I’ve read the gothic horror Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews before – probably over a decade ago, when I was in my mid-teens. I actually read the entire series back then, and I read them with more of a shocked fascination than anything else.
Spoilers ahead, in case you haven’t read the book (or seen the movie).
I turned each page this time around knowing what was coming. When the doughnuts first appeared, I knew what they meant. I knew what was hidden in the powdered icing. Every time Cory spoke, or did something, or was just so plain cute, I felt a little sick.
Strange, how as you get older, the shock and emotion comes from a completely different place. As a teenager, the shock was mostly of what Chris and Cathy did – their incestuous relationship, the hiding, the lying.
Now in my 30s, the shock comes from what their mother did to Cory. How she let all four of her own children wilt, slowly killing them all, with all but Cory eventually escaping on their own. I was utterly miserable after reading it, fascinated but sick with a grey kind of sadness.
Okay, it was sad, but it wasn’t real … right? Except that’s the problem with Flowers in the Attic – it’s always been claimed to be “based on a true story”. I tried to determine how truthful that claim was, but it’s been difficult – impossible – to completely determine one way or another. While I think it’s safe to say the book was clearly embellished, what if the seeds of the story – the children locked away – actually happened?
Even the editor, Ann Patty, has been known to confirm the story is at least partly true:
“Yes, Flowers in the Attic was based on a story she heard when she was in the hospital for a spinal operation…. Well, someone told it to her, yes. Some doctor there. So I’d guess that some aspects of it were true—at least the aspect of kids being hidden away. Whether the twins were real, the sex, the time frame, probably not. I think it was just the concept of kids hidden in the attic so the mother could inherit a fortune.”
The source of the story seems to be from a doctor in a hospital that V.C. Andrews came in to contact with:
“While at the “University of Virginia hospital for treatment…she developed a crush on her young doctor. He and his siblings had been locked away in the attic for over 6 years to preserve the family wealth.”
“Flowers in the Attic WAS based on a true story. Virginia was a young lady when my dad made arrangements to take Virginia to the University of Virginia hospital for treatment. While she was there, she developed a crush on her young doctor. He and his siblings had been locked away in the attic for over 6 years to preserve the family wealth. Obviously she cut the time back [in her novel] to be more believable. That area of the country has a lot of very wealthy people. I do not know who they were.”
Alluding to the story being at least partly true is even included in the original pitch letter:
So despite my best efforts, while not confirming completely whether or not this story is true, I also didn’t receive much comfort about the sadness I felt re-reading this novel. Even if this account is untrue, there are children locked and hidden away from the world, and now that I’m older (but not necessarily wiser), this is what I take away from these books. The sadness of a mother who loved herself too much, and her children too little.