And we’re back! For the past 2 days, we’ve been chronicling the epic family drama saga better known as the Dollanganger series! I’ve gone with you through the tragic childhood of Chris, Cathy, Carrie, and Cory, and then the constant heartache that was the adulthood of the surviving Dollanganger siblings, as well as that of their children, Jory, Bart, and Cindy. But contrary to popular belief, the book that started it all is not where the story actually begins! The Dollanganger saga actually started off as the Foxworth drama, and it begins with the story of Malcolm, Olivia, Garland, and Alicia Foxworth in Garden of Shadows, so let’s jump in!
In Garden of Shadows, we learn about Malcolm Foxworth, father of Corrine Foxworth and grandfather of the Dollanganger children, and finally peel back the elusive layers of his wife, Olivia Foxworth, aka the evil grandmother of the series’ inception, who serves as the narrator for this final (and arguably most gripping) installment of the series. At the novel’s opening, we meet the tall, plain, and damn near (gasp!) spinster-aged Olivia Winfield. She meets smart and incredibly handsome Malcolm Foxworth and is totally smitten by this man, the first man to ever pay the kind but aesthetically unimpressive young woman any attention. Malcolm is deeply impressed with Olivia’s frankness and intellect (as well as her money) and proposes to her after knowing her only two days. #RedFuckingFlag
Olivia accepts the proposal, the couple get married two weeks later, Olivia moves with him from her home in Connecticut to Foxworth Hall in Virginia. All seems well at first, but Olivia quickly realizes that as much as Malcolm despises women who wear less and go out more, he’s completely infatuated with them, and neglects her on the night of their wedding celebration to flirt with prettier women all night long. As if that weren’t bad enough, Malcolm is chock full of mommy issues, and has never gotten over the abandonment of his mother, who left him when he was five years old. He both loves and hates her, and all conventionally beautiful women like her. Olivia grows slowly more and more jaded at the fairy tale she’s built up in her head, but is still hopeful that she and Malcolm could be happy together… until she discovers “The Swan Room”, a shrine to Malcolm’s mother (#WTAF), and Malcolm then proceeds to consummate their marriage by raping her while calling out his mother’s name. I told you this family was trash as fuck, didn’t I? Olivia conceives their first son, Malcolm Jr., from this attack, and then another son, Joel, two years later, at this point completely disillusioned with her marriage, and feeling neglected and unloved. But, as usual with this clan, things can get worse, and they do.
Malcolm’s father, Garland Foxworth, comes to visit with his young (like very fucking young, like 19 years old #sideeye) new wife, Alicia, who happens to be pregnant. Malcolm is immediately jealous of this unborn child and the thought of his father having a second heir. Malcolm is also totally obsessed with his new stepmommy, and after his half-brother, Christopher is born, actively pursues her, with Olivia witnessing him making a pass at Alicia, which Alicia unambiguously rejects. But delusional, predatory ass Malcolm becomes convinced that Alicia is just playing hard to get and is intentionally making herself look good (Genes? What’s that?) in order to seduce him. Olivia, Queen of the Pick Mes who never get picked and overflowing with internalized misogyny, also blames Alicia for being so damn attractive. -__-
Malcolm, no stranger to rape, eventually tries to rape Alicia, and when Garland walks in on this and confronts his deviant son, he has a heart attack and dies. Christopher is only three years old when Garland passes, and he doesn’t know the circumstances of his father’s death. And neither does anyone other than Malcolm and Alicia, who is both grief-stricken (she was actually in love with Garland) and terrified of her late husband’s mentally unhinged eldest son. Shortly after Garland’s death, Malcolm’s obsession with Alicia returns and he begins systematically raping her, threatening to leave her and Christopher destitute if she doesn’t give in to his violent lust. Alicia tells Olivia all of this, and the fact that she is now pregnant with Malcolm’s child, but Olivia passes up yet another opportunity to offer her mother-in-law some #Solidarity and chooses instead to seize this as some warped opportunity to try and win back a love that she never had from Malcolm.
Alicia tells her son she will be gone for a little while, says her goodbyes to Christopher, and goes along with Olivia’s plan to hide in the attic for the duration of her pregnancy, while Olivia feigns being pregnant, in order to eventually pass off the child that Alicia gives birth to as her own. After the delivery, the plan is for Malcolm to give Alicia her inheritance from Garland, and for she and Christopher to leave the family home. Olivia even hires an entirely new staff of servants to make sure this dirty little secret stays buried. Sounds simple (albeit completely fucked up) enough, right? With Alicia more vulnerable than ever and Malcolm shamed with her knowledge of his hypocrisy and infidelity, Olivia is in complete control of the household. To her credit, she is kind to Christopher, viewing him as another son, and takes great care of him while not showing his mother even a morsel of compassion. Alicia takes Christopher and quickly and quietly leaves Foxworth Hall after giving birth to her daughter, without even waiting for the inheritance money, just getting as far away from Olivia, Malcolm, and their rape baby as possible.
Malcolm, who always wanted a daughter, names the baby Corrine (Yes, after the mother he is obsessed with. #Ew), and spoils her rotten, while treating his wife and sons even worse than ever. He is physically abusive to Malcolm Jr. and Joel, and completely undermines Olivia when it comes to any matters concerning Corinne. The children grow older, Malcolm Jr dies and Joel is presumed dead, both from unrelated accidents (Boy, this family and accidents!), leaving Corrine as the only child of Malcolm and Olivia.
Now that this foundation has been laid, let’s pick up the pace! Here’s what happens when, after sixteen years, Olivia hears from Alicia again.
- Alicia writes a letter telling Olivia that she is dying of breast cancer, after being widowed once again and living the last several years in poverty due to the Great Depression.
- Alicia begs her to take in Christopher, and put him through medical school.
- Olivia gets Malcolm to agree and Christopher comes to live at Foxworth Hall once again, still ignorant of how his half-brother had treated his mother, or the hand he played in his father’s death.
- Corrine and Christopher meet, both fully aware that they are niece and half-uncle, completely unaware that they are also half-siblings, and fall totally in love.
- Corrine and Christopher start having an affair (#Ew), which Olivia’s cousin, John Amos, suspects, and are eventually caught having sex by Olivia, who is heartbroken.
- Olivia tells Malcolm and, for once, in matters concerning Corrine, he takes his wife’s side, banishing and disinheriting both his half-brother and his daughter.
- Malcolm has a much-deserved stroke and heart attack shortly thereafter and Olivia dedicates herself to his care.
- Olivia confesses the full extent of Christopher and Corrine’s biological relationships to her cousin John, who convince she and Malcolm to become much more religiously devout.
- Christopher is unable to afford medical school any longer and drops out.
- Christopher and Corrine marry, take the name Dollanganger, and have four children, all of which Olivia discovers after hiring a private investigator, but she doesn’t tell her husband about his grandchildren for fear that he will want to see them and become mesmerized by their beauty. #BasicBitchLogic
- Christopher dies in a car accident years later, Corrine writes to her mother, seeking refuge, and we are back where the series began.
Garden of Shadows is Days of Our Lives, Dynasty, and your granny’s favourite telenovela all rolled into one. The scheming, secrets, and hot mess behind closed doors is never-ending! While Christopher and Corrine’s actions could be chalked up to genetic sexual attraction, which is actually quite common among siblings who were not raised together, Olivia and especially Malcolm’s actions throughout this novel are quite inexcusable. Alicia is, sadly, the perfect victim for Malcolm’s depravity and Olivia’s insecurity, and though the plight of the unwanted wife initially tugs at the heartstrings, it is never a good enough reason for why Olivia did not advocate for Alicia when she had a chance, the woman’s only “crime” being her beauty.
In her interactions with Alicia, we see fully why, in addition to being children of incest, Olivia hated her grandchildren, particularly Cathy, so much. Olivia, who was insecure from the beginning, only became more so when Cathy’s biological grandmother, Alicia, came into her life, and Chris Jr.’s attraction to his sister must have surely seemed like history repeating itself. Garden of Shadows, meant to humanize Olivia, actually proves to readers just how little this woman has learned from the mistakes of her past. The Dollanganger series on the whole shows us just how captivating even the most depraved fiction can be! Despite the glaring inconsistencies between this book (written by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman) and the previous four, it is a much-needed addition to the series that leaves just as bitter a taste in the mouth.
So addictive was this series that it’s been translated into over three dozen languages and has been printed over a hundred million of times. Die-hard fans of the V.C. Andrews brand of incest dramas were so fixated on the series, that in 2014-2015, not one, not two, but three more books were added to this particular family’s drama in the Diaries series, a thinly-veiled ploy to keep this trauma drama train rolling long after Andrews’ death. I didn’t read this follow-up series, because I respect myself too much, but the affiliate links are here because I know someone just won’t be able to resist.
For sheer readability and excellent story-telling alone, I give the original Dollanganger family series 3 stars. They get an extra bump for a total of 4 stars for showing a 12 year old girl that rich, White people are the most dysfunctional of us all.