And Both Were Young – Madeleine L’Engle

I am so pleased that “my” cover is available online, so that I can show it to you.  I am just as pleased to have found an older, probably original, cover to this book at this blog.  I love the old cover and the old-fashioned polite way that it presents Flip and Paul.

Flip (Philippa Hunter) is a young American girl in her early teens who has been enrolled – quite against her will – at a Swiss boarding school, just a few years after World War II, by her father at the suggestion of his lady-friend, the “lusting Eunice”.  All she wants is to escape from the school and travel with her father, an artist and illustrator, while he sketches for his next project.  Unfortunately, it’s not up to her and shy, unhappy Flip is stuck for the balance of the lonely year.  Or so she thinks.  Thankfully, she meets Paul, a quiet and lonely boy who lives in a nearby chalet with his father.  Flip also is befriended by the school Art teacher, Madame Perceval.  We follow Flip as she adjusts to school, adjusts her attitude, starts to hone her artistic skills, and learns of the mystery and tragedy of Paul’s true identity and Madame Perceval’s equally tragic past.

And Both Were Young is one of L’Engle’s more delicately written books.  There are so many themes here: post-war Europe and the effect of the fallout on life on “the Continent”; the horrors of girls’ boarding schools; the awkwardness of adolescence; the need to both belong and be unique; the quiet and intense joy of young love.  The latter is most interesting – it is a theme throughout the book and yet L’Engle manages to imply romance rather than beat readers over the head with it.  As a result, I can’t decide if this book is mainly a romance, mainly about growing up, or mainly about mystery and adventure.  In the end, I guess it’s probably all three.

I’ve just had a short discussion with B (also known as my personal sounding board) about whether or not this book is a “girls’ book”, and whether a boy would want to read it.  On the one hand – why not?  I (personally) can’t stand Holden Caulfield, but many girls that I know loved Catcher in the Rye notwithstanding the boy hero.  Ditto for The Cider House Rules, which (if gender rules were applied strictly) I should find boring, since it’s about a boy growing up in a boy’s orphanage.  And Both Were Young is mainly about a girl growing up in a girl’s boarding school, so parallels The Cider House Rules in format.  In that sense, it is not a “girly book” so much as it is a book about a girl.  That said, there is a strong underlying theme of romance (subtle though it is) and it may be that a boy would prefer to read Dragons in the Waters (or many other L’Engle books) before And Both Were Young.  It may be – after all, The English Patient had wide popularity and it is essentially two romances wrapped up in one.  B says that he was surprised that The English Patient movie was a romance because, in his recollection, the book was a wild desert adventure during World War II.  He was so surprised that he went back to the book and found that, yes, there actually was romance and how did he miss those parts?  His theory is that men (and possibly boys) don’t notice or pay attention to romance and therefore it is a “dead space” in books.  He derives this theory from Wuthering Heights, a book that I never read because the so-called romance seemed so dysfunctional and abusive that it would probably irritate me.  I have been repeatedly told by a male friend that he is the most romantic person that he knows…perhaps I should ask him for his opinion on this book.

Anyways.  I digress.

What I meant to say is: it is entirely possible that a child (boy or not), reading this book, would find the adventure/misfit and boarding school themes sufficiently interesting even if they were, somehow, romance-blind/annoyed.

Reading Ages: 10-15 for a first read, although I reread it over the last week and found it very satisfying.  L’Engle writes so well and the themes in this book (courage, love, adventure, growing up) do not age.

Inspiration for the title: I love that L’Engle found her title in Byron’s poem, The Dream.  I’m not a poetry reader by nature, and I find much of The Dream hard to read, but I still have a soft spot for the poem.  Here is a quick excerpt.  Byron lovers – beware!  I have excerpted quite a bit, as poetry and rhyme generally bore me.

I saw two beings in the hues of youth/ Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill…/ These two, a maiden and a youth, were there/ Gazing – the one on all that was beneath/ Fair as herself – but the boy gazed on her;/ And both were young, and one was beautiful.

Rating: A

Postscript: I encourage you to look for a copy of the book with the author’s forward.  L’Engle states that when the book was originally published, she had to change the themes of death and sexual attraction from the original typescript to make the manuscript acceptable for publishing.  In the newer edition, she puts those themes back in and, admittedly, makes other revisions as well.

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2 thoughts on “And Both Were Young – Madeleine L’Engle

  1. I read this for the first time last year and was surprised by how well-written it was. I also read The Love Letters (her fictionalization of the story of Mariana Alcoforado, the 17th-century Portuguese nun behind “The Letters of a Portuguese Nun”), and was surprised by how well-written THAT was.

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