Evangeline Walton : biography
Evangeline Walton (24 November 1907 – 11 March 1996) was the pen name of Evangeline Wilna Ensley, an American author of fantasy fiction. She remains popular in North America and Europe because of her “ability to humanize historical and mythological subjects with eloquence, humor and compassion”.Spencer, Paul. “Evangeline Walton: an interview.” Fantasy Review, March 1985.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana to Marion Edmund Ensley and Wilna Eunice Ensley née Coyner, Walton was a born scholar and came from a lively, educated, Quaker family. Walton suffered chronic respiratory illnesses as a child, and was privately or self-taught at home. Her parents separated and divorced in 1924. Growing up and living with her mother and her grandmother and witnessing her parents’ marital difficulties roused a natural feminism in Walton which appears throughout her writings. As a child, Walton enjoyed the works of L. Frank Baum, James Stephens, Lord Dunsany and Algernon Blackwood, which she would later cite as influences on her fiction.Cosette Kies, "Walton, Evangeline" in St. James Guide To Fantasy Writers, edited by David Pringle.St. James Press,1996, p. 586-7 . Pavillard, Dan. "Fantastic Author Escapes on the Typewriter." Tucson Daily Citizen. (Dec. 2, 1972) pg. 11ff. Walton and her mother traveled often to New York City, Chicago and San Francisco for opera, especially for Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen; opera was a passion her entire life. In 1946 after the death of her grandmother, Walton and her mother moved to Tucson, Arizona. Wilna Ensley died in 1971 but not before she saw the dawn of public recognition for Walton and her works.
Most of Walton’s published and unpublished works were originally written in the 1920s through the early 1950s. She worked on her best known work, the Mabinogion tetralogy, during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and her Theseus trilogy during the late 1940s. Once success found her after 1970, she reworked many of her manuscripts for publication over the next twenty years. Walton said of her knack for writing fantasy: “My own method has always been to try to put flesh and blood on the bones of the original myth; I almost never contradict sources, I only add and interpret.” In 1991, she underwent surgery for a brain tumor that proved benign. However, her health continued to decline.
Treated as a child with silver nitrate tincture for frequent bronchitis and severe sinus infections, Walton, who had extremely fair skin, absorbed the pigment of the tincture causing her skin to turn gray and darken as she aged. When she became well known in the fantasy world in the 1970s, her blue-gray skin made her appearance exotic, much like a benevolent deity from Etruscan tomb frescos.
Walton corresponded with the Welsh novelist, essayist and poet John Cowper Powys for many years. Some of Walton’s papers from 1936-1984—including biographic material, manuscripts and the correspondence with Powys—are archived in Special Collections at the Library, University of Arizona in Tucson. She was first cousin to Clifford C. Furnas (1900–1969), author of The Next Hundred Years, Assistant Secretary of War in the Eisenhower administration, co-founder of NASA and chancellor of SUNY Buffalo; and to Clifton J. Furness (1898–1946), professor of music and author of The Genteel Female: An Anthology (1931). Furness edited and introduced a facsimile edition of Leaves of Grass (1939) and Walt Whitman's Workshop: A Collection of Unpublished Manuscripts (1928). A writer himself, Furness encouraged, inspired and mentored his young cousin Evangeline.
Walton herself wrote about her chosen pen name, "I use the name Walton professionally, partly because I originally hoped to build up different lines of work under different names, partly because Walton is an old family name and appears on the Declaration of Independence. Not that I can trace any blood connection between my Quaker Waltons and the Declaration signer. They came from Virginia, and were supposed to have had a [Native American] man somewhere up the family tree. He may be the reason why both records and tradition trail off into vagueness. But when I was a child, old folk remembered the Waltons as very tall, very dark people, too full of restless energy to fit quietly into their peaceful little Quaker community: a vivid, turbulent note in it."
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