Mary Mark Ockerbloom (merrigold) wrote,
Mary Mark Ockerbloom

"And Both Were Young", Madeleine L'Engle, 1949

With the holidays in view, I like to release a children's or young adult novel in December.  This year, I'm happy to present something by a favorite author:

"And Both Were Young"
By Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007.
New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., Inc., 1949, Copyright not renewed.

This young adult novel of L'Engle's was not copyright renewed and is now in the public domain.   Some of the details of the original manuscript were apparently considered too "adult" for publication in 1949, when the book first appeared.  A modified version, recreating aspects of the original, was published in the 1980's, and is still under copyright.

The main character of the novel is Philippa, or "Flip" Hunter.  Her mother is dead, and her father is an artist who cannot provide her with a full-time home. Flip is left at a boarding school in Switzerland while her father  travels for his work.  L'Engle takes a classic "school story" structure, but adds a level of seriousness by situating the story strongly in the aftermath of World War II. It is ironic that Philippa's father is travelling to create a book about "lost children" throughout history, for Philippa and many of the other children she gets to know can also be seen as "lost children", coming from broken or World-War-II-traumatized families.

"When Flip thought about all the lost children she felt a deep shame inside herself for her anger and resentment ... She was not a lost child. She would have a place to eat and sleep and keep warm all winter, and at Christmas time she would be with her father again."  Flip's own statement reminds the reader that however essential places to eat, sleep, and keep warm may be, material concerns are not the only ones that are essential.  The question of what truly constitutes a "lost child" is returned to throughout the book.  Listening to one of her friends, "Flip felt that having your mother not love you would be the bitterest way of all to lose her."

 Though Flip may consciously resist the idea, the stories of Flip's classmates suggest that Flip is in danger of becoming a lost child herself if she is further separated from her father.  The most explicit romantic interest of the book does not involve Philippa, but rather her absent father. The implications of his choices for Philippa are one of the paramount concerns of the book.  His intention to help lost children, expressed through his work, is a hopeful indicator that he and Philippa may not be lost to each other.  "He told Flip that he hoped maybe the book would help people to realize that all these children had to be found and taken care of." 

As the main character, Philippa herself is more concerned with family and friendships than with romantic involvement. As in many of L'Engle's books, Flip is approaching the threshold of adulthood, gawky and uncertain of her own skills and her place in the world around her.  "Now she was older, much older, almost an adult, and she had to stand on her own feet and not be afraid."  Attempts to form age-appropriate friendships are portrayed throughout the book:  Flip finds it difficult to make friends at school and is subjected to hazing by some of her classmates.  A time goes on,  friendships with both sexes provide a potential for healing and growth for those involved.  Flip's relationship with a French boy Paul, develops slowly, and their romance eventually grows out of friendship.  In her relationship with Paul, Philippa is explicitly contrasted with girls in her class who are "boy crazy". In some cases, L'Engle suggests that girls are moving prematurely into an adult world of dances and strapless gowns.   There are particularly creepy overtones to the relationships of a student who is given lace-and-silk pajamas by her mother's fiancé.

As the book develops, so does Philippa, and indeed some of the most significant changes begin within her.  She becomes increasingly aware of other people and their concerns, and less focused on her own fears.  As other people become more real to her,  she opens herself up to them and builds supportive relationships.  It is worth giving this book a closer reading, and paying attention not just to the superficial action, but to the themes underneath. 
Tags: juvenile fiction
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