Though you may have only heard about its polarizing themes, we’re giving you Flowers in the Attic, reviewed, with all its highs, lows, and controversies.
Flowers in the Attic is one of the most shocking and controversial novels of the latter half of the 20th century. Written by V.C. Andrews, the novel was first published in 1979 and has since become a prominent and divisive title in young adult literature.
Read on to see our review of Flowers in the Attic. We also discuss its main themes and highlight notable differences between the book and its movie adaptations.
What is Flowers in the Attic about?
Flowers in the Attic is a gothic novel set in the 1950s that tells the story of the four Dollanganger children—Cathy, Christopher, Carrie, and Cory. The Dollanganger family at first appears as a perfect, model family. That is until the children are locked away in their attic by their mother, Corrine, and grandmother, Olivia, after the death of their father (who turns out to be their mother’s half-uncle) in a car accident.
The children struggle to survive in their isolated attic prison, facing cruelty and neglect from their captors and fighting to maintain their hope and love for each other. The novel also explores the children’s determination to escape after one of them, the young Cory, dies as a consequence of the mistreatment.
The story’s primary antagonist is Olivia Foxworth (born Olivia Winfield), the ultra-religious spouse of Malcolm Foxworth and mother of Malcolm Jr., Joel, and Corrine Foxworth. She is the harrowing grandmother to the Dollanganger children and an outstandingly terrifying villain.
The novel tells a captivating story that takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions and ultimately settles on a bittersweet ending. Despite its age and content, the novel has remained popular and is still widely read.
One of the most controversial themes of the novel is what appears to be the romanticization of incest and rape throughout the narrative. This is most evident in the relationship between Cathy and Chris – two of the four siblings. Throughout the novel, the relationship between Cathy and Chris, which starts as a brother-sister relationship, is explored in a more sexualized manner, although they are both underage.
The novel does not shy away from exploring the intimate details of the relationship between Cathy and Chris. Although Cathy initially resists being intimate with her brother, she eventually gives in.
The book explores family dynamics, abuse, and survival themes in a dark and eerie setting. The shocking twists and turns of the story keep readers on the edge of their seats, and the complex relationships between the characters make it an emotionally charged read. Flowers in the Attic is a captivating and entertaining novel. Still, it is essential to be aware of the more controversial themes and discuss them thoughtfully and nuancedly.
Differences between the book and the adaptations
Flowers in the Attic has been adapted for the screen several times, including a 1987 film and a 2014 Lifetime movie. The Lifetime movie received a prequel mini-series titled Flowers in the Attic: The Origin, with a premiere airing in 2022, starring Jemima Rooper, Max Irons, Kelsey Grammer, Kate Mulgrew, Paul Wesley, and T’Shan Williams.
However, there are notable differences between the book and the adaptations. Some of the more shocking elements of the story were toned down or omitted.
Some of the significant differences between the book, the Lifetime adaptation, and the 1987 movie include the period, the relationship between Cathy and Chris, some scenes of abuse by their grandmother Olivia, and the character of John. The 1987 movie puts the events in a contemporary setting instead of the 1950s and also omits the incestuous relationship.
The Lifetime adaptation stays more faithful to the book but changes several aspects, including replacing assault with a scene of a consensual encounter.
John, a butler at the Foxworth Hall, is unaware of the children’s existence in the novel and the 2014 movie, but in the 1987 adaptation, he knows and participates in their imprisonment.
About the author
V.C. Andrews was an American author who wrote many bestselling young adult novels, including the bestseller Flowers in the Attic. She was born in Virginia as Cleo Virginia in 1923. The New York Times obituary reported that she kept her age a secret and was believed to be in her late 40s or early 50s when she passed away. People magazine profiled her in 1980, stating that the progressive arthritis she suffered from kept her housebound for most of her life.
In 1986, Andrews passed away due to breast cancer. This event prompted Anita Diamant, Andrews’ agent, to reach out to writer Andrew Neiderman—whose successes include The Devil’s Advocate. Despite having no prior knowledge of Andrews’ works, his wife (a fan of the book), and his teaching experience with teenage girls made him the perfect candidate to finish what Andrews had started—the Flowers in the Attic prequel Garden of Shadows. Neiderman readily agreed to take on the task.
Andrew Neiderman has been writing under the pseudonym of V. C. Andrews for over 30 years now, resulting in around 80 books. He’s even written a stage play based on Flowers in the Attic and a prequel trilogy about the children’s great-grandmother Corrine Dixon. Even though his name is nowhere to be found on the novels, it appears on Simon & Schuster’s website and his own, where he claims to have increased the franchise’s reach from 30 million to 106 million people in 95 countries.
In addition to Flowers in the Attic, the other novels in the Dollanganger series include Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, Garden of Shadows, Beneath the Attic, and Out of the Attic.
Listen to Flowers in the Attic with Speechify Audiobooks
Speechify is a cutting-edge audiobook service that offers a wide range of titles for listeners, including Flowers in the Attic. Their audiobook library is vast and the listening experience is both immersive and seamless. With Speechify, users can easily listen to their favorite books on the go, whether commuting, exercising, or simply relaxing.
And don’t forget, Speechify is the leading AI studio for content creators. From text-to-speech apps and extensions to a host of AI audio apps like voiceovers, dubbing, and AI Avatars, Speechify has you covered.
Is Flowers in the Attic disturbing?
The book contains several themes first-time readers may find disturbing and situations, including depictions of physical and psychological abuse, generational trauma, incest, and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
How many episodes of Flowers in the Attic: The Origin will there be?
The prequel mini-series features four episodes in total.
What is the significance of the title Flowers in the Attic?
As a literal interpretation, the children, confined to their attic prison, make paper flowers to decorate the room. Symbolically, the children themselves are the flowers in the attic – fragile, delicate, and needing care and protection.