The Blue Flower : A Review04 May 2020 •
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Historical fiction can work at such disparate levels; an era as a backdrop for the narrative, familiar textbook history unraveling as background score to the symphony of the lead characters’ life, the idiosyncrasies of the bygone era pictured in contrast to the era of the writer. The Blue Flower has everyone of these devices used to perfection, but it is so much more.
It is a purported biography of the early life of Novalis, a romantic poet & philosopher from 18th/19th century Saxony. It is an unusual love story. I do not use ‘unusual’ as moral judgement for love across an uncomfortable age-divide, but to mean the stark contrast between the lovers in (for want of better words) their levels of intellect & emotional range. To highlight my point, let me present my favorite exchange of words between Novalis and his ladylove Sophie:
`Should you like to be born again?’, asks Novalis, expecting a conversation on the philosophy of transmigration.
Sophie considered a little. ‘Yes, if I could have fair hair.’
Such an unbridgeable divide, but Fitzgerald convinces us of the irrational sway of love (love of the truly, madly, deeply variety).
In addition, the book is an account of the lives of Lower German nobility; a comical sketch of the reaction of this landed gentry to contemporaneous French Revolution, the epochal ideas of liberty & egalitarianism that it espoused, and the subsequent march of Napoleon.
Lastly, but foremost for me, the book’s thin underlying veneer of (Fichtean) philosophy makes you want more & know more of it.
Why should poetry, reason and religion not be higher forms of Mathematics? All that is needed is a grammar of their common language.