Greetings fellow readers, as we together embark on a romantic adventure helmed by Madeleine L’Engle and her fictional heroine, 20-year-old aspiring actress Elizabeth Jerrold.

This guide is designed to be easy to use by lots of different kinds of groups: those who meet for several hours over several weeks; those who will spend one afternoon discussing the book; individuals reading on their own. Please let us know if you have any suggestions for additions, and we hope that you’ll be contributing some of your responses and experiences.

Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine ca. 1936

Like kids today who are fascinated with the entertainment business and the prospect of fame…so was Madeleine L’Engle!

Decades before writing A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle worked in the theater. The Joys of Love draws on those youthful experiences, a lively portrait of the theater and the artist; the allure of fame; the hard-knocks of the business; and what goes on backstage.

L’Engle wrote The Joys of Love in the 1940’s, more than a decade before A Wrinkle in Time. Though it was rejected multiple times early in L’Engle’s career, The Joys of Love remained an oft read, though unpublished, family favorite. It was finally released to the rest of the world in 2008, a year after L’Engle’s death.

As is common for many young novelists (and playwrights, musicians, etc.), elements of L’Engle’s own life experience are reflected in the narrative themes explored in The Joys of Love. L’Engle and the fictional Elizabeth share many similarities.

Just like Elizabeth, L’Engle was tall, shy and sensitive about her appearance. She was “abandoned” by her parents (without warning, an adolescent L’Engle was dropped off at a Swiss boarding school following a family summer holiday abroad). She suffered an early and traumatic loss (her father died when she was barely 18). After (also) graduating from Smith College (though not with a degree in chemistry), L’Engle armed with a few early successes–selling short stories to magazines such as Mademoiselle and The Tanager–moved to New York City, where she became an actress. She later observed, the theater, “is the best school for a writer.” Like the driven Elizabeth, through sheer persistence L’Engle was hired as an understudy for the 1945 Broadway and touring productions of “The Cherry Orchard.” While touring the show, L’Engle met handsome young actor (and future husband), Hugh Franklin. And L’Engle also spent summers working for regional theater companies in New England beach communities… the setting for The Joys of Love.

Playbill from Madeleine’s summer in the theater

Playbill from Madeleine’s summer in the theater

The characters, narrative pacing, and emotional observations of The Joys of Love are a harbinger of a literary legacy yet to come: feisty, intelligent, independent, sensitive young women; handsome, awkward and confounding young men; adults who persistently behave badly; adults who know better but lack the self control or insight to change; the frustrating yet wondrous complexity of all human relationships; the sting of romantic betrayal; the loss of friendship; the discomfort of “frenemies”; the struggle to become an adult; the discovery of one’s own voice; the realization that unspoken truths have as much redemptive magic for those willing to speak them as for those willing to listen, and the unyielding desire to pursue one’s dreams.

Learn More About The Joys of Love:

The Joys of Love, Madeleine L'EngleDuring the summer of 1946, Elizabeth defies her family and apprentices at a theater in a sleepy beach town. Elizabeth is passionate about her work and determined to learn all she can. She’s never felt so alive. And soon she finds another passion: the company’s leading man.

L’Engle wrote this moving and romantic coming of age love story during the 1940’s, though it was published posthumously in 2008. Loosely based on her own experience as an aspiring actress, the protagonist Elizabeth is a near autobiographical portrait of L’Engle herself as a young woman — “vibrant, vulnerable, and yearning for love and all that life has to offer.”

Appropriate for teenage readers, the inspiring content of The Joys of Love has contemporary relevance: a springboard to explore the timeless subjects of theater, art, rebellion, fame and young romance through discussion and other group activities.