The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, author of three novels shortlisted for The Booker Prize, including The Beginning of Spring http://realini.blogspot.com/2021/08/shortlisted-for-1988-booker-prize-chef.html
9 out of 10
My first encounter with the marvelous world created by Penelope Fitzgerald was when I have read the stupendous Offshore http://realini.blogspot.com/2018/03/offshore-by-penelope-fitzgerald.html winner of the 1979 Booker Prize, when the favorite was A Bend In The River by wondrous VS Naipaul, and when the jury could not decide between this and another competitor, somehow Offshore became the surprise of the triumph, albeit after one reads it, there is no doubt as to magnificence of the magnum opus.
Another masterpiece by phenomenal Penelope Fitzgerald is The Gate of Angels http://realini.blogspot.com/2021/10/the-magnificent-masterpiece-shortlisted.html also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, a love story that enchants the reader, which has the ultimate hero, romantic figure inside, the man who would do anything for the woman he loves, the very definition of adoration and the role model.
The Blue Flower was somehow less of a joy than expected, a statement that in itself explains the ‘diminishing returns’, for having gained the habit to except perfection from this fabulous writer, one should apply the happiness rule ‘lower your expectations’, understand that there is another aspect, the Hedonic Adaptation Effect that we must take into account, and finally, the narrative can be sublime, but not for everyone.
We are invited to learn more about Friedrich von Hardenberg, before he became known as Novalis, the period between 1790 and 1797, and his main dream ‘I have no craving to be rich, but I long to see The Blue Flower…it lies incessantly at my heart and I can imagine and think of nothing else…in the world I used to live in, who would have troubled himself about flowers’, as well as his infatuation with Sophie von Kuhl.
The Freiherr von Hardenberg is the father of our protagonist, born in 1738, owner of some properties, but most of them plagued by debts and incapable to finance the son, who writes to say that he cannot make do with the small allowance he has during his studies…the Freiherr has served in the Hanoverian Legion.
That was for seven years, after the peace was declared he gave up his commission and married, his young wife died of smallpox and then married again, to a woman that has property, they worship with The Moravian Brethren, their religiosity affects the way they live, quite humbly, and the values they have
Even when young, Fritz aka Friedrich was a rebellious child, sent home because he ‘asked questions, but was unwilling to receive the answers…insisted that the body is not flesh, but the same stuff as the soul’…the Freiherr was the Director of the Salt mines (aristocrats were not allowed to take menial jobs) but the family has financial problems and he has to sell four properties an still find it difficult to maintain a certain standard of living
A private tutor is called for Fritz, who is then sent to his uncle and then returned to his home yet again – from that time, there is the issue that there were no women, hence the amusing, but also sobering, tragic question ‘who does the washing then’, in other words, discrimination in absolute terms
This is a time when the French Revolution accuses the king of treason and that causes the Freiherr to say that they have gone mad and he will not have a newspaper in his home, until ‘the French return to their senses’…later, when his father is aware of events and the question is how does he know it, Fritz says ‘maybe it is osmosis’
Father and son have a difference of opinion over the studies, for the parent wants law, and generally he wishes his son to work at the Salt Mines, while the younger man registers for philosophy and history, in the former he attends the lectures of Fichte on Kant, ‘we are free to imagine what the world is like and there is no reason to believe in the fixed reality of things’ says the professor, while Fritz identifies the flaw.
Love is missing and that is the flaw in the system of Fichte, generally, we see the student adopt a rather Panglossian view http://realini.blogspot.com/2014/12/candide-or-optimist-by-voltaire.html while Pangloss said the ‘world is the best it can be’, the future Novalis believes that the golden age will return.
Besides, there is nothing evil in the world…however, he might have to change that view, considering the involution of his love story- he meets the twelve years old Sophie, something that will be called pedophilia today becomes the effort to gain over, eventually marry the very young girl, who is really a child.
She is not suited for him in quite a few ways, apart from her tender age, or at least that is the view of quite a few members of his family, and some friends, who see the child as plain, lacking spark, intelligence – when Fritz summons a painter for her portrait, the artist is unable to do his work, for he sees no question, he is not challenged by the girl and abandons the project, thus the would be husband has to use a miniature for the ring he intends to give her when/if they become man and wife
The hero calls his betrothed his Philosophy, in reference to her name and the love of wisdom aka Sophia that is involved in the Greek name, the love affair – if we can call love what she feels, never mind his infatuation, for the girl is too young to understand it – is inauspicious, to say the least, for the bride-to-be falls severely ill…