Out of Order: Women’s Time in Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower

Merrill Turner, Washington University in St. Louis
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring 2020), 105-122

This essay examines Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1995 historical novel The Blue Flower alongside Julia Kristeva’s essay “Women’s Time” (1979). By telling the story of the engagement of German Romantic philosopher-poet Friedrich von Hardenberg (later known as Novalis; called Fritz in the novel) to twelve-year-old Sophie von Kuhn in narrative fragments, Fitzgerald proposes a non-linear, non-progressive time scheme for her central figures. The novel thus posits a vision of history that, by notion of its disordered chronology, is non-teleological and therefore feminine in Kristeva’s approximation. The chronology “advanced” by Sophie and eventually by Fritz works against traditional masculine or normative notions of temporality and instead proposes a schema that is plausibly female (cyclical and repetitive), thereby allowing the novel to drift from the Great Men model of history and rethink historical narratives and archives as specifically feminine.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]