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The Blue Flower

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  3,868 ratings  ·  593 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
Kindle Edition, 305 pages
Published April 15th 1997 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 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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3.47  · 
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 ·  3,868 ratings  ·  593 reviews

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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
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  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: aspiring writers
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
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" (semi-hiatus)
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
Gumble's Yard
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
Better Eggs
Nov 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Paul Fulcher
May 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, 2019
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
Beni Morse
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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
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
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 ambitiou
RH Walters
Sep 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Begins with the house's biyearly laundry tumbling out the windows and ends in cold water. Quirky, sad and atmospheric.
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is perfect but I am not sure why. It is absolutely captivating from the first words on, it never bogs down, it is neither too many words nor too little, it is a complete world. As soon as I finished it I fell asleep and dreamed that I was terribly ill as I was still so immersed in the book. All day I have not been ready to pick up another book and finally this evening have selected a housecleaning book as I still want to savor this novel and I can do that while I clean.
German salt miner writes about poetry and falls in love with a girl half his age, and dies just old enough to be past the 27 Club.
Feb 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: brave readers who don't care if they are having fun.
How dare I refuse to give this book that was named Book of the Year by nineteen British newspapers in 1995 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1997 anything less than a five?

NYT reviewer Michael Hofmann wrote of The Blue Flower: It is an interrogation of life, love, purpose, experience and horizons, which has found its perfect vehicle in a few years from the pitifully short life of a German youth about to become a great poet -- one living in a period of intellectual and political u
Feb 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I loved this book a great deal. It is incredibly simply written but so cleverly put together that there are real moments where you cannot help but be in awe of Fitzgerald. Her touch with words, is simple but oh so subtle that one cannot help but feel emotions ranging from sadness, intense humour and curiosity.

Each chapter is short, almost vignette like in 3 or 4 pages, and although there is a narrative running throughout, each short story has a point to it which may or may not be relevant to the
This Booker Prize winner is a fascinating study of life in late 17th-century Germany. One hilarious anecdote concerned washing clothes. Most of the upper-class families did the washing every 3 months. One man on the household owned 69 shirts. Our protagonist, Fridrich's family did the wash only once a year. There were 14 children in the family and numerous servants. This was before washers and dryers were invented. It blows my mind--and that isn't even what the book is about.

The book is a biogra
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
Dec 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite novel, I think. Somehow it floods the senses with the time and place (or her rendering of it). It reminds me of hyldeblomstsaft, the concentrated elderflower syrup that they use to make a drink in Denmark that will conjur up summer in mid-January. I love it (and her)for that quality. All of her writing is like that, but this one is the best.
This book was very enjoyable, but it's difficult to say why. A wry imagined tale of the German poet Novalis, it is beautifully written with barely a word out of place, and deserves its reputation as Fitzgerald's most fully realised and ambitious novel.
3.5 stars, for now.
I laughed quite a bit in a quiet way about Fitzgerald's handling of the silliness of love and the stupidity of genius.
Amanda Brookfield
The year Penelope Fitzgerald won the Booker Prize for her novel 'Offshore' she happened to be a tutor at a crammer where I and a few other hopefuls were working for exams to get into Oxford University. We studied E M Forster with her, one of my favourite novelists anyway, and the classes were a complete pleasure. The reason I mention this ancient historical fact is because never, in all those twelve weeks of being our teacher, did Penelope Fitzgerald think to mention that, not only was she a nov ...more
Mar 17, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This novel was puzzlingly overpraised, and I'm not sure why. It is empty, cold, mean-spirited and does not allow us to sympathize with, or even understand, the characters. It purports to tell the story of the German Romantic poet Novalis's infatuation with a 12-year-old girl, but it doesn't help us to understand this strange situation. What *is* the narrative aiming toward? Sometimes it seems to simply want to mock and diminish its characters or to display a minute knowledge of the period.
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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
“A word of advice. If, as a young man, student, you are tormented by a desire for women, it is best to get out into the fresh air as much as possible.” 7 likes
“Opportunity, after all, is only another word for temptation.” 1 likes
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