Madeleine L’Engle, I'm Sorry and Thank You: Words for the Family of an Artist
This is an open letter of apology and thanks to the family of Madeleine L'Engle. She wrote a book called "A Wrinkle in Time" that I read when I was in the sixth grade. It had a profound effect on my life. One that continues today. I read it about twice a year. In its way, it has become a touchstone for me. Each time I return to those very familiar pages, I am comforted, encouraged, inspired to continue with the surprise of living.
Anyone who's read the book, and that number should probably be somewhere in the millions by now, knows exactly what I mean. The main character, Meg, has an adventure that teaches her about the power of love and fear. She learns compassion and independence. She learns to see her parents as people, quite separate from her and yet intimately connected.
Over the years I've read most of what Ms. L'Engle published, both fiction and nonfiction. Although my religious beliefs differ significantly from hers, I even read her works of theology. She was always interesting, understanding and compassionate.
Complex and Difficult People
Then several years ago I read an article in the New Yorker By Cynthia Zarin (link at bottom of page). It focused on her "real" life and family. It was not the article I thought I would be reading.
I don't think anyone would deny that artists can be complex and difficult people. Madeleine L'Engle's diaries read as if her husband and children were the most important things in her life. She wrote as if most of her strength and stability came from those relationships.
Based on quotes and information from family and friends, Ms. L'Engle wrote, even in her diaries, an idealized and sometimes fictional version of her life. She altered details and events to suit her imagination rather than recount her reality. It seems that her natural tendency towards fantasy coupled with a writing career that encouraged it, cost her family a great deal.
Her son died of complications due to long term alcoholism. He felt he could never live up to the fantasy son she had created in her books. Her daughters were often alienated and hurt by what she wrote. Apparently, she based most of her "Austin" characters on family members.
I have never met any of the L'Engle family. I know absolutely nothing about the truth of their family life but if anything in the New Yorker article is true then I feel like I have benefited from their mother's writing while they suffered. In a completely unpredictable way, everything about Madeleine L'Engle that fed my spirit was leached from them.
So thank you to these people I will never meet and who know nothing about me. I'm sorry for your pain. I don't imagine it's at all comforting that she spoke to me in a way no one else ever had and I am the stronger for it.
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- Profiles: The Storyteller : The New Yorker
PROFILES of author Madeleine LEngle. Published in 1962, Madeleine LEngles A Wrinkle in Time is-depending on how you look at it-science fiction, a response to the Cold War, a book about a search for a father, a coming-of-age novel, etc. LEngle conside
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