Flowers in the Attic

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Flowers in the Attic
Dollanganger01 FlowersInTheAttic.jpg
First edition cover of Flowers in the Attic
AuthorV. C. Andrews
CountryUnited States
SeriesDollanganger series
GenreGothic horror
Family saga
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
November 1979
Media typePrint
Followed byPetals on the Wind (1980) 

Flowers in the Attic is a 1979 Gothic 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, Garden of Shadows, Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth, Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger and Christopher's Diary: Secret Brother. The novel is written in the first-person, from the point of view of Cathy Dollanganger. It was twice adapted into films in 1987 and 2014. The book was extremely popular, selling over forty million copies world-wide.[1]


In 1957, the Dollanganger family lives an idyllic life in Gladstone, Pennsylvania until Mr. Dollanganger dies in a car accident, leaving his wife Corinne deep in debt with four children and no professional skills. The family is forced to move in with Corinne's wealthy parents, from whom she is estranged. Upon arrival at Corinne's ancestral home, Foxworth Hall, the family is greeted coldly by Corinne's mother, Olivia, who sneaks them into a small bedroom connected to the attic. The children are told they must remain hidden from their grandfather, Malcolm, and can never leave this room.

The older children, Cathy and Chris, attempt to make the best of the situation for their younger siblings, twins Carrie and Cory, by turning the attic into an imaginary garden. They are dismayed when Corinne returns after meeting with her parents and they see she has been savagely whipped. Corinne confesses that the children's dead father was her father's half-brother, and this incest is the cause of her and her parents' estrangement. Corinne plans to win back her father's love, and hopes to introduce the children once this has been accomplished.

At first, Corinne visits her children daily, sometimes bringing expensive gifts. Meanwhile, Olivia emotionally and physically abuses the children, constantly threatening to whip them for any acts she considers "sinful". At Christmastime, Corinne allows Cathy and Chris to watch guests at Foxworth Hall from a hiding spot, where they see their grandfather for the first time and also see their mother with Bart Winslow, Malcolm's attorney. Their mother's visits then become less frequent as her emotional bond with the children weakens, to the point where she eventually slaps Chris and threatens to whip him.

A year later, Cathy and Chris have both entered puberty and become surrogate parents for Carrie and Cory, who no longer recognize Corinne when she occasionally appears. While Cathy and Chris are both entering adulthood, the twins' physical growth is stunted from a lack of adequate nutrition, sunlight and fresh air. Despite personal shame, Cathy and Chris develop a physical attraction toward each other. Olivia catches Chris staring at a half-dressed Cathy and orders him to cut off Cathy's hair. Chris refuses, and Olivia abandons them for three weeks, driving them to near-starvation. Olivia drugs Cathy in the night and covers her hair in tar. Chris eventually rescues most of her hair and they decide that will cut the front part of her hair and wear a turban to hide the rest, pretending that this is to hide the shame of a bald head. The plan is successful, meals resume and now include sugared doughnuts as a surprise.

Corinne visits the children for the first time in six months, explaining that she had been on a honeymoon with Bart in Europe. Cathy and Chris react angrily, but when Corinne threatens to never visit again, they pretend to be happy for her. Realizing that they cannot rely on their mother any longer, Chris and Cathy come up with an escape plan, sneaking into the house to steal money and valuables from their mother's room. One night, Cathy discovers her sleeping stepfather and kisses him. When Chris learns of the act, he is enraged and rapes Cathy. Afterwards, he is overcome with remorse, and Cathy forgives him by saying she wanted it too.

Cory becomes very sick and Corinne agrees to take him to the hospital, though only after Cathy tells her that if Cory dies, she will find a way to make Corinne pay for it. The next day, Corinne returns and tells the children that Cory died, allegedly from pneumonia. Without warning, their mother and Bart move out. Eavesdropping on the servants, Chris learns that their grandfather died a year ago and Olivia is now leaving out doughnuts sprinkled with rat poison in an attempt to clear the attic's "mouse" infestation. The three remaining children finally flee, catching a train to Florida.

At the train station, Chris reveals that he discovered Corinne's inheritance is conditional upon her having no children from her first marriage, and she was poisoning them to secure her father's wealth. Chris and Cathy decide against contacting the police as their main concern is to stay together and protect Carrie, who is still a minor. Chris assures Cathy that they can make a new life without their mother, but Cathy swears to exact revenge one day.


  • 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 becomes romantically attracted to Chris, her brother.
  • Christopher Garland "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 becomes sexually attracted to Cathy.
  • Cory Dollanganger: Twin brother of Carrie and younger brother of Cathy and Chris. The "quiet one" of the twins, Cory is introverted but musically talented. He becomes ill during their time in the attic and dies from arsenic poisoning at the hands of his mother.
  • Carrie Dollanganger: Twin sister to Cory and the younger sister of Cathy and Chris. Prior to Cory's death, she is an extraverted girly girl, but after Cory dies she refuses to speak for months.
  • Corrine Dollanganger (née Foxworth): Mother of Chris, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie and widow 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 Neal 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 story, 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 also Corrine's half brother. 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. Oliva's cousin. Chris overhears very horrible information from him during one of Chris' expeditions to steal from his mother.


In 1993, Flowers in the Attic was awarded the Secondary BILBY Award.[2] In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's 200 "best-loved novels."[3]


In 1987, the book was adapted into a film of the same name starring Louise Fletcher, Victoria Tennant, Kristy Swanson, and Jeb Stuart Adams and directed by Jeffrey Bloom.

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, Mason Dye as Christopher, and directed by Deborah Chow.[4] The film received mixed reviews, but critics praised Ellen Burstyn's performance.

The book was adapted into a stage play by V. C. Andrews's ghost writer, Andrew Neiderman, in the form of an e-book and was published by Pocket Star. The stage play was released in October 2014 and is 80 pages in length. In August 2015 the stage play received its world premiere production in New Orleans, Louisiana. The play, which received positive reviews,[5] was produced by See 'Em On Stage: A Production Company and was directed by Christopher Bentivegna.


The book's success was not without controversy. The depiction 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, Georgia school libraries due to "the filthiness of the material."[6]

Claims that the novel is based on a true story have been disputed.[citation needed] 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' 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."[7]


  1. ^ Flood, Alison (14 November 2019). "'Awful and fabulous': the madness of Flowers in the Attic". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  2. ^ "Previous Winners of the BILBY Awards: 1990 – 96" (PDF). The Children's Book Council of Australia Queensland Branch. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 November 2015. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  3. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved August 23, 2017
  4. ^ "V.C. Andrews' 'Flowers in the Attic' to Premiere on Lifetime January 18 – Starring Heather Graham, Ellen Burstyn & Kiernan Shipka". 14 November 2013. Archived from the original on 11 December 2015.
  5. ^ "The Complete VCA: Flowers in the Attic: A Stage Play".
  6. ^ Doyle, Robert (1998). Banned Books Resource Guide. The American Library Association.
  7. ^ 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.