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

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The development of the character of Fritz von Hardenberg in The Blue Flower

It really takes a while for Penelope Fitzgerald to get the story into gear in her "undisputed masterpiece," The Blue Flower, and to be honest I might well have given up on the novel - a series of very short chapters presenting the life story of the German Romantic poet Novalis (I knew or know almost nothing about him). The first 15 or so vignettes are confusing a difficult to follow - lots of characters introduced, some important others marginal, and the life of the poet - aka Fritz von Hardenberg - does not really come into focus: we see no particular evidence of his genius, and he's a passive character, a young many interested in philosophy and the arts - who isn't? - who lets his powerful father dictate the course of his studies and his career: Dad says he will study law and business and become, like his father, an inspector of the salt mines and a government official, and Fritz obliges: no American protest and yearning for independence and freedom. Eventually, about 80 pages in, Fritz is boarding at the home of a wealthy government official who's teaching him about business, and he begins a relationship of some sort with the man's niece, who's also living there as a household helper: she's in her late 20s, and by all accounts unlikely ever to marry - Fritz tells her that he yearns for friendship, and she becomes an audience of one for some of his first attempts at writing; obviously, she takes the relationship much more seriously than he does - he reads her a romantic poem and obviously she thinks, though cannot say to him, that she believes the poem is about her. Fritz goes off on a trip to meet another business-owing family and falls immediately for the daughter - who is, get this, 12 years old! I realize that in that era many marriages were arranged from an early age, but his seems really bizarre. Fritz announces his new love to all - obviously deeply upsetting Karoline (the niece) and his family (he has I think 10 siblings, all but one younger), who are upset not so much by the age differential but by what they consider her stupidity, immaturity, and homeliness. We have to wonder as well what is with this odd man to fall immediately in love with - and to propose to - a 12 year old girl - even if she were a beauty and a genius. The success of the novel, I would say, from here out, depends on his Fitzgerald can examine Fritz/Novalis's personality and his art. At this point, he reminds me somewhat of Prince Myshkin - not an "idiot," obviously, but a complete innocent, innocent to the point where his naivete leads him into terrible social and interpersonal blunders: acting on impulse, flouting convention, hurting others by blurting out his feelings, all the while under the thumb of his domineering father.

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