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Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle (November 29 1918September 6 2007) was an American writer best known for her Young Adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science. Tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, and organ regeneration in The Arm of the Starfish.

Early life

Madeleine L'Engle Camp was born in New York City, and named after her great-grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle, otherwise known as Mado. Her mother, a pianist, was also named Madeleine. Her father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a writer, a critic, and a foreign correspondent whose lungs were damaged by exposure to mustard gas during World War I. (In a 2004 New Yorker profile of the writer, relatives of L'Engle disputed the mustard gas story, claiming instead that Camp's illness was caused by alcoholism.)

L'Engle wrote her first story at age five, and began keeping a journal at age eight. These early literary attempts did not translate into academic success at the New York City private school where she was enrolled. A shy, clumsy child, she was branded as stupid by some of her teachers. Unable to please them, she retreated into her own world of books and writing. Her parents often disagreed about how to raise her, and as a result she attended a number of boarding schools and had many governesses. At one point, the family moved to a chateau near Chamonix in the French Alps, in the hope that the cleaner air would be easier on her father's lungs. Madeleine was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, but in 1933 the family moved to northern Florida, and she attended another boarding school, Ashley Hall, in Charleston, South Carolina. When her father died in 1935, Madeleine arrived home too late to say goodbye.

Adulthood

L'Engle attended Smith College from 1937 to 1941. After graduation cum laude from Smith she moved to an apartment in New York City. In 1942 she met actor Hugh Franklin when she appeared in the play The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. L'Engle married Franklin on January 26 1946, the year after the publication of her first novel, The Small Rain. (Later she wrote of their meeting and marriage, "We met in The Cherry Orchard and were married in The Joyous Season.") The couple's first daughter, Josephine, was born in 1947.

The family moved to a 200-year-old farmhouse called Crosswicks in rural Connecticut in 1952. To replace Franklin's lost acting income, they purchased and operated a small general store, while L'Engle continued with her writing. Their son Bion was born that same year. Four years later, seven-year-old Maria, the daughter of family friends who had passed away, came to live with the Franklins, and they adopted her shortly thereafter. During this period, L'Engle also served as choir director of the local Congregational Church.

Career

In 1959 the family returned to New York City so that Hugh could resume his acting career. The move was immediately preceded by a ten-week cross-country camping trip, during which L'Engle first had the idea for her most famous novel, A Wrinkle in Time. L'Engle had completed the book by 1960, but more than two dozen publishers rejected the story before Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally published it in 1962.

From 1960 to 1966 (and again in 1989 and 1990), L'Engle taught at St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's School in New York. In 1965 she became a volunteer librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, also in New York. She later served for many years as writer-in-residence at the Cathedral, generally spending her winters in New York and her summers at Crosswicks.

During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, L'Engle wrote dozens of books for children and adults. One of her books for adults, Two-Part Invention, was a memoir of her marriage, completed after her husband's death from cancer on September 26 1986.

Later years

L'Engle was seriously injured in an automobile accident in 1991, but recovered well enough to visit Antarctica in 1992. Her son, Bion Franklin, died on December 17, 1999. He was forty-five years old.

In her final years, L'Engle became unable to travel or teach, due to reduced mobility from osteoporosis, and especially after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 2002. She also abandoned her former schedule of speaking engagements and seminars. A few compilations of older work, some of it previously unpublished, appeared after 2001.

Madeleine L'Engle died of natural causes at a nursing facility near her Connecticut home on September 6 2007, according to a statement by her publicist the following day.

Religious beliefs

L'Engle was an Episcopalian and believed in universal salvation, writing that "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones. As a result of her promotion of Christian universalism, many Christian bookstores refused to carry her books, which were also frequently banned from Christian schools and libraries. This is somewhat ironic, since some of her most secular critics attacked her work for being too religious.

Her views on divine punishment were similar to those of George MacDonald, who also had a large influence on her fictional work. She said "I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love.

Awards, honors, and organizations

In addition to the numerous awards, medals and prizes won by individual books L'Engle wrote, she personally received many honors over the years. These included being named an Associate Dame of Justice in the Venerable Order of Saint John (1972); the USM Medallion from The University of Southern Mississippi (1978), the Smith College Award "for service to community or college which exemplifies the purposes of liberal arts education" (1981), the Sophia Award for distinction in her field (1984), the Regina Medal (1985), the ALAN Award for outstanding contribution to adolescent literature, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English (1986), and the Kerlan Award (1990).

In 1985 she was a guest speaker at the Library of Congress, giving a speech entitled "Dare to be Creative!" That same year she began a two-year term as president of the Authors Guild. In addition she received over a dozen honorary degrees from as many colleges and universities, such as Haverford College. Many of these name her as a Doctor of Humane Letters, but she was also made a Doctor of Literature and a Doctor of Sacred Theology, the latter at Berkeley Divinity School in 1984. In 1995 she was Writer in Residence for Victoria Magazine. In 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal, but could not attend the ceremony due to poor health.

The Madeleine L'Engle Collection

Since 1976, Wheaton College in Illinois has maintained a special collection of L'Engle's papers, and a variety of other materials, dating back to 1919. The Madeleine L'Engle Collection includes manuscripts for the majority of her published and unpublished works, as well as interviews, photographs, audio and video presentations, and an extensive array of correspondence with both adults and children, including artwork sent to her by children.

Bibliographic overview

L'Engle's best-known works are divided between the "chronos" and "kairos" series; the former is the framework in which the stories of the Austin family take place, and is presented in a primarily realistic setting, though occasionally with elements that might be regarded as science fiction. The latter is the framework in which the stories of the Murry and O'Keefe families take place, and is presented sometimes in a realistic setting and sometimes in a more fantastic or magical milieu. Generally speaking, the more realistic kairos material is found in the O'Keefe stories, which deal with the second generation characters. However, the Murry-O'Keefe and Austin families should not be regarded as living in separate worlds, because several characters cross over between them, and historical events are also shared.

In addition to novels and poetry, L'Engle wrote many nonfiction works, including the autobiographical Crosswicks Journals and other explorations of the subjects of faith and art. For L'Engle, who wrote repeatedly about "story as truth," the distinction between fiction and memoir was sometimes blurred. Real events from her life and family history made their way into some of her novels, while fictional elements, such as assumed names for people and places, can be found in her published journals.

A theme often implied and occasionally explicit in L'Engle's works is that the phenomena that people call religion, science and magic are simply different aspects of a single seamless reality.

Important L'Engle characters

Most of L'Engle's novels from A Wrinkle in Time onward are centered on a cast of recurring characters, who sometimes reappear decades older than when they were first introduced. The "Kairos" books are about the Murry and O'Keefe families, with Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe intermarrying and producing the next generation's protagonist, Polly O'Keefe. L'Engle wrote about both generations concurrently, with Polly (originally called Poly) first appearing in 1965, well before the second book about her parents as teenagers (A Wind in the Door, 1973). The "Chronos" books center on Vicky Austin and her siblings. Although Vicky's appearances all occur during her childhood and teenage years, her sister Suzy also appears as an adult in A Severed Wasp, with a husband and teenage children. In addition, two of L'Engle's early protagonists, Katherine Forrester and Camilla Dickinson, reappear as elderly women in later novels. Rounding out the cast are several characters "who cross and connect", Canon Tallis, Adam Eddington and Zachary Gray, who each appear in both the Kairos and Chronos books.

Partial list of works

Kairos

Chronos

The two Christmas books are shorter works, heavily illustrated but not quite picture books in the sense of having pictures on every page. The events in each of these stories take place prior to the events of Meet the Austins.

Other fiction

Katherine Forrester series:

Camilla Dickinson:

Single titles:

(Note: some ISBNs given are for later paperback editions, since no such numbering existed when L'Engle's earlier titles were published in hardcover.)

The Crosswicks Journals

The Genesis Trilogy

Poetry

Religion, the arts, and more autobiography

Further reading

  • Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life by Madeleine L'Engle and Carole F. Chase ISBN 0-87788-157-X
  • Scholastic BookFiles: A Reading Guide to A Wrinkle in Time ISBN 0-439-46364-5
  • Christian Mythmakers: C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, J. R. R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton and Others by Rolland Hein ISBN 0-940895-48-X

References

External links

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