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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.

Plot Summary

Narrator Catherine Leigh "Cathy" Dollanganger (12) is the second of four children, following older brother Chris (14) and preceding twins Cory and Carrie (5). Cathy and her siblings live lovely blissful lives in Gladstone, Pennsylvania. Their father, Christopher Sr, their mother, Corinne Dollanganger, is a housewife and cares for Cathy, Chris Jr. and the twins. Each member of the family is beautiful and sports flaxen blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. They are nicknamed "The Dresden Dolls" because of their resemblance to porcelain dolls. Their idyllic life in Gladstone ends when Christopher Sr. dies in a highway accident on his 36th birthday.

Facing financial destitution, Corinne decides to move herself and her children back to Foxworth Hall, her family home in Charlottesvillemarker, Virginiamarker. Corinne begins to write letters to her mother, Olivia, persuading her to let her and the children stay in the giant mansion. Corinne tells the children that her parents are very rich, but were upset with Corinne for an unexplained reason and so she had not seen them in years. She also relates that their grandfather is dying and if Corinne can earn back her father's love before his death then she shall be the sole heir to her father's vast fortune, for both her brothers died in tragic accidents. Olivia agrees to Corinne's wishes as long as the children are hidden; she does not want their grandfather, Malcolm, to know about them. Corinne and her children move out of Gladstone without a goodbye to any friends and take a train to her parents' mansion. They are dropped off by the train in the middle of nowhere and end up walking to Foxworth Hall.

When the children are settled into a small room below the attic, Corinne leaves with her mother and promises to return the next day after she has spoken with her father. She believes seeing him in person will win him over. When she returns to her children, she has been savagely horse whipped by Olivia, who explains to the children that their parents were half-uncle and niece; their father had been Malcolm's half-brother. If Corinne has any hope of gaining her father's approval, the existence of the children must be kept secret. The children are told that they must remain in seclusion in the end bedroom and the attic of their grandparents' vast mansion until Malcolm’s death. Initially, Corinne attends secretarial school so that she can acquire the skills necessary to support her children; however, the book does not reveal whether she actually graduated, as no references to secretarial school are made after the first year.

At first, Corinne lavishes the children with expensive gifts and promises of a bright future. However, as time goes by, she slowly loses interest in her children, particularly Cory and Carrie, who have almost stopped growing due to the stress of being locked inside and lack of sunlight. Corinne continues to favor Chris, though this love for her eldest does not motivate her to free her children. After months of imprisonment Corinne stops visiting her children, leaving Cathy and Chris to believe that something has happened to her while they have been trapped in the attic. The children are both physically and emotionally abused by their evil grandmother and are constantly told that they are the devil's spawn and an abomination in the eyes of the Lord due to their parents' incestuous relationship. The grandmother warns them to abide by her list of strict rules and reminds them that God will punish any evil she does not witness.

The children initially spend most of their time decorating the attic to make it less scary for the twins. They turn it into their own paper-made garden with flowers and animals. Chris fashions a swing for them, to make the flowers move as if there is really a breeze flowing through the attic. As years pass, Cathy practices ballet, she and Chris become voracious readers, and Chris works toward his dreams of becoming a doctor, yet the two elder siblings, largely due to their confinement, begin to share sexual feelings about each other. Cathy reminds Chris that the two must not repeat their parents' incestuous mistake.

Corinne's abandonment forces the children to rely on one another for comfort and friendship. This leads to the formation of a new family unit, with Chris and Cathy assuming the roles of mother and father for their beloved twins. Chris and Cathy resolve to teach the twins in a school room in the huge attic.

When Corrine eventually returns she tells the children she has remarried to her father's attorney, Bart Winslow. While Corinne is away on her honeymoon, the Grandmother catches Chris lingering upon Cathy as she admires her naked body before the mirror. She gives Christopher and Cathy an ultimatum: Either Chris must cut off all of Cathy's hair or all four children will be starved of food for two weeks. Cathy tries to trick her Grandmother into believing that Christopher has cut off her hair but the Grandmother is not fooled and after drugging Cathy in her sleep, pours burning tar onto Cathy's hair. As a consequence of their betrayal the children are starved. With all four of them starving, Chris slashes his wrist and makes Cory and Carrie drink the blood to prevent them from starving to death. Chris and Cathy then decide to dissect and eat the mice caught in the traps in the attic, hoping that will give them enough strength to climb down the rooftop with a sheet-rope. As they're about to commit the act the grandmother leaves a picnic basket full of food, along with a new addition of powdered doughnuts. Corinne also returns, which triggers Cathy's fury, sending the mother scurrying from the room, threatening to return only when the children convey their regret for their accusing actions.

The Grandmother continues to abuse the children, and in one incident whips both Cathy and Chris.

As time passes the children start to form a plan to escape their prison. Christopher fashions a rope that the children can climb down, however they soon discover the small twins are too frightened to climb from such a tremendous height and so the two elder siblings decide to use the rope to visit the family lake, where the two go skinny dipping and continue their incestuous desires. They make an impression of the key that is used to lock them in their room and are able to get out. To finance their escape, Chris and Cathy began to steal small amounts of money from their Mother and new stepfather's lavish suite. One night, Christopher is too ill to steal so Cathy goes to the room alone, only to find her stepfather asleep in a chair. Confused and curious, she kisses him before she can stop herself. Days later, Christopher finds out about the kiss when he overhears his stepfather telling Corinne he believed that while he slept someone, with the description of Cathy, kissed him. Upon hearing this Chris, in a jealous rage, rapes Cathy. Afterward, Christopher is ashamed and apologetic to Cathy who forgives him admitting she could have stopped him, had she truly wanted to.

Soon after, Cory becomes mysteriously sick. After Cathy yells and berates her mother, Corinne promises to take Cory to the hospital. Corinne returns and tells the children that Cory has died, leaving Cathy to feel that God has punished them, just as the Grandmother had them believe. Now desperate to escape, Christopher plans to take whatever money and jewelry he can find in his mother's suite, only to find that Corinne has once again left them, and it appears this time, for good. He also discovers that the Grandfather had died nine months before leaving all his money to Corinne on the condition that if it is proven she bore any children from her first marriage to Christopher Sr. or has a child in her second marriage, she shall be disinherited. In this shocking revelation, the children realize that their mother brought them to Foxworth Hall, knowing that they would never leave the attic. Chris begins to suspect that they were poisoned when he overhears the butler, John Amos, talking about how the Grandmother has been leaving arsenic-covered food upstairs to kill the mice in the attic. In an effort to cover up the noise the children made the grandmother told the servants to never enter the last room on the north wing because of the mice in the attic that scurried down the attic stairs. After testing one of the powdered-sugar doughnuts on their pet mouse Mickey, who dies from the poisoning, Christopher, Cathy and Carrie escape from their imprisonment after three-and-a-half years of captivity and plan to travel to Sarasota, Floridamarker where the flowers blossom every day of the year. Christopher is nearly eighteen, Cathy is fifteen, and Carrie is eight.

Characters

  • Catherine Leigh "Cathy" Dollanganger: The protagionist and narrator of the novel. Cathy is the second-born of Chris Sr. and Corinne's children. In Petals on the Wind, she becomes the mother of Jory and Bart (II).


  • Chris Dollanganger, Jr.: Eldest offspring of Christopher and Corrine, Chris is the older brother of Cathy, Cory, and Carrie. 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 becomes ill during their time in the attic and dies.


  • Carrie Dollanganger: Twin sister to Cory and the younger sister of Cathy and Chris.


Controversy

The book's success was not without controversy. The discussion of incest between an adolescent brother and sister in the novel has led to its being banned in certain areas at different times. The Richmond High School in Rhode Islandmarker 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." Interestingly, none of the criticisms of the book include remarks about the rape of a young girl by her brother.

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 until the official V.C. Andrews' website made contact with one of Virginia's relatives who claimed "Flowers in the Attic WAS based on a true story. Virginia was a young lady when my dad made arrangements to take Virginia to the University of Virginia hospital for treatment. While she was there, 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. Obviously she cut the time back [in her novel] to be more believable. That area of the country has a lot of very wealthy people. I do not know who they were."

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