Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

You can’t regard love head on – maybe off to the side a bit

Perhaps this is what historical fiction is supposed to be - not the disgorgement of two tons of researched facts, but the creation of a world, of an emotional climate, of a characteristic feeling. I learned a few things about the late eighteenth century- People died young, and therefore everyone is stricken with dread, and there’s a lot more seizing the day. I learned women had more power than you’d think and Goethe was kind of a dick.

This novel is about Novalis, the German Romantic writer, aka Fritz.  It's also about his family, and the chronicling of his courtship of a 12 year old rather dense girl with TB. The novel is not really about the lovers, who come across as ciphers, but about the ring of caring people, mostly women, trying to do the right thing for the lovers.

It’s very well written - a master class in showing not telling. The characterization is boiled down, each distinguished with a phrase or two or scrap of dialogue. The opening scene is spectacular, as is the final scene. I lost heart in the middle and it grew onerous to read as I didn't really care about Fritz who seemed a flibbertigibbet. But it picked up at the end. This wooly headed philosopher has to work in the salt mines – that’s funny. They all end up dying – that’s sad.

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