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Book Review - The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin (2013)

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh became a celebrity in her own right through her publications of “North to the Orient,” and “Gift from the Sea.” For most of her married life, however, she lived in the shadow of her husband Charles’ fame for being the first man to cross the Atlantic solo in his plane “The Spirit of St. Louis.”

About the Author

Melanie Benjamin has written an historical fiction piece as a first person narrative coming from the thoughts of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The novel is a great piece of research as it reads like a factual account of the lives of these two famous people. The only creativity probably rests in the conversations of the couple, since Melanie, of course, was not present to overhear the couple.

First Meeting

The novel begins where Charles and Anne first meet. Anne’s father was named Ambassador to Mexico by his classmate, President Calvin Coolidge. The family gathered in Mexico City to celebrate Christmas in 1927. This was the year that Charles Lindbergh accomplished his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He was invited by the Ambassador to spend Christmas with the Morrow family.


Charles Lindbergh

                                                             Charles Lindbergh - Pixabay

Anne was the shy one in the family, and had always felt less beautiful than her sister Elizabeth, who was much more outgoing also. They were all agog about spending the holidays with a hero, but Anne stayed in the background, thinking that Charles would prefer the company of Elizabeth. Surprisingly, Charles was also extremely shy, and gravitated toward Anne, shocking everyone. He asked Anne if she would like to join him for a ride in his plane. This was the beginning of their friendship.

Their Marriage

Anne had just completed the first semester of her senior year at Smith College, and had much to learn about life and marriage. Nevertheless, the couple were married in 1929 when Anne was 23 years old and Charles was 27. Charles was a highly organized man and expected Anne to provide a smooth home life for him by “cow-towing” to his needs, and she answered his every need in a subservient manner. She accompanied him everywhere, standing mostly in his shadow as people fawned over him and wanted to be near him and to speak with him.

One thing Charles insisted on was that Anne should learn how to fly a plane as well as to learn celestial navigation so that she could be his navigator on flights for which he was commissioned. Anne’s account of one of these flights was the basis of her book “North to the Orient.” He always insisted that she was the writer in the family, and that she should pursue that aptitude. With his guidance, she became the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States. Feminism was not yet in vogue, so Anne was not given special notice for her aviation accomplishments.

The Kidnapping

Charles and Anne were married almost 11 months when Charles Jr. was born. Sadly, their son only lived for 20 months. Despite all their precautions to protect him, the baby was kidnapped in what became known as “The Crime of the Century.” The investigation put the Lindberghs once again on the front pages as investigators worked night and day to find the perpetrator, who had demanded ransom. Even though some money had been paid, the baby was found dead two months later. A man named Bruno Hauptmann was convicted and executed for his crime. As a result of this tragedy, though, legislation was soon passed, making kidnapping a federal crime. The lives of Charles and Anne were never the same again, as they each grieved in a different way. They did go on, however, to have three more sons and two daughters in the course of their marriage.


Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Jr.

                   Anne and Charles Jr. with Anne's mother and grandmother - Wikimedia


The constant attention showered on Charles and Anne prompted them to move to England for several years where they were able to regain their privacy to some extent. The threat of war caused Charles to speak out against America becoming involved in Europe’s crises, causing the country to regard him as an anti-semitic Nazi. He urged Anne to write a pamphlet explaining his ideas, for which she also was criticized. It took many years for them to be freed from this label. They eventually returned to the United States in 1939. They were able to regain their good standing, particularly through Anne’s publication of her best-selling book “Gift from the Sea.”

Anne's Affair

Charles was in demand from several aviation companies as a consultant, and was away from home for long stretches. His work took him all over the country, as well as to Europe. During this time, Anne had an affair with her doctor, who had a personality far different from Charles, which attracted Anne to him. They did end their affair but remained friends, as they were in the same social circle and saw each other often.

Disturbing Revelation

When Charles was on his deathbed in 1974, a nurse handed Anne a packet of letters which were in Charles’ belongings. Those letters informed Anne for the first time in her life that Charles had been unfaithful to her for many, many years. In fact, he had fathered seven children with three different women, all of whom he supported. Of course, Anne was shocked and even confronted the dying Charles about it. She managed to cope with the information, knowing that she herself had been unfaithful. The marriage, which to the world was a shining example of faithfulness, was a mere sham after all.

Melanie Benjamin has done an excellent job of writing Anne’s story. Ultimately, we are faced with the fact that Anne was the stronger personality in the story, whereas “The Lone Eagle” was a flawed character.

To be Filmed

It has been reported that plans are afoot to turn the story of “The Aviator’s Wife” into a motion picture starring Jennifer Garner, who will also produce the film. I look forward to seeing if the film can do justice to Melanie Benjamin’s colossal effort.

Gift from the Sea
Amazon Price: $9.95 $1.49 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 8, 2015)


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