Madeleine L'Engle

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1015

Born: November 29, 1918

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Birthplace: New York, New York

Died: September 6, 2007

Place of death: Litchfield, Connecticut

Principal Works

Young Adult Literature

The Small Rain (1945)

And Both Were Young (1949)

Camilla (1951)

Meet the Austins (1960)

The Arm of the Starfish (1965)

Dragons in the Waters (1976)

A House Like a Lotus (1984)

Many Waters (1986)

An Acceptable Time (1989)

Children's Literature

A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

A Wind in the Door (1973)

A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978)

Adult Literature

The Other Side of the Sun (1971)

A Severed Wasp (1982)

Certain Women (1992)

A Live Coal in the Sea (1996)

The Joys of Love (2008)

Nonfiction

A Circle of Quiet (1972)

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (1974)

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1980)

The Glorious Impossible (1990)

The Rock That Is Higher (1993)

Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols (1996)

Bright Evening Star (1997)

Friends for the Journey (with Luci Shaw, 1997)

Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life (with Carole Chase, 2001)

Biography

Madeleine L'Engle was an American writer of fiction for adults and younger readers whose career spanned six decades. She is best known for several series for children and young adults that combine themes such as family, faith, and grief with fantastic or science-fictional elements, among them the Time Quintet and the Austin Family series. In addition to her many novels, L'Engle wrote numerous works of nonfiction as well as poetry.

L'Engle was born Madeleine L'Engle Camp on November 29, 1918, in New York City. She was the only child born to Charles and Madeleine Camp. L'Engle was surrounded by writing from an early age, as her father worked as a journalist and reviewer for the New York Sun. She began writing fiction as a young child and soon began to write poetry and keep journals as well. Although she struggled somewhat at school, her parents encouraged her literary efforts. An avid reader, L'Engle particularly enjoyed the works of Canadian writer L. M. Montgomery and identified strongly with the protagonist of Montgomery's novel Emily of New Moon (1923).

In 1930 L'Engle and her family moved to the French Alps in an attempt to improve her father's health. She attended the École Le Châtelard, an English-speaking boarding school in Switzerland, for two years before returning to the United States. Her family settled in Florida, and L'Engle traveled to South Carolina to attend the boarding school Ashley Hall. After completing her education at Ashley Hall, she enrolled in Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she studied English. L'Engle graduated with honors from the college in 1941.

After college, L'Engle moved to New York, where she found work as a stage actor. She pursued writing seriously during that time and in 1945 published her first novel, The Small Rain. The novel, the first of two books about protagonist Katherine Forrester, is a realistic coming-of-age story that incorporates some autobiographical elements. Despite her previous success, L'Engle struggled with writing during the 1950s, receiving numerous rejection letters from publishers, and at one point seriously considered giving up the profession.

The following decade brought numerous achievements, beginning with the publication of Meet the Austins in 1960. The success of that book, which chronicles the family life of protagonist Vicky Austin, led to the publication of further books in the series, which ultimately took on a more fantastical tone. L'Engle perhaps became best known for her novel A Wrinkle in Time (1962), which, along with the other books in her Time Quintet (A Wind in the Door, 1973; A Swiftly Tilting Planet, 1978; Many Waters, 1986; An Acceptable Time, 1989) and the subsequent related series focusing on the O'Keefe family, greatly influenced the development of science fiction and fantasy literature for children and young adults. In addition to those novels, she went on to write various other works as fiction as well as numerous nonfiction works, many of which feature L'Engle's musings on her life and religious faith.

L'Engle married actor Hugh Franklin in 1946. The couple had three children, Josephine, Bion, and Maria. In addition to writing, L'Engle served for decades as a librarian for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. L'Engle died on September 6, 2007, in Litchfield, Connecticut.

Major Works

L'Engle's major works for young adults share a number of common themes and concerns, many of which were deeply relevant to the author's own life. Although she spent many of her formative years in boarding schools, family remained of great importance to L'Engle, and many of her novels focus on the strength of family relationships. The Austin family series, for instance, follows the lives and adventures of the members of the family, while A Wrinkle in Time focuses on protagonist Meg's quest to find her missing father. L'Engle's novels are likewise deeply personal in regard to their use of religious themes. She was a devout Christian, but she objected to many elements of organized religion, particularly the emphasis some denominations placed on eternal damnation, which she found to be entirely incompatible with her personal conception of the Christian god. Many of L'Engle's novels, particularly those in the Time Quintet, draw heavily from Christian theology as well as from her own understanding of her faith. This is perhaps most obvious in Many Waters (1986), the fourth novel in the Time Quintet, which features biblical figures such as Noah. The author's personal interest in science likewise played a critical role in the development of her novels; although L'Engle did not have a scientific background, she enjoyed reading about scientific topics such as quantum theory and at times incorporated such topics into her work.

Further Reading

  • Marcus, Leonard S. Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices. New York: Farrar, 2012. Print.
  • Rosenberg, Aaron. Madeleine L'Engle. New York: Rosen, 2006. Print.

Bibliography

  • “About Madeleine L'Engle.” Madeleine L'Engle. Crosswicks, n.d. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://www.madeleinelengle.com/madeleine-lengle>.
  • L'Engle, Madeleine. “Madeleine L'Engle.” Interview by Bob Abernethy. Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. WNET, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2012/02/10/november-17-2000-madeleine-lengle/3639>.
  • Martin, Douglas. “Madeleine L'Engle, Writer of Children's Classics, Is Dead at 88.” New York Times. New York Times, 8 Sept. 2007. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/08/books/07cnd-lengle.html?hp&_r=1&>.
  • Sharp, Michael D., ed. Popular Contemporary Writers. Vol. 7. Tarrytown: Marshall, 2006. Print.

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