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Literature: Flowers in the Attic

Flowers in the Attic is a novel by V. C. Andrews first published in 1979. It is the first in the Dollanganger series and was followed by Petals On The Wind (1980), If There Be Thorns (1981), Seedsof Yesterday (1984), Garden Of Shadows (1986; partially written by Andrews and finished Andrew Neiderman after her death). It has been adapted twice into film: first in 1987 and again for television by Lifetime in 2014. Petals on the Wind was also made into a television film for Lifetime in 2014.

It is a gruesome story of lies, secrets, betrayal and triumph. Flowers in the Attic is the story of Cathy Dollanganger and her brothers and sister Christopher, Cory and Carrie. Following the death of their father, their mother takes them to live with their rich grandparents, who had disowned her and written her out of the will of her dying father. The Grandmother, a mean-spirited, overly-zealous religious fanatic, reveals the shocking truth about their mother's disinheritance, and that they must remain quiet and out of sight if they do not wish to be punished simply for being alive. As time goes by, the children suffer, are locked up, abandoned and left to die by a selfish mother and a hateful grandmother.


The book provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Olivia, Corrine's mother. She once beat Corrine for removing a doll's clothes to see what was underneath. When Corrine returns to Foxworth Hall with her own children, she's hardly any different.
    • Corrine herself begins to act this way towards the children the longer they stay at the house.
    • It's implied in the first book that Olivia's own parents were abusive since they locked her in a closet to punish her, and wouldn't let her play with her own toys (instead keeping her doll house in a glass box.)
  • Adaptational Modesty: In the book Chris walks in on Cathy topless admiring her new breasts - and Grandmother catches them. In the TV film she is only in her underwear. Additionally the rape is changed to a more consensual moment of passion.
    • The feature film plays with this. The incest is relegated to subtext and the aforementioned scene is different. Cathy is in the bath fully nude (obviously) but Chris is only sitting in the room with her - and not actually checking her out.
  • Alliterative Family: The Dollanganers all have names that start with a C. Christopher, Corrine, Christopher Jr, Cathy, Cory and Carrie.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Carrie, after Cory is killed by poison.
  • As the Good Book Says: Used by the Grandmother in her sermons and lectures, proclaiming the children the "Devil's Spawn."
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Initially played straight with the Dollanganger family, but eventually subverted as the family breaks down.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Cathy chooses this as the kids' escape plan if a fire should start.
  • Berserk Button: Cory doesn't take it well when his twin sister got hurt by their grandmother, to the point that he attempted to fight her (it ended with him getting slapped and thrown to the corner of the room where Carrie was cowering).
  • Big Fancy House: Foxworth Hall.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: Cathy and Christopher's family grows to be this.
  • Blondes are Evil: Corrine surely qualifies.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Chris and Cathy, due to being locked up and isolated through puberty.
    • In the prequel Garden of Shadows, it's revealed all four children were a product of this kind of incest. Corrine and Christopher Sr. thought they were only half-uncle and half-niece, but in reality they were also half siblings on their mother's side.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The donuts. They're laced with arsenic in the sugar powder, in order to kill the children slowly.
  • Creepy Twins: As time passes and Cory and Carrie get sicker, they become more and more like this.
  • Daddy's Girl: Cathy. Corrine aspires to become this again.
  • Dances and Balls: The Christmas party.
  • Dark Secret: This family is made of them.
  • Dead All Along: By the time the children escape from the attic, their grandfather has been dead for almost a year.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Olivia gives out harsh punishments for the most minor infractions of house rules.
  • Don't Split Us Up: One of the principal reasons Cathy, Chris, and Carrie don't go to the authorities after escaping the attic is the fear of this.
  • Evil Matriarch: Olivia.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Corrine turns from loving mother to uncaring shrew.
  • Fallen Princess: Deconstructed. Corrine comes from vast wealth and gave it all up to marry her husband but once he's dead she won't work and returns to her family, hoping to be rich again. She ends up trying to kill off her own children just to get her inheritance.
  • Foreshadowing: The kids' baby-sitter jokes about Christopher Sr. and Corrine saying they look more like siblings than husband and wife. They are.
  • The Fundamentalist: The Grandmother.
  • Generation Xerox: Chris and Cathy. Not only do they look eerily like their parents which isn't that suprising, since their parents were half-uncle and niece and half-brother and sister, so it's family resemblance x10, but Chris dies in a car accident, just like their father did.
  • The Ghost: Malcom, Corrine's father, in the first book.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Initially played straight with the Dollanganger family, but eventually subverted as the family breaks down.
  • Hulk Speak: Cory and Carrie don't speak good "'cause Momma don't like them no more."
  • Hypocrite: Of the super-religious-and-yet-not-at-all-righteous type. Olivia takes the incestuous relationship her daughter had committed, and uses it as an excuse to starve, abuse, lie, blackmail, dehumanize children, and commit outright murder, among other things. Also, it is mentioned once that Corrine's father Malcom thinks he is entitled to do whatever he pleases because he's been regularly funding a church.
  • In the Blood: Olivia believes incest runs in the Dollanganger family; which it kind of does.
  • Incest Subtext: There are hints here and there that Christopher is sexually attracted to, or at least very confused by, his mother. He is even shown to be very attracted to a picture of his great-grandmother.
    • The 2014 Petals on the Wind film gives subtext that Carrie might be attracted to Chris, or at least jealous of his relationship with Cathy.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Initially played straight with the Dollanganger family, but eventually subverted as the family breaks down.
  • Insufferable Genius: Christopher wants to be a doctor, which apparently involves knowing everything there is to know about everything in the world. It gets to the point where Cathy snaps and screams at him for it.
  • Intimate Haircut: Cathy gives Chris one and it leads to that infamous (and ambiguously rapacious) incestuous sex scene with her in his fit of desperation that every reader remembers.
  • Karma Houdini: None of the people responsible for the children's imprisonment and Cory's death receive any punishment. In the film, Corrine is exposed and killed on her wedding day, making Olivia and her accomplices' escape from justice all the more baffling. In the later books, Olivia gets some retribution from Cathy, and Corrine is forced to admit her children's existence, and what she did to them in front a large group of people, only to spend the remainder of her life trying to regain their love.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: The grandmother thinks that the kids, especially Chris and Cathy, are somehow incestuous by nature because they were inbred. One could make a case that she was right, but their relationship clearly became incestuous because of years of isolation at an age which children are most in need of socializing.
  • Mama Bear: Gradually subverted with Corrine, who loses interest in her kids as her return to wealth corrupts her. Played Straight with Cathy, who is a surrogate mother to her little brother and sister.
  • Momma's Boy: Christopher. He refuses to admit Corrine doesn't love them and is happily abandoning them to die in the house, right up until the moment he realizes their grandfather has been dead for months and Corrine has remarried and left.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: A variation. Cathy notes that the dresses her mother keeps buying for her won't fit her now - because Corrine keeps buying dresses for a twelve-year-old and Cathy has now grown and developed breasts.
  • Offing the Offspring: With arsenic laced desserts.
  • Old Dark House: Most of Foxworth Hall is beautiful, but the attic definitely falls under this trope.
  • Only Sane Man: Cathy is the first one to realize that their mother is being considerably less than straight with them, as she notices her promises keep failing to be fulfilled.
  • Parental Abandonment: What Corrine does. She wants to get her inheritence back, but her father's will says if it ever comes to light she had children from her first marriage she'll lose all of it. So what does she do? Hide her children from the world by locking them up and slowly poisoning them to death.
  • Parental Favoritism: Perhaps it's just to calm Cathy's fears about having a little sister, but her father promises to love her a little more than any other girls he may have.
    • Chris is very much Corrine's favorite child. She is much more affectionate with him than with any of the others.
    • Corrine was her father's favorite. He had some deep-seated issues with women, though...
  • Parental Neglect: Corrine's visits become fewer and fewer as she gets caught up with high society, and she continually ignores all her children's very reasonable complaints about living at Foxworth Hall.
  • Perfect Poison: The arsenic-laced sugar powder. In small amounts it can't be detected and kills them slow enough that even the children don't notice.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Cory is quiet, polite and gentle. Carrie is loud, adamant and forceful.
  • Promotion to Parent: Chris and Cathy become surrogate parents for their much younger twin siblings Cory and Carrie. They called it a game, with Chris as the daddy, Cathy as the mommy and Cory and Carrie as the children. It becomes more serious when it is made clear that their real mother doesn’t seem to want them any more.
  • Rich Bitch: Corrine becomes one.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy/Hoist by His Own Petard: Chris and Cathy's incestuous love. Olivia wanted to prevent such a thing, but she actually pushed them together by locking them up for years, isolated from the rest of the world and other kids. One of the most primal instincts of human nature is to find a suitable mate for reproduction. Since Chris and Cathy were the only members of the opposite gender nearing sexual maturity, cooped up together for years, they naturally gravitated toward each other, siblings or not. It did not help that they had to play the roles of parents for their little brother and sister and that Olivia never seemed to leave them alone about it.
  • Sex Is Evil: The only proper attitude about sexuality in Foxworth Hall.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Naturally, this is the result of that kind of repressed upbringing.
  • Spoiled Brat: Corrine quickly becomes this when she gets a taste of the good life again.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Corrine is whipped to atone for her time spent "living in sin." For looking out the window, and then speaking out against their grandmother, Christopher and Cathy get whipped with a willow switch.
    • Fridge Logic: Corrine receives 48 deep whip-cuts, going all the way down to her ankles. Yet, very soon after, she's described as playing sports, and wearing shorts and backless dresses. Not only does she show no signs of permanent injury (in Real Life, that many lashes can cut flesh from bone), but no one outside the family ever notices the hideous, crippling scars that should have come from such a whipping?
  • Team Pet: Mickey the mouse is Cory's pet.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Olivia catches Chris staring at Cathy naked and demands this as punishment. The children refuse and actually get her to back off but instead she drugs Cathy in her sleep and pours tar on her head. They managed to remove the tar with chemicals and Cathy fools their grandmother by wearing a scarf over her head. The TV film merges these two, changing things so that the children can't remove the tar and Cathy is forced to have her hair cut.
  • The Unfavorite: Even before the imprisonment, Corrine was harsh on Cathy.
    • Corrine was the unfavorite of her generation. While her parents were generally terrible parents, her mother was hardest on her.
  • Unnamed Parent: Corrine's mother is known only as "The Grandmother" in the first book. Her name's revealed to be Olivia in the preqel.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cathy and Chris are constantly demanding this of each other, Cathy because Chris is so easily duped by their mother, who is keeping them locked up. And Chris because Cathy is extremely critical of their mother, who is the only person they can rely on to take care of them. She was right.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Chris one night when he sneaks out of the room, just as a party is being held in the house.

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alternative title(s): Flowers In The Attic
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