still lifes, landscapes, but most especially portraiture. He comes on the recommendation of Hendrick Uylenburgh, who as you know is a discerning dealer? Rembrandt van Rijn, newly arrived from Leiden, is one of his proteges."

My husband lectures me like this. He tells me more than I want to know but tonight his words land noiselessly around me. Our portrait is going to be painted! "He is thirty-six, the same age as our brave new century." Cornelis drains his glass and pours another. He is drunk with the vision of ourselves, immortalized on canvas. Drinking beer sends him to sleep, but drinking wine makes him patriotic. "Ourselves, living in the greatest city, home to the greatest nation on the globe." It is only me sitting opposite him but he addresses a larger audience. Above his yellowed beard his cheeks are flushed. "For doesn't Vondel describe Amsterdam thus? What waters are not shadowed by her sails? On which mart does she not sell her wares? What peoples does she not see lit by the moon, she who herself sets the laws of the whole ocean?"

He does not expect an answer for I am just a young wife, with little life beyond these walls. Around my waist hang keys to nothing but our linen chests, for I have yet to unlock anything of more significance. In fact, I am wondering what clothes I shall wear for my portrait. That is the size of my world so far. Forget oceans and empires.

Maria brings in a plate of herrings and retreats, sniffing. Fog rolls in off the sea and she has been coughing all day. This hasn't dampened her spirits. I am sure she has a secret lover; she hums in the kitchen and sometimes I catch her standing in front of a mirror rearranging her hair under her cap. I shall find out. We are confidantes, or as much confidantes as our circumstances allow. Since I left my sisters she is the only one I have.

Next week the painter will arrive. My husband is a connoisseur of paintings; our house is filled with them. Behind him, on the wall, hangs a canvas of Susannah and the Elders. The old men peer at the naked girl as she bathes. By daylight I can see their greedy faces, but now, in the candlelight, they have retreated back into the shadows; all I can see is her plump, pale flesh above my husband's head. He lifts a fish onto his plate. He is a collector of beautiful things.

I see us as a painting. Cornelis, his white lace collar against black, his beard moving as he eats. The herring lying on my plate, its glistening, scored skin split open to reveal the flesh within; the parted lips of my roll. Grapes, plump and opaque in the candlelight; the pewter goblet glowing dully.

I see us there, sitting at our dining table, motionless — our own frozen moment before everything changes.

After dinner he reads to me from the Bible. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass..."

But I am already hanging on the wall, watching us.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever.

1. What is tulip fever?

2. Tulips, flowers, and petals play a far greater role in the story than as simply a trading commodity. How? Why?

3. "Turn the paintings round and enjoy their beauty, for they shall outlast us all," writes Cornelis in his final note. How is this ironic?

4. In the 1630s, Amsterdam society was very hierarchical. Why is it that the lower class characters triumph in their goals and happiness? Do they want something so different from what the upper class protagonists want?

5. Jan tells his apprentice that "all painting is deception," and yet when painting "Naked Woman on a Bed" he tells Sophia that, "this painting will not lie, it will tell the truth." Ultimately which is true? How are the paintings in the book truthful or deceptive?

6. A water motif runs throughout the book. What is its significance? Why do you think the author chose to include it so prominently?

7. Cornelis, so proud and admiring of his city of Amsterdam, is the only one to leave it behind. Why?

8. Which proves more seductive: love or tulips? Which proves more destructive?

9. Religion and belief are present throughout the book. In the end, although all the characters have sinned, one (Sophia) turns to the church and one (Cornelis) turns away from it entirely. Why? Does Sophia make her decision based entirely on self-preservation or is there more to it?

10. Does Maria's belief in superstition suit her and guide her better than the others' practice of organized religion?

11. If, as it seems at its most simplistic, the novel shows us that "the wicked shall be punished," why do Maria and Willem end up the way they do?

12. If Willem had confronted Maria rather than joining the Navy, what options might have been open to Sophia and Jan? Did, in essence, Willem cause everyone's downfall?

13. Do you think Sophia and Jan did the right thing in planning to indulge their love rather than their obligations? Could they have been successful if circumstances had been different?

14. How does author seem to feel about parental love versus romantic love? Cornelis is deprived of both kinds — twice, which impacts him more?

15. Does Maria's belief in superstition suit her and guide her better than the others' practice of organized religion?

16. If, as it seems at its most simplistic, the novel shows us that "the wicked shall be punished," why do Maria and Willem end up the way they do?

17. If Willem had confronted Maria rather than joining the Navy, what options might have been open to Sophia and Jan? Did, in essence, Willem cause everyone's downfall?

18. Do you think Sophia and Jan did the right thing in planning to indulge their love rather than their obligations? Could they have been successful if circumstances had been different?

19. How does author seem to feel about parental love versus romantic love? Cornelis is deprived of both kinds — twice. Which impacts him more?

Customer Reviews

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Tulip Fever 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading this and Girl with a Pearl Earring I am so eager to visit the same canals and pathways these authors so vividly describe in these books. The first four chapters went a little slow for me but then I became immersed in the book from then on and was upset because I had to put it down one evening. Of course I finished it the very next day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. Historical characters, mysterious twists, a page turner. I have been to Amsterdam, one of my favorite places, this book just makes it come to life.
catmama3 More than 1 year ago
I am finding the works by Deborah Moggach to be original, well written, and of great variety in topics. For those who like historical novels, I would recommend any of her books. This one takes place during the great tulipmania in Holland. It is well worth a look.
TanyaTomato on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I liked this book a lot. I had to stay up late to finish it. It was like a 17th century soap opera with teasers. You really want the characters to succeed.
miss_read on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Set in Amsterdam in the 1630s, this is the story of a wealthy merchant, Cornelis Sandvoort, and his beautiful, much-younger wife, Sophia. The merchant commissions an artist, Jan van Loos, to paint a portrait of the couple, and the wife and the artist embark on an affair. The story is supposed to be about betrayal, deception, greed, etc., but to me it read more like a silly romance novel. There wasn't enough depth of feeling on the main characters' parts for me to really care about their betrayals. The parts about the mad tulip bulb speculation of the time, however, was fascinating, as I'd known nothing about it. The author did a better job of describing the setting than she did the characters who inhabit it. The whole story seems to turn on a case of mistaken identity, which isn't really believable. The story of Maria, the Sandvoort's servant, is far more interesting than that of Cornelis, Sophia and Jan.This was a quick, light read. Not objectionable, but not worth remembering for long.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Part history, all love story. What tangled webs we weave when we practice to deceive?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not my kind of book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the read and story of love and betrayal with interesting twists and turns.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it! I can't wait for the movie!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach follows a young woman named Sophia as she is married to an elderly man, Cornelis, whom she married because her family was poor and needed the money he had. Set in 1630s Amsterdam, this wasn’t something out of the ordinary, but one feels for the character as she doesn’t truly love him, the age difference being significant and she simply wanted to help her family out. Cornelis wants an heir but she, some reason, doesn’t ever get pregnant. Deciding to instead have a painting done of themselves, Cornelis hires a young painter named Jan van Loos. Jan and Sophia become close and create a very elaborate plot in order to escape her marriage with Cornelis and be able to live somewhere where no one could find them. In order to do this, they decide to invest in the tulip business that was like a fever in Holland, everyone going crazy for the flower. This story was written very well, its plot very elaborate and a lot of twists, leaving you on the edge of your seat. The characters were well developed, and I can’t wait to see Christoph Waltz play Cornelis in the movie that is to come to theaters next year. I just hope he twirls his mustache a bunch again… I learned a lot about Holland that I didn’t know, and found myself imagining the city very well. Deborah Moggach was very descriptive and I think did a lot of research on the era and on the city. Although the story isn’t true, I found it to be plausible and it made me curious as to who this artist really was. The story reminds me “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”, inspiring a story from a painting, and the relationship of the model and the artist. The only problem I had was with the shift in characters and sometimes in perspective. Sometimes it is in first-person and other times it is in third-person. It took a while getting used to. I am a person who doesn’t care for adding new perspectives part way through, but I didn’t let it ruin the story. I did not see the ending coming and found that it wrapped up the story nicely. All in all, I give the novel a 4.5/5, having been a very interesting love story, but the perspectives drawing away from connecting with the character. If you like a historical romance, pick this story up! Original review posted on A Bibliophile's Reverie