The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I found this by chance, while randomly searching through books in my local library, and was excited to see it was a historical fiction about 18th Century German romantic poet and philosopher Novalis (Georg Phillip Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg to his parents). Really, who doesn't love Novalis?
The novel is primarily concerned with Novalis/Hardenberg's relationship with Sophie von Kühn, whom he met when he was 22 and with whom he fell obsessively in love.
Sophie was 12. Awkward.
Fitzgerald tells the story through a series of short, snap-shot-like chapters in roughly chronological order. It begins with Hardenberg as a student, visiting his family for the summer, and ends in the midst of Sophie's illness, from which she would ultimately die a few months later, aged 15. The novel flows wonderfully and the prose is almost rich in its poise and simplicity.
I guess my enjoyment of the novel was enhanced by my interest in the real life story and historical figures. Fitzgerald does not pass judgment on the appropriateness (or otherwise) of Hardenberg's relationship with Sophie, but rather explores the influence it had on his life, beliefs and writing. I can understand why some may therefore be disappointed by the lack of drama in the novel, but even still, I can't see how this delicate retelling of a real life story of doomed love would fail to inspire at least some emotion.
This is also the first time I have read Penelope Fitzgerald and I will certainly look out for her other work now.
Coincidentally, if you have a Kindle, Novalis's unfinished novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen (containing the symbolic Blue Flower) is available as a free ebook in both German and English translation!
View all my reviews