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Nature and the Human Psyche in Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky Austin Novels
Between 1960 and 1994, Madeleine L’Engle wrote two concurrent series of YA fiction which take place in the same fantastic universe. One series, the Time/Murry-O’Keefe series, is primarily fantasy and is much better-known than the other (it includes her most celebrated novel, A Wrinkle in Time). The second series, which has had little work done on it, is the Austin series. The question my thesis seeks to answer is: What was L’Engle hoping to achieve by writing two series in tandem with each other, both set in the same universe which is almost but not quite our own, where one series is clearly fantastic and the other is almost entirely “realistic” while containing much reference to fantasy? One response is that L’Engle used her more “realistic” Austin series to bring the experiences of characters in her fantasy series into “real” life. This permits readings which show how fantasy literature engages with reality in at least two ways. First, fantasy can be used to explore, to question, to challenge our understanding of reality, identity development, and being/ontology. Second, the insights gained from such exploration, questioning, and challenging can be explored in the “real” life of the “ordinary” reader. In this way, readers can see the many ways in which fantasy extends or expands our perceptions of the real world through allowing us to see many layers of reality, identity, and ontology which might not be apparent otherwise.
Aside from obvious things like significant overlap in characters and locations, one of the ways in which the two series are interconnected is through what L’Engle interchangeably calls ecology or creation – the rich network of the human and non-human physical and spiritual environment. In these two sequences of novels she explores what she calls ontology or being, which she seems to define as an essential characteristic toward which a person or thing may be developing (she quite frequently ignores the standard scholarly or philosophical definitions of such words in favour of her own). She explores how characters form or define their identities in progress toward that essential “being.” She examines the concept of “reality” as multi-layered and complex. She frequently uses aspects of the non-human-made environment to facilitate identity development, understanding of being, and understanding of reality. The links she creates between ecology and the individual mind may thus encourage readers to participate in readings of these novels which engage ecopsychology, cognitive literary criticism, and posthumanism. Throughout both series, a character’s connection with his or her environment seems to be important in developing the links between the cosmic and the personal, and in bringing to light the role of fantasy in articulating these links. In order to more fully explore the themes emerging from the two sequences of novels, the pattern of my thesis is to look at pairs of novels in each chapter: one novel from the Time/Murry-O’Keefe series set against one novel from the Austin series. In this way, I examine how themes and events from the fantasy novels are brought into the more “real” world of the Austin novels.
Grants & Awards
- IRSCL Research Grant 2017, archive research at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, USA, in Madeleine L’Engle files.
- MLA travel grant, MLA 2018
- Travel grant, Lucy Maud Montgomery Institute, LMMI conference Prince Edward Island
- MLA 2018: “Naming and Unnaming: Acutalizing Camazotz in New York City”
- LMMI 2018: “Maud and Madeleine: The Influence of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily Series on Madeleine L’Engle’s Identity and Reality”
- IRSCL 2019 (pending): “Silence, Love, and a Freed Voice”
- English 316: Advanced writing for STEM majors
- Writing 150: First-year composition courses
- English 382: Online independent study marker for Shakespeare class
- International Research Society for Children’s Literature
- Children’s Literature Association