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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.

Flowers has been adapted twice into film: first in 1987 and again for television by Lifetime in 2014.

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.
  • 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 = 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!
  • 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.
  • Creepy Twins: As time passes and Cory and Carrie get sicker, they become more and more like this.
  • Daddy's Girl:
    • Cathy
    • Corrine once ways, and 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.
  • 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: The Grandmother 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.
  • Incest Subtext:
    • There are hints that Christopher is sexually attracted to—or at least very confused by—his mother Corrine.
    • Corrine and her father Malcolm's relationship, prior to her exile, was both possessive and adoring.
    • This is cut short by Chris Sr.'s death, but him and his daughter Cathy have undertones to their relationship as well.
  • 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.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: The Grandmother has a particular hatred for Chris Jr., believing he is just as bad as his dead father.
  • 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.
  • Moustache de Plume: Chris and Cathy read a romance by the author T. M. Ellis. Chris assumes that as the author of a romance novel, T. M. Ellis was a woman. Inverted when Cathy argues that T. M. Ellis could just as easily be a man. Cathy also converses on this trope in general (which makes you wonder what V. C. Andrews thought of writing under her initials).
    Chris: I'll bet you a hundred to one a woman wrote that junky romantic trash!
    Cathy: T. M. Ellis could very well have been a man! Though I doubt any woman writer in the nineteenth century had much chance of being published, unless she used her initials, or a man's name And why is it all men think everything a woman writes is trivial or trashy—or just plain silly drivel? Don't men have romantic notions? Don't men dream of finding the perfect love? And it seems to me, that Raymond was far more mushy-minded than Lily!
  • 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.
  • Of Corset Hurts: When they find a corset in the attic, Crhis remarks that Of Corsets Sexy, and Cathy tells him off for it.
    Chris: Now, that is what you call an hourglass figure. See the wasp waist, the ballooning hips, the swelling bosom? Inherit a shape like that, Cathy, and you will make a fortune.
    Cathy: [disgusted] Really, you don't know very much. That is not a woman's natural form. She's wearing a corset, cinched in at the waist so much her flesh is squeezed out at the top and the bottom. And that is exactly why women used to faint so much and then call for smelling salts.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • Questionable Consent: Chris and Cathy have sex once, and the consent is deliberately murky. It can definitely be said that in the moment right before it, no consent was communicated, which puts it pretty firmly in the rape category. The characters' subjective experiences of the event, on the other hand, are rather more nuanced and murky. Almost as soon as it's over, Chris has an My God, What Have I Done? moment and explicitly calls it rape when he apologizes. Cathy firmly insists that it was not rape and she does not hold it against him—she says this twice in the night that follow. At that point it seems very clear that she does not consider it rape. The muddying comes later. There is definitely isn't "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization going on here: When Cory is sick, Cathy begs God not to punish him for her and Chris's actions, saying, "And it wasn't any pleasure, God, not really, not any." And at the very end when Cathy takes one last look around, about to leave the attic for the last time, she makes a point of not looking at the mattress because of the memories it brings up—whether she sees those as bad memories, or fraught memories she doesn't need to dwell on right now, is unclear.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy/Hoist by His Own Petard: The whole point of Olivia's impossibly strict rules is to prevent 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.
  • 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.
  • Suicide for Others' Happiness: In her lowest moment in the whole book, Cathy contemplates suicide, wondering if her death would force her mother to free her siblings. Subverted, though, because—knowing that's a long shot, and that her siblings need her—she talks herself back from the edge.
  • 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.

Adaption tropes:

  • 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.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: 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.

Example of: