I had wanted to read this for a long time after reading an article on authors who were never Booker winners. Three previous Booker judges independently argued that it was a travesty that this ‘masterpiece’ did not win. Fortunately my boyfriend’s mum Janet had this book in a pile waiting to go the charity shop so she gave it to me, as she hadn’t enjoyed it much.
Novalis looking like a proper German Romantic
The story is based upon the life of the German Romantic author and philosopher Novalis, the pseudonym of Fritz or more correctly, Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (a bit of a mouthful, you can see why he needed a pseudonym). It tells the story of his life before he became well known and his noble family’s declining fortunes at the close of the 18th century. Whilst under his apprenticeship in his early 20´s as a salt mine inspector, he meets and falls in love with Sophie, who is only 12 (!). He is a well-educated philosopher, whilst she is essentially a child, so like the reader, the other characters in the novel are at a loss to understand their engagement. After discussing this novel with a friend she pointed out today that these people would be considered paedophiles, which is an interesting and highly debatable point.
During this period he is writing the novel of which the blue flower plays a part, this relates to the theme of the novel; the blue flower represents desire, love, and the striving for unreachable. This gives you an indication of the nature of the plot, which is hard for me to explain without including spoilers. The book is written in the context of the in the context of the French Revolution and touches on issues such as Humanism and the Age of Enlightenment, Fritz´s relationship with Sophie is linked to the development of the self as an individual.
The afterword to this book about the facts on which it was based was more interesting than the actual book.I found the real Fritz more fascinating than reading the book and was interested to discover that he actually got engaged in 1798, only a year after this story ends. Tragically, like many of his family he died young, at the age of 29.
The book also focuses on other interesting topics such as 18th century ideas about medicine; the note at the front of the book explains that the description of an operation without anaesthetic was based on actual historical sources but in fact the description of it in the book largely passed me by. The chapters in is this story are very short, only a few pages long, maybe this is why I failed to become completely engaged at times.. The opening of the story draws you in straightaway and the descriptions of family life bring the period alive, the ending was also fascinating, but I found myself a bit disengaged in the middle.
So basically the genius of this ‘masterpiece’ passed me by, considering it was about someone who had such an interesting life,the book had enjoyable parts but did not keep me on tenterhooks.