The Joys of Love

This coming-of-age book by Madeleine L'Engle is published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux and is written for kids 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness. This title also was made into an audio book.

Plot Summary

Twenty-year-old orphan Elizabeth Jerrold, whose dream has always been to be an actress, has landed a scholarship for a summer internship in a seaside theatre company, much to her maiden aunt's chagrin. Elizabeth, who has a naïve enthusiasm for everything having to do with the theatre, falls in love with the director of the company, Kurt Canitz, a womanizer. Ben Walton, the assistant stage manager, warns her that she is setting herself up for a fall, but Elizabeth believes Kurt loves her as much as she loves him.

Kurt leads her on and then has her visit him in his room. He tries to force his attentions on her. She refuses and escapes. The next morning, she sees another woman leave Kurt's room and becomes disillusioned with both Kurt and the theatre. Kurt later seeks her out, hoping she isn't angry about what happened. He points out that she should have expected him to want her in that way. She realizes that they don't understand love in the same way, and she asks him to leave her alone.

Ben, who is her best friend and has loved her all along, tells her that the theatre has both good and bad, and she needs to wade through the bad without letting it taint her. He tells her he wants to marry her but will wait six months to court her honorably. Elizabeth appears to accept his plan. She returns home because her aunt stops paying her room and board midsummer, but her friend's aunt, a professional actress, offers to help her get started in the theatre as a paid understudy if she comes to New York in September. Elizabeth accepts.

Christian Beliefs

Elizabeth says that her aunt thinks the theatre is Satan's invention and that her aunt decided to raise her out of Christian duty but didn't really want her. Elizabeth asks a friend to stop her if her friend ever sees Elizabeth do something out of Christian duty, but the friend says that Elizabeth's too good a Christian to do that. There is one instance of a man saying grace, and Elizabeth has a general sense of good morals, which she seems willing at times to reconsider. Sundays are for sleeping in and going to the beach.

Authority Roles

Elizabeth never knew her mother, and her father died when she was young. Her maiden aunt finished raising her. Elizabeth shows little respect for her aunt. The woman is portrayed as cold, unloving and prudish, someone who doesn't understand Elizabeth's need for love or her passion for becoming an actress. A character calls the aunt an old witch.

Other Belief Systems

None, however, Kurt talks about an "outmoded moral code."

Profanity/Graphic Violence

There are several uses of d--n, d--ned, h---, b--tard, and a single use of a-- and b--ched. The name of God is used flippantly.


Several instances of kissing occur throughout the story, and one is of a couple embracing passionately on a couch in the darkened living room. One girl jokingly refers to the common ruse of a man asking a woman to his hotel room to view his etchings. The young people mention "a House," implying a house of ill repute, and one comments that people on the second floor should change their profession, implying frequent sexual activity. Kurt asks Elizabeth if another couple they both know sleeps together. Elizabeth goes to Kurt's room and comments that her aunt would consider her a fallen woman for doing so. While dancing, Elizabeth feels Kurt's legs and body pressed against hers. Kurt and Elizabeth philosophically discuss her falling in love with a married man. Kurt invites Elizabeth back to his room and tries to force himself on her. The next morning Elizabeth sees another woman leaving Kurt's room, implying that the other woman had spent the night with him. Kurt asks whether Elizabeth didn't expect him to want her physically.



Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • What is true Christian duty?
    How would you evaluate it?
    In what ways did Elizabeth's aunt truly do what she was supposed to do as a Christian?
    In what ways did she not do what she was supposed to do as a Christian?
  • Elizabeth sees no problem with young men being in the bedroom she shares with another woman. They sit on the beds and talk or practice their skits and treat the room like a living room.
    Do you think it's OK for them to behave in this way? Why or why not?
    Elizabeth says going to Kurt's room is different from boys coming into her room to hang out.
    How is it different?
    What guidelines would you recommend for girls and guys when it comes to being in one another's rooms?
  • Elizabeth comes out of the bathroom in her robe after a shower and Ben is waiting in the hall. He follows her to her empty room and then leaves so she can get dressed.
    How is this behavior appropriate or inappropriate?
  • Elizabeth has an idea that love can conquer all; and she believes that Kurt loves her even though he pays attention to other women.
    How important are a person's words?
    How important are a person's actions?
    What should you do when a person's words and actions do not align?
  • How do Elizabeth's emotions allow her to see what she wants to see in Kurt?
    Describe a time when you let your emotions decide what you did.
    What can you do to keep your emotions from ruling your actions when it comes to romantic feelings?
  • What does Kurt think about morals?
    Are morals outdated?
    What does Elizabeth decide about Kurt's idea that things that would be considered wrong elsewhere or at other times are OK at the theatre?
  • How does Elizabeth decide whether something is right or wrong?
    Can something be wrong even if it doesn't hurt another person?
    How do you decide what is right and wrong?
    If something is right, is it always right? If something is wrong, is it always wrong?
    What does the Bible say about the concepts of right and wrong?
    (Help teens see that anything that takes them out of relationship with God is wrong, such as the inappropriate behaviors mentioned in the Ten Commandments, and anything that causes them to know God better is right.)
  • What does Kurt say is wrong because it hurts Elizabeth's aunt?
    How does Elizabeth rationalize that her being in the theatre is OK, even though it violates her rule for choosing what is right and what is wrong?
    Does Elizabeth's rule work?
    What is the only true measure for what is right and what is wrong?
    Why is the Bible the standard?
  • What does Kurt think about women falling in love with married men?
    What does Elizabeth think about the same thing?
    What do you think about it?
    How did Elizabeth react to Kurt's opinion? How should she have reacted?
  • Ben wants to know if Elizabeth did anything wrong when she was alone with Kurt. Ben says that what she did or didn't do doesn't matter to him. Remember, this is a novel.
    How would a real man (or woman) who is in love with someone act or think about the same situation?
  • Ben plans to wait at least six months to court Elizabeth and then marry her.
    Why do you think he is waiting six months?
    How will this time help Elizabeth get over Kurt?
    Do you think Ben's plan will work?


There are references and some occurrences of drinking, drunkenness and smoking throughout the book, all done by adults. Elizabeth refuses to drink because she is under 21. There is one instance of poker playing, apparently with betting.

The author, Madeleine L'Engle, won the 1963 Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time and her book A Ring of Endless Light was a 1981 Newbery Honor book. This book was found by her granddaughters and published after her death.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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