Madeleine L’Engle Camp was born in New York City on November 29, 1918. Her mother, Madeleine Barnett Camp, was a pianist who, although talented, chose not to become a concert pianist and to stay at home with her family. L’Engle’s father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a foreign correspondent whose lungs were damaged by exposure to poison mustard gas during World War I. L’Engle had a younger brother who died as an infant. Her subsequent childhood was somewhat secluded from other children, as she spent much of her time writing short stories, poems, and journals rather than concentrating on her schoolwork.
As her father’s condition worsened, her family decided to move to Europe, where the air would be easier on her father’s lungs and he would be less susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia. In 1930, at twelve years of age, L’Engle relocated across the Atlantic Ocean to Switzerland, where her family rented a chateau and she entered a Swiss boarding school.
However, at age fourteen, because of her parents’ declining health, L’Engle was sent back to the United States to attend high school in Florida and live with her grandmother. She did not adapt to life in Florida schools and was sent to a girls’ boarding school in Charleston, South Carolina, to finish her high school diploma. Once at the boarding school she acted in plays and worked for the school’s literary magazine as a writer and editor. As she was finishing her final year at school, her father passed away.
In 1941, L’Engle graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she received her B.A. in English and continued her own creative writing. After graduation, instead of returning to the South, where her family lived, she moved to New York City and shared an apartment in Greenwich Village with two aspiring actresses. She attended the New School for Social Research in New York City from 1941 to 1942. Through luck and perseverance she acquired a job working in theater in 1941 and spent the subsequent seven years living on her union pay and writing in her spare time. Her first novel, The Small...
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In the series of books referred to as the Time Quartet, L’Engle skillfully blends themes of adolescent discovery of self with religious questions of the incarnation and battle of good versus evil to create a fiction with which young readers can identify and through which they are forced to stretch their imaginations.
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