Sunday, 29 March 2015

Another wrinkle

Yesterday morning I woke early, after a late night, unwilling to get up and dress just yet, but not wanting to wake my husband.  I padded down to the living room to retrieve my laptop, because I've been deliberately keeping it downstairs to discourage myself from going online before the day has properly begun.

However,  I had gone to sleep with the briefly glimpsed corner of a mystery on my mind.  It seems that the Disney corporation will be attempting to bring A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen.  There have been attempts before, including an adaptation to the small screen, an unsatisfactory televised version.  I'm wondering if a satisfactory version is possible, but I have a daughter living on the autistic spectrum, and thus have acquired an appreciation for movies, television specials, and graphic novels based on classics, so I tried to find out a little bit more.

In doing so, I noticed a sentence fragment in a Google search just before I went to bed, something about her son's death in 1999.  Madeleine L'Engle herself died in 2007, but I do not ever recall her writing about Bion Franklin's death; she devoted nearly a whole book to the final year of her husband Hugh. It was late, and I was working on something else, so I set my puzzlement aside for the morning.

With the covers over my head to block the dimmed light from the screen from the sleeping Resident Fan Boy,  I went back to the link --- and learned that Bion Franklin had died in his forties from the effects of alcoholism.  Bion?  The little boy who was the model for Charles Wallace Murry and Rob Austin?  I entered a few more search terms and stumbled on a 2004 New Yorker article, which said, among many other things, that Bion and his adopted sister Maria loathed the cycle of books about the Austin family, and that L'Engle's children and grandchildren alike detest L'Engle's Crosswick Journals series, especially Two-Part Invention which was L'Engle's memoir about her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin. Hugh Franklin drank quite a bit and had at least two extra-marital affairs.
Their eldest child Josephine read it and apparently thought: Who the hell is she talking about?

The New Yorker article, which has become quite notorious amongst L'Engle fans and which somehow I'd managed to miss, is not a hatchet-job.  It also reflects the love L'Engle's family had for her along with the exasperation.  But I, huddled under the covers with my glowing laptop, was fighting back my shock and a sense of loss.  I've read everything L'Engle wrote, with the possible exception of her poetry.  I grew up with the four books that begin with A Wrinkle in Time, and of course, I loved the Austin books which were about the sort of family I'd never had.  It turns out that L'Engle may not have have had that sort of family either.  The Crosswick Journals were the sort of books to which I'd turn again and again for comfort, wisdom and perspective.

As the shock wore off, an odd sense of relief took over.  I felt consoled by all this dysfunction somehow, and besides, I recognized something about her children's feelings -- anger, bewilderment, and the sense of having no say in the story.  It was the same feeling I had when I read the biographical essay featured in my father's order of service.  I wonder if they too had the cold sweat when they read the matriarch's version of their family?  Coincidentally, Alan Jones, L'Engle's ex-son-in-law, was the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco when my dad's service was held there.  Possibly he still is.  Speaking of L'Engle, he refers to the "confirmed construction of the self by means of narrative" which could also be a charitable way of describing the legend my father built up to support his life in California.

I don't know what I'll find now when I revisit L'Engle's books, particularly the Crosswick Journals, but I've been rereading many of my favourite books this past year (no L'Engle ones, as it happens), and I'm rediscovering that no book will ever be the same, anyway. That's probably true of most things.

1 comment:

Dyane Harwood said...

Excellent post! I am still doubtful of the veracity of Cynthia' s L'Engle profile...it seemed sensationalist...and when it comes to an accomplished family's tragic events, facts often get muddied by journalists so their articles get published.