Monday, October 08, 2007

The Books Live On

I thought that I had read all of Madeleine L'Engle's fiction. But in the midst of a recent listserv discussion in the wake of her death, someone mentioned And Both Were Young as a favourite L'Engle novel, and nothing that she said about it sounded familiar to me. Off I went to the library to rectify this gap in my reading.

And Both Were Young is one of L'Engle's earliest novels, first published in 1949. Though, interestingly, the edition I read was a 1980s update to which L'Engle had restored the material that her editors had insisted she take out of the original edition because they deemed it inappropriate for a young audience: material which unduly emphasized death (hard to do in a book set in Europe in the immediate aftermath of WWII, one would think), or too explicitly referenced sex (I'm not sure which bits these were; certainly nothing jumped out as even vaguely salacious to this contemporary reader).

The novel tells the story of Philippa Hunter ("Flip"), an American teenager sent unwillingly to a Swiss boarding school by her artist father to free him to travel about Europe to conduct his work and be wooed by a woman who Flip emphatically dislikes. Flip is miserably homesick for America and her father. She is sure that she will never fit in among her more sophisticated classmates, and she's not sure that she wants to. Ultimately, however, a chance meeting with Paul, a French boy with a mysterious wartime past, flowers into a forbidden friendship that offers her some solace.

I certainly wouldn't count And Both Were Young among L'Engle's best books. It's clear that it's an early novel. The characterization is a bit thin, and the plot rather melodramatic. Yet glints of the L'Engle magic are present nonetheless. Flip is a clear precursor to later stormy, stubborn, her-own-worst-enemy characters like Vicki Austin and Meg Murray. And Paul similarly presages mysterious, wounded characters like Zachary Gray. On the strength of that, I read And Both Were Young with great interest and enjoyment. And, of course, I could not then resist returning to the other L'Engle books that it brought to mind. I've begun with a couple that feature Polly O'Keefe, not as well-known as Meg or Vicki, but perhaps my favourite L'Engle heroine.

I've now taken a look at a complete bibliography of L'Engle's work, and it seems to me that there are still more fiction titles listed there that I haven't yet encountered. And I already had a couple of volumes of her autobiographical writings sitting on my shelf as yet unread. So though Madeleine L'Engle is gone, a number of her books are still out there for me to discover, and all of my favourites are available to be reread. The books live on, and L'Engle's interesting mind and extraordinary empathy within them.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read this book as a young girl back in the early '80s and loved it. Just the other day I was thinking about it but could not remember the title. Am I ever glad I stumbled across your blog. Now that I have the title, I'm off to the library to find it.

Kate S. said...

I'm so glad to have helped you find an old favourite!

Jack said...

Strange how you think you've read everything by your favourite author, then do a little research and realise you haven't. I'm currently reading through Andrew M Greeley's back catalogue!

Kerry said...

Strange how different so many of her novels were. I remember loving "Camilla" very much once upon a time, though I can't remember why. Perhaps time to reread and find out then?

Kailana said...

Some of her books are very hard to find, so I think there will be many that I won't have read ever, but I am hoping for some reprints! I really have to a reread of all of her books. I read this one, for example, but I don't really remember it anymore because it has been a few years... the only ones I have reread recently are the Time Quartet and even that was two years ago.

John Mutford said...

Thanks for introducing me to this title. I haven't read it yet, but good to know what's out there.

Melanie said...

I recall reading this one but it wasn't one of my favourites. I made a friend in university by asking her if her name was Camilla because she was wearing a blue coat and red scarf and looked just like the cover of the book. Her name wasn't Camilla, but she knew exactly what I was talking about - so how could we not become friends after that?

Melanie said...

Aargh - I meant to say, another less popular L'engle I read was Camilla. The rest of the story makes more sense now, I hope...