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Literature / Flowers in the Attic

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Such wonderful children. Such a beautiful mother. Such a lovely house. Such endless terror!note 

It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captives by greed. But, we were never to color even one of our paper blossoms yellow.
Cathy Dollanganger

Flowers in the Attic is a novel by V. C. Andrews first published in 1979. The first in the Dollanganger Series, it was followed by Petals on the Wind (1980), If There Be Thorns (1981), and Seeds of Yesterday (1984). (Garden of Shadows (1987) was much later revealed to have been written wholly by a ghostwriter after Andrews' death the previous year). Flowers has been adapted twice into film: first in 1987 and again for television by Lifetime in 2014. It is also the basis for a sequel/prequel series called Christopher's Diary. The latter series, which tells the events from Christopher's point of view, has three volumes: Secrets of Foxworth, Echoes of Dollanganger, and Secret Brother.

A lurid tale of lies, secrets, betrayal, and child abuse, Flowers in the Attic is the story of Cathy Dollanganger, her older brother Christopher, and their younger siblings Carrie and Cory. Following the death of their father, their mother Corrine takes her children to live with their rich grandparents, who had previously disowned her for Dating What Daddy Hates. Now her father is dying, and Corrine is determined to get back into his good graces in time to inherit his estate. What the children do not know until they arrive is that their grandfather does not know they exist, and that their mother must keep them a secret until she can break the news to her father.


Upon arrival at Foxworth Hall, the four children are locked in one room under the care of their grandmother, who soon reveals the shocking truth about their mother's disinheritance. All too quickly, the children learn that they will be forced to remain in the attic until their grandfather dies. But as the wait drags from weeks to years, Cathy realizes that their only chance to survive is to escape.


The book provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • The Grandmother, who not only beats and starves her grandchildren, but is the one called upon to whip her adult daughter Corrine.
    • Later, Corrine becomes abusive toward her own children.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The 2014 TV movie removes the mention that Malcolm Foxworth changed his will to say that Corrine would be disinherited if it was ever proven that she had children with Chris Sr. Thus it removes the most obvious motive for poisoning the children, making it look like she simply just didn't care about them anymore.
  • Adaptational Modesty:
    • In the book Chris walks in on Cathy topless admiring her new breasts—and begins to admire them right along with her. In the feature film, this scene becomes Chris talking to Cathy while she's in the bath. (Note, there is an early scene where Chris talks to Cathy in the bath, so the filmed version combines the two).
    • The TV film changes this yet again so that Chris only accidentally sees Cathy in her underwear. Additionally, the TV version includes the Brother–Sister Incest from the novel, but changes it from the book's outright rape to consensual sex.
  • Alliterative Family: The Dollangangers all have names that start with a C. Christopher, Corrine, Christopher Jr, Cathy, Cory and Carrie.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Carrie. At least until Christopher's Diary
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Arsenic does not work the way the book claims it does.
    • Sunlight deprivation would not produce the dramatic effects seen in the twins. Moreover, the recovery rates for diseases caused by lack of sunlight and malnutrition are very positive once the person returns to regular sunlight and a healthy diet—especially when the person is as young as the twins.
    • The only reason that Cathy and Chris are not as stunted as their younger siblings is supposedly because they get out on the roof to sunbathe, while the twins are too afraid of the roof to go out...but unless Cathy and Chris were spending every daylight hour on the roof, they should still be in worse condition than the twins and take longer to recover from their vitamin deficiencies.
    • All of the children are regularly malnourished, undernourished, and in one instance starved for nearly two weeks. But Cathy spends hours on end practicing ballet, a high-intensity exercise that can burn 300+ calories per hour. She should be more than merely thin; she should be too weak to function. (Cathy herself points out how much dancers must eat to avoid being "skin and bones" but doesn't otherwise seem to realize the connection between her caloric input and her physical output, while Future Medical Doctor Christopher never attempts to either warn Cathy about the health risks or to stop her from burning calories he knows she can't afford to lose.)
  • 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.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    • Corrine is whipped on her first night back in the house and has nasty cuts on her back. But pretty soon there is mention of her playing tennis, and wearing strapless dresses. So she must heal pretty fast!
    • In the TV film Chris still has visible abs even after being locked in the attic for over two years. While abs do usually form when a person doesn't eat a lot of food, the rest of his physique wouldn't look that toned if he was being malnourished—no matter what his exercise routine is. Enforced Trope, as asking a young actor to become malnourished is unethical.
  • 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 is threatened.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Corrine and Olivia.
  • Big Fancy House: Foxworth Hall.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Foxworths.
  • Broke Episode: Corrine is terrible with money, and has run up her credit cards to the point where she's broke. While any normal person would get a job, Corrine isn't cut out for any type of work, so she has to marry rich or get back in her family's good graces.
  • Brother–Sister Incest:
    • Chris and Cathy, although the story deliberately muddies the waters on Cathy's consent.
    • In the prequel Garden of Shadows, it's revealed all four children were a product of this kind of incest. To be fair, Corrine and Chris Sr. didn't know that—as Cathy tells the grandmother in Petals, Corrine and Chris Sr. genuinely thought that he was her father's half-brother, and that Malcolm was only crushing on his younger stepmother. Neither of them ever realized that Malcolm raped her and conceived Corrine.
  • 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.
  • Dedication: The book is dedicated to V.C. Andrews' mother.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Just about everything on the grandmother's list of rules, including looking at a member of the opposite sex, is punishable by a beating.
    • When Cathy refuses to cut her hair, the grandmother cuts off food for all the children—for over ten days.
    • When Chris sneaks out of the room to explore, Corrine threatens to whip him, Cathy, and the twins.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep"/Spell My Name with a "The": Everyone calls the Grandmother "The Grandmother," including her daughter (who at most amends it to "your grandmother"). It isn't until later books that we learn her first name.
  • Evil Matriarch: The Grandmother. Corrine joins her later
  • 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.
    • In the original quartet, Chris Sr. and Corrine don't know that—they knew that Malcolm was a Stalker with a Crush to his young stepmother, but Chris Sr., at least, originally died without knowing any different.
  • The Fundamentalist: The Grandmother.
  • Generation Xerox: Chris and Cathy. They only get more so as the series moves on.
  • The Ghost: Malcolm, 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 talk good 'cause Momma don't like them no more.
  • Hypocrite: Olivia uses her fundamentalist faith as an excuse to starve, abuse, lie, blackmail, and commit outright murder, among other things. It is also mentioned that the grandfather thinks he is entitled to do whatever he pleases because he's been regularly funding a church.
  • In the Blood:
    • The Grandmother believes incest runs in the Dollanganger family... which it kind of does. Also of note, while there's plenty of sleeping with your blood, sleeping with people you are legally related to runs in the family too.
  • 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 film strongly hints that Corrine and her father had an inappropriately flirtatious relationship prior to her exile. To a lesser extent, there are moments when Cathy and Corrine appear to be competing for the attention of Chris Sr, culminating in Chris Sr. giving his twelve-year-old daughter a promise ring.
  • 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.
  • Intimate Haircut: Cathy gives Chris one.
  • Karma Houdini: None of the people responsible for the children's imprisonment and Cory's death receive any punishment.
    • Though there's an aversion in the 1987 film, where Corrine is exposed and killed on her wedding day.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: The Grandmother has a particular hatred for Chris Jr., believing he is just as bad as his dead father.
    • Subverted in Garden of Shadows where seeing how much he looks like his father makes her want to hold him because she loved Chris Sr. like a son. It's just the whole incest part that's a problem.
  • Mama Bear: Cathy becomes one as she gradually turns into a surrogate mother to the twins.
  • Momma's Boy: Christopher. He refuses to admit that Corrine has grown cold to them and continues to believe that she will free them after the grandfather dies right up until the moment he realizes that their grandfather has been dead for months and that Corrine has remarried and left the house for good.
  • No Periods, Period: Subverted, in that it's actually used to demonstrate Corrine's growing disconnect from her kids (see Not Allowed to Grow Up below). She actually has to be reminded that Cathy is now a teenager who will probably be getting her period any day now. Cathy's periods are also noted as being extremely irregular due to malnutrition. This all culminates to a Chekhov's Boomerang in a later book.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up:
    • Corrine may be in denial of just how long her children have been locked up as she continues to buy them games and books meant for much younger children. In particular, she keeps buying Cathy clothing meant for younger girls without realizing that Cathy has sprouted breasts and can no longer fit into them.
    • Conversely, Corrine has not noticed how the twins have failed to grow up—they're still the same size as when they first came to the attic.
  • Offing the Offspring: Corrine attempts to do this to the children with arsenic-laced desserts when her father reveals that her inheritance will be reclaimed if it is ever proven she lied to him about not having children. It seems to work only for Cory, though. And as of Christopher's Diary, it turned out not to have worked at all.
  • Old, Dark House: Most of Foxworth Hall is beautiful, but the attic definitely falls under this trope.
  • Only Sane Man: Cathy realizes almost immediately that something's not right with this situation, but Chris dismisses her as irrational until, one by one, her predictions come true.
  • On One Condition: The codicil for the grandfather's will. This drives Corinne to start Offing the Offspring without looking back on her actions.
  • Panty Shot: Carrie apparently gives a lot of them according to Cathy.
  • Parental Abandonment: What Corrine does, both physically and emotionally.
  • 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 because he looks like a miniature version of her beloved husband.
    • Corrine was once her father's favorite.
  • 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. When she returns from a long trip, the twins don't even recognize her nor does she acknowledge them.
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • After learning of the children's efforts to turn the attic into a playground, the grandmother gives them "some real flowers for your fake garden." Cathy is speechless.
    • The gifts Corrine brings are an attempt at this, as well as to assuage her own guilt.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Cory is quiet, polite and gentle. Carrie is loud, adamant and forceful. When Cory dies (or so they think), however, Carrie becomes even quieter than he was.
  • Promotion to Parent: Chris and Cathy become surrogate parents for their much younger twin siblings Cory and Carrie, largely to keep the twins happy when their real mother all but disappears from their lives. It becomes more serious when the older children realize that there is no way to summon an adult in an emergency.
  • Rich Bitch: Corrine becomes one.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy/Hoist by His Own Petard: The whole point of Olivia's impossibly strict rules is to prevent Brother–Sister Incest from happening (again), even though her determination to imprison the children is precisely what allows the incest to take place.
  • 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.
  • Skinny Dipping: Technically, they go swimming in their undies, but Cathy doesn't own a bra. Plus it's noted that water + moonlight = practically translucent when it comes to tighty-whities.
  • 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.
  • Team Pet: Mickey the mouse is Cory's pet.
  • Traumatic Haircut: The grandmother attempts to give Cathy one of these. When Cathy refuses, the grandmother first threatens to starve and beat the children, then attempts to force Cathy into the haircut by pouring hot tar over her head.
  • Unnamed Parent: Corrine's mother is known only as "The Grandmother" in the first book. Her name's revealed to be Olivia in the prequel.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cathy and Chris are constantly demanding this of each other.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Chris' disguise when he sneaks out to explore. Cathy compares him to Groucho Marx.


Example of: