The Blue Flower (1995)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald’s last and most masterful novel, is a departure from the comedies of manners for which she was compared with Jane Austen.

A different kind of book altogether, The Blue Flower is both a metaphysical work and a historical novel. It fictionalizes the life of the Germany philosopher poet Friedrich (Fritz) von Hardenberg, who came of age at the time Romanticism was emerging. The title comes from Fritz’s composition in which a young man longs for the blue flower that "lies incessantly at his heart, so that he can imagine and think about nothing else.”

Fritz, the oldest son of a noble family, inexplicably falls in love with a 12-year-old girl without wealth, beauty, education, or culture. Calling her unusual book a novel “of sorts,” Fitzgerald blended into the theme of the mysterious flower Fritz’s passion for the 12-year-old Sophie, his philosophical ideas, details of the life of his and other families, and a social history of provincial Germany in the late 18th-century. Although the novel was praised by critics, it is probably not to everyone’s taste. Fitzgerald is a detached observer and high-brow writer who assumes readers have some understanding of German Romanticism and are content not to hear an explanation of Fritz’s mystical love.

After the events of the novel, Fritz gained fame as the German Romantic poet and philosopher “Novalis.”

The Blue Flower won the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award after it was published in the United States.


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