The Pequod Review:
Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000) began her career as a novelist at the late age of 60 and wrote several fine books over the final two decades of her life. The Blue Flower was her last and by far her best work. Based on the early life of Novalis (1772-1801), the German Romantic poet and all-around renaissance man, the book is a masterpiece of setting and ideas. Fitzgerald captures so well the intellectual excitement of the Romantic era, the growing conflict between religious and secular values, and the exhilaration of youth and idealism more generally.
Some of the novel’s deepest pleasures are in Fitzgerald’s prose, which is seemingly lit from within:
He overrode whatever protest it was that Fritz had begun, or rather he ignored it in the intensity of his wish to be understood. “Hardenberg, in every created thing, whether it is alive or whether it is what we usually call inanimate, there is an attempt to communicate, even among the totally silent. There is a question being asked, a different question for every entity, which for the most part will never be put into words, even by those who can speak. It is asked incessantly, most of the time however hardly noticeably, even faintly, like a church bell heard across meadows and enclosures. Best for the painter, once having looked, to shut his eyes, his physical eyes though not those of the spirit, so that he may hear it more distinctly. You must have listened for it, Hardenberg, for Fraulein Sophie’s question, you must have strained to make it out, even though, as I think very probable, she does not know herself what it is.”
I also liked this line:
[H]e started talking immediately, his thoughts seizing the opportunity to become words.
The book is a challenging read, at times too fragmentary and elusive, and without much of a plot. But Fitzgerald’s rich and elegant style rewards a close reading. Highly recommended.