Monday, June 10, 2019

Anne Lindbergh's War Years

I've just finished Anne Lindbergh's diary and letters, spanning April, 1939-October, 1944, years of isolation, instability, and the beginnings of self-discovery for her -- War Within and Without.
In those 5 1/2 years, Anne lived in 6 houses, moving her growing family, possessions, and all the extra items particular to them -- art collections, a writing shed or trailer they placed in each backyard, secretaries, cooks, nurses, nannies, maids, and handymen whom she was constantly losing and rehiring, plus all their writing documents and paraphernalia. In the middle of the chaos Anne was always trying to write. The children were often ill. Charles was perpetually gone for work. 

A few traits define Anne Lindbergh for me in her marriage. Toward Charles she is loving, serving, patient, deferential, trusting. The war brings out traits in Charles also, that are hard for her to keep in step with. He was vocally, unbendingly against the U.S. entering WW2. His fame, his European travels, and his aviation experience gave him a national platform from which to instruct the nation in many speeches. The Roosevelt administration became a particular target, a particular enemy. Anne sees Charles as tough enough to bear all the animosity and attack without flinching, almost without feeling. But she felt every public and private barb against Charles and against herself. These crushed her. Charles spoke; Anne wrote, and her writings got her into trouble also. She seems at first to mimic his ideals, his politics. Gradually she finds some of his speeches disagreeable -- she doesn't disagree with his thinking, but with his expression of it. She increasingly wishes he'd remain silent or soften his tone. Then in 1941 she writes a friend, of Charles's beliefs and "his policy," -- "I do not agree with it," and that his speech would be "disastrous." (200)
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Even in 1944 she states, "Nowhere could I find, could I have found, a better husband -- a husband to whom I could give so much, who gives me so much -- no marriage as good .... Charles is earth to me, the whole world, life." (396) Charles is life to her, and each return from his travels brings life back to the home, back to her. When he is gone, her life is empty, airless, bleak. In December, 1943: "Charles came back last night. It is unbelievable, like sunshine; I feel full of life and hope and happiness." (286)  In 1944, after he returns from flying in the Pacific for a few months, she writes, "It is hard now to go back to the days without Charles. To remember what it was like -- that strange unbalanced creature that I was, never really at rest, suspended, never touching earth." (399) 

If I had to give one overarching trait of Anne Lindbergh in her diaries it is her unrelenting search to understand and know herself, particularly as a writer. She often describes her writer-self as her true self. She struggles daily to balance her roles: wife, mother, writer, and the other Anne, the one who longs to lie under the elm trees at night and look at stars and merely think. "The problem of the woman and her 'work' is still so unsolved. It eats at me perpetually." (151) For a tiny woman of 105 lbs, inside she was bursting with creativity, with beauty, with effort to unpuzzle the mysteries of life, a spiritual woman, almost a mystic.

During these years the Lindberghs begin unknowingly to dip their toes in the life of marital separation they would transition into permanently. The war produced this. Charles was driven to be involved in spite of his opposition to U.S. entry. Before Pearl Harbor he traveled to speak at rallies; after that date he traveled to find a way to get his foot in the door of participating in his country's fight. Anne repeatedly finds herself alone with bickering house staff, unruly children, a life full of people but desperately alone, longing for Europe and France, exhausted but longing to write, and craving Charles. To read as she slowly treads the road toward independence, self-trust and self-confidence, autonomy -- a road she did not want -- is difficult. She traveled alone to California, hoping to meet Charles there. "The extraordinary freedom and independence of it. I hadn't been entirely on my own like that ... since before I was married .... When I travel with Charles I am immediately known." (390)
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But behind it all is her talent, her writing, the inner friend she will keep with her when everyone else leaves. Here are a few snippets of the beautiful word she crafts, just in a diary:

"A terrific storm comes over the bay, white and blind with rain and the trees tortured and twisting. People run to shut windows, and there is the sound of sheets of water. The evening is misty and cool. The tall trees drip a summer mist; the bay is satin smooth and full of light." (13)

Her words soften and simplify as the weather does the same. The parallel structure in the last sentence is calming. Did you note all the alliteration?

She mentions the hard wall of sorrow and loss in war. Then: "And yet the wall seems to have cracks in it sometimes, as it has in life. That night I lay under the elm tree in North Haven and looked up at stars shining through its bare branches, so beautiful, the elm's bare branches, fruited with stars, hung with the heavens. The heavens, milky with brilliance of many starts, veined with the dark branches of the elm. And there was a shooting star -- right across the heavens -- tearing it in half, ripping a great white gash in it." (397)

Here, the emotional movement is reversed, starting with a gentle image and gentle words, and ending with a "gash"! And that phrase, "fruited with stars," I am jealous of. This exquisite literary gift keeps me reading her, despite the unpleasant circumstances of their lives.

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The diary is delightful because Anne is real and changing. She is a shifting, fascinating woman, always in flux, always self-examining. By 1944 she regrets some of her own writing about the war. "I feel rather ashamed of some of my arguments on the war stand ... the arguments, the logic .... They seem to me nationalistic." (273) She feels great sympathy for the Jews and supports their having a home land. She goes to a Inter-Racial Committee meeting in California with her sister-in-law, a meeting (in 1944!) with whites, blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and she awakens to the knowledge that other races are superior to her own, have traits that are desirable and needed, that her own race lacks. Whatever Charles's views on subjects like race and social equality may be (Go read the last 4 paragraphs of his essay, "Aviation, Geography, and Race" for an idea! In 1939, Anne called this article his "best thinking" p. 46), Anne is certainly altering and learning. She admired Charles's nobility and unbending steeliness, and berates herself for her own seeming weakness and inconsistency, yet she is teachable and he is not. She is the greater thinker, the greater humanitarian, the greater person.

Image result for Anne Lindbergh I will probably order her final diary, Against the Wind and Tide, because I must know how she continues to change, and what personal events produce the woman who, in 11 years, will publish Gift From the Sea. The rift between her and Charles must widen, her adoration of him must wane, and she must burst from her cocoon and spread wings.


Kezzie said...

What an excellent review! You've certainly compelled me to want to read this book! She sounds fascinating!

GretchenJoanna said...

I agree with Kezzie. I've heard of this woman my whole life but no one I "knew" gave me such a personal and thoughtful report of her writings and life. Thank you, Mary Kathryn!

M.K. said...

Thanks, Kezzie! I am truly enjoying her diaries. She seems so "present" in them.

M.K. said...

You're welcome, Gretchen! Reading "Gift from the Sea" was enough for me to see how excellent a writer she was. But woman herself is best revealed in her diaries, and I have such sympathy for her.