« Writing

Love note to: The Blue Flower

July 24, 2022

c/o Penelope Fitzgerald

Dear The Blue Flower,

I cried when we said goodbye. I don’t know why exactly, it’s so hard to explain. Isn’t love always? It wasn’t one thing, it was the combination of everything. Your humor, your beauty, your truth, your wry insights into the distant-but-half-seeing mind that values poetry above all—the sum was so much more than any of these.

Maybe I can try to break it down.

First, you were published in 1995? You feel so much older! I guess it’s because you’re set in the late 1700s, but still. You transcend your genre (“historical fiction” cannot possibly encompass you), and your century. I applaud you for all that you are, but especially for this.

I’m glad I convinced you to start a Twitter account. Your wit makes you a fun follow. Take for example, the self-aware logic of a youngest sibling who recently became an older sibling:

“‘There are now two more younger than myself, it will be hard for me to attract sufficient attention.’

‘But you love little Christoph,’ said Sidonie patiently. ‘You are only a child yourself, Bernhard, you are still in your days of grace.’

‘On the whole, I hate little Christoph.”

This is why I ran away from home as a child. (I was lucky to have had an aunt with a car who wouldn’t think to question a two year old saying “my parents definitely said you should take me with you”.)

This same no-longer-youngest-sibling (he is called the Bernhard, by the way, and I’m not sure what necessitates the “the”) introduced me to one of my favorite new people—the bookseller Severin, who we only meet occasionally, but that is enough to love him.

“‘The little brother is in disgrace,’ said Fritz, depositing the Bernhard. ‘He ran down onto the barges. How he came to get quite so wet I don’t know.’

‘Kinderleicht, kinderleicht,’ said Severin indulgently, but his indulgence was for Fritz. He could not warm to children, since all of them were scribblers of books.

But there is not only hilarity, there is wisdom, too. I think you gave me a new mantra for life.

“Courage is more than endurance, it is the power to create your own life in the face of all that man or God can inflict, so that every day and every night is what you imagine it. Courage makes us dreamers, courage makes us poets.”

And even though you’re half making fun of the poet in question throughout, I can relate to that, too. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that idealism is not everything. It is certainly not enough to live well. Even though it is inspiring and perhaps gives people the energy of youth, its rhetoric can keep you from seeing the truth entirely. Sometimes you need a dose of the acerbic, supplied by several of the delightful women you’ve introduced me to.

“We who are dull accept that intelligent persons should run the world and the rest of us should work six days a week to keep them going, if only it turns out that they know what they are doing.”

and also, from a woman who is thought to have gotten so wise as she’s advanced in age:

“‘The years have taught you philosophy.’

To his amazement she smiled and said, ‘How old do you think I am?’

He floundered. ‘I don’t know…I have never thought about it.’

‘I am twenty-two.’

‘But so am I,’ he said in dismay.

Thank you for the several days we spent together. To end this letter, I would like to quote you yet again (you say everything so well):

“‘ This is really all I need,’ she thought, ‘one moment only with someone who feels as I do.’”

It really is all I need.

—Sarah Avenir

Note to reader: Remember, books are non-monogamous. If you’re intrigued by this love letter, consider this a personal introduction to The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. I think you might hit it off.

In the spirit of POSSE, this was also published at: