Flowers in the Attic
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|Flowers in the Attic|
First edition cover of Flowers in the Attic
|Author(s)||V. C. Andrews|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
|Publication date||November 1979|
|Followed by||Petals on the Wind (1980)|
Flowers in the Attic is a 1979 novel by Virginia Andrews. It is the first book in the Dollanganger Series, and was followed by Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows. The novel is written in the first person from the point of view of Cathy Dollanganger. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1987. The book was extremely popular, selling over 40 million copies worldwide.
Plot summary 
In the year 1957, Cathy Dollanganger is twelve years old and the second of four children (including her older brother, Chris, who is fourteen years old, and fraternal twins, Carrie and Cory, who are five). They live in Gladstone, Pennsylvania with their parents, Christopher and Corrine. Their father works at a PR firm while their mother stays home to care for them. Their idyllic lifestyle ends when their father dies in a car accident on his 36th birthday.
Facing financial destitution, Corrine decides to move the children and herself into her parents' mansion in Virginia. She writes letters to her mother, Olivia, pleading for shelter. Olivia agrees to let them stay on the condition that the children be kept hidden; she does not want their grandfather, Malcolm, to know about them. Corrine is the youngest of three children, having two older brothers who died in accidents. Corrine tells the children that she did something her parents disapproved of fifteen years ago, so she is disinherited. However, her father is dying, and if she can win back his love, she will be the sole heir to a vast fortune. She also tells them that their real last name is Foxworth. They pack a few things and take the train to Virginia, leaving everything else behind. They make the secret path to Foxworth Hall, where they are escorted into small room below the attic by Olivia. Corrine promises to visit them the next day after she collects her luggage from Charlottesville, and talks to her father. When Corrine does return, the children find that she has been savagely horse-whipped by Olivia, who tells the children that their parents were half-uncle and niece; their father had been Malcolm's half-brother. She says that if Corrine has any chance of winning back her father's love, it is that the children be kept hidden in the room until Malcolm dies, and by then, Corrine will receive her inheritance and be able to provide for the children.
At first, Corrine lavishes the children with expensive gifts and promises of a bright future, and visits them every day. She even attends secretarial school to learn the necessary skills to care for the children (this is never mentioned again after the first year). However, as time goes by, she slowly stops visiting with her children and loses interest in them, particularly the twins who have almost stopped growing due to the stress of being locked up and lack of sunlight. The children are physically and emotionally abused by their grandmother, who calls them the "devil's spawn" and threatens them with severe punishment if they disobey her rules. Corrine continues to favor Chris, though her love for her favorite child does not motivate her to free them. After the first year, Corrine abruptly stops visiting with her children, leading Cathy and Chris to think something has happened to her, but Cathy later suspects that her mother has abandoned them.
The children initially spend their time reading and watching television, but then they decorate the attic with paper-made flowers to make it less scary for the twins. Cathy and Chris begins learning the basics to pursue their dreams; Cathy practices ballet and Chris reads dozens of books to become a doctor. Corrine's abandonment of the children forces them to rely on one another for comfort and friendship. This leads to a new family unit, with Cathy and Chris assuming the roles of mother and father for the twins and resolving to teach their siblings in a makeshift school room in the attic. After nearly two years of confinement, Cathy and Chris begin to enter puberty. Cathy becomes curious of the physical changes in her body; in one incident, she is admiring her naked body and Chris accidentally walks in on her. After getting over the initial shock, he proceeds to tell her how beautiful she is becoming. Their grandmother catches Chris watching Cathy and proudly proclaims them as sinners. She gives them an ultimatum: Chris must cut off all of Cathy's hair or all four children will starve for two weeks. When Chris refuses to comply, Olivia sneaks into the room, drugs Cathy in her sleep, and pours tar into her hair, which forces Chris to cut her hair off. The resulting starvation forces the children into desperate measures; Chris offers his blood to feed the twins and guts mice for him and Cathy to eat. Before they can eat the mice, their grandmother leaves them a basket of food, with additional powdered doughnuts.
Months later, Corrine suddenly returns and happily announces that she married her father's attorney, Bart Winslow, and was away on her honeymoon. Cathy and Chris are angry that their mother was on vacation while they nearly starved, but she shouts at them for thinking she doesn't care about them when she provides necessaries for them and refuses to visit with them until they apologize. Their grandmother continues to abuse them, and even whips both Cathy and Chris when he talks back at her. Due to their confinement, Cathy and Chris become sexually attracted to each other. They also begin plotting an escape. After distracting their mother during a visit, they take the room's key and make an impression of it in a bar of soap from which they carve a wooden copy. To finance their escape, they secretly steal jewels and money from their mother and stepfather. One night, Chris is ill, so Cathy goes alone. She encounters her stepfather sleeping in his chair. Curious and confused, she kisses him. Days later, Chris finds out about the kiss when he overhears his stepfather telling his mother about what he thought was a dream. Chris rapes Cathy in a jealous rage. Afterward, they feel tremendous guilt and shame. Chris sincerely apologizes to Cathy, who forgives him because she knew he didn't mean to do it. Chris professes his love to Cathy, and although she reciprocates his feelings, she is unsure of how to respond.
Soon after, Cory becomes seriously ill, and Cathy angrily persuades her mother to take him to the hospital. Corrine later tells them that Cory had died from pneumonia, leaving the older children devastated. Now desperate, Chris plans to take whatever money he can find in his mother's suite, but discovers that Corrine and Bart have left Foxworth Hall for good. Chris tells Cathy that he found out that he learned their grandfather died nine months ago after eavesdropping on the head butler, John Amos. Chris also tells her that he heard that their grandmother has been leaving food with arsenic to kill the mice in the attic. Realizing they are the "mice" and that arsenic was placed on the powdered-sugar doughnuts, Cathy and Chris take Carrie and slip out of Foxworth Hall before dawn to catch the train to Sarasota, Florida. At the train station, Chris reveals the final horror: their grandfather's will said that their mother would be disinherited if it is proven she had borne children from her first marriage or has any in the future. Their grandmother started leaving the doughnuts for them nine months ago, when their grandfather died and the will was read, therefore, it was their mother who made the decision to poison them.
They abruptly decide against going to the police, at the risk of being separated and put into foster care. Their priority is to be there for Carrie and survive on their own. Cathy is very angry at her mother's betrayal, and desperately wants to take revenge on her mother and grandmother, but decides that at the moment, she must be there for her brother and sister. She does declare that one day, she will get her vengeance. At the time of their escape, in November 1960, Chris is nearly 18 years old, Cathy is 15 years old, and Carrie is 8 years old.
- Catherine Leigh "Cathy" Dollanganger: The protagonist and narrator of the novel. Cathy is the second child and oldest daughter of Christopher and Corrine. She becomes an accomplished ballerina and later a novelist. During their time in the attic, she falls in love with Chris.
- Christopher "Chris" Dollanganger, Jr.: Oldest son and child of Christopher and Corrine. Chris is the older brother of Cathy, Cory, and Carrie. He is an over-achiever and later becomes a doctor. During their time in the attic, he falls in love with Cathy.
- Cory Dollanganger: Twin brother of Carrie and younger brother of Cathy and Chris. He is described as introverted and musically talented. He becomes ill during their time in the attic and dies from arsenic poisoning by Corrine. He is also described as the "quiet one of the twins" and never complained or anything.
- Carrie Dollanganger: Twin sister to Cory and the younger sister of Cathy and Chris. She is described as an extraverted girly girl, but her twin's death changes her. After Cory dies she refuses to speak for months.
- Corrine Dollanganger (née Foxworth): Mother of Chris, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie and widowed wife of Christopher Dollanganger. Eventually becomes an antagonist in the story when she tries to kill her children for her father's inheritance. She marries her father's attorney, Bart Winslow, later on and loses interest in her children and late husband.
- Bartholomew "Bart" Winslow: Second husband of Corrine. He is a trophy husband and marries her thinking that she doesn't have any children. Cathy is shocked to discover that he is eight years younger than Corrine.
- Olivia Foxworth (née Winfield): Wife of Malcolm Foxworth. Grandmother of the Dollanganger children. Cousin of John Amos. Olivia and Malcolm are co-antagonists in this book.
- Malcolm Foxworth: Father of Corrine and grandfather of the Dollanganger children. Husband of Olivia. He is described as having a heart condition, which may be a paradox, because he is also described as heartless. He dies during the book, though Chris and Cathy don't find out until somewhere near the end. He was also the older half-brother of the children's father.
- Christopher Dollanganger, Sr.: Corrine's first husband; father of the children. He was Malcolm's younger half-brother, making him Corrine's half-uncle. He is described as a wonderful father who couldn't bear to be separated from his children for longer than five days. He is killed in a car accident on his birthday at the beginning of the book.
- John Amos: A butler to the Foxworth family. Chris overhears very horrible information from him during one of Chris's expeditions to steal from his mother.
The book was adapted into a film of the same name in 1987.
The book's success was not without controversy. The commission of incest between an adolescent brother and sister in the novel has led to its being banned in certain areas at different times. Chariho High School in Rhode Island removed it because it contained "offensive passages concerning incest and sexual intercourse." In 1994, it was removed from the Oconee County school libraries due to "the filthiness of the material."
The book was much disputed when the novel was said to be based on a true story. For many years there was no evidence to support this claim, and the book was passed off as fiction. Nonetheless, the official V.C. Andrews website claims to have contacted one of Virginia's relatives. This unidentified relative claimed Flowers in the Attic was loosely based on a faintly similar account. While at the "University of Virginia hospital for treatment...she developed a crush on her young doctor. He and his siblings had been locked away in the attic for over 6 years to preserve the family wealth."
- Doyle, Robert (1998). Banned Books Resource Guide. The American Library Association.
- F., Jennifer. "Biography: Based on a True Story". The Complete V.C. Andrews. Retrieved 2010-01-09. "It has been widely speculated that Flowers in the Attic was based on a true story. But there has been no physical or historical evidence to support that claim. Virginia herself has admitted that a few incidents are autobiographical, and she has also stated that her stories have been influenced by experiences of friends and family, her own dreams and memories, and even popular and literary fiction."