From the Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Offshore’ and ‘Innocence’ comes this unusual romance between the poet Novalis and his fiancée Sophie.
Set in Germany at the very end of the eighteenth century, The Blue Flower is the story of the brilliant Fritz von Hardenberg, a graduate of the Universities of Jena, Leipzig and Wittenberg, learned in Dialectics and Mathematics, who later became the great romantic poet and philosopher Novalis. The passionate and idealistic Fritz needs his father’s permission to announce his engagement to his ‘heart’s heart’, his ‘true Philosophy’, twelve-year-old Sophie von Kuhn. It is a betrothal which amuses, astounds and disturbs his family and friends. How can it be so?
One of the most admired of all Penelope Fitzgerald’s books, The Blue Flower was chosen as Book of the Year more than any other in 1995. Her final book, it confirmed her reputation as one of the finest novelists of the century.
Praise for Penelope Fitzgerald and The Blue Flower:
‘The Blue Flower is a model of what historical fiction can be at its best – when the radical otherness of other times is not merely acknowledged but made integral to the fictional experience. It's also Fitzgerald at her best – elegant, inventive, hilarious, unsparing. I adore this book.’ Jonathan Franzen
‘Quite extraordinarily good. She can make a reader helpless with inordinate private laughter.’ AS Byatt
‘[Penelope Fitzgerald’s] work is subtle, funny, wrong-footing, and cumulatively powerful.’ Julian Barnes
‘An enchanting novel about heart, body and mind. The writing is ellipitical and witty… so that what could be a sad little love story is constantly funny and always absorbing. This novel is a jewel.’ Carmen Callil, Daily Telegraph
‘It is hard to see how the hopes and defeats of Romanticism, or the relation between inspiration and common life, between genius and mere worthiness, could be more deftly rendered than they are in this remarkable novel.’ Frank Kermode, London Review of Books
About the author
Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. Three of her novels, The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the ‘Book of the Year’. It won America’s National Book Critics’ Circle Award, and this helped to introduce her to a wider international readership. She died in April 2000, at the age of 83.
In the introduction to his translation of Novalis's Henry von Ofterdingen, Palmer Hilty described Sophie von Kuhn 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 Romanticism--capital "R" and small.