Before reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Story by Susan Hetrtog, I didn’t know anything about Anne except that she was the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and an aviator herself as well as an author.
Anne grew up as the daughter of the US ambassador to Mexico and a very ambitious mother. Anne was quiet, sensitive, and introverted. She felt her sister, Elizabeth, was everything she should be and wasn’t.
Charles Lindbergh became famous for making the first solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris. According to Wikipedia, this flight was “widely considered a turning point in world history for the development and advancement of aviation, ushering in a new era of transportation between parts of the globe.” Lindbergh’s feat turned him into an instant American hero and Time Magazine’s first “Man of the Year.”
Anne’s father became the financial advisor to Charles Lindbergh and invited him to their compound in Mexico for Christmas one year. Anne was enamored immediately, but expected Charles would fall for her sister. Charles didn’t seem to fall for anyone, but when he started thinking about marriage, Anne came to mind.
Anne thought long and hard about marriage to Charles before accepting. They’d have to deal with a lot of public attention: Hertog quotes one source as saying public interest in Lindbergh was about like that of the Prince of Wales. Another source said only the Kennedy family was more in the public eye.
Anne thought Charles was “beautiful,” but she was well-read, and he didn’t have much interest in reading (at least the kind of books she liked). She wasn’t sure she could live with someone without sharing this aspect of herself. She was sure that she would have to sacrifice for the relationship. But in the end, she decided she couldn’t live without Charles.
He taught her to fly and to navigate, and she accompanied him on many of his flights.
My biggest impression of Anne, at least from this book, is that she was a conflicted woman most of her life. She loved flying, but she missed her children when she flew. She loved domesticity, but resented how all-consuming it was and longed to have solitude and time to write. She both loved Charles and chafed under his leadership. She didn’t embrace her early Christian upbringing, but wrestled with sin and salvation and what it all meant (yet she said, “I wasn’t searching for God” but to understand herself, p. 427). She mixed in Buddhist and theosophist tenets with Christian ones. She espoused “Christian virtues,” yet seemed to miss its grace and salvation. “She went beyond the stern precepts of her ancestors’ Calvinism; she was searching for the ‘changeless light,’ looking inside herself, trying to make peace with God” (p. 411).
Charles was very domineering and could be incredibly insensitive, wanting Anne to spend days and weeks co-piloting with him and leaving their son with others on the son’s birthday and even one Christmas.
Anne believed in submitting to and supporting her husband, but didn’t seem to realize that submission and support didn’t mean never voicing a differing opinion. Anne had always been one to acquiesce, first to her mother and then to Charles. In fact, Charles and Anne’s mother argued over what should be included in their wedding while Anne sat back and let them decide.
The couple’s firstborn son was kidnapped from their home at the age of twenty months. According to Hertog, the investigation was totally inept, with differing agencies vying to be the one to solve the case. Ransom notes were delivered and Charles even paid a ransom, but the child was never recovered. Later the baby’s body was found buried not far from their home.
The kidnapping was a wound that never healed for Anne. The media frenzy drove the Lindbergh’s to England for several years.
As events were ramping up leading to WWII, Charles took an isolationist stance. He felt the cost of human life in a war against Germany would be too great. He was more concerned about Russian communism than German fascism and felt the former would take over Europe if the latter was defeated. But, to the shock of many, Charles said in radio addresses to the American people that he agreed that white people were a superior race and Americans didn’t need to fight other white nations over an issue that was not their problem.
Anne took her submission to Charles so far that she wrote a book expounding on his views, though it was “against her instincts” and she later regretted it.
Understandably, they fell out of favor. When war did come, Charles felt he should help his country even thought he disagreed with their fighting, but had a hard time finding anyone who would accept his help.
He condemned American cruelty during war, but somehow seemed to overlook Japanese and German cruelty. After the war, “Only a trip to a concentration camp, and a tour through the rubble led by a ‘skeleton’ boy, moved him to condemn the brutality of the Germans” (p. 418). “This kind of human destruction, he wrote in his diary, was not worth the fulfillment of political ends” (p. 419).
Somehow, the Lindberghs seemed to be forgiven after the war. Anne published several books, the most famous and enduring being Gift of the Sea.
Anne’s concern about the press proved true. Their attitude seemed to be “We made you, we have a right to you.” They made up stories when information wasn’t forthcoming. They endangered the Lindberghs—once “reporters stalked Jon (their second son) on his way to school. Sideswiping the Morrows’ car, they pushed it off the road and pulled open the doors to take the boy’s picture” (p. 278). Later, Charles’ ship arrived during a photographers’ ball. “On hearing of Lindbergh’s return, the conductor stopped the music, and the men, cameras in hand, rushed to meet the Aquitania. Stampeding on board, they hammered on Lindbergh’s door. When he refused to open it, one photographer broke into the adjoining cabin, took photos, and fled” (p. 348).
The author has access to the public (edited) letters and diaries and five years of interviews with Anne. She mentions one affair Charles had that was unknown to Anne until after his death. Wikipedia reveals that he had seven children by three different German women–perhaps these were unknown as well at the time of the book’s publication. The Lindbergh’s youngest daughter, Reeve, met with her German half-siblings.
One problem with this book was that it was hard to distinguish the author’s voice from Anne’s. The author spent a lot of time explaining what Anne wrote, but it’s hard to know if this interpretation was Anne’s or the author’s. It did seem the author inserted herself in the book more than was necessary and covered some of the same themes repeatedly.
Plus, I listened to the audiobook, and it wasn’t always clear when the narrative went from the author’s words into a quotation from Anne’s writing. I do have a hardcover copy of the book as well, which includes several photos. In some ways, I probably would have gained more and understood some of the connections better if I had read the book rather than listened to it. But, as it is quite long, I felt I’d get to it sooner via audio.
So, in the end, I know a lot more about the Lindberghs but respect them a lot less. There were traits to admire in each of them. But, like all of us, they were flawed people.