Flowers in the Attic
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|Flowers in the Attic|
First edition cover of Flowers in the Attic
|Author||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 V.C. 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.
- 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.
- 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 both as having a heart condition and as heartless, a symbolic paradox. He dies during the book, though Chris and Cathy do not learn this 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 Dollanganger family live an idyllic life full of sunshine and love. Chris Jr., Cathy and younger twins Carrie and Cory adore their parents Corrine and Chris Sr. who are beautiful, loving and perfect. A local joke has them nicknamed the Dresden Dolls from their fair complexions, light blonde hair and blue eyes which are startlingly similar to their parents, with Chris resembling his father most strongly and Cathy their mother.
When their father is killed in a terrible road accident Corrine explains that they have to leave their home and the bulk of their possessions as these were not fully paid for. Corrine has no skills suitable for the workforce and decides to remove her children to their grandparents house where they will be able to stay. Corrine was cast off by her extremely wealthy parents for marrying Christopher and she has to beg for their help, which is given on the condition that for the first night the children are hidden from their grandfather. The old man is very ill and the shock of the children would apparently kill him.
Smuggled into the northern wing of the giant mansion, the children are hidden in a bedroom on the top floor with two double beds and an attached bathroom plus a cupboard that conceals a doorway into the attic above. Their grandmother is very fierce, formidable and strict while their mother seems utterly cowed by her surroundings. Once locked into their room, Chris and Cathy have to take care of their four year old twins.
The next day their mother reveals more of the truth - she was cast out because Christopher Sr was her half uncle, which counts as incest. Her deeply religious parents vowed never to help her again. Now her father relents although he has the grandmother whip Corrine from her head to her heels. Corrine explains that she is only being forgiven because he has no other issue - her two brothers died years before - and so she will inherit all his massive fortune when he dies, which she keeps saying will be very soon. Until then she must keep the children hidden and begs them to understand and submit. Adoring their mother as they do, the children agree to stay locked up in the attic.
Once a day the Grandmother brings a basket of food for them, although she orders them not to speak to her. They are to clean their own room, do their own laundry in the bath tub and take care of the twins. She also stipulates no contact between brothers and sisters as this would be sinful since they are "devils spawn" bred from incest. Grandmother makes it clear that she hates the children and will beat them bloody if they disobey.
One month becomes two and soon the children are resigned to remaining in the attic until their grandfather dies and they can collect their inheritance. Underfed, with little fresh air or sunlight, they cover the attic with paper flowers and plants to make it seem less frightening to the small twins who more and more see Chris and Cathy as their parents. Their mother brings them games, books and toys and at first visits every day although soon it changes to weekly visits. Chris wants to be a doctor and reads medical books, Cathy practices her ballet and the twins chatter in their own private language. Soon a full year passes and Cathy becomes more and more frustrated by their imprisonment. She is frequently irritated by her mother and challenges her over how much fun she has out in the world, enjoying sailing and delightful activities, looking healthy and beautiful while the children are locked away with monotonous cold food, no fresh air nor sunlight, no freedom and little to do. She notes that her mother has stopped taking secretarial classes and trying to find work in order to support them which she had promised to do when they were first locked up. After asking if they can be sent to school or kept in a little house far away, maintained by the money which is handed out lavishly to Corrine by her father, Corrine refuses saying it is too risky that her father will find out.
Cathy notes that their mother spends more time away from them, constantly has new clothes and expensive jewelry which she claims are paste stones, makes excuses and promises about how her father will soon die yet doesn't seem to care that they are without any freedom despite professing eternal love for them. At Christmas she allows Chris and Cathy to sneak down to watch some of the grand party that is taking place on condition that they go back after an hour and she will then lock them in again so Grandmother won't know. Dazzled by the wealth they see, Chris and Cathy drool over the idea of hot food, something they never get. Cathy notes how their mother spends all her time with a handsome dark haired man and discusses her being in love with him. They return to their room but Chris decides to explore some of the house and goes out again. Corrine returns before he is back and slaps Chris for betraying her trust. Chris reveals to Cathy that their mother has a giant and utterly beautiful suite of rooms filled with expensive clothes and jewels and priceless furniture.
As time keeps going slowly on Chris and Cathy go through puberty, awakening hormones and secret desires which both of them suppress. With their entire world shrunk to their small siblings, mother and grandmother, and their joint responsibility as parents to Carrie and Cory, both become increasingly frustrated by their mother. The siblings become closer than ever as they depend utterly on one another.
When the twins become dangerously ill yet are refused a doctor, Cathy's anger at her mother grows, fueled by her neglect and the frustration of being locked up. Several times she argues with Chris over her constant questions about when they will be released and her changing view of their mother: Chris adores Corrine and idolizes her as the perfect woman but he too is beginning to doubt her. One day their mother goes away for a long trip and the grandmother is left in charge of the children. Cathy has never seen her now changed body in the mirror as she has no privacy to undress before the full length looking glass in the bedroom so waits until her siblings are upstairs to strip naked. Chris comes downstairs and catches Cathy inspecting her naked body which he admires although admitting he shouldn't think so. The grandmother enters just as Cathy is changing back into her dress while Chris is present. She orders Chris to cut off Cathy's beautiful long blonde hair which is a favorite feature but he refuses. During the night the grandmother injects Cathy with morphine and covers her head in tar. Chris manages to remove the tar without cutting off all the hair by mixing chemicals from his chemistry set. The grandmother refuses them food for an entire week so Chris is forced to feed the twins his own blood in order to keep them alive. Cathy cuts off a little of the front of her hair, covering the rest with a turban so it looks like she has shaved her head and the grandmother finally feeds them although she later beats Chris and then Cathy into concussion when they tell her she has a filthy mind and has forced the sinful situation on them by keeping them imprisoned alone together and she is wicked before God for starving them and keeping them locked up and never showing kindness.
When their mother returns after six months it is revealed that she has married the dark haired man, Bart Winslow, who is her father's lawyer and 8 years younger than Corrine, and been on honeymoon in Europe and Canada. She brings expensive gifts but the children are stone-faced after her long neglect and that Corrine's new husband doesn't know about them either. Their grandfather still lives and Cathy begs for their mother to spend the money she has on a house for them so they can be out of the attic but is refused. The twins no longer know their mother and Chris tells Corrine that she is ignoring that they are all growing up. Chris offers to leave with Cathy and the twins and make their own way in the world, leaving Corrine to inherit and no longer have anything to do with them but Corrine refuses, locking them in for a week with little food. Making a plan to escape, Cathy and Chris fashion a key from wood and use it to sneak down to their mother's room. Deciding to run away Chris steals money from their mother and stepfather's room, little by little, so that they have enough for a train fare and to care for the twins.
Weak from lack of food and no sunshine, the twins have grown only two inches in their time locked away. Pale and fragile, Chris and Cathy are terrified that they will die before their mother can inherit. The twins now are uncomfortable with their mother, clinging to Cathy and Chris, and still act much younger than their age of nearly seven. Corrine never seems to look at the twins, refusing to see what her quest to inherit is costing them. She also ignores that Chris is now a man in both mind and body, forced into maturity by being the "father" of the family in the attic. Corrine also ignores Cathy's growth, buying her clothes which are not altered for her breasts nor hips and not giving her a bra to wear. Cathy notes that their mother brings them gold-leafed, embossed leather-bound books which cost a fortune but never once spends this money on keeping them somewhere that would allow freedom and the ability to have the twins grow up.
One night Cathy joins Chris in their mother's room and is fascinated by the wonderful array of clothes and glamorous items. She also finds a hidden book of pornographic images which disturbs her. Cathy tries to convince Chris to take small items of jewelry for them to sell but he refuses, stubbornly clinging to his childish idea of his adored mother. Always previously denying treats, the grandmother begins to bring them powdered sugar doughnuts each day which Cory particularly loves. Each child is suffering from the long internment and is often ill so one day when Chris is unable to leave his bed Cathy goes alone to their mother's room and finds her stepfather asleep. Realizing he is much younger than their mother and very handsome, she kisses his sleeping mouth, something Chris later discovers and is furious. His frustrations bursting out all at once, he rapes Cathy.
The next day Cory is very ill, so ill that the Grandmother calls in Corrine and Cathy demands that Cory be taken to the hospital before he dies. When Corrine hesitates, Cathy's hatred bursts forth and she swears that she will make her mother pay if Cory dies because money won't buy back a son. Cory is taken to a hospital but dies while there. Utterly demented by grief, Carrie stops talking, eating and drinking, unable to live without her twin. Chris finally agrees to take some of the jewels and escape with what they have but returns aghast because Corrine and Bart have left. All the jewels and personal possessions are gone. Chris goes to the Grandfathers room and discovers that he has already died nine months before. Corrine has already inherited all the money but left them locked up. Further, they realize that the grandmother has been mixing arsenic onto the sugar doughnuts, slowly poisoning them and killing Cory, a theory they test on Cory's pet mouse who quickly dies after eating some.
The last insult is that their mother left behind, forgotten, a photo of their father and the wedding and engagement rings he gave her which Chris takes when they leave.
The pair run away with Carrie, reaching the nearest town before Chris reveals the final horrible truth: that it was Corrine who killed Cory. Their grandfather added a codicil in his will saying that if it were ever proved that Corrine has children from her first marriage she would forfeit her inheritance. She is prohibited from having children in her new marriage or will forfeit the money and pay back what she has spent. Choosing her wealth over her children, Corrine had slowly tried to murder them. Deciding to stay together and protect Carrie before revenge, they dispose of their evidence, the poisoned doughnut and dead mouse, and leave with Carrie to somewhere filled with sunshine and flowers while their mother must live with the knowledge that she has lost all her children and has no chance of having more. Revenge will be served cold.
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."
- V.C. Andrews' 'Flowers in the Attic' to Premiere on Lifetime January 18 - Starring Heather Graham, Ellen Burstyn & Kiernan Shipka
- 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."