I have several projects for January; one of them is to read/reread the major works of one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. Some of you may not know that Ms. L’Engle wrote adult fiction as well as the Newbery-award winning fantasy A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels. In fact, all of her books are difficult to confine to one age group or target audience. I think that’s because Ms. L’Engle wrote about her own concerns and didn’t consciously write to a particular audience.
A Winter’s Love was one of her early novels published in 1957, the year of my birth, before the success of A Wrinkle in Time. It was good story to start out my journey through Madeleine L’Engle’s books because it was one of her first novels published and because it takes place just before Christmas. The setting is a Swiss village resort in the Alps; Emily and Courtney Bowen (Courtney is the husband) and their two daughters, Virginia and Connie, are living in a rented chalet. The family is from New York, but Courtney is on a sort of writing sabbatical from teaching classics in a New York university. Sixteen year old Virginia is home for the holidays from her European boarding school, and she has a friend spending the holidays with here, Mimi Oppenheimer.
The action and conflict in the novel are internal, rather than external. Nothing much happens. Emily begins the novel looking out a window at the stars and thinking about her life; she ends the story standing outdoors in the snow looking over the landscape and thinking. Yet, from that beginning to that ending, much has happened inside Emily Bowen. She’s made decisions that will affect her family and her friends for the rest of their lives. The novel is really about a marriage and about the temptation to have an affair or get a divorce when that marriage isn’t working well. Not is Emily’s marriage not sustaining her; she has very little hope that she can ever communicate with and love her emotionally distant and closed husband, Court. And the Other Man, Abe Fielding, is so open and nurturing and available that Emily can’t help falling in love. She spends the rest of the novel trying to decide what to do about her new love and her old love and her children and ultimately herself.
As far as classification goes, I think this novel, were it to be published today, would be classifed as young adult fiction mostly because of the young adult characters, Virginia and Mimi, Sam, Abe’s son, and Sam’s friend, Beanie. However, the overwhelming theme of the novel is adult: what is the meaning of marriage and how does love grow and change and remain faithful to itself. I don’t think this is Madeleine L’Engle’s best novel, but it is a very creditable effort. She has at least three novels that were published before this one, Ilsa, The Small Rain and And Both Were Young, and I’d like to get those next so that I can read the novels in semi-chronological order. (I’ve already read A Small Rain and maybe And Both Were Young, but I’m planning to re-read them.) Virginia Bowen and Mimi Oppenheimer both appear in later L’Engle novels as minor characters.