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Literature / Garden of Shadows

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Olivia dreamed of a sun-filled love, a happy life. Then she entered Foxworth Hall...note 

Like any woman stupidly believing in love, I never realized that the blue sky I saw was not the warm, soft, nurturing sky of spring, but the cold, chilling, lonely sky of winter.

Garden of Shadows is the final book in the Dollanganger Saga by V. C. Andrews (until Secrets of Foxworth happened). Published in 1987, the novel was ghostwritten by Andrew Neiderman through a collaboration of Andrews' estate and her publishers. It acts as a Prequel to the events of Flowers in the Attic and tells the story of Olivia, the wicked grandmother in the first novel.

Olivia enters Foxworth Hall as a young and hopeful bride newly wed to handsome millionaire Malcolm Foxworth. But soon she realizes that her husband is a cold, ruthless, and cruel man unable to love anyone, even his own wife and children. After witnessing Malcolm's lust, violence, and incestuous passion destroy their family, Olivia grows to believe that the entire Foxworth bloodline is tainted, and that God has brought her into Foxworth Hall to purify the sin.

In 2022, Garden of Shadows was adapted as a sprawling, four-part Lifetime mini-series under the title Flowers in the Attic: The Origin. The mini-series sticks closely to the book for the most part, with many major characters getting considerably expanded screentime and additional backstory.

Garden of Shadows contains the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the made-for-tv mini-series, Joel is explicitly gay.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Poor Olivia never gets her Happily Ever After.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The swan bed, originally made for Corinne Sr., which requires custom sheets.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Malcolm distrusts beautiful women, hence he deliberately seeks out the homely Olivia. The fact that she's smart and independently wealthy seals the deal for him, since he knows she wouldn't be a Gold Digger and can run his household efficiently.
  • Blame the Paramour: Olivia discovers that her husband Malcolm is deeply obsessed with his teenage stepmother Alicia, who is several years younger than he is. Rather than point her anger at Malcolm, Olivia resents Alicia for being young, beautiful, vibrant, and fertile. Alicia doesn't reciprocate Malcolm's feelings even slightly, not that he cares. Malcolm's father has a fatal heart attack when he catches his son trying to force himself on Alicia. Months later, Alicia is pregnant with Malcolm's Child by Rape, and Olivia still resents her for it, making it a serious case of victim blaming.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Malcolm dives into this repeatedly in the film series; ranging from threatening and hurting everyone with his rages that he's barely able to fully comprehend the consequences of his actions, until Olivia points them out.
  • Break the Cutie: What happens to Alicia in the attic.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Corinne and Christopher believe they're half-niece and half-uncle. This is true - his father is her grandfather - but they are also half-siblings, as they have the same mother. Neither one ever learns this.
  • Bury Your Gays: Subverted by the made-for-tv mini-series, where Joel is initially committed to a mental institution for being in a homosexual relationship with a African-American man. After suffering the effects of electroshock therapy and recovering, he decides to leave with Harry to travel the world after being effectively disowned by his father. In the novel, there is no indication that he's gay.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Plenty, to varying degrees. See the Trivia tab for many examples of this.
  • Color Motif: Later in the book the narrative shows that Olivia's decision of always wearing gray is effectively this. She has gray eyes, and by this time her hair has likewise turned gray, and she pretty much regards it as the color of her life.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover illustration has Corrine as the central focus when main character Olivia is relegated to the background.
  • Daddy's Girl: Malcolm's favoritism for Corrine is blatantly plain to both Olivia and his sons.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: To be fair, Malcolm would hate whomever Corinne chose to bring home. But seeing how it's his (and her!) half-brother...
  • Dead Guy Junior: Corrine is named after Malcolm's mother. Olivia, knowing how much Malcolm professes to hate his mother, is horrified.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the book, Mal dies in a motorcycle accident. In the mini-series, he dies in a car accident after seeing his father kissing his bride-to-be and mistakenly ingesting poison he believed was marijuana.
  • Door-Closes Ending: The final line of the book, as Olivia leaves the children in the attic:
    "I locked the door behind me."
  • Driven to Villainy: The novel shows Olivia's evolution from victim of Malcolm's cruelty to perpetuating it.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Even though in Malcolm's case it is in a weird, weird way.
  • Floral Motifs: Olivia's chrysanthemums. It ain't said what color they so happen to be but they could be an ironic motif, as chrysanthemums tend to have more positive meanings. There ain't anything positive about this family.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Malcolm proposes to Olivia after two days and they're married within two weeks of meeting. It's somethin' of a deconstruction, as their marriage plays out as well as y'all might guess.
  • Freudian Excuse: Malcolm's dislike of beautiful women yet simultaneous lust for them stems from anger towards the mother (named Corinne) who abandoned him.
  • Green Thumb: Olivia raises chrysanthemums in her garden, and her children admire them so much that they urge her to enter them in horticultural fairs, though she declines. This is foreshadowing for the scene in Flowers when she gives Cathy a pot of mums for the attic garden.
  • Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: The inevitable commentary about Malcolm and Olivia. However, some of this pairing was deliberate, as Malcolm, as weird as he is, has a distrust of "beautiful women" and Olivia is described to be rather plain at the least.
  • Hypocrite: Malcolm in spades. He adores things of beauty and yet, he rapes his stepmother, in part because of his He-Man Woman Hater tendencies. He calls his wife and daughter whores in anger and accuses them of dressing as such, and has engaged in activities with prostitutes. He accuses his wife of being jealous of his (step)daughter's beauty while being a Pervert Dad towards her. He demands to be respected and listened to when he doesn't give others the standard courtesy to. He blames his wife for the death of his son Mal Jr., when he was a catalyst; blackmailing his future daughter-in-law Helen so Mal can get his trust fund faster, and Mal unfortunately walking in on them.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: The maids complain that they can't even get into Garland and Alicia's bedroom to clean.
  • Jail Bait Wait: Garland apparently waited several years before marrying Alicia at the ripe age of sixteen.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • When Olivia receives the news that her father has died, the message arrives so late that the funeral is imminent. Malcolm argues with her about whether she should even attend at all, and by the time she finally gets "permission" to go, she reaches the cemetery to find that the service is already over and she's been deprived of her last goodbye.
    • This exchange between Olivia and Alicia in the attic.
      Alicia: You don't hate me... do you?
      Olivia: Of course I don't hate you, Alicia. I hate only what you have become, as I'm sure you hate yourself.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Olivia's second pregnancy is so difficult that the doctor says she shouldn't have any more children. Malcolm complains about this later, saying that providing him with a large family was one of the things she agreed to do when they married.
  • Manchild: Malcolm in the film series. Makes it ironic that he states that his sons are far too coddled by Olivia, yet he's one because he was abandoned by his mother.
  • Marital Rape License: Malcolm forcibly has sex with his wife for the first time on his mother's swan bed.
  • May–December Romance: Malcolm's father Garland, in his sixties, and his teenage bride Alicia.
  • Missing Mom: Malcolm's mother, Corinne, abandoned him and his father when Malcolm was five.
    • Alicia is also forced to briefly abandon her son Christopher when Olivia sequesters her in the attic room.
    • Olivia's mother died when she was a little girl.
  • Momma's Boy: Both Malcolm, Jr., and Joel are accused of being this. In reality, their father is so critical and rejecting that Olivia is forced to do all the parenting.
  • Never My Fault: Everything remotely bad that has happened that was because of Malcolm. Nope, it's actually Olivia's fault.
  • No Guy Wants an Amazon: Olivia is not only physically larger than many potential suitors, but her father complains that she scares them off with her "masculine" competence and intellectualism.
  • No Periods, Period: Subverted. Corinne has her first one and is congratulated by Olivia, contrasting with the story she later tells in Flowers in the Attic.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Malcolm invokes this towards Oliva when she makes a scheme to keep Alicia hidden in the attic and contain news of the pregnancy. Olivia does not like it one bit, but it comes true as the mini-series continues.
    • Olivia wants to invert this regarding the children, as she doesn't want them to be like Malcolm. Yet, the only time that Malcolm respects his son Mal Jr is when he tries to threaten him.
  • Open Secret: That Malcolm is the father of Nella's daughter Celia. Joel is the last one to know because he's often practicing his music.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Mal is killed when his motorcycle crashes, and Joel is lost in an avalanche while on a skiing trip. Olivia is devastated.
  • Parental Abandonment: Malcolm's mother abandoned him, which is why he distrusts beautiful women.
  • Parental Favoritism: Malcolm toward Corinne; it's hinted that Mal is likewise Olivia's favorite.
  • Parental Incest: Malcolm towards his daughter Corinne; Olivia states that he looks at her that's not like that of a father. Corinne cites that Malcolm more or less wants to be the only man in her life, but not fully understanding what her father may feel toward her.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Malcolm is horrified when his father marries Alicia, who is ten years younger than Malcolm himself.
  • The Peeping Tom: A tiny hole in the wall of Malcolm's office looks directly into his father's marital bed. Olivia suspects that the hole may have been made when Malcolm was a child.
  • Perspective Flip: The scene where the children are sequestered in the attic is now seen from Olivia's point of view.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • In order to make her less attractive to Malcolm, Olivia chops off Alicia's vibrant chestnut hair. At the girl's request, she allows her to keep one curl.
    • Olivia and Malcolm do not have anything remotely approaching the happy marriage she's always wanted. However, he does occasionally show her moments of kindness, which come across like this. The narrative states that in their later years, after Corinne's elopement, they develop a much more cordial relationship.
  • Pillow Pregnancy: Olivia literally does this. In one scene she compares sofa cushions to determine which one is closer to six months.
  • Plain Jane: Olivia is very tall and has a square jaw and mannish appearance.
  • Put on a Bus: Part of the grand cover-up of Malcolm's rape of Alicia after Garland's death. Olivia comes up with the elaborate plan to dismiss the entire household staff with generous severance pay, so they can't witness Alicia's pregnancy.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: What Malcolm ultimately is. His threats and rages alongside his Control Freak tendencies is close to a child repeatedly throwing temper tantrums whenever he doesn't get his way.
  • Resentful Guardian: Although Olivia does feel affection for young Corinne, she can't help but resent the circumstances of the girl's birth. Malcolm's excessive favoritism of her over their sons does not help at all.
  • Rape as Drama: And how. Garland dies of a heart attack after discovering his son attempting to rape Alicia.
  • Retcon: Garden of Shadows retcons many of the events of Flowers in the Attic, although some things are possibly explained by Corrine exaggerating events in her mind or lying to the children. Also, for some reason Corrine's name changes spelling to Corinne.
  • Serial Rapist: Malcolm is implied to be one in the mini-series; having raped Alicia and a maid named Nella years prior; and the father of Nella's daughter Celia.
  • Sexual Karma: Garland and Alicia's loving sexual relationship stands in direct contrast to Malcolm and Olivia's cold, loveless marriage. Olivia, learning this, feels cheated.
  • Skinny Dipping: Alicia invites Olivia to join her. Olivia declines.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Joel dies in a skiing accident (allegedly) in the novel, but survives in the made-for-television movie.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: While angry and humiliated when she discovers Malcolm's attraction to Alicia, Olivia blames Alicia for being attractive in the first place.
    • Not entirely wrong - Malcolm only wanted her because she was, indeed, pretty. If she hadn't been...
  • Start of Darkness: While a bit more of a sympathetic take, this book still shows us the life of the woman who grew to become the cruel old religious-obsessed grandmother of the first book.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Alicia comes back telling Olivia and Malcolm that she is suffering from cancer. The only thing that she asks of them is have her son Christopher taken care of when she passes away.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Although Alicia is legally married at the time, she's still a teen when she gives birth to Christopher.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Olivia cuts off Alicia's hair, and it contributes to the woman's nervous breakdown.
  • The Unfavorite: Malcolm ignores both his sons after Corinne is born.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: As the story begins, Olivia is an intelligent, romantic young woman in her mid-20s wanting to marry a handsome young man. Years of being married to Malcolm eventually turned her into a cynical religious zealot, creating the monster readers love to hate in Flowers.