Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald

This is a part of Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - F is for Fitzgerald (and Flower, and Fritz, and ...)

Fritz, son of an pious, proud and poor nobleman in late 18th century Germany, is clearly destined to be a poet, though he tries to force himself into a more practical, and pecuniary, profession. From the start, the reader realizes Fritz is flighty and pensive, even if his thoughts are rather impentrable. The opening chapter introduces us to Fritz's family on laundry day, when their underclothes are billowing in the air as a friend comes to visit. Fritz admonishes his friend, "Gentlemen! Look at that washbasket! Let your thought be the washbasket! Have you thought the washbasket? Now then, gentlemen, let your thought be on that that thought the washbasket!"

I have no idea what he means by that. I can guess, though, what Fitzgerald means it to reveal about her character - that he seeks the essence of the universe in individual things, that his thoughts do not often untangle themself well when aired to others. The richness of the personal interior is one of the key themes of the book, which has a relatively simple plot. I hate to write this, as it doesn't happen until nearly a third into the book, but it's on the back flap ... Fritz falls in love with the young (12!) Sophie, and the rest of the book is an examination of his love as he waits for her to age, to catch up. This strange love is confusing to those around him, some of whom regard Sophie as a halfwit, although there are others who become equally caught in her spell.

The crux of the book, though, is not Sophie but a story Fritz has written about a blue flower. A young man remembers a blue flower a stranger showed him, and he says, "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 about nothing else. Never did I feel like this before. It is as if until now I had been dreaming, or as if sleep had carried me into another world." After reading the story to a young woman who is in love with him, though Fritz is ignorant of it, he asks her, "What is the meaning of the blue flower?" It is a question that haunts the reader for the rest of the book.

Overall, this is a quiet, strange story. It is written in a romantic style reminiscent of Goethe, who haunts the edges of the story as a character himself. I suppose it's better to think of it as a poem, one that Fritz would eventually write when he fulfills his destiny, with a lovely collection of images, people and feeling that reveals meaning after contemplation.


Sarah said...

Thanks for the excellent review. I've had this book on my shelf for a while, and your review gives me a good feel for what to expect from it.

Marg said...

It does sound like a strange book, but strangely compelling as well!

Thanks for the review.

Rowenna said...

I love strange books and movies...this sounds enthralling (and strange). Thanks!

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