Slight updates March 2010
I had been reading Madeleine L'Engle's books since I discovered A Wrinkle in Time in my junior high school library. I loved both her inventive fiction and her inspirational and religious-oriented nonfiction, which is lively, interesting, and truly spiritual without being pious and bombastic. If I am having a crisis of faith, reading one of her nonfiction pieces usually restores my equilibrium. The prolific L'Engle passed away in 2007.
It was also fascinating to discover what events in her life have been worked into her fiction--for instance, the situations surrounding her adopted daughter Maria thinly formed the basis for the Meet the Austins character Maggy.
But I find one of the things I enjoy most about her fiction is the way characters intertwine within her different novels. The first section of this page traces those links--if I've forgotten any, send me an e-mail!
Many of her young adult and children's novels concern the lives of two families, the Murrys/O'Keefes and the Austins.
The Murry family are introduced in the Newbery Award-winning A Wrinkle in Time, and appear in four novels proper, the "Time Quartet," comprised of Wrinkle, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. The protagonists in Wrinkle and Wind are eldest and only daughter Meg and the youngest Murry child, Charles Wallace (whose names are comprised of L'Engle's father's name and her husband's father's name, respectively), although Meg is the POV character in both.
The remainder of the family consists of Dr. (Mr.) Murry (identified in An Acceptable Time as "Alex"): Dr. (Mrs.) Murry (identified in An Acceptable Time as "Kate"*); and twin sons Sandys and Dennys. It is in Wrinkle that Meg "officially" meets Calvin O'Keefe (previously she only knew him from school), whom she later marries. In A Swiftly Tilting Planet Meg and Calvin are expecting her first child, and Charles Wallace becomes the focus and POV character. Many Waters features the twins Sandy and Dennys. In addition, the ruler of Patagonia mentioned in Swiftly Tilting Planet--El Zarco--is again referred to in Troubling a Star.
The Austin family is introduced in Meet the Austins and their adventures continue through The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light, and Troubling a Star. In all but Young Unicorns, the story is told in first person by eldest daughter Vicky (named for her mother and grandmother). The other Austins are father Wallace, a medical doctor; mother Victoria, a former singer; eldest son John, who later attends MIT; younger daughter Suzy, who dreams of being a doctor and as an adult becomes a heart surgeon; and younger son Rob (based on L'Engle's son Bion).
In The Arm of the Starfish, we meet Adam Eddington, an earnest college student who flying to a small island off the coast of Portugal for the summer to study with Dr. O'Keefe--this is an adult Calvin O'Keefe from the Time Quartet books, married to Meg. They have seven children: Polyhymnia (known in Arm of the Starfish and Dragons in the Water as "Poly," later known in A House Like a Lotus and An Acceptable Time as "Polly"), Charles, Sandy (later known as "Xan"), Dennys (called "Den"), Peggy, Johnny, and Rosy. "Poly," incidentally, is the child Meg is pregnant with in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
Adam later reappears in the fourth Austin book, Ring of Endless Light and forms a spiritual bond with Vicky which continues through Troubling a Star.
In Troubling a Star, Adam Cook mentions that his brother Seth bought his boat the Portia from a friend named Ben in the Pacific Northwest. The Portia is the boat that a dying David Wheaton spends his last days on in Certain Women. The same Ben is married to Frankie Xanthakos of A Live Coal in the Sea. (Thanks to Aanika Carroll for spotting these.)
In a story that appears to take place a year after Arm of the Starfish, Poly and Charles accompany their father on a freighter cruise (Dragons in the Waters) and meet Simon Renier, a descendant of Stella Renier, heroine of L'Engle's adult novel The Other Side of the Sun. Another Renier relative appears in A House Like a Lotus, in which Poly, now known as "Polly," dates a young doctor named Queron "Renny" Renier, who is Simon's cousin.
In the Austin story Moon by Night, we meet the dark, brooding Zachary Grey, a "poor little rich boy" with a heart condition and a macabre outlook on life. He continues to befuddle--and anger--Vicky Austin in A Ring of Endless Light, and then "crosses" series to become involved with Polly O'Keefe in both A House Like a Lotus and An Acceptable Time.
We first meet Virginia Porcher, who appears as one of the conference members in A House Like a Lotus, in the adult novel A Winter's Love, where she is a teenager, Virginia Bowen. Virginia's husband Henry, who is mentioned in Lotus as being in a sanitarium, is a descendant of Henry Porcher, the protagonist of L'Engle's out-of-print novel Ilsa. (See Ilsa synopsis below.) Ilsa Woolf is also referenced in L'Engle's posthumous novel The Joys of Love as having taken care of Elizabeth's mother when she was dying.
Virginia's best friend in Winter's Love is Mimi Oppenheimer, whose grandmother is Stella Renier (Other Side of the Sun). Mimi appears again, as an adult and a doctor, in the sequel to L'Engle's first novel A Small Rain. This sequel, A Severed Wasp, features Katherine Forrester Vigneras, heroine of Small Rain, now an elderly woman and renown concert pianist.
Additionally, appearing in Wasp is an adult Suzy Austin, now married to Josh Davidson of The Young Unicorns. Their four children are Josh, John, Tory (Victoria), and Emily, who is named after Emily Gregory, the protagonist of Young Unicorns. (Emily Gregory is briefly mentioned in Dragons in the Waters as having become an internationally famous pianist despite her blindness.)
(Emily's piano teacher in Unicorns, "Mr. Theo" (Mr. Theotocopolous) also appears in Dragons on the Waters as a passenger on the freighter.)
Phillippa Hunter, the heroine of And Both Were Young, is mentioned in A Severed Wasp as having become a famous artist--Katherine Vigneras owns a painting of herself and her young son painted by "Flip." Vigneras also makes a cameo (mentioned only) as the featured performer in a piano recital that Zachary takes Vicky to in A Ring of Endless Light.
Additionally, as a couple of correspondents have noted to me (thanks, Teresa and Jennifer!), in And Both Were Young, Paul is complimented on his treatment of his dog Ariel's injured leg by a Dr. Bejart; this appears to be Charles Bejart, "Charlot," Katherine Vigneras' friend in The Small Rain.
In Camilla, we are introduced to Camilla Dickinson, an aspiring astronomer, her best friend Luisa Rowan, and Luisa's brother Frank, who is Camilla's first boyfriend. Frank Rowan also appears later in his life in House Like a Lotus, attending the conference Polly O'Keefe is working on and that Virginia Porcher also attends. The story of Camilla, her father Rafferty, and her footloose mother Rose continues in the adult novel A Live Coal in the Sea. In Coal we also meet Olivia Xanthakos, who is named after a great aunt Olivia, who "went behind enemy lines with messages" during the Civil War. It seems evident from her description of the woman that this is Aunt Olivia from The Other Side of the Sun. (Thanks to Jennifer for that great spot!)
Canon Tallis, a character based on L'Engle's real-life friend Edward West, appears in Certain Women, Dragons in the Waters, The Arm of the Starfish, and The Young Unicorns,. He is also cited in L'Engle's nonfiction.
* I was always under the impression from a reference in A Wrinkle in Time that Meg was named after her mother, but evidently not.
Acceptable Time, An
And Both Were Young
Anti-Muffins, The **
Arm of the Starfish, The
Austin Family Christmas, A
Dance in the Desert
Dragons in the Waters
Glorious Impossible, The
House Like a Lotus, A
Joys of Love, The
Meet the Austins
Moon by Night, The
Ring of Endless Light, A
Swiftly Tilting Planet, A
Troubling a Star
24 Days Before Christmas, The
Wind in the Door, A
Wrinkle in Time, A
Young Unicorns, The
Live Coal in the Sea, A
Love Letters, The ***
Other Side of the Sun, The
Severed Wasp, A
Small Rain, The
Winter's Love, A
Cry Like a Bell, A
Journey with Jonah, The
Ladder of Angels
Lines Scribbled on an Envelope
Sphinx at Dawn, The
Weather of the Heart, The
And It was Good
Bright Evening Star
Circle of Quiet, A
Friends for the Journey (w/Luci Shaw)
Glimpses of Grace
Glorious Impossible, The
Irrational Season, An
Miracle on 10th Street
Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons & Idols
Rock That is Higher, A
Sold into Egypt
Stone for a Pillow, A
Summer of the Great-Grandmother, The
Walking on Water
Wintersongs (w/Luci Shaw)
My review of the Disney version of A Ring of Endless Light.
** When Meet the Austins was first published, the chapter "The Anti-Muffins" was edited out because the publisher thought Austins was too long for a children's book. Later the chapter was published as a separate book. If you buy the recently republished hardback of Austins (1997), the chapter has been returned.
Incidentally, there is also an Austins short story, "A Full House," told from Victoria Austin's point of view, in the book Newbery Christmas (printed as the short book An Austin Family Christmas in 1999).
*** The Love Letters was recently republished with L'Engle's preferred ending.
Ilsa was Madeleine L'Engle's second novel. To my knowledge, it has never been reprinted since its initial publication (1946) and is very hard to find. It auctions off on E-bay and sells on rare book sites for about $400.
I first read Ilsa back in the late 1980s by borrowing a co-worker's library card (the book was in another county's library system, which I could not use). Recently, I found a copy in the central library in my own county. Since I know many people have not read it, I wrote up a synopsis of the novel, which is included below. I feel I have not done the novel much justice. The characters are very complicated and to get the synopsis down to a manageable length (as long as this is), I had to cut out many episodes.
Nevertheless, I will admit it is not one of my favorites of L'Engle's books (my opinion only).
In part one, Henry Randolph Porcher (pronounced "puhshay," as Henry reminds us) meets Ilsa Brandes. He is ten and a half and she is thirteen, but immediately he is captivated by her untamed spirit. Henry has run away from home because he made trouble when his hated cousin Monty was visiting. (Monty Woolf, his twin sister Violetta, and their younger brother Edwin are frequent visitors at the Porcher home.) Ilsa introduces Henry to her father, Dr. John Brandes, a naturalist; both of them seem to know his family and oddly do not accord Henry with the usual respect the Porcher family seems to command.
Ilsa and her father take Henry home to their beach house for a swim and then supper. While they swim, Henry tells Ilsa about his sister, Anna Silverton, called Silver, his family, and his favorite teacher, Miss Myra Turnbull. After supper, Dr. Brandes takes Henry home and Ilsa accompanies them; they find the city afire and the Porcher house already under threat. Although Henry's stiff, loveless mother tells the Brandes to leave, Henry's father accepts their help in getting the family silver, china, books, and portraits saved before fire engulfs the house. Then Dr. Brandes orders Ilsa to take Henry and Silver back to the beach house while he helps out at the fire. Despite Silver's protests, they do so, in the process meeting Ira, a colleague of her father's who stays with Ilsa when her scientist father is on trips.
Later Henry and Silver are fetched by their parents and Henry is shocked to hear his mother say that she had rather seen him and Silver die than go off with John Brandes. The family leaves for Charleston and their cousin Eustacia's home, where they will stay until their home is rebuilt. Henry is told to stay away from Cousin Eustacia, but on Sunday morning, after his parents have left for church, he meets the old lady. She makes a cryptic remark about his mother daring to go to church with William around. She also tells him that his Aunt Elizabeth and his Cousin Anna (who Silver is named after) were the only two of his relatives she could ever stand.
Then his parents return from church, his mother having fainted during the service. Silver eavesdrops on her parents and finds out that the minister of the church, their Cousin William, did not allow her mother to take communion because there was still hate in her heart to a man and an innocent child (referring to Dr. Brandes and Ilsa). Henry's mother cannot stand the disgrace and the family leaves Cousin Eustacia's and lives in a hotel for the next five years.
In part two, the Porchers are still living at the hotel. They are visited by the Woolfs and their Cousin Anna, her husband Randolph, and their son Dolph. Henry finds out the Woolfs have met Ilsa and must endure the gossip of how disgraceful it is for her to live alone with Ira when her father is away. Later Cousin Anna tells Henry the reason the Porchers left Charleston (William is her brother).
When Henry is thirteen, cousin Randolph dies and soon afterward, Dr. Brandes. Cousin Anna takes Ilsa into her home so she will not become the object of gossip living alone in the beach house with Ira and Henry's mother is scandalized.
Part three opens as Henry, Silver, and Mr. Porcher return to their rebuilt house--Mrs. Porcher died of a heart attack while living at the hotel. Both children must accept the fact that their mother was so distant that they do not even feel grief upon her dying. During a visit to Cousin Anna's, they meet Ilsa again; Henry is still as excited by her presence as he was five years earlier. To him the restless, proud girl is a queen.
He is profoundly disturbed to discover that both his sister and Ilsa are attracted to the handsome, arrogant Monty, and then is further upset to discover that Ilsa is dating his dashing cousin and sees him as a just a good friend and confidant. Soon he finds out that Ilsa and Monty are planning to be married, to the family's dismay, although, puzzlingly, Cousin Anna keeps telling them not to forget about Aunt Elizabeth. Ilsa finally reveals the secret about Aunt Elizabeth and why Cousin William would not allow his mother to receive Communion: his Aunt Elizabeth and Cousin William were once engaged to be married. Then Elizabeth met John Brandes and fell in love with him. Soon she was pregnant with his child.
However, John Brandes was abroad when Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant. He met Ilsa's mother in Europe and married her.
Ilsa and Monty are married and soon she is with child. As soon as she finds out, she asks Cousin Anna a very important question: she has heard there is insanity in the family, is the rumor true? Cousin Anna tells her no, and it is then Henry finds out Aunt Elizabeth ended her days in an insane asylum. Worried and burnt out by the accusations by her relatives during her pregnancy, she was attended by a disreputable doctor and then delivered a stillborn child.
Part four begins eight years later. Henry has returned from Europe, where he was sent to school and then to study music in France. World War I intervened, but Henry stayed in France, where he temporarily formed a physical relationship with a distant French relation, a girl named Telcide who supported herself as a singer. His father is furious to find out he pawned the expensive violin that had been purchased for him to study with and orders him away, although Henry ostensibly has a job at the family mill. Henry flees to town where he meets Ilsa and her eight-year-old daughter, Brand (Johanna Brandes, after her father). He finds out Silver is doing well in her marriage to Edwin and that their three children are happy and healthy, but that Monty's law practice is failing. Ilsa is giving piano lessons to supplement their income.
On a visit to the beach with the family, Henry finds that Ilsa is still the independent woman he has always loved. He does not understand why she stays with Monty, especially after she tells him that he has been abusive to her and caused her to fall, miscarrying another child and leaving her unable to have any more. Monty, drunk, even accuses Henry of having an affair with Ilsa, since Henry seems to spend most of his time at the Woolf home.
Then a stock company comes to town. Monty is bored after the first performance and leaves Henry to take Ilsa every night. While the majority of the company is mediocre, the leading man, Franz Josef Werner, is a competent, even brilliant, actor. Ilsa is immediately drawn to the fiery performer and he to her, to Henry's dismay. She invites Franz to the house and he and Monty even get along initially, although Brand, who adores her father, develops an instant dislike to him. Franz even accompanies them on a trip to the beach house. While there, Silver finally has a heart-to-heart with Henry, asking him what he sees in Ilsa; that she only sees him as a friend and nothing else. He resists her entreaties to get over his obsession with Ilsa.
At the beach Monty is bitten by a water moccasin; Ilsa sucks the poison out and saves his life. After this, Henry is puzzled when Ilsa asks him what color Franz's eyes are. It is the first inkling he has that something is wrong with her eyes. Then, a few days later, Monty opens a letter meant for Ilsa. It is from an eye doctor she has been consulting who has done nothing for her. She wants to go to Baltimore to a specialist. Monty believes Ilsa may be wanting to run off with Franz Werner, who is leaving town at the same time. In a fury, he beats at the smallest of some hunting dog puppies that he is thinking of buying, injuring the dog's brain, then disappears in a fury. Ilsa keeps the puppy and names it Médor, after the little dog of Telcide's Henry tells her about.
Monty then disappears, suspected to be on a drunk somewhere. Ilsa will not leave for Baltimore until he returns, so she loses her chance to go to the doctor and also travel on the train with a departing Franz Werner. When Monty returns after two weeks, he is sullen and hung over, saying he has been to Miami. He finds out Ilsa has not been to Baltimore and sets a trap for her, moving the furniture. Only after she trips carrying a coffeepot, scalding herself, does he believe how bad her eyes really are.
Ilsa goes to Baltimore. In the meantime, Cousin William returns to town, accompanied by his ward, Lorenzo Moore, a boy two years older than Brand.
When Ilsa returns, Henry is the first person she calls. She is going blind and nothing can be done about it. She asks him to see that the beach house is ready. She wants to learn to get along without sight without Brand seeing her frightened and bumping into things. He does so, and after several weeks Silver goes to the house to see if she can't get Ilsa to come home. But Ilsa says she will not return until she can cope.
But two weeks after Ilsa first goes to the beach Henry must run to get her. Monty, drinking too much bathtub gin at a local speakeasy, is violently ill. Despite Ilsa's ministrations, he dies.
Part five begins eleven years after Monty's death. Henry is still working in a desultory manner at the mill. Ilsa has had to take in boarders to make ends meet, something Henry was against until someone tried to break in the house one night. She has even had to rent out the beach house. Lorenzo has remained with Cousin William and is being urged to become a minister; but he is fascinated by musical instruments, and also in love with Brand Woolf. In the meantime, the town gossips about Henry's and Ilsa's close friendship.
But despite her blindness, Ilsa is not only still as independent as ever, but still considers Henry as a brother. Still, she seems to sometimes be melancholic and Brand is afraid when she finds her mother has been collecting sleeping pills. She will not even spend a night away. She and Brand quarrel often, but regretfully--and even Brand notices that Henry is always at the house and wonders why Ilsa will not marry him.
Then Franz Werner returns, looking scruffy and downtrodden. He is upset to learn of Ilsa's blindness, but both are overjoyed to see each other again; their love for each other is quite evident. Brand immediately bristles at his return and Henry shares her dismay. Silver once again advises him to leave town, get a job somewhere else, to forget his obsession with Ilsa.
Werner tells Ilsa he loves her, but she tells him she will not saddle him with her blindness. He plans to leave town with one of Ilsa's boarders, young Joshua Tilsbury, who has just had word his novel will be published. In the meantime, Lorenzo tells Brand he will be moving to Wisconsin in the fall. He plans to marry Brand and take her with him and Henry has no doubt it will happen.
Henry finally decides to leave town. He asks Silver if her husband will find him a job somewhere out of town, probably in New Orleans. Henry expects Ilsa will elope with Franz Werner, but his old beloved teacher, Miss Turnbull, knows Ilsa will not: because of her blindness, and because of former gossip about them that would hurt her daughter.
Franz, Ilsa, Henry, Lorenzo, and Brand spend a last day at the beach house, trapped there in a storm. Listening to Franz talk about Hamlet lessens Brand's antagonism toward him. But Werner is still leaving, and during what would have been their last moments together they cannot even say goodbye alone because Henry's gossipy cousin Violetta unexpectedly turns up. Ilsa goes back to the business of making a living and Henry contemplates his future as the book closes.
Madeleine's granddaughters keep www.madeleinelengle.com
Chris Smith's Bonastra site
Karen Funk Blocher's "Tesseract" site
Lunaea Weatherstone's L'Engle site
James Bow's L'Engle site with a great timeline to the Murry/O'Keefe and Austin family books
Interviews, Speeches, and Biographies
Bob Abernethy interview with Madeleine L'Engle
St. Anthony Messenger article about L'Engle
NPR Interview from 1998
"Listening to the Story," a 1998 interview
Madeleine L'Engle: Faith During Adversity, 1991 article by Shel Horowitz
Amazon.com interview (make sure to check the two links at the right of the page!)
Acceptance speech, Margaret Edwards Award
MSN interview before telecast of A Wrinkle in Time
Women's History Project biography
Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame biography
The deGrummond Collection material on L'Engle (includes short biography)
Other L'Engle Material
Review of L'Engle's Speech at Earlham College by Curtis Walton
Joan Passarelli's thoughts on a L'Engle seminar (for the Los Altos Town Crier)
Madeleine L'Engle Home Page, a fan page
Mari's Book Page
Creative Quotations from Madeleine L'Engle
A Madeleine L'Engle activity outline
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York Insider article
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