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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters

Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)


Before Madeleine

Madeleine’s mother, Madeleine “Mado” Hall Barnett, grew up in Jacksonville, a city in northern Florida on the Atlantic Ocean. She was a classically trained concert pianist who had studied in Berlin.

Madeleine’s father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a novelist and journalist. He was born near and educated at Princeton University, “up North” in New Jersey.

In many ways they were opposites. Charles at twenty-eight was gregarious, confident, and handsome—over six feet tall, with thick fair hair. Mado was much more reserved. She had always felt herself to be an ugly duckling, and at twenty-six she was considered an old maid.

They met when Charles came to Jacksonville for his sister’s wedding. Mado was standoffish at first, unsure that his attentions were sincere. But they quickly fell in love and married in 1906, and Charles whisked her off to New York City.

Mado and Charles settled in a two-bedroom apartment on East Eighty-Second Street. Charles reviewed plays, wrote novels, and later was a foreign correspondent for magazines such as Collier’s and The Century. He traveled abroad frequently for his work, taking steamships across the ocean to places like London and Paris as well as Cairo and Shanghai, and was often accompanied by Mado. Charles’s work also meant that he and Mado rubbed elbows with both high society and a world of artists. Although they loved to entertain, they couldn’t afford to throw lavish dinner parties, so they instituted a tradition of simple Sunday-night suppers. Their friends would pile into their tiny apartment, a few of them would cook a meal, and Mado would play the piano while they all sang. Everyone had a glorious time. (Mado enjoyed playing for friends and at small gatherings, but she was terrified about playing in public.)

Then came the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Charles went to Europe twice for magazines—first to cover the war in France in 1914, and then to report on the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. He also wrote a nonfiction book about that experience called War’s Dark Frame, published in 1917, just before the United States entered the war.

Charles enlisted in the army as a second lieutenant and was sent to fight in France in 1918.

His war experience, as both a journalist and a soldier, had a deep impact on him that reverberated throughout his and his family’s life. When describing her father, Madeleine recalled that he was horrified and repelled by the destruction and devastation he had witnessed. Later, Madeleine said that the war had killed him; it just took him seventeen years to die. She, too, had a lifelong terror of war.

Mado and Charles both desperately wanted children, and had been trying for more than ten years. Charles, the youngest child and only boy in his family of six girls, was eager to have a boy to carry on the family name. When Charles was deployed in early 1918, Mado was two months pregnant. Even though Armistice was declared later that year, on November 11, Charles was still on active duty when, early in the morning on November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, Mado went into labor.

It must have been a difficult delivery, because Mado wasn’t able to write to Charles until two weeks later.

December 13, 1918

My dearest husband—

If you could see your little flower of a daughter, I am sure you would forgive her for not being a boy. Oh my dear, I am so thankful that she is here and healthy and perfect and I wouldn’t exchange her now for all the sons in the world.

She is considered a perfect miracle in the hospital and every one is interested in us, and so if you were only here to share my happiness. It is worth all the long months of waiting and the hours of agony at the end. Dear one, I have been pretty sick and am hoisted up in bed for the first time this afternoon. Baby is two weeks old today. [A cousin] phoned yesterday that your mother had sent you a cable yesterday afternoon. I wonder if you have had mine sent November 30 and if you know what a proud father you should be? It seems so strange not to have heard from you yet. I got your letter of Nov 21 a day or two ago. There was nothing between that and the one of Nov 13 I received Thanksgiving Day, so I must have lost one at least.

I do hope you have had a nice time on your leave and that your cold is gone. I have worried over your ears, dear. Never mind about the promotion dear. It is hard luck but lots of others have been treated the same way and I am so happy that you are safe and whole. Nothing else matters. Have you any idea yet when you are coming home? It can’t be so long, yet every week will seem an eternity now.

I have two good nurses dear. My day nurse is the very best in the whole world I am sure. I just love her dearly and she is good to me and the baby. I hope you approve of baby’s name—Madeleine L’Engle. I think it just suits her and thought you would want her named Madeleine. I must stop now dear. I’m pretty wobbly but very very happy.

Will try to write again in a day or so.

Your loving wife, Madeleine

Text copyright © 2018 by Crosswicks, Ltd.