Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle 1918 - 2007 Author of Young Adult Fantasy and Personal Memoir

Photo L to R: Sr. Margaret Banville, OSsR, Madeleine L'Engle, Cornelia (from Seattle), Dorothy Wildhagen (Redemptoristine Postulant), Sr. Mary Catherine, OSsR, Sandy Johnston at Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery, 1984.

A number of religious congregations purchased of inherited property along the Hudson River around 1900. South of us the Marist Brothers maintained a novitiate in an impressive mansion. Further south the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross built their monastery. The well-known author of young adult literature, most famous for "A Wrinkle in Time", Madeleine L'Engle presented an annual writers workshop at Holy Cross through the 1980s and 90s. In 1984 two sisters from this monastery took part in her workshop and introduced her to the res of the community. It became her custom to plan for afternoon tea at our monastery during each of her workshops thereafter. On each occasion she brought along some of her students and all joined the community for Evening Prayer after a time of wonderful conversation. During the 90s I was a lay associate of the community here and was therefore able to wrangle an invitation to a couple of these most pleasant and illuminating conversations with the tall, elegant, very spiritual and very down to earth author and her interesting friends.

My introduction to Madeleine L'Engle's work did not come through the famous A Wrinkle in Time or other titles in her fantasy genre series. I met her in her autobiographical trilogy, The Crosswicks Journal, consisting of Circle of Quiet (Book 1), The Summer of the Great Grandmother (Book 2), and The Irrational Season (Book 3). The first is a reflection on the ordinary life and its extraordinary implications. The second caught me first as it told so movingly of the experience of caring for her mother and accompanying her in the process of her death. The last is probably the most overtly spiritual of the three as it explores the varied stages of her life and her roles as professional woman, wife, mother and grandmother.

Years later, following the death of her husband, she wrote another memorable and very personal book about her long marriage to Hugh Franklin, who, for many years, played the part of Dr. Tyler on the ABC soap opera "All My Children." The book, Two Part Invention, was a touching and realistic portrait of the marriage and all that was necessary in love and fidelity to keep it intact. Every married woman I recommend it to loved it.

During the 90s I had the great privilege to be invited by a friend to accompany her to a reading by Madeleine and her grand-daughter in her East Side Manhattan apartment. Her charm, her intelligence, her keen interest in every person was all the more evident in her own home.

When we learned of Madeleine's death Sr. Margaret said, "She was a great lady." Indeed. I can't help but think that the character Meg Murray of Wrinkle in Time fame paved the way for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

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