by Robert WeibezahlMay 2012
The final word from an admired American woman
Anne Morrow Lindbergh enjoys a unique place in American letters, known equally for her elegant writing and for the man she married. Being the wife of a pioneering aviator provided her with some of her best material, as she took to the air and traveled the world with Charles Lindbergh, but also some of her greatest heartbreak, including the kidnapping and murder of their infant son and, later, her husband’s long absences and controversial politics. In her lifetime she routinely appeared on “Most Admired Women” lists; her 1955 book, Gift from the Sea, has never been out of print. Through everything, she gracefully juggled the desire to maintain her privacy with the reality of public life.
In the early 1970s, when she was in her 60s, Lindbergh began publishing her diaries and letters, and subsequently issued five volumes that began when she was 16 and took readers through the Second World War. The last volume was published in 1980, and although she lived to 95, dying in 2001, Lindbergh never published her postwar papers. Now, her children and literary heirs have righted that wrong with Against Wind and Tide: Letters and Journals, 1947-1986.
Edited by her daughter, writer Reeve Lindbergh, who also supplies an informative introduction, this final volume covers a far broader span than the previous books. These are years when Lindbergh, by design, led a more insular life, largely staying at home with her five children while Charles continued to travel. Those children, we come to see, were her raison d’être—“I think the relationship of mother and child is the most perfect,” she writes in a 1949 entry—although, admittedly, the family wealth afforded her the luxury of spending a fair amount of time alone, thinking and writing. She clearly loved Charles, even as their marriage failed to fulfill the fairytale promise with which it began. She endured long periods without him (and it would come to light after both their deaths that he had a second common-law family, including children, in Europe). Reeve Lindbergh dryly suggests that, for her mother, it was as hard to live without the taciturn, unyielding Charles as it was to live with him.
Lindbergh was a contemplative writer, and there are many instances in these diaries and letters in which she lays bare her emotions. She wrestles with the decision to have an abortion, which was both illegal and not something of which she entirely approved. Traveling to postwar Berlin, she is shocked by the degradation the populace endures (and from the same trip she writes amusingly about being forced to share a train compartment with a young Frenchman). She returns often to the subject of grief, taking from C.S. Lewis the idea that grief is not a place, but a process, a journey—an apt metaphor for a writer who once surveyed swaths of the world from her husband’s plane.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, like her husband, was a great chronicler of her own life. Her daughter reports that she often made two carbon copies of letters—one to keep and one for the archives. Such preservation certainly signals her awareness of her place in history, and indicates that these letters and diaries were always intended to be shared with the world. It underscores, too, the private-vs.-public conundrum that defined this eloquent writer’s life and work.