22 Nov 2010
Review: "The Blue Flower" - Blossoming Love
I found this book of one of the lists of "100 Best Novels by Female Authors" and decided to give it a try - and I am really glad I did because it is a beautiful and moving little story, written by Penelope Fitzgerald who won the 1979 Booker Prize for the novel "Offshore".
"The Blue Flower" is the fictious story of the historical figure Friedrich von Hardenberg, who found fame as a writer and poet under the name Novalis. Hardenberg was born in 1772 in Germany and the family though nobility were very poor so even though Hardenberg was highly educated, he still faced having to work for a living. In "The Blue Flower" we meet the 22-year old Hardenberg as he is having to make choices about work and his future but the most important storyline in the book is about his meeting with 12-year old Sophie von Kühn. It is love at first sight for him and maybe for her as well?
Sophie is a young girl, not even mature for her age, of little education and little beauty. However, this does not seem to matter to Hardenberg who loves her passionately and when Sophie is 13 years old, they get engaged. It is around this love that the story revolves and the characters evolve.
And actually the characters are a very important part of this story. I soon came to feel that I knew Hardenberg's and Sophie's family. The strong sisters Sidonie and the Mandelshloh who take charge when their mothers give up, the little brother the Bernhardt and Erasmus who looks up to his brother Hardenberg. Their voices are so strong and they provide a great cast for this novel.
Fitzgerald's prose is beatiful, she really manages to conjure up Germany in the time of romanticism where science was still young and the students philosophised and discussed the great matters in life. I could almost smell the dirt and taste the beer, hear the horses. The prose is what stood out for me because it captures these star-crossed lovers - the educated gentleman and his somewhat dimwitted childbride. It is lovingly fun, subtlely pointing out the follies of man while revering the love of Hardenberg for Sophie von Kühn.