Madeleine L'Engle

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Madeleine L'Engle
L'Engle publicity photo from Square Fish Books
Born (1918-11-29)November 29, 1918
New York City, NY, USA
Died September 6, 2007(2007-09-06) (aged 88)
Litchfield, CT, USA
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Education Ashley Hall
Alma mater Smith College
Period 1945–2007

Essays, poetry, Christian fiction, science fiction

cover illustration by : Adam Passalacqua age 13
Notable works A Wrinkle in Time and sequels
Notable awards Newbery Medal
Margaret Edwards Award

Madeleine L'Engle (/ˈmædəlɪn ˈlɛŋɡəl/; November 29, 1918 – September 6, 2007;[1] née Camp) was an American writer best known for young-adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels: A Wind in the Door, National Book Award-winning[2][lower-alpha 1] A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Her works reflect both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science.

Early life

Madeleine L'Engle Camp was born in New York on November 29, 1918, and named after her great-grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle, otherwise known as Mado.[3] Her maternal grandfather was Florida banker Bion Barnett, co-founder of Barnett Bank in Jacksonville, Florida. Her mother, a pianist, was also named Madeleine. Her father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a writer, a critic, and a foreign correspondent who, according to his daughter, suffered lung damage from exposure to mustard gas during World War I (in a 2004 New Yorker profile of the writer, relatives of L'Engle disputed the mustard gas story, claiming instead that Camp's illness was caused by alcoholism.[4])

L'Engle wrote her first story at age five and began keeping a journal at age eight.[5] These early literary attempts did not translate into academic success at the New York City private school where she was enrolled. A shy, clumsy child, she was branded as stupid by some of her teachers. Unable to please them, she retreated into her own world of books and writing. Her parents often disagreed about how to raise her, and as a result she attended a number of boarding schools and had many governesses.[6][page needed] The L'Engles traveled frequently. At one point, the family moved to a château near Chamonix in the French Alps, in what Madeleine described as the hope that the cleaner air would be easier on her father's lungs. Madeleine was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland. However, in 1933, L'Engle's grandmother fell ill, and they moved near Jacksonville, Florida to be close to her. L'Engle attended another boarding school, Ashley Hall, in Charleston, South Carolina. When her father died in 1935, Madeleine arrived home too late to say goodbye.[7]


L'Engle attended Smith College from 1937 to 1941. After graduating cum laude from Smith,[8] she moved to an apartment in New York City. In 1942, she met actor Hugh Franklin when she appeared in the play The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov.[9] L'Engle married Franklin on January 26, 1946, the year after the publication of her first novel, The Small Rain. Later she wrote of their meeting and marriage, "We met in The Cherry Orchard and were married in The Joyous Season."[8] The couple's first daughter, Josephine, was born in 1947.

The family moved to a 200-year-old farmhouse called Crosswicks in Goshen, Connecticut in 1952. To replace Franklin's lost acting income, they purchased and operated a small general store, while L'Engle continued with her writing. Their son Bion was born that same year.[10] Four years later, seven-year-old Maria, the daughter of family friends who had died, came to live with the Franklins, and they adopted her shortly thereafter. During this period, L'Engle also served as choir director of the local Congregational Church.[11]


L'Engle determined to give up writing on her 40th birthday (November 1958) when she received yet another rejection notice. "With all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially." Soon she discovered both that she could not give it up and that she had continued to work on fiction subconsciously.[12]

The family returned to New York City in 1959 so that Hugh could resume his acting career. The move was immediately preceded by a ten-week cross-country camping trip, during which L'Engle first had the idea for her most famous novel, A Wrinkle in Time, which she completed by 1960. It was rejected more than thirty times before she handed it to John C. Farrar;[12] it was finally published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1962.[11]

In 1960 the Franklins moved to an apartment in the Cleburne Building on West End Avenue (sold by the estate for $4 million in 2008).[13] From 1960 to 1966 (and again in 1989 and 1990), L'Engle taught at St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's School in New York. In 1965 she became a volunteer librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, also in New York. She later served for many years as writer-in-residence at the Cathedral, generally spending her winters in New York and her summers at Crosswicks.

During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, L'Engle wrote dozens of books for children and adults. Four of the books for adults formed the Crosswicks Journals series of autobiographical memoirs. Of these, The Summer of the Great-grandmother (1974) discusses L'Engle's personal experience caring for her aged mother, and Two-Part Invention (1988) is a memoir of her marriage, completed after her husband's death from cancer on September 26, 1986.

Later years

L'Engle was seriously injured in an automobile accident in 1991 but recovered well enough to visit Antarctica in 1992.[11] Her son, Bion Franklin, died on December 17, 1999. He was forty-seven years old.[14]

In her final years, L'Engle became unable to teach or travel due to reduced mobility from osteoporosis, especially after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 2002. She also abandoned her former schedule of speaking engagements and seminars. A few compilations of older work, some of it previously unpublished, appeared after 2001.

L'Engle died of natural causes at Rose Haven, a nursing facility close to her home in Litchfield, Connecticut, on September 6, 2007, according to a statement by her publicist the following day.[15] She is interred in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, New York City, New York.

Religious beliefs

L'Engle was a very strong Episcopalian and believed in universal salvation, writing that "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones."[16] As a result of her promotion of Christian universalism, many Christian bookstores refused to carry her books, which were also frequently banned from Christian schools and libraries. However, some of her most secular critics attacked her work for being too religious.[17]

Her views on divine punishment were similar to those of George MacDonald, who also had a large influence on her fictional work. She said "I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love."[18]

In 1982, L’Engle reflected on how suffering had taught her. She told how suffering a “lonely solitude” as a child taught her about the “world of the imagination” that enabled her to write for children. Later she suffered a “decade of failure” after her first books were published. It was a “bitter” experience, yet she wrote that she had “learned a lot of valuable lessons” that enabled her to persevere as a writer.[19]

On writing for children

Soon after winning the Newbery Medal for her 1962 "junior novel" A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle discussed children's books in The New York Times Book Review.[20] The writer of a good children's book, she observed, may need to return to the "intuitive understanding of his own childhood", being childlike although not childish. She claimed, "It's often possible to make demands of a child that couldn't be made of an adult ... a child will often understand scientific concepts that would baffle an adult. This is because he can understand with a leap of the imagination that [which] is denied the grown-up who has acquired the little knowledge that is a dangerous thing." Of philosophy, etc., as well as science, "the child will come to it with an open mind, whereas many adults come closed to an open book. This is one reason so many writers turn to fantasy (which children claim as their own) when they have something important and difficult to say."[20]

Awards, honors, and organizations

In addition to the numerous awards, medals, and prizes won by individual books L'Engle wrote, she personally received many honors over the years.[11] These included being named an Associate Dame of Justice in the Venerable Order of Saint John (1972);[21] the USM Medallion from The University of Southern Mississippi (1978); the Smith College Medal "for service to community or college which exemplifies the purposes of liberal arts education" (1981); the Sophia Award for distinction in her field (1984); the Regina Medal (1985); the ALAN Award for outstanding contribution to adolescent literature, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English (1986);[22] and the Kerlan Award (1990).

In 1985 she was a guest speaker at the Library of Congress, giving a speech entitled "Dare to be Creative!" That same year she began a two-year term as president of the Authors Guild. In addition she received over a dozen honorary degrees from as many colleges and universities, such as Haverford College.[23] Many of these name her as a Doctor of Humane Letters, but she was also made a Doctor of Literature and a Doctor of Sacred Theology, the latter at Berkeley Divinity School in 1984. In 1995 she was writer-in-residence for Victoria Magazine. In 1997 she was recognized for Lifetime Achievement from the World Fantasy Awards.[24]

L'Engle received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1998. The Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work "for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature". Four books by L'Engle were cited: Meet the Austins, A Wrinkle In Time, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and A Ring of Endless Light (published 1960 to 1980).[25] In 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal[12] but could not attend the ceremony due to poor health.

L'Engle was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame in 2011.

In a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, A Wrinkle in Time was voted the number two children's novel behind Charlotte's Web.[26][27]

In 2013, a crater on Mercury was named after L'Engle.[28]

The Madeleine L'Engle Collection

Since 1976, Wheaton College in Illinois has maintained a special collection of L'Engle's papers, and a variety of other materials, dating back to 1919.[29] The Madeleine L'Engle Collection includes manuscripts for the majority of her published and unpublished works, as well as interviews, photographs, audio and video presentations, and an extensive array of correspondence with both adults and children, including artwork sent to her by children.

Bibliographic overview

L'Engle's best-known works are divided between the "Chronos" and "Kairos" frameworks.[30] The former is the framework in which the stories of the Austin family take place and is presented in a primarily realistic setting, though occasionally with elements that might be regarded as science fiction.[citation needed] The latter is the framework in which the stories of the Murry and O'Keefe families take place and is presented sometimes in a realistic setting and sometimes in a more fantastic or magical milieu.[citation needed] Generally speaking, the more realistic Kairos material is found in the O'Keefe stories,[citation needed] which deal with the second-generation characters. However, the Murry-O'Keefe and Austin families should not be regarded as living in separate worlds, because several characters cross over between them, and historical events are also shared.[citation needed]

In addition to novels and poetry, L'Engle wrote many nonfiction works, including the autobiographical Crosswicks Journals and other explorations of the subjects of faith and art. For L'Engle, who wrote repeatedly about "story as truth", the distinction between fiction and memoir was sometimes blurred. Real events from her life and family history made their way into some of her novels, while fictional elements, such as assumed names for people and places, can be found in her published journals.[31]

A theme, often implied and occasionally explicit, in L'Engle's works is that the phenomena that people call religion, science, and magic are simply different aspects of a single seamless reality.[citation needed]

Important L'Engle characters

Most of L'Engle's novels from A Wrinkle in Time onward are centered on a cast of recurring characters, who sometimes reappear decades older than when they were first introduced. The "Kairos" books are about the Murry and O'Keefe families, with Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe marrying and producing the next generation's protagonist, Polly O'Keefe. L'Engle wrote about both generations concurrently, with Polly (originally called Poly) first appearing in 1965, well before the second book about her parents as teenagers (A Wind in the Door, 1973). The "Chronos" books center on Vicky Austin and her siblings. Although Vicky's appearances all occur during her childhood and teenage years, her sister Suzy also appears as an adult in A Severed Wasp, with a husband and teenage children. In addition, two of L'Engle's early protagonists, Katherine Forrester and Camilla Dickinson, reappear as elderly women in later novels. Rounding out the cast are several characters "who cross and connect": Canon Tallis, Adam Eddington and Zachary Gray, who each appear in both the Kairos and Chronos books.[30]

Selected works


First-generation (Murry)

Second-generation (O'Keefe)


The two Christmas books are shorter works, heavily illustrated but not actually picture books . The events in each of these stories take place prior to the events of Meet the Austins.

Other fiction

Katherine Forrester series

Camilla Dickinson


Note: some ISBNs given are for later paperback editions, since no such numbering existed when L'Engle's earlier titles were published in hardcover.'



Crosswicks Journals

Genesis Trilogy

Other works

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 A Swiftly Tilting Planet won the award for paperback Children's Literature. From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Award history there were dual awards for hardcover and paperback books in many categories. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one.


  1. Martin, Douglas (September 8, 2007). "Madeleine L'Engle, Children's Writer, Is Dead". The New York Times. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  3. L’Engle 1974, p. 164.
  4. Zarin, Cynthia (April 12, 2004). "The Storyteller". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 14, 2012. 
  5. Chase, Carole F (1972). Suncatcher: A Study of Madeleine L'Engle And Her Writing. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. pp. 30–31. ISBN 1-880913-31-3. 
  6. L’Engle 1972
  7. L’Engle 1974, p. 119.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Franklin, Hugh (August 1963). "Madeleine L’Engle". Horn Book Magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-25. 
  9. Madeleine L'Engle at the Internet Broadway Database
  10. L’Engle 1972, p. 72.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Chase, Carole F (1972). "A Chronology of Madeleine L'Engle's Life and Books". Suncatcher: A Study of Madeleine L'Engle And Her Writing. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. pp. 169–73. ISBN 1-880913-31-3. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Madeleine L'Engle". Awards & Honors: 2004 National Humanities Medalist. National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
  13. Ohrstrom, Lysandra (March 7, 2008), "West End Home of A Wrinkle in Time Author Sells for $4 M", Observer, New York .
  14. "Madeleine L'Engle", Religion & Ethics News Weekly, PBS, November 17, 2000 .
  15. "Esther Mitgang; Madeleine L’Engle". Publishers Weekly (obituaries). 2007-09-07. Archived from the original on 2008-01-13. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  16. Wilson, John (Sep 1, 2003), "A Distorted Predestination", Christianity today .
  17. Eccleshare, Julia (Oct 2, 2007), "Madeleine L'Engle: Bestselling children's author, renowned for A Wrinkle in Time", The Guardian, United Kingdom .
  18. Morgan, Christopher W; Peterson, Robert A, Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, p. 171 .
  19. Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), 58.
  20. 20.0 20.1 L'Engle, Madeleine (May 12, 1963), "How's One to Tell?", The New York Times, p. BR21 .
  21. The London Gazette: no. 47369. p. 13902. 4 November 1977. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
  22. "One Great Read Programs and Events A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle". Tippecanoe County Public Library. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 
  23. "A Commencement for the Millennium". Haverford News. Haverford College. 2002. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  24. "Award Winners and Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. 2010. Retrieved 4 Feb 2011. 
  25. "Award winner", Margaret A. Edwards, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA); American Library Association (ALA), 1998, retrieved 2013-09-26 .
  26. Bird, Elizabeth (June 28, 2012). "Top 100 Children's Novels #2: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle". A Fuse 8 Production. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
  27. "SLJ's Top 100 Children's Novels" (PDF), School Library Journal (poster presentation of reader poll results), Fuse #8, Aug 2012, retrieved 2013-06-19 .
  28. "Newly Named Mercury Craters Honor Hawaiian Guitarist, Beloved Young Adult Author". Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  29. "About the Collection", College Archives & Special Collections, Wheaton .
  30. 30.0 30.1 L'Engle, Madeleine (1986). The L'Engle Family Tree, in Many Waters. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-34796-4. 
  31. L’Engle 1972, pp. 89–90.
  32. The other side of the Sun, Amazon, ISBN 0-87788-615-6 
  33. The Joys of Love, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, retrieved 2008-09-17 .


Further reading

External links