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Literature / Dollanganger Series

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2012 Omnibus ebook edition.

The first published, and best known series by V. C. Andrews. The series revolves around the titular Dollangangers, a seemingly perfect family that is torn apart by greed, revenge, and forbidden relationships.

The original books are something of a Cult Classic. As for the rest, it is widely agreed by V. C. Andrews fans that Only the Creator Does It Right, and there is a particular disdain for ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman. The later books and 1987 movie are typically filed into Fanon Discontinuity.

By V. C. Andrews

  1. Flowers in the Attic (1979)
  2. Petals on the Wind (1980)
  3. If There Be Thorns (1981)
  4. Seeds of Yesterday (1984)

By ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman

  • Garden of Shadows (1987): Prequel
  • Spin-off Diary series
    1. Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth (2014)
    2. Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger (2015)
    3. Secret Brother (2015)
  • Spin-off Attic Series: Pre-Garden of Shadows prequels regarding the first Corrine Foxworth, Malcolm Foxworth's mother
    1. Beneath the Attic (2019)
    2. Out of the Attic (2020)
    3. Shadows of Foxworth (2020)

A character sheet for the series is in progress and can be found here. Please add any character tropes to it.

NOTE: Unmarked spoilers follow.


Tropes seen throughout the series:

  • Abusive Parents: One of the core topics of the series. Neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, cycle of abuse—it's all here.
    • After their father’s death, their previously-adoring mother Corrine becomes abusive. The attic-imprisonment might seem far fetched, but Corrine's emotional abuse is eerily realistic.
    • Corrine was abused both physically and emotionally by her parents Malcolm and Olivia as well.
    • Cathy and Chris really try to Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting with her own children. They could've done better with Bart, but on they are at least the best parents in several generations of their family.
  • Alliterative Family: After Christopher Sr. and Corrine—who had alliterative names by coincidence—got married, they proceeded to name their children Christopher Jr, Catherine, Cory and Carrie.
  • Anyone Can Die: At least one characters will end up killed in every installment of the series, while the others will either suffer through a Trauma Conga Line.
  • Book Ends:
    • The series begins with Chris Sr. dying in a car crash, and ends with Chris Jr. dying in a car crash. Both men were in commuter marriages, and returning home to their families at the time of the accident.
    • "Godspeed."
      "Yes, Mother. I wish you Godspeed and good luck."
      I stared at my second son, who stood three feet from me. Where had I heard that said last? Oh, oh… so very long ago. The tall conductor on the night train that brought us here as children. He'd stood on the steps of the sleeper train and called that back to us, and the train had sounded a mournful goodbye whistle.
  • Daddy's Girl:
    • Cathy and her father Chris Sr.
    • Corrine and her father Malcolm
  • Dainty Little Ballet Dancers: Subverted Trope. When the story opens, Cathy's interest in ballet seems like that of a little girl: it's feminine, it's whimsical, it relates to fairy tales. In the attic, though, dancing becomes her escape: it's a creative outlet and it's physically exhausting, both of which help her cope. She emerges from the attic with her childhood dreams of being a prima ballerina stronger than ever. She pursues this seriously for many years and Cathy speaks frankly about how grueling and all-consuming ballet is. It's demanding and strenuous, and injuries—up to and including Career-Ending Injury—are all too common. It's emotionally demanding too: it becomes the center of your world, closely tied to your identity, making Career-Ending Injury all the more traumatic. The interpersonal politics in the small and (metaphorically) incestuous ballet world are also touched upon.
  • Dead Guy Junior: There's a lot of name reusing in this family. Most—but not all—of these kids are born after the deaths of their namesakes:
    • Garland Christopher Foxworth aka Chris Sr. (Cathy's father) was named after his father Garland.
    • Chris Jr. (Cathy's brother) is named Christopher Dollanganger after his father. (That was the name his father had at the time of his son's birth.)
    • Corrine (Cathy's mother) is named after her grandmother, her father's mother.
      Joel: My father's mother was named Corrine. My sister had the same name, given to her as a form of punishment, a constant reminder to my father of his unfaithful mother, proving to him again and again that no beautiful woman could be trusted—how right he was.
    • Corrine's brother was named Malcolm, after their father. They called him Mal.
    • Cathy names her elder son Julian Janus Marquet, after his father Julian Marquet. They call him Jory though, a portmanteau of Julian and Cory—Cory after Cathy's brother.
    • Carrie planned to name her firstborn son after her twin brother Cory, but never had a son.
    • Cathy's younger son, Bartholomew Scott Winslow Sheffield, is Bartholomew Winslow after his biological father and Scott Sheffield after his stepfather.
    • Jory plans to name his next child after his parents. Both are dead by the time the child will be born.
      Jory: Toni is pregnant! You don't know what that does for me. If we have a boy, he will be called Christopher. If we have a girl, she will be Catherine. Now don't you say we can't do that, for we will anyway.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Particularly in the first two books, set in the American South in the 1950s-1960s (pre-Second Wave Feminism). While the Foxworth clan is particularly extreme in their views, Corrine's sense that she must be financially dependent on a man (father or husband), and the generally misogynistic sexual standards Cathy internalizes, were very much products of the time. Cathy going on to have a successful dancing and instructing career, and her and Chris raising their children with far more relaxed views about sex, were partially specific efforts to Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting, but also partially times changing, Cathy and Chris moving to a different part of the country, and those old cultural standards falling by the wayside.
  • Domestic Abuser:
    • Julian Marquet is a Jerkass abuser with few redeeming qualities.
    • Bart Winslow Sr. has no problems cheating on his wife with her oldest daughter yet still remains dependent on her for the sake of her fortune. He's also quite a Jerkass and shows shades of a domestic abuser by being forceful toward Cathy.
  • Doppelgänger: It's occasionally implied that the Joel Foxworth we meet in Seeds of Yesterday is an impostor for the real one, who was thought to have died. This is also the term used to describe both Cory and Carrie and Jory's twin children.
  • Floral Theme Naming: "Flowers", "Petals", "Thorns", "Seeds", "Garden".
  • Floral Motifs:
    • Flowers In the Attic: In general, the kids make fake flowers to compensate for the real ones they can't see. While the precise flower isn't known, the film adaptation says the kids modeled their faux flowers after yellow ones, suggesting a motif for joy.
    • Petals On the Wind: The British version of the cover has the image of a wilting flower, which seems to foreshadow Carrie's death. The American version shows a red flower with three petals being blown away by the wind, symbolic of the three remaining Dollanganger children newly adrift in the world outside the attic.
    • If There Be Thorns: The botanical motif is a rose with thorns. The tragedy of Dollenganger-Foxworths returns, as Corrine is still alive and John Amos offers something enticing to a young Bart.
    • Seeds of Yesterday: Muscari, which have an association of mystery. The Dollenganger mystery dies with Cathy at the end.
    • Garden Of Shadows: We get roses again, though these ones are thornless. Since this is a prequel, we get a clue of what the lack of thorns suggest. Much of the novel takes place before trouble (or the worst of it) befalls the Foxworth-Dollengangers.
  • Framing Device: In-inverse, the books are a series of memoirs written by Cathy. Flowers and Petals are written during Thorns, and Seeds is written during Seeds. It's not clear when/how Thorns is written. Cathy is—if not an Unreliable Narrator—at the very least highly biased. Even if we accept that, in writing the books, she's being as honest as she can, the question of how honest she can be with herself remains one worth asking.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Bart Jr. was a lonely kid that wanted his mother's affection.
    • Malcolm's mother left him and his father after sleeping around, which caused him to hate beautiful women.
    • Olivia Foxworth is given one in the prequel to explain why she was so cruel and domineering towards the series' protagonists.
  • The Fundamentalist/Religious Stereotype: Olivia, Malcolm, John Amos, Joel, and Bart Winslow (although he gets better) are all stereotypes of Christian fundamentalists.
  • The Generation Gap:
    • Cathy grows up in a far more liberated time than her mother did, and consistently expects to have a career and be able to support herself and any children she has if needed — in fact, for part of Petals, she is a widowed single mom supporting herself and Jory. Whereas Corrine would have been socialized to be a "decorative but not functional" high-society wife, it seems to always be assumed — including while living with Dr. Sheffield — that both Cathy and Carrie will have some amount of education and job skills — though there is less focus on Carrie in this regard due to her young age and poor health.
    • In Seeds between Chris and Cathy and their children, particularly on the topic of sexuality. While Cathy wants both Bart and Cindy to sleep around less for their own happiness and safety, she also struggles with contemporary hook-up culture in general, and struggles to understand her children's more casual views towards sex. When she was their age she had torrid affairs, but at least they meant something.
      Cathy: I suspect you are a product of your times. I almost pity your generation for missing out on the most beautiful aspect of falling in love. Where is the romance in your kind of taking, Bart?
  • Generation Xerox: Chris and Cathy to their parents. Cathy more so than Chris, and this is actually a major theme of the books, and explored in depth. At the center of her character is Cathy's desire to be like her mother, conflicting with her fear of being like her mother.
    • Much later, Jory's twins eerily resemble Cory and Carrie, to the point that Cathy sometimes refers to them by those names and worries that they, too, might end up suffering tragic fates. Subverted by Chris, who scolds her for her fatalism, reminding her that these twins are loved and wanted and that they have been born into every advantage money can buy.
  • Half-Identical Twins:
    • Carrie and Cory Dollanganger
    • Darren and Deirdre Marquet
  • Happily Adopted:
    • After their escape from the attic, the remaining Dollangangers are adopted by the generous Paul Sheffield, who even puts Chris through medical school. Things get a little creepy when Paul begins a relationship with the underage Cathy, but it's still better than the attic.
    • Cindy is quite happily adopted by Cathy and Chris, who very much consider her their own daughter.
  • Hollywood Homely: In-Universe. The young Olivia Foxworth was mocked for being over six feet tall, and believed she was plain, but (according to Corrine) Olivia was considered aristocratically good-looking in society.
  • Incest Subtext: Most parent-child relationships in this family have some undertones.
    • It's basically textual that Christopher is sexually attracted to—or at least very confused by—his mother Corrine. Corrine plays into it a bit, what with her spinning around in negligees and constantly cradling him to her breast, and one very memorable moment when she kisses him full on the lips. From Corrine's end, is this just more of her general need for male attention? Is she trying to keep him wrapped around her little finger? Is there some actual attraction there because her son looks so much like her late husband?
    • This is cut short by Chris Sr.'s death, but him and his daughter Cathy have undertones to their relationship. Cathy often has a sense of competing with her mother for her father's attention, and never shuts up about how hot he is.
      Cathy: Was it so terrible what our mother did, to marry her half-uncle when he was only three years older than she? No woman with a heart could have resisted him. I know I couldn't have.
    • Corrine and her father Malcolm certainly give off this impression (which is impressive considering we never really see them interact on-page). Their relationship—prior to Corrine's exile—was both possessive and adoring.
      Corrine: My father adored me when I was young. He wanted to keep me always for himself. He never wanted me to marry anyone. I recall when I was only twelve, he said he'd leave me his entire estate if I stayed with him until he died of old age.
  • Love Hungry: It's astounding how many Foxworth's have a psychotic need to be loved to the point of being in the center of someone's universe. Malcolm tried to make Corrine promise to love no other man than him. Bart Jr. would turn moody and violent whenever Cathy or Corrine's attentions were turned elsewhere or their affection wasn't as he wanted. Corrine often begged for her children to love her whenever Chris and Cathy called her out. Even Cathy showed signs of this towards Chris Sr. when she found out about the twins.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Malcolm and Bart.
  • Marital Rape License: And how.
    • Malcolm forces himself on Olivia. What's especially sad about this instance is that she comes to bed with him willingly, only for him to act in such a cold, cruel manner utterly devoid of love or tenderness that it becomes this trope.
    • After numerous attempts at legitimately seducing her fail, Paul finally resorts to raping his wife Julia.
    • Julian to Cathy.
    • Implied with Bart and Corinne. After he assaults Cathy and she calls him a rapist, he dismisses her.
      Bart: My wife often says the same thing. But she enjoys it, just like you did.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: The novel sees the two main protagonists, Chris and Cathy, engaging in Brother–Sister Incest after being locked up in the attic by their mother. In practice, they were mostly read by young readers, although in hindsight many of those readers have reflected with surprise that they were allowed to do so at that age.
  • May–December Romance:
    • Garland (55) and Alicia (16)
    • Cathy (17) and Paul (42)
      Paul: Twenty-five years my junior.
      Cathy: Twenty-four and seven months your junior, and my maternal grandmother married a man of fifty-five, when she was only sixteen.
      Paul: She was a fool and so was he.
  • Momma's Boy:
    • Chris Jr. to his mother Corrine.
    • Chris Sr. and his mother Alicia
      Corrine: [to Cathy] Your father used to say that you were like his mother, and he loved his mother.
    • Malcolm Sr. and his mother Corrine, at least for a while.
      John Amos: Malcolm was wild about his mother until she ran off with her lover and left Malcolm with his father, who was too busy to pay him any attention.
    • Malcolm Jr. and Joel get accused of this by Malcolm Sr.
  • Parental Abandonment: Malcolm's mother, Corrine, abandoned her family.
  • Parents as People: One of the big themes of the books. It is more pronounced in the mothers than the fathers. Corrine is mostly reprehensible, occasionally sympathetic, and always eerily human and believable. Madame Marisha clearly loves her son, and unquestionably screwed up as a parent. Cathy really strives to be—and sometimes struggles to be—a good mother to her children.
    Cathy: People are so complicated, Jory, especially adults. When I was ten, I used to think that adults had it so easy, with all the power and rights to do as they wanted. I never guessed being a parent was so difficult.
  • Pinocchio Nose: Corrine fiddles with her necklace (or mimics doing so if she's not wearing one) whenever she lies. When she tries to convince Cathy that she didn't mean to kill Cory and was just poisoning them to make them sick enough to smuggle them out of the attic, Cathy almost believes her for a moment until she notices Corrine fiddling with an imaginary necklace and realizes that it's all just a pack of lies.
  • Shed the Family Name: On multiple occasions people adopt a new surname to try to distance themselves from part of their family.
    • When they eloped, Chris Sr and Corrine took the surname Dollanganger. It is a family name, from somewhere where back in the family tree. Corrine says Chris chose it as something of stealth joke, but doesn't elaborate—perhaps an allusion to "doppelgänger"?
      Corrine: For heaven's sake, Cathy, names can be changed legally. And the name Dollanganger does belong to us, more or less. Your father borrowed that name from way back in his ancestry. He thought it an amusing name, a joke, and it served its purpose well enough.
    • As a young girl, Cathy—who disliked her surname on the basis that it was horrible to spell—decided to use Catherine Doll as her stage name when she became a dancer. Beginning in the attic, she and Christopher used that name amongst themselves, using the surname Doll for Christopher as well. In that context, it was one part pet name, one part a way of signifying them as a family unto themselves, one that did not include their mother.
    • In the attic, Cathy and Chris unanimously reject the name Foxworth, even though it is technically their real surname, due to their hatred of the grandfather and what he did to their mother—and to them.
    • Julian changed his legal name to distance himself from his parents as well, both in a professional and personal capacity.
      Cathy: Why do you call yourself Marquet when your father's name is Rosencoff?
      Julian: […] My father sees me as an extension of himself. If I become a great dancer, it won't be to my credit; it will be just because I am his son and bear his name. So I put an end to that idea by changing my name. I made it up, just like any performer does when he wants to change his name.
    • Chris respects Dr. Paul Sheffield so much that when Paul formally adopts the children, Chris legally changes his name to Sheffield. When Cathy and Chris get married, they use the surname Sheffield, mostly as a pragmatic choice: Chris took the name from adoption, Cathy took it from marriage, and they had given that surname to Bart when he was born.
  • Shock Party:
    • Chris Sr. never shows up to his 36th birthday party because he is killed in a car crash driving there.
    • Julia and Scotty never arrived to Scotty's 3rd birthday party thanks to Murder-Suicide.
    • Julian makes a scene at Cathy's 16th birthday party, and the party's basically over after that.
    • Paul's flight home from a medical convention is delayed, and he arrives home to discover that the family planned him a surprise party for his 42nd birthday, scraped it when he didn't show up, and are now annoyed with him.
    • The Christmas party at the end of Petals, which ends in the culmination of Cathy's Roaring Rampage of Revenge and the house burning down.
    • Bart's 25th birthday party, at which his brother gets paralyzed.
    • The Christmas party Bart throws in Seeds, where no one shows up.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Chris, Cathy, Carrie and Cory must atone for the sins of their parents.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Cathy's mother's name is consistently spelled Corrine in the books that V.C. Andrews wrote. The ghostwriter fucks it up and spells it Corinne.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Exaggerated Trope with the Foxworth clan, all of whom look very much alike: tall, with flaxen-blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin that tends to tan rather than burn.
    • Cathy looks strikingly like her mother Corrine, who in turn is said to resemble her grandmother and namesake, Corrine the first.
    • Christopher Jr. looks very much like his father, and the resemblance is noted by both his mother and his sister (and his grandmother, who despises him for it).
    • Garland Foxworth's sons Malcolm and Chris both closely resemble him. More importantly to the story, this means they closely resemble each other.
    • Upon meeting Malcolm's younger son Joel, Cathy thinks to herself that he looks like her father might have looked had her father lived to that age.
    • Jory's twin children eerily resemble their great-aunt and uncle, the twins Carrie and Cory.
  • Surprise Car Crash: There are quite a few automobile-related deaths in the series.
    • The Inciting Incident of the whole series is Chris Sr. dying in a car crash.
    • Julian is not killed by his accident, but he is very hurt, and commits suicide in the hospital afterwards, believing he will never dance again.
    • When they are married, Cathy—all too aware of this trope and seeking to avoid it—tells Chris every morning, "Drive carefully."
    • Cindy's birth mother, Nicole, is in a terrible accident. She does not die in the crash itself, but in the hospital later. Lampshaded by Cathy:
      Cathy: It's awful that cars hurt so many people.
    • Chris Jr. dies in a car crash at the very end.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Incest + multiple marriages + Relationship Reveals + shifting surnames + adoptions + affairs = you need a chart to keep track of how all the Foxworths are related.