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Who Was The True Villain of “Flowers in the Attic”?

by Ted Ryan 3 months ago in pop culture
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The complexity of an antagonist

I had the opportunity to sit in on an interview with Andrew Neiderman earlier this month discussing his biography, The Woman Beyond the Attic. I was able to ask a few questions regarding his classic and current V.C. Andrews books as the ghostwriter.

One of my questions was, “How was it picking up where V.C. Andrews left off with the Casteel and Dollanganger sagas, with the conclusion of Heaven’s story and the villain origin story of Olivia?”

Naturally, he answered both questions happily, mentioning Troy’s survival in Fallen Hearts inspired the third Casteel storyline and the subsequent following sequel and prequel. With Garden of Shadows, he paused and asked for that part of the question to be repeated. With a thoughtful expression, he mused, “That’s interesting. I wouldn’t call her a villain. I’d call her more a victim.”

This point has been a debate amongst fans for decades, especially as on the surface level, she is the one to lock her grandchildren in an unused spare room and adjoining attic.

Olivia is, without a doubt, an antagonistic character. She’s physically and mentally abusive, withholds food and drink for nearly a whole week, accuses her older grandchildren of incest (which does happen), pours tar on her sleeping granddaughter’s hair to punish her, and keeps up the children’s captivity for three years.

However, I lean more towards Corrine being the true villain of this piece of literature. Corrine goes through one of the most significant transformations within the original series, whereas Olivia remains consistent throughout. With the terrifying grandmother, you know what you're going to get and what you should expect - no matter how awful it was to read. No, it's the mother who kept you on your toes whenever she walked into a scene.

From a doting mother, a social pariah, narcissistic pick-me, abusive caregiver, neglectful mother and ultimately a murderer who denies complete accountability - Corrine is a character that constantly shifts and evolves, which continues into the second and third books. In If There Be Thorns, Corrine seeks redemption and forgiveness but meets a demise similar to Olivia’s in the previous book.

Corrine only really showed remorse once her crimes had been exposed in front of Virginia’s elite socialists, resulting in her having a very public meltdown which concludes in Corrine being sectioned after burning down Foxworth Hall - unintentionally killing her mother and second husband.

However, Olivia harbours a rarely-seen softer side, and to be fair, her wariness of incest between the children proves to be accurate.

Jeremy Gill compiled a list of the villains of Flowers in the Attic, including these mother figures and the men of the book. Although he only appears once on the page and fleetingly through the films, Malcolm’s prolonged death and his unconfirmed final will have the kids’ lives in balance. Also, Christopher, Cathy’s brother/love interest, is a darker character and assaults her in a jealous rage, something writers have chosen to omit in film and stage adaptations.

While each character has their moments of villainous acts and evil deeds - even the narrator herself and her future offspring, Gill also pointed out Olivia has some redeeming traits that are often overlooked:

  • She brings the children a potted plant out of genuine kindness.
  • She has a moment of rare solidarity with the children when she tells Corrine to take Cory to the hospital after discovering his sickness.
  • She's seen praying to God towards the end of the first book, stating that she's tried to do what she thought was right (suggesting some remorse and knowledge of possible wrongs)
  • Her week of not bringing food to the children was likely an attempt to prevent their poisoning - I personally don’t believe this theory, but it makes sense.
  • Her depiction after the children escape (exploring their room before her established time of bringing food) can be construed as regret - yet as this is not written from her perspective, we’ll never know.
  • Garden of Shadows shows her struggle between wanting to love her grandchildren and condemning the actions that led to their conceptions

With the Flowers in the Attic: The Origin set to bring viewers and readers back to the attic in July, one thing VC fans can agree on is that there are always complexities in these books with the female roles - unless you're a male villain then you're straight-up evil and a physical manifestation of the patriarchy.

My feelings toward the Flowers in the Attic prequel has changed, especially as I’m currently reading the original novel. This is definitely a villain origin story, but whose? I think the answer is more complicated. Yes, Olivia and Corrine are the clear candidates, but both have drastically different motivations.

Flowers in the Attic: The Origin will premiere on Lifetime on July 9, at 8 p.m. ET. The limited series will then air consecutively over four weeks, concluding on July 30.

pop culture

About the author

Ted Ryan

Screenwriter/Director/Playwright/Reviewer

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