The aviator’s wife

Just finished reading The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin for my book group.  A fictionalized bio of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and the famous Charles.  All of my comments are directed to the portrayals of the characters in this novel, which I am told are relatively accurate but have no reason to know either way.  So every sentence I write should begin, “If true. . .”

Let’s dismiss Charles Lindbergh early on.  Egotistical, cold, anti-Semitic, obsessive, punishing, and that’s all before he gets around to having not one, but three secret families (including seven other children) stashed somewhere and hidden from his wife Anne. 

It is Anne that annoyed the hell out of me throughout the entire book, and then after, has intrigued me.  She is rich, smart, well-educated (Smith College).  She picks the hero of the century to marry, and despite everything (and there is a lot of everything–see above), she stays with him. 

Marrying  the hero is probably the easier part to understand.  Apparently Charles Lindbergh was the rock star of his time, and no one cared to look beneath the rock star status; in fact, it seems that everyone was heavily invested in NOT looking too closely.  Maybe the relatively innocent Anne with no self esteem (as she describes it)  can be forgiven for making what turned out to be a bad choice.  Let she who is among us. . .

Despite the crushing paparazzi, his selfishness, his unexplained absences, his unending requirements that she take frequent inventory of even the smallest of household objects, his demands that she account for every penny of a household budget, and maybe the worst, his insistence that she use her celebrity to pimp his anti-Semitic views, she stayed with him.  She was a diplomat’s daughter, and a wealthy one.  Clearly she was not bound to Lindbergh for financial reasons.  And so it appears that the tie was emotional and societal.   Which brings me–as it always does–to the realization that I do not think I could have survived for long, or at all, in the marriage-is-everything-for-women era.

Morrow Lindbergh recounts conversations she had with close friends as they were all on the eve of their college graduations, commenting to each other that they had received educations, but for what?  Aside from her sister, who had other reasons to eschew marriage, not a single women had any career ambitions beyond finding a husband, having children, and playing the helpmate role for the rest of her life. Anne vaguely wanted “to write” but would not do anything concrete to further her goals.   Anne made me itchy, and impatient, and annoyed.  Then I realized that her and her coterie’s lack of ambition was not quite that; it was a realization that there was no place–no place at all–for a woman who did not accept the marriage-is-everything-for-women credo. Best then to find the best husband, by whatever criteria husbands were then judged. 

The marriage seems to have become pretty terrible early on.  She doesn’t leave because again, beyond marriage,  there is no there for her.  Her money could buy her an apartment of her own–even she recognizes this–but what would her life have been?  She could have raised her children.  Would a divorced Mrs. Lindbergh have had any friends, anything but disapproval from the diplomat father, any paid or unpaid meaningful work ?  Is a divorced Mrs. Lindbergh suitable once again for the marriage market? I guess not.  I guess you lie in the bed you have made when the alternative is to have no bed at all. 

I picture myself in her circumstances and am convinced that I could have not endured.  I would have been one of those women under a doctor’s care for hysteria.  Imagine having to keep all of that pain to oneself because no one would understand why being married to the rock star was anything but perfect. 

My apologies, Anne, for my impatience. My congratulations on having survived it all standing up.

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