Monthly Archives: September 2007

“It was a dark and stormy night”

This is the opening line of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, quoted to remember the good times she gave our family. She died Thursday, September 6, in Litchfield, CT. She was 88 years old.  

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 Following are excerps from the NY Times story, “Madeleine L’Engle, Writer of Children’s Classics, Is Dead at 88” of September 8, 2007. 

 Madeleine L’Engle, an author whose childhood fables, religious meditations and fanciful science fiction transcended both genre and generation, most memorably in her children’s classic “A Wrinkle in Time,” died on Thursday in Litchfield, Conn. She was 88.

Her death was announced yesterday by her publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. A spokeswoman said Ms. L’Engle (pronounced LENG-el) had died of natural causes at a nursing home, which she entered three years ago. Before then the author had maintained homes in Manhattan and Goshen, Conn.

“A Wrinkle in Time” was rejected by 26 publishers before editors at Farrar, Straus & Giroux read it and enthusiastically accepted it. It proved to be her masterpiece, winning the John Newbery Medal as the best children’s book of 1963 and selling, so far, eight million copies. It is now in its 69th printing.

. . . it was in her vivid children’s characters that readers most clearly glimpsed her passionate search for answers to the questions that mattered most. She sometimes spoke of her writing as if she were taking dictation from her subconscious.

“Of course I’m Meg,” Ms. L’Engle said about the beloved protagonist of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

“Wrinkle” has been one of the most banned books in the United States, accused by religious conservatives of offering an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurturing in the young an unholy belief in myth and fantasy.

Ms. L’Engle, who often wrote about her Christian faith, was taken aback by the attacks. “It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it,” Ms. L’Engle said in an interview with The New York Times in 2001. “Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, ‘Ah, the hell with it.’ It’s great publicity, really.”

“Wrinkle” is part of Ms. L’Engle’s Time series of children’s books, which includes “A Wind in the Door,” “A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” “Many Waters” and “An Acceptable Time.” The series combines elements of science fiction with insights into love and moral purpose.

Madeleine L’Engle Camp was born in Manhattan on the snowy night of Nov. 29, 1918. The only child of Madeleine Hall Barnett and Charles Wadsworth Camp, she was named for her great-grandmother, who was also named Madeleine L’Engle.

Her mother came from Jacksonville, Fla., society and was a fine pianist; her father was a World War I veteran who worked as a foreign correspondent and later as drama and music critic for The New York Sun. He also knocked out potboiler novels.

The family lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her parents had artistic friends, and Madeleine an English nanny. She felt unpopular at school. She said that an elementary school teacher — Miss Pepper or Miss Salt, she couldn’t remember which — regarded her as stupid.

Madeleine had written her first story at 5 and retreated into writing. When she won a poetry contest in the fifth grade, her teacher accused her of plagiarizing. Her mother intervened to prove her innocence, lugging a stack of her stories from home.

When she was 12, Madeleine was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, Chatelard, and at 15 to Ashley Hall, a boarding school in Charleston, S.C. Later she graduated from Smith College with honors in English. (She did not take science classes, which was often a surprise to readers impressed with her science fiction.)

Returning to New York, Ms. L’Engle began to get small acting parts. Several plays she had written were produced. She published her first novel, “The Small Rain,” in 1945. And she met the actor Hugh Franklin while they were touring in a production of Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard.” They married in 1946.

“I think that fantasy must possess the author and simply use him,” she said in an interview with Horn Book magazine in 1983. “I know that is true of ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ I cannot possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice.

“It was only after it was written that I realized what some of it meant.”

 For more than three decades, starting in 1966, Ms. L’Engle served as librarian and writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. One or two of her dogs often accompanied her to the cathedral library.

“Why does anybody tell a story?” she once asked, even though she knew the answer “It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

 Most of us can only remember the names of 2 or 3 of her books, but she was a very prolific writer.

18 Washington Square South: A Comedy in One Act, 1944
The Small Rain, 1945
Ilsa, 1946
And Both Were Young, 1949
Camilla Dickinson, 1951
A Winter’s Love, 1957
Meet the Austins, 1960
A Wrinkle in Time, 1962
The Moon By Night, 1963
The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas, 1964
The Arm of the Starfish, 1965
Camilla, 1965
The Love Letters, 1966
A Journey With Jonah (a play), 1967
The Young Unicorns, 1968
Dance in the Desert, 1969
Lines Scribbled on an Envelope and Other Poems, 1969
The Other Side of the Sun, 1971
A Circle of Quiet, 1972
A Wind in the Door, 1973
Everyday Prayers, 1974
Prayers for Sunday, 1974
The Risk of Birth, 1974
The Summer of the Great Grandmother, 1974
Dragons in the Waters, 1976
The Irrational Season, 1977
A Swiftly Tilting Planet, 1978
The Weather of the Heart, 1978
Ladder of Angels, 1979
The Anti-Muffins, 1980
A Ring of Endless Light, 1980
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, 1980
A Severed Wasp, 1982
The Sphinx at Dawn, 1982
And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings, 1983
A House Like a Lotus, 1984
Trailing Clouds of Glory: Spiritual Values in Children’s Literature, 1985 (with Avery Brooke)
Many Waters, 1986
A Stone for a Pillow: Journeys with Jacob, 1986
A Cry Like a Bell, 1987
Two-Part Invention, 1988
An Acceptable Time, 1989
Sold Into Egypt: Joseph’s Journey into Human Being, 1989
The Glorious Impossible, 1990
Certain Women, 1992
The Rock That is Higher, 1993
Anytime Prayers, 1994
Troubling a Star, 1994
Glimpses of Grace, 1996 (with Carole Chase)
A Live Coal in the Sea, 1996
Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols, 1996
Wintersong, 1996 (with Luci Shaw)
Bright Evening Star, 1997
Friends for the Journey, 1997 (with Luci Shaw)
Mothers and Daughters, 1997 (with Maria Rooney)
Miracle on 10th Street, 1998
A Full House, 1999
Mothers and Sons, 1999 (with Maria Rooney)
Prayerbook for Spiritual Friends, 1999 (with Luci Shaw)
The Other Dog, 2001
Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, 2001 (with Carole Chase)
The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle, 2005

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Posted by on 12 September 2007 in A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle