I read A Wrinkle in Time first. And then A Wind in the Door and Meet the Austins and The Moon by Night and later A Swiftly Tilting Planet and A Ring of Endless Night. Those two latter titles took me a couple of read-throughs to begin to understand them. Eventually, while I was still in school, I had read all the young adult novels including Camilla and And Both Were Young. I was a freshman in high school when A House Like a Lotus came out and I greedily snatched it up and read it and re-read it. It was pretty edgy for this sheltered, evangelical 14-year-old going to an ultra-fundamentalist Jerry Falwell style Baptist school and church. And in the stacks in the downtown library (our family Friday night adventure every week) I discovered The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp. And at some point, probably early in college, we visited Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon and I found the Madeleine L’Engle shelf and discovered the non-fiction. And so it went. I think eventually I found a copy of everything except the ill-fated Ilsa (just checked–Google Books acknowledges it exists, but does not have a copy.) All this is just to say, I am devoted. Utterly.
In yesterday’s Friday Five, Songbird mentioned a New Yorker article about L’Engle that I had read and I kind of over-commented, perhaps just a tiny bit defensively. I should have just blogged instead of commenting. I do apologize for that. I recommend skipping the article if you haven’t read it. Really. And maybe not bothering with the rest of this post either.
(It’s a couple days later, and I find myself not really wanting to finish this post. I don’t think I want to think that hard.)
I said in Songbird’s comments that I was not overly bothered by the article. That’s true and not. What I learned about facts bothers me; the idea that what she wrote was not factual was not surprising to me. I am bothered and deeply saddened by the truths that she, perhaps, could not face. It troubles me that she hurt her family by what she wrote, though, having loved the books, I don’t have an answer to that one. And I think the closer she sticks to her family story, the better the books are.
What does not bother me is that the non-fiction is less factual than her fiction simply because she always owned up to that. She never suggested what she was writing was fact. Memoir is a funny thing; memory is a funny thing. If someone claims they are writing what really happened, then there can be problems. She really never did. She writes quite a lot about the idea that her journals are not necessarily factual. More bothersome is the question of whether there is Truth within the stories. I don’t know.
Anyway… what I would love to do (and I wrote this in someone else’s comments–sorry for the repetition), though I may never have the opportunity, is to teach a hybrid Literature/Creative Writing class in memoir and really try to get at some of these questions with students. Between this article about L’Engle and the Oprah brouhaha a few years back with the memoirist and a few other examples (Mike Warnke, anyone?) (I hate to even put these folks in the same sentence. I think there’s a huge difference between someone like L’Engle who never claims to be writing fact and is writing something akin to what she has lived through or at least her understanding of it and someone like these other folks who write fiction and claim it’s fact.) I think it would make for a fascinating group experience, to really tangle with these questions of memory, fact, and truth.
I guess that’s all I have to say. I won’t stop reading L’Engle. She’s not really even diminished for me. But I may be reading her with a different understanding. And she herself writes quite a bit about the danger of idolizing people (A House Like a Lotus, anyone?).