Friday 16 March 2018

Becoming Madeleine A Biography of the Author of a Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters - Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy

Becoming Madeleine
A Biography of the Author of a Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters
Charlotte Jones Voiklis
Léna Roy
Farrar Straus Giroux
ISBN 9780374307646
eISBN 9780374307653

I was introduced to the works of Madeleine L'Engle in the fall of 1995, as the age of 25 I was a little older to be discovering the woman and her works. But within three years I would have read 33 of her books. Reading all the local library had, and any I could get through interlibrary loans. And then I got to spend a weekend with L'Engle at a conference / retreat where she was the keynote speaker. I have been fascinated with the woman and her works since I first encountered them and have been a fan for nearly 25 years now. So, when I found out that there was a new biography coming out to celebrate the centenary of her birth and that it was written by two of her granddaughters I was extremely excited.

This book did not disappoint. The book is written with insight that only close family members would have. It celebrates the life and the works of Madeleine L'Engle 1918-2007. It is written with a middle grade audience in mind, but to be honest is so well written any fan of L'Engle or her works will appreciate the history. L'Engle herself wrote many non-fiction books and a number of those were autobiographical in nature. But this book looks at her life from a very different angle. The book begins with a quote from Circle of Quiet, one of L'Engle's autobiographical works:

"A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming."

And the prologue begins with these words:

"We were young when our grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle, started sharing with us the patchwork of events, relationships, and emotions that shaped her into the person she was always becoming. She described her childhood as solitary, and we thought it must have been lonely-after all, even we, who had each other, had periods of loneliness. But her stories about growing up and becoming the writer and grandmother we knew gave us the assurance that, just like her, we could survive the hurts and joys of childhood and adolescence."

The chapters in this volume are:
Before Madeleine
A New York City Childhood
Trouble at School
From Child to Teen
The Eustace Affair
Senior Year
The College Years
The Best School for a Writer
Making a Living
Work and Love
Marriage and Children
Making the Leap
Authors' Note

The authors note at the end of the book begins with this:

"Writing this book has been quite a journey. We were reluctant at first to try to tackle our grandmother's biography. After all, she herself spoke and wrote about her life a good deal, and we were aware of the fact that the lines between fiction, nonfiction, and memoir can be blurry, for our grandmother no less than for everyone else. How could we write about her in a way that would bring her to life in all her contradictory richness? That would do her justice and honor? That would be honest and fair?"

But their fears were unwarranted. They have written a wonderful book. It is open and honest. It shares L'Engle's troubles, sorrows, triumphs and maintains a balance I believe many would find hard to achieve. The only regret I have about this book is for the most part it ends with the publishing of A Wrinkle in Time. The rest of her life is summed up very briefly. I only home that there will be a second volume that continues in more details like the majority of this book but begins with the publishing of A Wrinkle in Time and goes unto her passing.

Madeleine did write about life, and for her that line between faith, fiction and autobiography were often blurred. Maybe for that reason Canon Tallisis one of my favorite characters, like Madeleine put parts of her self and her story in many of her characters and stories, Tallis crosses all the lines in the stories, he appears in the Kairos books, the Chronos books and in the autobiographical works. The authors of this work state:

"As we read more and more of her books, and heard more and more of her own personal stories, we began to see how connected they were. Many of her own experiences were given to Camilla in Camilla Dickinson, Katherine in A Small Rain, and Flip in And Both Were Young. Many of her own characteristics were given to Meg in A Wrinkle in Time and Vicky in Meet the Austins." 

I throughout my university career, which spanned 20 years, I often quoted L'Engle, form my notes of her speaking at a conference and from many of her works. This is a book I would have drawn from to write about life, about faith and about art. I will likely circle back in a few years after reading some of L'Engle's works with my children and reread this book with them.

This is a wonderful book about an amazing woman. If you are a fan in any way shape or form, you owe it to yourself to read this book!

Related Articles:
Madeleine L'Engle Bibliography
Becoming Madeleine A Biography of the Author of a Wrinkle in Time - Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy
A Light So Lovely The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time - Sarah Arthur

Reviews of Books by Madeleine L'Engle:
Penguins and Golden Calves
Bright Evening Star
The Rock That Is Higher


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