The Summer of the Great-Grandmother Essay - Critical Essays

Madeleine L'Engle


The Summer of the Great-Grandmother is more than a biography of a writer’s mother; it is also a biography of a family and its ancestors. Because L’Engle uses her own memories and reflections in the telling, it has the quality of journal writing. The book is the second of three autobiographical works; A Circle of Quiet (1972) is the first, and The Irrational Season (1977) is the third. Although these volumes were written for adults, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother in particular is suitable for those literate adolescents who have read and understood L’Engle’s celebrated books for young adults, such as A Wrinkle in Time (1962) and The Arm of the Starfish (1965). It is also valuable for any sophisticated young adult interested in familial relationships, philosophy, religion, and writing.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother is a serious search for spiritually rewarding answers to profound questions about the meaning of life and the meaning of death. L’Engle seeks to fit the painful and wrenching ordeal of her mother’s decline and death into the context of her belief system, a system that revolves around a loving God. The author does not want merely to be able to cope; she wants to find dying to be a positive experience in the cycle of life. L’Engle achieves her acceptance through delving into her mother’s life and heritage, both factually and philosophically, as well as her own life.

Members of the author’s immediate and maternal family are described through anecdotes related within the context of each part...

(The entire section is 657 words.)