Monday, August 31, 2009

49. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle

I was devastated when I learned of Madeleine L'Engle's death in 2007. It had been a favorite dream of mine to meet her and tell her she was my inspiration. At that point, I was fairly sure I had read most, if not all, of her oeuvre. Around this time, I entered a small bookstore and ran across A Circle of Quiet. I was excited for another L'Engle book, but as I read, I discovered it was non-fiction, not a novel, and furthermore a questionably organized memoir of sorts. I sadly put the book down and picked up others more interesting at the time. Now, I found this book in my room yesterday and gave it another shot. This time, with expectations adjusted, I was able to finish.

L'Engle describes this book as her "love letter to the world." It is a collection of her philosophies on life, death, meaning, and God, told through memories and examples from her life. This is the first of the Crosswicks journals, written when she is fifty-one, there are three later books in the same vein. Crosswicks is the Connecticut farmhouse L'Engle owned with her husband, where they lived for nine years, and later returned to in the summers while living in New York City during the year.

The key word that L'Engle repeats throughout the book is "ontology", meaning the study of being. She uses ontology as a description of her sense of self, of each individual's "real-ness." Her concept is simple, but hard to understand. L'Engle, whose ideas remind me strongly of C.S. Lewis, was a sort of spiritual, nondenominational Christian (she was raised Episcopalian), who believed in a personal God. While I do not share her beliefs, I very much sympathize with her feelings and her sense of something larger than the self. It was very funny to me that L'Engle elevates selflessness where Ayn Rand emphasizes selfishness, and yet they are both talking about the same thing; the individual taking pride in personal achievement for the good of the community.

L'Engle identified very strongly as both a woman and a writer, and she had a career at a time when women were housewives. She outlines her frustrations at not being the ideal wife and mother, which she feels as failures. It's amazing how many different ideological eras her lifetime spanned, she was born to Manhattan socialites, and probably could have ended up trophy wife, she died in a world where most women have careers and many women are sole breadwinners and heads of households. I loved learning more about her and her life. She speaks passionately about her relationship with her husband Hugh, how they are very different people who fight often, but are more in love than when they married twenty-five years before. It gives me hope. She also writes about her many rejected manuscripts, particularly A Wrinkle in Time, and her realization that she writes, not for success, but because it is essential to her being. I feel the same way. Even if I am never published, writing, and reading, is an essential part of who I am. Thank you Madeleine.

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