From the moment Henry Porcher first sees Ilsa Brandes, he worships her. Despite controversy surrounding the young girl, Henry is drawn to her, a fascination that turns into a lifelong infatuation.

As the years pass, Ilsa’s memory never leaves him, not until the day he returns to their sleepy Southern hometown and renews their childhood friendship. Henry watches as she becomes a wife, then a mother, then a widow, irrevocably changed by tragedy.

Out of print for nearly six decades, this rare and sought-after novel is a portrait of a remarkable woman bound by both the stifling conventions of her time and place, and her own sense of honor and purpose.

Originally published in 1946

Genre: Adult fiction



“Dominated by an all pervasive, if tenuous, atmosphere, this is a study in place and personality, a still life of the south in all its inertia and its persistence for the past, and of Ilsa, whose elusive charm and casual non-conformity was to impress all those around her… There is considerable charm here, an effectiveness compounded of subtlety and indirection, giving this a very definite appeal for discerning readers.”
– Kirkus Reviews, 2011

“As the daughter of a Southern Belle, L’Engle had visited the region regularly since childhood, but always felt completely out of place there and found many of her Southern male relatives far from ideal. The first of her novels to be based in the South, Ilsa (1946), reflects this negativity. Dissatisfied with Ilsa, L’Engle decided to research her family history and the history of the region thoroughly before writing another novel based in the South. What she found convinced her that, the ideal of the Southern gentleman was still valid and could be revived.”
– Suzanne Bray, Babel, 2015

“Underrated by the author, and darker than most of her other work, Ilsa is worth seeking out.”
– Jim, Goodreads, 2012

“Everything in this compelling and very readable novel centres on Ilsa, a young woman who becomes an obsession for one of her neighbours, Henry, and it his unrequited love for her that powers the narrative… It’s certainly not a cheerful or uplifting book – even the happier characters rarely seem to enjoy their lives – but I found the story an immersive one and it kept my attention throughout.”
– Mandy, Goodreads, 2017