The Aviator's Wife

Anne Lindbergh, daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow, was my English teacher for four years. In the beginning I was mostly fascinated with the story of her kidnapped brother, of which she never spoke. It didn’t take long for me to forget her father, mother, and brother; she was an amazing teacher with abundant patience, joy, and love which I have not experienced in another.

My interest in the Lindbergh story was recently revived when I read a review for Melanie Benjamin’s latest novel The Aviator’s Wife. The novel is Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in fictionalized first person, telling her story from her time at Smith when she first met Charles, through their difficult marriage, to his death. In between we learn of Anne’s struggle to remain true to herself, her family, and to a man she deeply loved but who often treated her poorly. Through their entire marriage she remains in her husband’s heroic shadow even though in her own right she was an accomplished pilot and a celebrated author across many genres.

Melanie Benjamin has written a moving novel, illuminating the struggles of a woman who in life was incredibly private. I can’t help but wonder if she timed her release with Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s final work, published posthumously last year, entitled Against Wind and Tile: Letters and Journals, 1947-1986, on purpose. Maybe she wanted to draft behind Mrs. Lindbergh’s recent book of essays. Regardless, I thought it was a great read.

On a related note, Nova has just aired an interesting program Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby? which you can watch online at www.pbs.org.

 

Written by Reference Librarian Aimee.

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Comments

I have spent ten years studying Anne Morrow Lindbergh and give classes and presentations on her life and accomplishments. I would not spend 10 minutes trying to better understand and appreciate the woman depicted in “The Aviator’s Wife.”

Mrs. Lindbergh was a pioneering aviator, and was given the prestigious Hubbard Medal by National Geographic for her work with Charles in their flights charting routes for Pan Am in the 1930s. She spent nearly six months and traveled 30,000 miles in a single-engine aircraft flying in a big circle around the Atlantic; this was after their similar trip to the Orient. She wrote two best-selling books about these trips, and with her own abilities and craft became a noted author. (As of today, after more than 100 years, the Hubbard Medal has only been given out for 22 events and/or people.)

Mrs. Lindbergh published 13 books in her lifetime. Gift From the Sea, first published in 1955, is still in print. Over many years, she also wrote numerous articles for various magazines. Perhaps the most revealing book is the one that came out last spring, a book of letters and diaries spanning 1946 to 1986, Against Wind and Tide. Reeve Lindbergh and other family members spent four years going through 40 years of writing, some of it the most personal and revealing writing of Mrs. Lindbergh. It’s a treasure for all her admirers, and especially for someone who has spent years learning about her.

Ms. Benjamin treats the Lindberghs with disrespect when she writes that Charles laughed and clapped when Bruno Hauptmann was executed for the kidnapping of Charles, Jr. Charles was a different duck, for sure, but even that would be out of character. Ms. Benjamin described the Lindberghs and their employees through Anne’s thoughts when they were looking throughout the house for little Charlie the night of the kidnapping. She said, “. . . I had the strangest urge to laugh, for we resembled nothing more than characters in a Marx Brothers movie.” Again, in such a frantic time for such a sensitive and thoughtful person, I don’t think Mrs. Lindbergh would be anywhere near a laugh or even a smile, let alone a thought about the Marx Brothers.

Ms. Benjamin treats some subjects in a laughable manner. She made it appear that the Lindberghs and Amelia Earhart had great disdain for each other; nothing could be further from the truth. If Ms. Benjamin had read the diaries and books of both Anne and Amelia, she would know that they admired and had great respect for each other. And why be flip and characterize it otherwise when the truth itself is so interesting. (There are literally dozens of inaccuracies in the book.)

Ms. Benjamin was likewise sketchy and flip in occasionally dropping in the names of Robert Goddard and Alexis Carrel, people who were import to Charles and his story. She also mentions that Charles became the spokesman for America First and describes it as “ . . . that ragtag group of individuals. . . .” That “ragtag” group included Potter Stewart, Sargent Shriver and Gerald Ford; they were headed by former four-star General Robert Wood, then Chairman of the Board of Sears.

But what about Rilke and Antoine de St. Exupery, people who were not only important to her but had a great influence on Anne? They were not mentioned. She loved poetry and would either memorize or read poetry for hours flying with Charles sitting in that back cockpit. This notion was not conveyed in the book either.

Mrs. Lindbergh was a woman of substance -- highly educated, incredibly literate and wonderfully expressive in her writing. In her author’s notes, Ms. Benjamin said that “the inner life can be explored only in novels, not histories -- or even diaries or letters.” Mrs. Lindbergh’s letters and diaries are all about her inner life and they are cohesive and well thought out. They are truly thoughtful in all ways about every aspect of her life. I would urge everyone to read the series of now six books of letters and diaries to even begin to understand this woman. I’d rather pursue the remarkable woman Mrs. Lindbergh was in order to learn and understand more about her compelling life than to spend even a minute with the one-dimensional aviator’s wife and the disparaged life portrayed in this book.

(Much of the research and work I’ve been doing on Mrs. Lindbergh is discussed on my website, www.moonshellspublishing.com -- and on the blog embedded it that (or found separately) -- www.teawithmrslindbergh.com. ).

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