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Corrine Dollanganger is the main antagonist of Flowers in The Attic.
In the year 1957, Cathy Dollanganger is twelve years old and the second of four children (including her older brother, Chris, who is fourteen years old, and fraternal twins, Carrie and Cory, who are five). They live in Gladstone, Pennsylvania with their parents, Christopher and Corrine. Their father works at a PR firm while their mother stays home to care for them. Their idyllic lifestyle ends when their father dies in a car accident on his 36th birthday.
Facing financial destitution, Corrine decides to move the children and herself into her parents' mansion in Charlottesville, Virginia. She writes letters to her mother, Olivia, pleading for shelter. Olivia agrees to let them stay on the condition that the children be kept hidden; she does not want their grandfather, Malcolm, to know about them. Corrine tells the children that she did something her parents disapproved of fifteen years ago, so she is disinherited. However, her father is dying, and if she can win back his love, she will be the sole heir to a vast fortune. She also tells them that their real last name is Foxworth. They pack a few things and take the train to Virginia, leaving everything else behind. They make the secret path to Foxworth Hall, where they are escorted into small room below the attic by Olivia. Corrine promises to visit them the next day after she talks to her father. When Corrine does return, the children find that she has been savagely horse-whipped by Olivia, who tells the children that their parents were half-uncle and niece; their father had been Malcolm's half-brother. She says that if Corrine has any chance of winning back her father's love, it is that the children be kept hidden in the room until Malcolm dies, and by then, Corrine will receive her inheritance and be able to provide for the children.
At first, Corrine lavishes the children with expensive gifts and promises of a bright future, and visits them every day. She even attends secretarial school to learn the necessary skills to care for the children (this is never mentioned again after the first year). However, as time goes by, she slowly stops visiting with her children and loses interest in them, particularly the twins who have almost stopped growing due to the stress of being locked up and lack of sunlight. The children are physically and emotionally abused by their grandmother, who calls them the "devil's spawn" and threatens them with severe punishment if they disobey her rules. Corrine continues to favor Chris, though her love for her favorite child does not motivate her to free them. After the first year, Corrine abruptly stops visiting with her children, leading Cathy and Chris to think something has happened to her, but Cathy later suspects that her mother has abandoned them.
The children initially spend their time reading and watching television, but then they decorate the attic with paper-made flowers to make it less scary for the twins. Cathy and Chris begins learning the basics to pursue their dreams; Cathy practices ballet and Chris reads dozens of books to become a doctor. Corrine's abandonment of the children forces them to rely on one another for comfort and friendship. This leads to a new family unit, with Cathy and Chris assuming the roles of mother and father for the twins and resolving to teach their siblings in a makeshift school room in the attic. After nearly two years of confinement, Cathy and Chris begin to enter puberty. Cathy becomes curious of the physical changes in her body; in one incident, she is admiring her naked body and Chris accidentally walks in on her. After getting over the initial shock, he proceeds to tell her how beautiful she is becoming. Their grandmother catches Chris watching Cathy and proudly proclaims them as sinners. She gives them an ultimatum: Chris must cut off all of Cathy's hair or all four children will starve for two weeks. When Chris refuses to comply, Olivia sneaks into the room, drugs Cathy in her sleep, and pours tar into her hair, which forces Chris to cut her hair off. The resulting starvation forces the children into desperate measures; Chris offers his blood to feed the twins and guts mice for him and Cathy to eat. Before they can eat the mice, their grandmother leaves them a basket of food, with additional powdered doughnuts.
Months later, Corrine suddenly returns and happily announces that she married her father's attorney, Bart Winslow, and was away on her honeymoon. Cathy and Chris are angry that their mother was on vacation while they nearly starved, but she shouts at them for thinking she doesn't care about them when she provides necessaries for them and refuses to visit with them until they apologize. Their grandmother continues to abuse them, and even whips both Cathy and Chris when he talks back at her. Due to their confinement, Cathy and Chris become sexually attracted to each other. They also begin plotting an escape. After distracting their mother during a visit, they take the room's key and make an impression of it in a bar of soap from which they carve a wooden copy. To finance their escape, they secretly steal jewels and money from their mother and stepfather. One night, Chris is ill, so Cathy goes alone. She encounters her stepfather sleeping in his chair. Curious and confused, she kisses him. Days later, Chris finds out about the kiss when he overhears his stepfather telling his mother about what he thought was a dream. Chris rapes Cathy in a jealous rage. Afterward, they feel tremendous guilt and shame. Chris sincerely apologizes to Cathy, who forgives him because she knew he didn't mean to do it. Chris professes his love to Cathy, and although she reciprocates his feelings, she is unsure of how to respond.
Soon after, Cory becomes seriously ill, and Cathy angrily persuades her mother to take him to the hospital. Corrine later tells them that Cory had died from pneumonia, leaving the older children devastated. Now desperate, Chris plans to take whatever money he can find in his mother's suite, but discovers that Corrine and Bart have left Foxworth Hall for good. Chris tells Cathy that he found out that he learned their grandfather died nine months ago after eavesdropping on the head butler, John Amos. Chris also tells her that he heard that their grandmother has been leaving food with arsenic to kill the mice in the attic. Realizing they are the "mice" and that arsenic was placed on the powdered-sugar doughnuts, Cathy and Chris take Carrie and slip out of Foxworth Hall before dawn to catch the train to Sarasota, Florida. At the train station, Chris reveals the final horror: their grandfather's will said that their mother would be disinherited if it is proven she had borne children from her first marriage or has any in the future. Their grandmother started leaving the doughnuts for them nine months ago, when their grandfather died and the will was read, therefore, it was their mother who made the decision to poison them.
They abruptly decide against going to the police, at the risk of being separated and put into foster care. Their priority is to be there for Carrie and survive on their own. Cathy is very angry at her mother's betrayal, and desperately wants to take revenge on her mother and grandmother, but decides that at the moment, she must be there for her brother and sister. She does declare that one day, she will get her vengeance. At the time of their escape, in November 1960, Chris is nearly 18 years old, Cathy is 15 years old, and Carrie is 8 years old.
During the event of third book, she wants to reconcile with Cathy and Chris as well as asks them for forgiveness for everything she had done, despite their protest. In one last act of redemption, she saves Cathy from a fire in their house caused by a treacherous butler John Amos and dies of heart failure. In the end, she finally earns her redemption from Cathy and Chris after all.
MovieAfter the sudden death of their father, four children — teenagers Chris and Cathy and 5-year-old twins Cory and Carrie — find themselves penniless and forced to travel with their mother Corinne to live with her wealthy parents (whom the children had neither met nor been told about before). Corinne informs her children that there has been tension between herself and her parents for many years, but does not elaborate and simply says they had cut her out of their lives for something she had done that they disapproved of. The children trust her, though Cathy is skeptical at times.
Corinne's mother Olivia, a religious fanatic, takes her daughter and her children into her home, though with the harsh condition that the children must be sequestered away in a locked room so that her husband Malcolm (who is dying) will never know of their existence. To that end, the children are shut up in one bedroom in the mansion, only with access to the mansion's attic via a secret stairway. It is on their first day there that the grandmother reveals the shocking truth: Corinne and her husband were really uncle and niece, making their love incestuous and their children the product of said incest. When Corrine finally returns to the children that night, she is forced to show the children that she has been savagely bullwhipped by her mother as a punishment for her incestuous relationship. Corinne admits to the children that she and their father were uncle and niece, and the children do not say anything but seem to accept it. Corinne tells the children that their confinement will only be for a short time: her father is deathly ill, and once she is able to convince him to secure her inheritance, when he dies they will be free.
The film focuses on the children's ordeal as shut-ins and their clashes with the ultra-religious grandmother, who loathes the children due to their incestuous conception. The children struggle to survive, even as their mother's visits quickly taper off. In particular, Olivia becomes obsessed with Chris and Cathy, out of the warped belief that they have become lovers. Discovering them sleeping in the same bed one morning, the grandmother smashes Cathy's ballerina music box, given to her by her deceased father, and after she discovers the two innocently talking while Cathy is bathing, she calls them sinners. Chris manages to chase her out, but later on Olivia ambushes Cathy in the bedroom, locks Chris in the closet preceding the attic, and hacks off her hair with a pair of scissors. She then starves them for a week, and Chris is forced to feed Cory his own blood so he doesn't die of starvation.
As time goes on, the children are often sick, especially the younger ones. Chris and Cathy manage to secretly remove the hinges from their locked door on a few occasions to sneak out of their room, and discover that their mother has been living a life of luxury as well as dating a young lawyer, Bart Winslow. She does eventually come to visit them again, and they confront her about leaving them there to suffer and ignoring them. Corinne is very defensive and acts insulted, cries that they are cruel to think that she is deliberately neglecting them, or enjoying life while they are locked up. She storms out. Shortly after, Cory becomes deathly ill. The children ask Olivia and Corinne to take Cory to the hospital, which they do, but later Corinne returns to inform them Cory has died. The children are devastated, but not long after they start to suspect that Olivia has been poisoning all of them when their pet mouse Fred is found dead after eating part of a cookie. Chris researches and concludes that Cory and Fred were killed via arsenic poisoning, mixed in the sugar on the cookies they are served with the breakfast. The remaining siblings decide to leave the attic once and for all.
Chris sneaks out to steal money before they escape and discovers that their mother is planning to wed Bart Winslow at the mansion the next morning. Though upset, he suggests to Cathy they dress up in fancy clothes from the attic, and use the wedding as a cover to sneak out of the house. When Olivia secretly enters their bedroom the next day, hoping to catch them once more doing something "evil", Chris takes her by surprise and beats her unconscious with a bedpost. As they are leaving, Cathy decides they should reveal themselves to their grandfather (whom they had a brief run-in with earlier in the film, while investigating their mother's absence). However, when they enter his room, they find it empty, with the bed dismantled: the grandfather, Malcolm, has been dead for months. They also find a copy of his will, which connects the final dots—Malcolm, still suspicious of his daughter, put a clause in his will which states that if it is ever revealed that she had children from her first marriage, she will be disinherited and lose all of her money. They realize that their mother was the one poisoning the cookies, not their grandmother.
The children crash the wedding ceremony and expose their mother to the guests and the groom; Corinne refuses to acknowledge the children as her own or to admit to poisoning Cory. Cathy offers her an arsenic-coated cookie as a wedding present, and in fury tries to force her mother to eat it, chasing her out to a balcony, where after a brief struggle, Corinne falls and dies when her veil is caught on a trellis, strangling her to death. Afterward, the children leave the mansion as their grandmother looks on with scorn; the narrator (an older Cathy's voiceover) explains that the children did manage to survive all by themselves although Carrie was 'never truly healthy'. She wonders aloud if her grandmother is still alive, anticipating Cathy's eventual return to claim the family's fortune.