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.