“The Blue Flower” by Penelope Fitzgerald


You know those books that are on your radar forever, and yet you never buy a copy and occasionally hear it recommended to remind you of it, but then years go by, and you still haven’t read it? That book, for me, was Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. Published in 1995, it was on many best-of lists, yet didn’t even make the short list for the Booker Prize that year. When I read the article “Tears, Tiffs and Triumphs,” I was intrigued by how it was mentioned a few times by authors even though it had not won the award itself.

So finally, finally, I have got around to reading it myself, and it is a lovely little book. The German poet Novalis, before he became famous under that name, was “Fritz” von Hardenburg, a young Romantic from a good, but poor family. When he falls in love with a very young middle-class girl, his family is upset. And I too, as the reader, found it baffling. Falling in love on sight with a twelve-year old? And yet, as the story plays out, and we meet Fritz and his Sophie again and again, surrounded by their families and friends, it is completely understandable and sympathetic by the end.

It’s set in the late 1700’s, as the Germans struggle to interpret what the ruckus over in France means for all of them, and filled with memorable characters, great humor, grand grief, and lovely passages of writing.

“I have been in the kitchen,” she went on. “Stewed pigs’ trotters, plum conserve, bread soup.”

“I cannot eat,” said Erasmus.

“Come, we’re Saxons. We can make a good dinner, even if our hearts are breaking.”

I found it a delight.

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