Literary Award Winners Fiction Book Club discussion

The Blue Flower
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Past Reads > The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Chapters 1 to 27

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message 1: by George (last edited Feb 01, 2017 12:02AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

George (georgejazz) | 456 comments Mod
Please comment here on The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, Chapters 1 to 27. (Pages 1 to 106)

Penny | 17 comments [Is this the first/only comment?]
Bought this book just because of this discussion group as have felt previous choices all justified. Cut to the chase: can't believe this book won a literary prize, of any type. I read the whole thing as kept expecting to "get it" and/or understand its merits. There may be a glimmer of profundity in there, but cloaked as it is by a plot that reminds me of nothing but French Farce, I couldn't appreciate it. Also keeping track of characters with multiple names was challenging, as was the tossing in of German phrases here and there. I get the "smirk" in the tone, which perhaps was what got the kudos, but it was definitely a difficult and not satisfying read.

message 3: by George (last edited Feb 09, 2017 03:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

George (georgejazz) | 456 comments Mod
In the first 80 or so pages the reader is introduced to a number of characters, which for me made it a little difficult to understand who was who and who was related to who. (Agreed, the multiple names for one character didn't help). This novel was not such an enjoyable read for me but I did find it interesting learning about the times in Germany in the late 1700s. Government jobs carried status. We learn about the life style of a fairly well off family. The bachelor, uncle Wilhelm, is quite a laugh. I didn't really find myself becoming too involved with any of the characters.
In contrast, when I read Penelope Fitzgerald's "Offshore", I found it an engaging read with interesting characters. Mind you, like this novel, in Offshore, the first 50 pages were a little difficult with so many characters being introduced.
Has anyone else started reading the Blue Flower? How did you find the first half of the novel? What do you think of Uncle Wilhelm?

Irene | 519 comments I have not started this one yet. Discussions in this group have been starting later so I put other group reads on the top of my pile. But, reading these posts makes me reluctant to pick it up. Don't need a confusing, unengaging in my life. O well.

Carol (caroltw) The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

I can't wait to start reading this one. I loved All the King's Men, but it will be a nice change to read something shorter. Reading the posted questions about ATKM before reading it incredibly enhanced my reading of the novel, so here are some thoughts I am now considering before jumping into this new one, which is said to be quite condensed:

From Book Cover
"A Masterpiece."
- A. S. Byatt

National Book Critics Circle Award Winner

From intro to Blue Flower:
...Penelope Fitzgerald is a novelist who elevates  her readers through teaching them how to read  her. She freely offers her own great intelligence  to all her readers, as to her humblest protagonist.  Her approach to her material is interior, never  merely the stretching of an aestheticised membrane over prefigured event...

...' As a hopelessly addicted writer of short books  I have to try to see to it that every confrontation  and every dialogue has some reference to what I  hope will be understood as the heart of the  novel,’ Penelope Fitzgerald writes, three years before her death...
- Candia McWilliam 2013

"Yet she always had a quiet reputation. She was  a novelist with a passionate following of careful  readers, not a big name. She wrote compact, subtle novels. They are funny, but they are also dark.  They are eloquent and clear, but also elusive and  indirect. They leave a great deal unsaid."
- Hermione Lee, biographer

I will be trying to read between the lines to discover the heart of this novel.

George (georgejazz) | 456 comments Mod
Here are seven questions of The Blue Flower that I hope will promote some discussion. I copied the first 7 of 18 discussion questions from:

"1. The blue flower—die blaue Blume—has long been a symbol of
Romantic yearning. What is the meaning, in the novel and in
Fritz’s life, of the blue flower, and of The Blue Flower, Fritz’s
unfinished writing? How do Karoline, Erasmus, Sophie, and the
Mandelsloh react to the opening chapter of Fritz’s Blue Flower?
2. How closely does Fitzgerald follow the facts of Friedrich von
Hardenberg’s (Fritz’s) life? Why does she focus on the years
prior to his becoming Novalis, the poet and man of letters? How
does she present him as a genius in the making? Is her portrait
3. How can we explain Fritz’s sudden, irrational love for the plain,
twelve-year-old Sophie von Kühn? What about the girl attracts
him so powerfully? Is Sophie a repository of Fritz’s Romantic
ideals and aspirations? Does he project upon her his own
thoughts, beliefs, and feelings? What is the significance of his
insistence on Sophie’s resemblance to “Raphael’s self-portrait at
the age of twenty-five”?
4. Fritz approaches mining as “not a science, but an art.” What
does he mean? Are there conflicts that arise from Fritz’s chosen
vocation as a poet and his work in the Directorate of Salt Mines?
5. In the first chapter, Fitzgerald writes that “Impatience, translated
into spiritual energy, raced through all the young
Hardenbergs.” How are impatience and spiritual energy revealed
throughout the novel, in relation to individual characters and to
their times? With what consequences?
6. The philosopher Fichte proclaims: “We create the world not out
of our imagination, but out of our sense of duty. We need the
world so that we may have the greatest possible number of
opportunities to do our duty.” How important to Fitzgerald’s
characters is the concept of duty? Which characters most
embody a sense of duty?
7. In his report to the Freiherr on Fritz’s behavior at the school at
Neudietendorf, the Prediger “explained that Fritz perpetually
asked questions, but was unwilling to receive answers.” Is this
characterization true of Fritz throughout the novel? If so, with
what consequences for himself and others?"

The 18 discussion questions provided by houghton mifflin books reading guide certainly highlight the point that The Blue Flower, whilst a short read, certainly covers a lot of issues. I will do some rereading of at least parts of the book and hopefully have a more considered view of the issues Fitzgerald raises.

Carol (caroltw) Brilliant! Many thanks for finding these questions...they have my wheels turning...

Irene | 519 comments Started this yesterday. These characters are so different in their response to situations from anything I know or have experienced that I am finding it hard to get a connection, a point of entry into their minds and world. The younger brother's odd behavior, his desire to drown made no sense. He is the baby, the family pet, yet so much of what he says seems years older. Frits's relationship with his parents and siblings is strange, as if there is some unsaid agenda, some significant back history that I don't understand. Why have him arrive at home with this new friend on the day the household is in total disarray because it is the annual washing day? What is the significance of this? I'll keep reading and hope I get some clarity.

Carol (caroltw) I so TOTALLY agree with you. I'm determined to figure this out, but I SO have not. I finished 5 chapters, and have returned, not just to the beginning, but to read again the preface and the introduction, and then jump in again.
Thanks to previous comments, I'm keeping a little list of characters as I go. I'm wondering about treating a few of the characters as symbolic of something rather than as personalities. For example, would it give " the Bernhardt" (I love that name, but why call him that???) more consistency as a symbol rather than an as an actual small child?
I feel a bit in over my head, I'm keeping afloat, & so far enjoying the scenery as I glimpse nice to have a challenge...

Irene | 519 comments I wondered if Bernhart was a pet name or something, sort of calling the youngest member of the family The Kid or the The Pain in English. Otherwise, why use the definite article before his name?

message 11: by Penny (new) - rated it 1 star

Penny | 17 comments Am starting to think the award for this book might have been one of those given to an author for her body of work, not the most recently published. Could this explain it?

Carol (caroltw) Penny, I believe you've already finished the book? Spoilers could be ahead for those who have not, but your query prompted me to look into this question about the worth of The Blue Flower itself, & I found the info at these 2 links amazing, so I thank u so much 4 asking the question! I don't know how 2 paste both links at once, so first I'll post this one to a NYTimes book review: LMK if it doesn't work : )

Carol (caroltw) Here's the 2nd link, to the blog of the NBCC, in which Valerie Trueblood (- a NBCC member? -( I don't know her work, but u might) chooses The Blue Flower as her favorite (I think) of the past NBCC award winners. Interesting reading.

Carol (caroltw) Oh, duh. Forgot 2 paste it.

George (georgejazz) | 456 comments Mod
Carol, thanks for the Michael Hofmann review in the NJTimes. It is a concise and informative book review that is well worth reading.

Raymunda (raymundaj) Irene wrote: "Otherwise, why use the definite article before his name? "

I think that is because when speaking German the article is used before the person's name sometimes. It happens also in other languages.

Irene | 519 comments Thanks for that info. I did not realize that an article would be used before a proper name.

Carol (caroltw) I've never encountered a book like this before. After my first reading attempt, I took a few weeks off to study Romanticism as a literary style and read about the author. When I returned to the book, I read not for character development and plot, but for a historical sense of the period, and found myself understanding the characters. I wish, when a college student of romanticism and classicism, I had been given this book to read...reading it is a chance to enter the world of romanticism, rather than simply read about the characteristics of the movement.

Irene | 519 comments What came through on your re-read that made the novel clearer than the first time through? I found it perplexing and not all that exciting. But, I admit that I know nothing about romanticism. I have no college literature classes behind me.

Carol (caroltw) I think I stopped trying to figure it out! I googled around for characteristics of romanticism, then I read about the symbolism of the blue flower, and I tried to suspend my judgement - you know, the way you have to do when you're watching or reading science fiction? I ended up with the same sense of the book as is described by one of the goodreads reviewers who gave it five stars (you can probably find her review...there seem to be only a few review sr who really liked it.

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