“Character is Fate, said Novalis,”*

Image: Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

*one of the most widely discussed comments Hardy ever made in his novels: see “The Mayor of Casterbridge” (1886).

From Wikipedia:

“Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (2 May 1772 – 25 March 1801), better known by his pen name Novalis, was an 18th-century German aristocrat, poet, author, mystic and philosopher of Early German Romanticism...”

From: Penelope Fitzgerald – a Life (2013) by Hermione Lee:

“The Blue Flower (1995) is a mysterious short book, as well as a very fully realised, complex, populated and realistic one. Part of its mystery is in its origins. There is no evidence that German Romanticism had been a lifelong interest of Fitzgerald’s…

…she had once heard, in a church in Bonn, a musical setting of Novalis’s mystic poems, Hymns to the Night, and had then begun ‘to look into his life’.

The story of the Blue Flower lies at the heart of Novalis’s unfinished Romantic novel, Heinrich Von Ofterdingen…

(Fitzgerald’s) work on Burne-Jones also led her to Novalis via his father-in-law, George MacDonald, a Novalis enthusiast and in her view ‘the only person who really understood him’…

Her own quest for Novalis had started years before she began to write the novel. In The Beginning of Spring, Selwyn utters a rhapsodic speech about the blue stream flowing above our heads; it is an unattributed quotation from Novalis. There is a glimpse of him before that, too, in the notes written at the time of Charlotte Mew, imagining a new kind of story-telling, inspired by Novalis, made out of fragments and associations, like dreams. This novel puts that kind of imagining into play…

…Novalis and his story of the Blue Flower was not an obscure subject – at least, not in Europe. It would be as if a German novelist had decided to write a novel based on Keats’s Grecian Urn, or Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. In Germany – and also in France – Novalis was one of the most famous of the German Romantics, a cult figure…But he and his unfinished novel had remained mysterious…Novalis has been described as the creator of ‘the central Romantic symbol’…

Fitzgerald spreads Novalis’s beliefs and ideas lightly through the novel, like overheard music, or traces of colour…’…The universe, after all, is within us. The way leads inwards, always inwards.’

These gnomic thoughts were peculiar to Novalis. But they were also of their time…He belonged to the Jena school of philosophy…all moving away from Enlightenment rationalism to Romantic aestheticism…As with the English Romantics, women were crucial to the group dynamics…

Novalis, like all true originals (Coleridge is another), took what he needed from everyone around him to feed his thought-processes…

Fitzgerald did not identify with Novalis. She was not a romantic or a symbolist or an optimist. Like all the utopian characters in her novels, he is a little absurd…

The author of The Blue Flower is an imaginative genius writing about what ‘genius’ is. She is an old person, keeping her imagination fresh by writing about youth. And she is, also, an old person thinking about the end of life and the prospect of death. Speaking about The Blue Flower, and about her work as a whole, she asks whether she wants the novel to be a form of consolation. Not if ‘consolation means something second best, to keep you quiet’, as in ‘consolation prize’. But yes, she does want it, ‘if consolation is to be made welcome in a different world, where the laws of time are suspended, and yet which is still my own’.”

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