Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” was rejected by 26 publishers before it was published in 1962. In the 50 years hence, her marvelous blend of teenage quest, science fiction and Christian allegory has become a classic of children’s literature.
In celebration of the book’s 50th year, Leonard Marcus offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of L’Engle, through interviews with relatives, friends, editors, authors she mentored and more.
The Q&A approach results in a chorus of voices that will likely be of interest chiefly to L’Engle fans. It is also instructive as a profile, setting the record straight about someone whose popular Crosswicks Journals presented an idealized version of her marriage and family life, a truth revealed in Cynthia Zarin’s bombshell 2004 New Yorker profile.
One can see in L’Engle’s own adolescence the feeling of displacement experienced by her heroine Meg Murry in “A Wrinkle in Time.” “Madeleine in the Making” reveals L’Engle as a loner in her youth, a gawky, tall girl, the only child of a writer and a pianist, a New York outsider among her Florida relatives, left by her emotionally distant parents with a nanny, or later, delivered without advance warning to a Swiss boarding school.
She began her professional life as an actress and met her husband, Hugh Franklin (who played Dr. Charles Tyler on “All My Children”), while both were touring in a production of “The Cherry Orchard.” “A Wrinkle in Time” was her seventh work of fiction, published when she was 42 years old.
Some interesting tidbits mined from various chapters:
• James Gross Giblin recalls the editor at Lothrop Lee & Shepard who rejected “A Wrinkle in Time” because she “just couldn’t go along with all the religion business.”
• Novelist Katharine Weber recalls L’Engle as a generous mentor to a struggling author. She witnessed L’Engle writing in her Tower at her Connecticut farmhouse, Crosswicks, where she would swivel between her computer keyboard and her electric piano keyboard to play Bach or Brahms for a break to think about her writing.
• Sandra Jordan, former editor-in-chief of children’s books at Farrar Straus Giroux (and who hated the New Yorker profile), offers fascinating background about L’Engle’s actual writing process, the multiple drafts, her meticulous attention to detail.
• Brown University mathematics professor Thomas Banchoff, whose expertise on multiple dimensions was sought for a film version of “Wrinkle,” offers his analysis of L’Engle’s “tesseract” idea, entering a fourth dimension to travel from one spot in the universe to another.
The final interview is with Zarin, who says she had long admired L’Engle’s work and had planned to write an appreciation for the New Yorker, then was shocked to discover how much L’Engle had fictionalized her life in her memoirs.
In his foreword, Marcus recalls a 2002 interview with L’Engle, who was in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke. She mentioned her correspondence with a fan of “A Wrinkle in Time” who was ill with cancer. “My books are not bad books to die with,” L’Engle told Marcus. “What I mean is that when I read a book, if it makes me feel more alive, then it’s a good book to die with. That is why certain books last.”
Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices
By Leonard S. Marcus
Farrar, Straus, Giroux
363 pages, $27
Jean Westmoore is The News’ children’s book reviewer.