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The Blue Flower

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  5,328 ratings  ·  803 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 226 pages
Published April 15th 1997 by Mariner Books (first published September 21st 1995)
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Caitlin Brady I think the Blue Flower was also my first Fitzgerald, and it remains one of my favorites, alongside Gate of Angels. But everything I've read by her is…moreI think the Blue Flower was also my first Fitzgerald, and it remains one of my favorites, alongside Gate of Angels. But everything I've read by her is wonderful. (less)

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Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The dream of the blue flower

What means something to us, that we can name.

People in distress are selfish beyond belief.

You must know that people are only interested in their own dreams.

The Blue Flower is a delectably rich, multi-layered novel, as some of the excellent reviews (see here, here, here, here and here) elucidate, revealing the variegated angles and sides from which the reader could approach the novel, making it clear this is the kind of novel that gets even more rewarding reading it at
Oh dear. Awful. Just awful. Even more so, given how much I adored my first Penelope Fitzgerald last summer, Offshore (see my review HERE) and that AS Byatt called this "a masterpiece". I'm baffled.

The prose is plodding - even though it's portraying a poet: short, banal sentence, after short banal sentence. I found the characters, setting and plot hard to imagine, care about or believe in - even though it's based on real life. I forced myself to finish it, thinking there must be something worthwh
As my final foray into Penelope Fitzgerald's novels, The Blue Flower was a complete success. I came to it armed with absolute faith in Fitzgerald's writing talent so I had no doubts at all that the setting in 1790s Germany would feel authentic—I've already seen how well she handles historical themes and settings in her other books. Indeed the world of the story felt so extraordinarily real that I even imagined I was reading it in German. I don't fully understand how that magic worked—but it did. ...more
Petra has a 9 hr delay - on a charter flight
This was an overgrown novella. I think that actually Dostoevsky would have done this theme more justice as it reminds me of The Idiot in some ways - the girl's innocence and faux maturity perhaps. Thing is if I am going to read about some man's infatuation (can't really call it love, can you?) for a 12 year old girl, which is pedophilia of thought if not action, I want that aspect of it explored. Obviously I wasn't going to get the depth of Nabokov with his distasefully wonderful Lolita but this ...more
This is my favourite of the three Fitzgerald novels that I've read. In common with Gate of Angels and The Beginning of Spring a wealth of research has gone into this novel.

Our reasons for liking a novel are often subjective and completely unreasonable. And I do love this novel which for me has the sound-feeling of an early piano playing Mozart sonatas, early Beethoven, and here and there something by one of Old Bach's many musical sons. Am I too biased by the memory of a pizza eaten at Jena wai
Alexandra Turney
Feb 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A gorgeous, elliptical book, which I was drawn to by its subject (eighteenth century German philosopher and poet becomes obsessed with unattractive twelve year old girl). I fell in love with The Blue Flower just like Fritz - later known as Novalis - did with Sophie, only the book's positive qualities are slightly more obvious. It's beautifully written, understated, and perhaps more touching than you would expect. Fitzgerald never demands that you like her characters, and there's no sentimentalit ...more
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've had this on my 'Currently Reading' shelf for ever and ever! I think I was put off by the late 18th century setting and the focus on the poet, Novalis - neither of which are my interest areas, but I've read - 5 or 6 of Fitzgerald's now - and each and every one is Brilliant this one included.

This is clearly an historical fiction novel - the author has done her research - making sure that dates, places, people and known events all tally. If she had focussed exclusively on this I would have bee
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
As with A Pale View of Hills, I had to read it twice in order to truly appreciate it, and I doubt I'll ever be able to stop appreciating it--

Leave it to Penelope Fitzgerald to remind me that by the time the French Revolution came along, Robinson Crusoe had already been in print for 70 years. Well, duh. Right? But I had never thought of one in terms of the other. Which means Marie Antoinette might have read it--could she read English?--had she taken an interest in English novels.

The Blue Flower
Aug 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel The Blue Flower, similar to the ‘historical’ half of Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, isn’t (and wasn’t intended to be) so-called historical fiction. Both writers use the frame of the life of a real person to hang their themes on; though the characterization, usually through thought, is vivid. Plot is not foremost, though the details of The Blue Flower are accurate (as far as I can tell); the research had to be extensive and is worn lightly. Due to its style I felt a distance, which may be int ...more
Vicky "phenkos"
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.

This is my third Penelope Fitzgerald. The focus of the book is the early life of Fritz von Hardenberg – better known as the German Romantic poet Novalis – and especially his infatuation for 12-year-old Sophie whom he meets during an official visit he pays as apprentice engineer to the household of her stepfather, von Rochenthien.

The book begins by offering us a closer look at the Hardenberg family: the weak and easily-distracted mother, the capable elder sister, the boisterous, indepe
Sam Quixote
Feb 04, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The Blue Flower is another of the books my dear old dad got me at Christmas and, like the other one I read, What a Life! by JB Priestley, it is a stone cold turkey! I’m not sure what my pa asked for when he went into the bookstore, but I’m pretty sure it was “I want to bore my son like he’s never been bored before - what books do you suggest?”

The novel looks at the short life of Novalis, an obscure late 18th century German Romantic philosopher/poet and his relationship with his 14 year old betro
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
My thanks to Jonathan for pointing out a rather superior literary treatment of blue flowers


I read this book as part of the 2019 Mookse Madness Tournament and also from intrigue – Penelope Fitzgerald (perhaps appropriately for an author who only began her literary career at 58) is an author I only discovered at 48 and enjoyed each of “Offshore”, “Gate of Angels” and “The Bookshop” – however this is a book of hers which seems to divide opinion, generally lau
The Blue Flower -- the winner of the American National Book Critics Circle Award in 1997.

I struggled with The Blue Flower from start to finish.

It seems to be based on extensive research, but I personally do not have the knowledge to know if all we are told is true. The problem is that the research s-h-o-w-s! In my view, historical details should be imperceptibly woven into a story; they should not dominate. Nor should they be used excessively. I shall site two examples--we are told that the cen
Paul Sánchez Keighley
Penelope Fitzgerald cannot write unlike herself.

The Blue Flower is a historical novel based on the youth of 18th-century poet Friedrich von Hardenberg, better known by his pen name Novalis. Fitzgerald shares, in an uncharacteristic author’s note, that she drew much information from a German edition of Novalis’ complete works, diaries and letters. I say uncharacteristic because her novels are always brimming with fascinating historical detail one wonders from where she produced, and yet she neve
Paul Bryant
Sep 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
In its first chapters this novel sprays a fine tangy mist over your face, like coming across the sea after many months inland. Hoopla! We're in for some fun. But - after a while this novel becomes the so-amusing toy whose batteries keep it chirping and beeping long after it should have glided behind the chest of drawers of oblivion. Our smile has faded. And finally this novel is like your elderly female relative who has a superstitious horror of naming anything directly, and will use every last ...more
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008-hits
This is a strange and beautiful short novel, which revolves around the young poet Friedrich Von Hardenberg's (the 18th century German poet Novalis) inexplicable love for the somewhat slow, not particularly lovely 12-year-old Sophie Von Kuhn, who would become his fiancee. The novel's genius lies in its complete lack of interest in explaining/examining the WHY of Hardenberg's love. This is not a love story or a romance. It is an observation of the sort of ineffable human forces that produce not on ...more
Beni Morse
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

Every single sentence is purposeful and unimprovable. It evokes the world of 18th-century Germany with such vividness and authority and ease, while feeling nothing like a historical novel.

I can't think of a book that achieves a more beautiful balance between gravity and lightness, poetry and philosohy. The Blue Flower is eseentially about the nature of love and why we sometimes (often?) choose such odd candidates as the objects of our deepest affection.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars
I admit it, I fell for the beautiful cover. When I read that the book was about Novalis and that it was Penelope Fitzgerald's last book I decided to buy it. The story as such was interesting, but I didn't find the writing style very easy.
Paul Fulcher
May 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, 2013
Revisited for the 2019 Mookse Madness after originally reading in 2013.

Despite winning the Booker Prize and being shortlisted three more times, the brilliant Penelope Fitzgerald was, for much of her career, treated condescendingly by (mostly male) literary critics.

Indeed her Booker win, for Offshore, was greeted with some critical bemusement, even by the jury themselves who had argued long and hard between two other books. As one judge later admitted:
We'd spent the entire afternoon at loggerhe
Althea Ann
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!

Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I think I had the opposite reaction to this book to many of my Goodreads friends. A Google search for reviews show a lot of gushing praise (“Beautiful masterpiece”, “Her finest and most demanding book”, “A model of what historical fiction can be at its best”). By contrast, many of my GR friends find this a disappointment and prefer several, if not all, of Fitzgerald’s other books to this one. I have to confess this is the first Fitzgerald book I have read, so I have no points of comparison.

So, t
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
I had to power through this for class, but this book was just not my cup of tea. I found it quite slow and mostly boring. I was not interested in the storyline whatsoever and in my opinion the characters were quite dull. I was hoping to get more information about The Blue Flower, but this was not the case at all. The information provided was pretty superficial and not at all insightful.
So yes, I have had Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1995 The Blue Flower (about Friedrich von Hardenberg, about German late 18th/early 19th century poet and philosopher Novalis, his life and how he became one of the most recognised faces of German Romanticism) on my to-read list for quite some time. But I have indeed also been quite majorly hesitant with regard go even starting a perusal since a number of my Goodreads friends (and all of them friends who tend to think like I do with regard to in particular ...more
Jonathan Pool
Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower is a prize winning book that has been voted one of the great works of the historical fiction genre. Some of Fitzgerald’s fans rate it as among her very best (it was her last novel). It’s very different to The Bookshopfor example, and for the variety and range of subject matter in her novels I think Fitzgerald must be commended.

My personal reaction to the book is that it is a good book, but not a great one.

Historical fiction is just about my favourite type of
Rob Baker
Sep 25, 2022 rated it it was ok
Disjointed writing and storytelling make this book hard to follow at times, and the emotional distance kept between reader and the characters makes the former care very little about the latter.

There’s a storyline here, but it’s too barebones and fragmented to elicit any real intellectual or emotional involvement on the reader’s part.

I wonder what Fitzgerald hoped to accomplish by telling the story of this man (apparently a somewhat respected and influential writer in his time) and his family who
Feb 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed being part of the chaotic, loving Von Hardenberg clan for the brief duration of this book. The mature resourceful Sidonie, the jovial Erasmus, the idiosyncratic the Bernard (who is not the family dog, but for the first part of the novel the youngest member) and of course the main character of the book - Fritz.
Fritz goes on to become the poet known as Novalis (probably more renowned for his infatuation with a twelve year old than his poetry today) but in The Blue Flower he is a recent g
Ian Laird
This is a sad story about a doomed love and short lives. But it is a bit of a misfire if the central premise, the love story, does not work.

Penelope Fitzgerald was a gifted writer who could make something out of very little and in unlikely circumstances. With the The Bookshop she made a memorable story out of a middle-aged woman starting a bookshop in a disused, damp (a telling detail) building in a small English rural town against formidable opposition. Here she attempts something more ambitio
Adam Dalva
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely, odd piece of historical fiction packed with memorable characters whose seemingly minor actions congeal into a sweeping representation of the late eighteenth century. While Novalis's romance with a young girl is certainly the emotional core of the novel, I'll remember his siblings and the wonderful Karoline for just as long. Fitzgerald, whose late blooming career is fascinating in and of itself, has a very light touch and a clear affection for the source material, which is presented seaml ...more
Cititoarea cu Blit
Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was both surprised and intrigued by the book's fragmentary, elliptical quality, which I wasn't able to quite pinpoint at first. Each chapter is much rather a snapshot of a scene, a quickly (and yet so powerfully!) sketched portrait of a character than an element in a clearly—"classically"—connected string of events. I also noticed a brusqueness in the prose's cadence—at times it felt almost like a literal translation of German, which I found both unsettling and endearing (as if Fitzgerald had ...more
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Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, The Blue Flower, as one of "the ten best historical novels".

Fitzgerald was the author of nine novels. Her novel Offshore was the winner of the Booker Prize. A further three novels — The B

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