Flowers Out of the Attic: Personal and Critical Perspectives on VC Andrews’ Dollanganger Saga

Dresden Dolls Return to Foxworth Hall

Last night I dreamt I went to Foxworth Hall again. The gate open. The grounds bare. The imposing front door fallen from its hinges. The interior occupied by the shrouds of sheet-covered furniture. The ghosts of the children who once suffered in the attic greeted me from the top of the grand staircase. The voices of the mother and grandmother who hurt them echoed through the halls from their well-deserved rooms of hell. I’ve never lived in this haunted house. But it’s as familiar as home.   

First released in 1979–the year I was born—VC Andrews’ gothic horror novel Flowers in the Attic was met with shock and disgust. But also fascination. A compelling narrative that persists to this day with both original fans and new ones as the decades have rolled on, as testament to Andrews’ strong voice and lyrical prose as well as the grotesquely mesmeric subject matter. Mother and grandmother conspiring to murder the mother’s four children after imprisoning them in an attic for years is transfixing in terrible ways, yet still resonates with readers who also survived the most taboo kind of childhood abuse: that committed by the matriarchs in their own families.

But Flowers is also a metaphor, an allegory for people who felt emotionally or psychologically trapped in their childhoods, in particular if their queer identity was not accepted by their family and community. There’s a direct parallel between “being in the closet” and being locked in an attic. Closets and attics as metaphors have resonance well beyond queerness, though. And family abuses are committed by parents and mebers of all genders. 

For those whose personal experiences resonate with the Flowers in the Attic saga, many of us start to see ourselves as an honorary Dresden Doll, even if we might not be blonde and blue-eyed like the Dollanganger family. And we all have a strange need to return to Foxworth Hall. For revenge. Out of curiosity. Often in search of a closure that might never appear in our own lives. 

Flowers Out of the Attic: Personal and Critical Perspectives on VC Andrews’ Dollanganger Saga will feature three avenues of discussion about VC Andrews’ original series and its adaptations (Flowers in the Attic, Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows). The first path focuses on personal essays. The second on academic and other critical analyses of VC Andrews’ original Dollanganger series as well as the screen adaptations. And a final hybrid trail that combines memoir, creative nonfiction, and sociocultural analysis.

Themes Under Consideration

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of prompts to consider:

  1. How did this novel and its sequels affect you when you first read it? How does it affect you now? If you are of a marginalized identity (POC, queer, disabled, and the various intersections of these) how does that shape your consumption of these stories?
  2. Tales of abusive mothers are taboo, hence rare. How have you engaged with this grim subject matter personally, academically, or both?
  3. The themes and acts of incest continue to shocking. But in the decades since Flowers and its original sequels were published there is very strange, but real science of genetic sexual attraction. However, this phenomenon tends to happen with “long lost” family members, not ones people grew up with or who were familiar. How does weird science shift or change the narrative? Or does it? Some connected narratives with “consensual incest” include Crimson Peak (2015), Flesh and Bone (2015), A Simple Favor (2018), several episodes of SVU, Game of Thrones (2011-2019), House of the Dragon (2022), and All Creatures Here Below (2018), among others. How has Flowers and VC Andrews potentially influenced these stories?
  4. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of childhood and generational trauma from personal, academic, and hybrid perspectives. Haunted houses tie in here, too, as Foxworth Hall itself is often blamed for the crimes that take place within. Can a space be responsible for the evil acts committed there? How does Foxworth Hall’s Confederate—therefore slaveowning—past contribute to its status as a bad place? 
  5. With the phenomenal critical success of HBO’s Succession, the issue of extreme wealth and its connection to mental illness (sociopathy, lack of empathy, greed, violence, etc) became a regular topic of discussion. How do these themes of capitalistic dysfunction connect with the Flowers universe?
  6. Religious fundamentalism and the abuse (and murder) of children are center stage in the Dollanganger saga. Personal and critical perspectives on this would be indispensable.
  7. Paper flowers. Arsenic-laced doughnuts. Dresden Dolls. A wicker picnic basket. A ballerina music box. An old journal. A swan bed. An heirloom diamond brooch. Grandmothers diamond brooch. The amaryllis plant. Yellow chrysanthemums. A vintage dollhouse. Chrome scissors. Gray dresses with pockets. A semi-precious ring. A beloved guitar and banjo. An attic. With the exception of the arsenic, these regular household items all have chilling connotations in VC Andrews’ world. How do objects hold trauma? How do people pass on trauma through physical gifts? I’d love to read personal and academic explorations of all of them.
  8. There have been three adaptations of these novels to screen: the 1987 movie starring Victoria Tennant and Louise Fletcher; the 2014-2015 Lifetime TV adaptations of the first novels; and the 2022 Lifetime adaptation of the prequel novel Garden of Shadows, Flowers in the Attic: The Origin. In particular The Origin brought queer subtext to the forefront. How have these adaptations reflected, or not, the source material? How have they reflected the time period during which they were released? 
  9. The Gothic. As aesthetic, as horror, as lifestyle.
  10. Cathy and Christopher have an extensive reading list from their three years in the attic that includes The Bible (especially the Old Testament), Mary Poppins, Peter Rabbit, Three Little Pigs, Jude the Obscure, Wuthering Heights, Lorna Doone, Shakespeare’s plays, Little Men, The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Jane Eyre, TM Ellis (The Raymond and Lily stories), Gray’s Anatomy, and The War of the Worlds. There’s also a heap of art instruction manuals, and the two eldest Dollanganger siblings are obsessed with a book of pornography in Corinne’s room hidden inside a How to Create Your Own Needlework Designs dustjacket. How do these books and stories inform Flowers in the Attic? Do they foreshadow what’s to come? 
  11. How has VC Andrews’ own life and experiences informed this series? Her ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman also wrote her biography—to mixed reviews. 

Pitch Guidelines/Submissions Close October 2, 2023 October 10, 2023

Email your pitch to FlowersOutOfTheAttic [at] gmail [dot] com and please include:

  1. A potential title for your chapter in the subject line.
  2. A succinct paragraph (150-200 words) outlining your proposed chapter.
  3. Your author bio including previous publications.
  4. Links to 3 or more writing samples that reflect your unique voice and/or the style of chapter you’re proposing. You don’t need to have written about Flowers in the Attic before. I just need to get an idea of your personal style.
  5. Critical analysis chapters should be a maximum of 3500 words. Personal essays work better around the 1200-1500 word mark. Hybrid chapters will have flexible word counts to be determined depending on depth and breadth of the topic. 

Contributors will *absolutely* be paid for their work. How much will depend on the publishing deal I secure for the project.

Submissions close on October 2, 2023. I’ve extended submissions to October 10, 2023. I will be accepting chapters on a rolling basis. I highly recommend getting your pitch to me well before the deadline to secure your spot in Dollanganger history.

About the Contributing Editor Sezin Koehler:

I’m the author of the upcoming Much Ado About Keanu: Toward a Critical Reeves Theory, the first ever sociocultural deep-dive into all of Keanu Reeves’ movies and art (Chicago Review Press, 2024). As an editor, I’m currently spearheading Bill & Ted University: The Social Sciences of Their Excellent Adventures, an essay anthology that is currently under consideration at Chicago Review Press. I’ve also edited Enslow’s Racial Literacy series, and work with the Association of American Medical Colleges as an editor, proofreader, and sensitivity reader. I’ve been obsessed with the Flowers series since I read them back in the 80s, when I was 8 or 9—scarred, oddly comforted, and forever obsessed.