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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Disputation regarding an "undiputed classic": The Blue Flower

Inspired by not one but two reviews of the Penelope Fitzgerald bio I went back to read her most famous novel, The Blue Flower, which has been on my list for 20 years I guess; I think I've read only one other novel by her. Was impressed by the excerpts from her works in the Wood review of the bio the the NYer, and Wood called Blue Flower and "undisputed classic" so where have I been? One evening's reading into it - well, I won't dispute Wood's generalization but my mind's not made up. Clearly, it's an intelligent - and unusual - novel; I think all of her other work was contemporary English, and this one is set in the late 18th-early 19th century, in Germany - a historical novel about the life of Frederich (Fritz) de Hardenberg (may have that wrong), who became the German Romantic poet Novalis, and died, as Romantic poets tended to do, about about age 30. The novel is made up of many very short chapters, each a vignette - reminded me in that way of Mrs. Bridge. Some of the first are vivid anecdotes or scenes - the young Novalis wakened early int he a.m. and hustled off by a college friend to referee a duel - arriving in time to find one of the men with half his hand cut off, and Novalis puts the fingers in his mouth to keep them warm for possible re-attachment survey (about which we never learn the results); characters sketches of his mother, Auguste, who had 11 children and outlived all but one. But some of the sketches are (intentionally?) pretty rough going, with a lot of unfamiliar place names and historical references - and very little background or hand-holding. We're just thrown right into the complicated family, much like the friend whom Fritz brings home for a weekend visit - befuddled, and trying to make sense of those around him, or around us. This novel strikes me as the prototype of historical fiction that English readers love - and that came to fruition in Wolf Hall: a sequence of loosely connected, chronologically arranged scenes, without the narrative backing of authorial intervention and exposition. WH left me cold - Blue Flower seems more promising, perhaps because I'm more interested in its literary context, although Novalis is an author about whom I know very little. I wonder what drew Fitzgerald to such an obscure and distant subject, and why it found resonance w/ so many readers. Hard to imagine a successful publication in the U.S. - and in fact I believe it was never even issued in hardback edition in the U.S., publishers here having little faith in such esoteric material.

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