Friday, December 21, 2012

The Life and Times of Madeleine L'Engle

Bookforum takes a look at the life of the A Wrinkle in Time author.

From the piece...

This is no tell-all: Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, L’Engle’s longtime home, and featuring several of her editors and publicists, the book has the feel of a Festschrift—a celebratory volume in honor of one of the house’s most beloved writers. (There is also a sense that certain scores are being settled: A number of the interviewees disparage a profile of L’Engle by Cynthia Zarin published in the New Yorker several years ago, which repeated rumors that L’Engle’s husband had been unfaithful.) The L’Engle depicted here is stern but mostly loving, with a thousand endearing quirks and a bold and unorthodox creativity. Her writing studio at one point contained a desk and an electric keyboard, set up with her chair in between them, so that when she got stuck on a book she could swivel around and practice piano to loosen herself up. (She believed that the fingers, like the brain, can think.) Her early modesty—when she and her husband, Hugh Franklin, decided to give up their acting careers and move to Goshen, Connecticut, they bought the local general store and she was known to all as “the grocer’s wife”—ultimately turned into a confidence bordering on arrogance. She was given to dramatic gestures, once threatening to cancel a tour when a bookstore belonging to a beloved friend was left out. Unable to attend a play in which her adult granddaughter was performing, she sent a fur coat as a gift instead.

She also was passionately religious, a practicing Episcopalian who served for several decades as the house librarian at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. One of Marcus’s interviewees recalls glancing at L’Engle’s notebook during a meeting to discover that she was writing a prayer. Another person calls her the greatest preacher he had ever heard. Her piety should not come as a surprise: A Wrinkle in Time is a fairly obvious allegory of the struggle between good and evil, and the Austin chronicles allude often to the family’s Christianity. One of L’Engle’s editors muses that her books always reflected “her very deep faith . . . embedded in a great story with great characters,” but the reverse can also be true: L’Engle’s characters are embedded in her faith, which is the real raison d’ĂȘtre of her novels. She liked to speak of her writing as an “incarnational act,” an inseparable part of her religious life.

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