There seems to be a V.C. Andrews renaissance of sorts, probably because a new movie has just been announced starring the girl who plays Sally Draper in Mad Men (well, she has the look and she can act).
At any rate, a while back I linked to a post by Silvia Moreno-Garcia comparing V.C. Andrews to H.P. Lovecraft.
And now The Toast has declared August 12 “V.C. Andrews Day”. Among other things, they have an article about the sexual appeal of Flowers in the Attic, one about the portrayal of disability in My Sweet Audrina as well as an interview with Ann Patty, the editor who acquired Flowers in the Attic, and an article by Ann Patty remembering her experience publishing the books. Found via Radish Reviews.
Particularly the interview with and article by the editor contain lots of fascinating tidbits there, which I for one did not know, such as that Virginia C. Andrews was wheelchair bound from the age of 15 on and that both Flowers in the Attic and the Heaven series were based on supposedly true stories she’d heard as a young girl in the hospital. What is more, Flowers in the Attic would likely never be published by a mainstream publisher at all in today’s climate.
I’m one of the many, many teen girls who devoured the V.C. Andrews books in the 1980s. I borrowed Flowers in the Attic from an older cousin and then proceeded to read my way through the Dollanganger series (Flowers in the Attic and sequels), the standalone My Sweet Audrina, the Heaven series and lost interest somewhere halfway through the Ruby series. Interestingly, the incest – which seems to be what people remember most about Flowers in the Attic along with the arsenic doughnuts – never made much of an impression on me. It was obviously a consequence of the circumstances under which Cathy and Chris grew up and while it was clearly abnormal and dysfunctional, Chris and Cathy were dysfunctional people due to their upbringing. Honestly, what excuse do Jamie and Cersei Lannister have?
By comparison, I do remember the arsenic laced doughnuts and the various other horrors visited upon the Dollanganger kids quite clearly. But then I come from the same city as Gesche Gottfried, 19th century serial poisoner, so the doughnuts would of course register.
In fact, I find it interesting how many people read those books “for the sex”, because I can’t recall finding the sexual content (which is pretty vague anyway) in any of the V.C. Andrews books even remotely titillating. Sex is always creepy or abusive or at least dysfunctional (and often incestous) in V.C. Andrews novels. I don’t think anybody ever had anything approaching regular sex in those books. I must either have been a latebloomer or just very liberally bought up, because I was hardly ever interested in “the sex” in any of the books I read as a teen. I admit that I found the sexual misadventures of Angelique rather fascinating and was quite thrilled by a bad bodiceripper named Valentina by Fern Michaels pre women’s fiction rebranding. But mostly fictional sex just bored me. I gave up on Jean M. Auel halfway through the second book, when there was nothing but sex going on and slammed a Harold Robbins novel I had snatched from my Mom’s shelves back onto the kitchen table with the words “This is such a stupid book. It starts out so well (prologue about a baby being born on a stormy night), but then they skip all the interesting stuff and it’s just about people having sex all the time.”
Interestingly, I also remember the disability aspect in My Sweet Audrina barely at all. I guess the reason is that there were and are several disabled people in my extended family, so disabled family members were not as out of the ordinary for me as they might be to others. I don’t recall any of the things that so often infuriate me about the treatment of disability in fiction (e.g. the noxious trope of losing a body part as a rite of passage that is so endemic in SFF) in the novel either, but then I was a much less sophisticated reader at the time.
Indeed, what made those books so fascinating to me was basically the succession of thrillingly horrible things happening to their heroines. They play into the fear that lurks in the hearts of many adolescents that their parents, no matter how kind and loving and wonderful, will eventually turn into monsters. Or that the parents will die and that you will end up creepy relatives or foster parents who will do horrible things to you. Maybe incest is a secret fear for many as well, though it was never one of mine, since I’m an only child.
In many ways, the V.C. Andrews novels were the last hurrah of the gothic romance (and coincidentally, I obsessively read Daphne Du Maurier at around the same time). All the elements are there, the creepy old house, the beleaguered heroine, dark family secrets, untrustworthy relatives who are not what they seem. Only that V.C. Andrews turned already rather childlike gothic heroines into actual teenagers. In fact, I’m stunned that the editor and publisher did not expect that the book would be such a hit with teenagers. Honestly, who did they expect would read the stuff? Cause the books don’t really work all that well, when discovered at an older age. As a matter of fact, I’m not even tempted to reread the books, though I still have all of mine, because I doubt that I could stomach them today.
Teens and young adults tend to be rather gloomy anyway and have a taste for depressing entertainment. It’s why grimdark sells, why Stephen King made millions, why The Cure and The Smiths and Joy Division sold records and why you can always find depressing pop songs and “I’m so angry” rock in the charts. V.C. Andrews books were a part of my grimdark phase along with grim anti-hero comics (Wolverine mostly), melodramatic Italian operas, Daphne du Maurier and Angelique novels, Highlander and Beauty and the Beast and Freddy Krüger, hanging out with the heavy metal boys at school and sometimes listening to their music by osmosis. I grew out of grimdark in my late 20s (though I had already grown out of V.C. Andrews several years before), just at a time that popular culture in general was taking a massive turn towards grimdark.
Maybe the turn towards ever darker mainstream entertainment is what is causing the current V.C. Andrews renaissance. Or maybe it’s because the generation that devoured those books as teenagers is now at a point where they fondly look back on the obsessions of their youth.