This is primarily a children’s literature blog, but every now and then I read an adult book worthy of mention and clean enough for older teens. They’re usually historical fiction. That is the case in The Aviator’s Wife. It is the story of Anne Lindbergh. I read this one last December during my flight to Savannah. Every moment I wasn’t sightseeing in that gorgeous historical district, I had my nose glued to this book.
Most of us are familiar with Charles Lindbergh, the amazingly brave aviator who flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927, the very first to do so. Who hasn’t seen the pictures of him, handsome and boyish, grinning beside his airplane, The Spirit of Saint Lewis? His story is legendary. And tragic. He was a hero for decades, hounded by the press, tarnished by his Nazi sympathies during WWII, repentant, forgiven, and honored for his lingering contributions to the Age of Air. And behind him, every step of the way, stood his wife Anne.
Drawing on the published writings and diaries of Anne Lindbergh, author Melanie Benjamin does a fabulous job getting inside the head of this remarkable woman. This is not a biography, but biographical fiction. A filled-in-from-imagination story of Anne’s life told through a first-person account, from those early iconic days as an aviatrix, through lonely childbearing years, and into the self-realization of middle age. It is extremely compelling.
I’d never really thought through what it would mean to be the wife of the greatest public icon of the nineteenth century. The flip side of fame was very, very dark. A kidnapped baby. Private grief dragged through the newspapers for months. Strangers calling years later, claiming to be the murdered child. Then Charles’s remoteness. His constant absence. His intolerance of Anne’s grief. His sternness with their later children. His other women, other families.
Hero or not, Charles was no saint. And neither was Anne, who had an affair of her own. This is not a sordid retelling, but it does include the reality of Anne and Charles’s relationship, complete with all aspects of their marriage, the good, the bad, and the ugly. These were real people with real failings. Real joys and real loss. Real betrayals and real pain. I recommend this only to women and older teens, but I do recommend it. Because it is the story of what it meant to be a woman when being a woman meant limitations, bearing one’s burdens in silence, and smiling within one’s husband’s shadow.
Charles just happened to cast a very large shadow.