For girls growing up in the early '80s, reading the gothic novel Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews was a rite of passage. But its author, Cleo Virginia Andrews, remained a bit of a mystery throughout her life.
While Andrews's dramatic tales of deception and forbidden romance make for perfect sleepover stories, her life was fairly quiet. Born in 1923, she was a smart and talented woman who worked successfully as a commercial artist before hitting her stride as a bestselling author. However, due to injury and lifelong invalidity, she was a bit of a recluse and remained in the care of her mother for most of her adult life. Andrews truly lived through the characters she created, and the genre she was so instrumental in redefining has maintained its popularity. VC Andrews novels, with their distinctive cutout dust jackets, continue to enchant new generations of readers unfamiliar with her work.
Unlock the mysteries of the woman who created the turbulent, passionate worlds of the Dollangangers and Casteels, as well as numerous others.
Andrews was a friendly but quirky woman. She reportedly believed she was clairvoyant. She told people she had predicted her wealth and father's passing and in a series of dreams.
Of course, as with other themes in her life, psychic ability and mysticism made it into more than one of her stories.
Accounts vary as to how Andrews became disabled. People reported she fell down a flight of stairs as a teen; however, relatives claim she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. She underwent several surgeries and spent much of her adult life in a wheelchair and in the care of her mother.
Andrews's editor Ann Patty said, "Her spine was fused - it didn’t move. From her butt bone to her head, the spine did not move."
One of the reasons Andrews's books gained such popularity among teens was its simple diction: She wrote in the voice of a young girl. Ann Patty theorized that life had figuratively stopped for Andrews at a young age due to her debilitating condition.
Additionally, Patty initially "thought [Andrews] was an older Southern woman." She recalled, "When I met her and found her to be crippled, it was like this huge shock. And then it all became clear: She was that teenager. If you think about her emotional life and her experiences and independence - which there was none - her life kind of stopped when she was about 14 or 15."
According to the website The Complete VC Andrews, Flowers in the Attic was based on a true story. Specifically, her tale was allegedly influenced by a man Andrews had known in her teen years. One of Andrews's relatives said:
Virginia was a young lady when my dad made arrangements to take her to the University of Virginia hospital for treatment. While she was there, she developed [an attraction to] her young doctor. He and his siblings had been locked away in the attic for over six 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.
The events of the novel, however, are likely almost entirely fiction. Andrews's editor Ann Patty said, "Whether the twins were real, the [intimacy], 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."