Flowers in the Attic is a 1979 Gothic novel by V. C. Andrews. It is the first book in the Dollanganger Series, and was followed by Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, “Garden of Shadows”, “Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth”, “Christopher’s Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger” and “Christopher’s Diary: Secret Brother”. The novel is written in the first-person, from the point of view of Cathy Dollanganger. It was twice adapted into films in 1987 and 2014. The book was extremely popular, selling over forty million copies world-wide.
In 1957, the Dollanganger family lives an idyllic life in Gladstone, Pennsylvania until Mr. Dollanganger dies in a car accident, leaving his wife Corrine deep in debt with four children and no professional skills. The family is forced to move in with Corrine’s wealthy parents, from whom she is estranged. Upon arrival at Corinne’s ancestral home, Foxworth Hall, the family is greeted coldly by Corrine’s mother Olivia, who sneaks them into a small bedroom connected to the attic. Only Corrine is allowed in the grand estate, as the children remain hidden from their grandfather Malcolm.
The older children, Cathy and Chris, attempt to make the best of the situation for their younger siblings, twins Carrie and Cory, by turning the attic into an imaginary garden. Yet the children learn the truth of their terrible new fate, as Olivia treats them with disdain and threatens to severely punish them for any disobedience. Corrine returns from meeting with her parents, having been savagely whipped by Olivia. She confesses that the children’s dead father was her half-uncle, her father’s half-brother, and this incest is the cause of her and her parents’ estrangement. Corrine plans to win back her father’s love, hoping to introduce the children to him soon.
At first, Corrine visits her children daily, sometimes bringing expensive gifts. Yet the grandmother emotionally and physically abuses the children, constantly threatening to whip them for any acts she considers “sinful”. At Christmas time, Corrine allows Cathy and Chris to watch the ball at Foxworth Hall from a hiding spot, where they see their grandfather for the first time and also see their mother with Bart Winslow, Malcolm’s attorney. Their mother’s visits become less frequent as she grows detached, eventually slapping Chris and threatening to whip them.
A year later, Cathy and Chris have both entered puberty and adopted parental roles with Carrie and Cory, who no longer recognize Corrine. While Cathy and Chris are both entering adulthood, the twins’ physical growth is stunted from a lack of adequate nutrition, sunlight and fresh air. Despite personal shame, Cathy and Chris develop physical attraction toward each other. Olivia catches Chris staring at a half-dressed Cathy and orders him to cut off Cathy’s hair. Chris refuses, and Olivia abandons them for three weeks, driving them to near-starvation. When Cathy cuts her own hair, meals resume and now include sugared doughnuts as a surprise.
Corrine visits for the first time in six months, returning from her wedding and European honeymoon with Bart. Cathy and Chris react angrily, but relent when Corrine threatens to never visit again. The older children plan to escape, sneaking into the house to steal money and valuables from their mother’s room. One night, Cathy discovers her sleeping stepfather and kisses him. When Chris learns of the act, he is enraged and rapes Cathy. He apologizes after, and Cathy forgives him by saying she wanted it too.
Cory becomes sick and Corrine agrees to take him to the hospital only after threats from Cathy. The next day, Corrine returns and tells them Cory died, allegedly from pneumonia. Without warning, their mother and Bart move out. Eavesdropping on the servants, Chris learns that Malcolm died and Olivia is now leaving out doughnuts sprinkled with rat poison in an attempt to clear the attic’s “mouse” infestation. The three remaining children finally flee, catching a train to Florida.
At the train station, Chris reveals he discovered Corrine’s inheritance is conditional on her having no descendants, and she was poisoning them to secure her father’s wealth. Chris and Cathy decide against contacting the police as their main concern is to stay together and protect Carrie, who is still a minor. Chris assures Cathy that they can make a new life without their mother, but Cathy swears to exact revenge one day.
Note: An inconsistency – There is slight confusion as to when the children arrived at Foxworth Hall. Cathy mentions that they had been in the attic 3 years, 4 months, 16 days (POTW- p 18). They left 10 Nov 1960 meaning they arrived about 24 June 1957. Yet in Flowers in the Attic chapters “Goodbye Daddy” to “Roads to Riches”, the dad dies in early May and it’s inferred that a few months passed before they abandoned the house in Gladstone. Also on page 231, it’s mentioned that “August had come and gone. We have been in this prison a full year.”