Flowers in the Attic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Flowers in the Attic
Original cover of Flowers in the Attic.
First edition cover of Flowers in the Attic
Author V. C. Andrews
Country United States
Language English
Series Dollanganger series
Genre Gothic horror
Family saga
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
November 1979
Media type Print
Pages 400
ISBN 0-671-82531-3
OCLC 21616361
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 older 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.: Older son and oldest 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 at the hands of his mother. 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 extroverted 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 in order to gain 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 until 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' expeditions to steal from his mother.


In the late 1950s, the Dollanganger family lives an idyllic life full of sunshine and love in Gladstone, Pennsylvania. Chris Jr., Cathy, and younger twins Carrie and Cory adore their parents Corrine and Chris Sr., who are loving, and seemingly perfect. A local joke has them nicknamed the Dresden Dolls from their fair complexions, light blonde hair, and blue eyes that are startlingly similar to those of 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 relocate her children to their grandparents' home, where they will be able to stay. Corrine was disowned by her extremely wealthy parents for marrying Christopher Sr. (who was her half uncle) 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 knowledge 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. Once locked into their room, Chris and Cathy have to take care of their four year old twin siblings.

Corrine's father relents, although he has the grandmother whip Corrine from her head to her heels. She explains that he has only forgiven her because he still doesn't know about them. He has no other children - her two brothers died years before - and so she will inherit 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 their 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. She makes it clear that she despises the children since they are "devils' spawn" bred from incest 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 that soon 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 her 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. She asks if they can be sent to a school or kept in a house far away, maintained by the money which is handed out lavishly to Corrine by her father. Corrine refuses, saying there is too much risk that her father will find out.

Cathy notes that their mother spends more and more time away from them, constantly has new clothes and expensive jewelry which she claims have paste stones, makes excuses and promises about how her father will soon die, yet doesn't seem to care that her children are without any freedom despite professing eternal love for them. At Christmas, their mother 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 their grandmother won't know.

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 still 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. She waits until her siblings are upstairs to strip naked. Chris comes downstairs and catches Cathy inspecting her naked body, which he admires, although admitting that he shouldn't do so. Unfortunately the grandmother comes in and catches them both. She starves all four children for a whole week, and they suffer terribly, especially the twins. Later where Chris, depressed and frustrated over their mother's abandonment of them, defies the grandmother and tells her she is a hypocrite. He is whipped by the grandmother, and when Cathy tries to intervene, she is whipped as well.

When their mother returns after being gone for six months, it is revealed that she has married Bart Winslow, who is her father's lawyer and 8 years younger than she, and has been on honeymoon in Europe and Canada. She brings expensive gifts, but the children are stone-faced after her long neglect and the fact that her 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 leave out of the attic, but is refused.

By now the twins no longer know their mother, and Chris tells Corrine that she is ignoring the fact 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 and actually turns the tables on the children, saying they are being cruel to her and she will not come see them again until they show her the respect and kindness she deserves. Chris and Cathy do apologize to Corrine later to keep things peaceful, but both know they have to get themselves and the twins out.

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 they can escape. The twins are now 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.

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 sugared doughnuts each day. The kids are surprised, but accept them, grateful for some "goodies". 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 that he is much younger than their mother and very handsome, she kisses his sleeping mouth, something Chris later discovers, making him furious. His frustrations bursting out all at once, he rapes Cathy.

Soon after, Cory is very ill, so ill that their grandmother calls in Corrine. 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 the hospital but when Corrine returns, she tearily says Cory has died and been buried. 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 when he discovers that Corrine and Bart have left, seemingly for good; all their jewels and personal possessions are gone.

Chris goes to his grandfather's room, and discovers that the old man had died nine months earlier. Corrine had finally inherited the money, but left her children locked up. Further, they conclude that their grandmother had mixed arsenic onto the sugar doughnuts, slowly poisoning them and killing Cory, a theory they test on Cory's pet mouse, which 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 had children from her first marriage, she would forfeit her inheritance. The poisoned doughnuts started coming just after the grandfather's will was read.

Deciding to stay together and protect Carrie, the elder siblings dispose of their evidence, the poisoned doughnut and dead mouse, and leave with Carrie to someplace 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. (Another condition in her father's will is that she can't have children by her second marriage.) Cathy silently vows revenge, revenge that will be very cold.


The book was adapted into a film of the same name in 1987.

A second adaptation was released on January 18, 2014, on the Lifetime network starring Heather Graham as Corrine and Ellen Burstyn as the Grandmother, with Kiernan Shipka as Cathy.[1]


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."[2]

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 Andrews'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."[3]


  1. ^ V.C. Andrews' 'Flowers in the Attic' to Premiere on Lifetime January 18 - Starring Heather Graham, Ellen Burstyn & Kiernan Shipka
  2. ^ Doyle, Robert (1998). Banned Books Resource Guide. The American Library Association. 
  3. ^ 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."