A Public Family's Private Moments
THE 1929 marriage of Anne Morrow, the shy, sensitive daughter of a prominent American family, to Charles Lindbergh, the all-American hero who made the first solo flight across the Atlantic, had all the ingredients of a modern-day fairy tale. With the kidnapping and killing of their first child barely three years later, the fairy tale became a nightmare.Skip to next paragraph
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The world shared the Lindberghs' outrage and grief. Some members of the press, however, overstepped the bounds of privacy, turning the hero and his wife against the media. The problem was later compounded when Lindbergh's pro-German views made him and his always-supportive wife figures of controversy. It was, perhaps, an all-too-typical American tale, in which the public instantly elevated a man to the status of hero only to recoil upon finding him to be merely human.
It's not surprising that the story of this legendary couple - and the problems facing intensely private people caught in the public limelight - should furnish the inspiration for three new books, each offering a distinctly different perspective.
Two are conventional biographies. Dorothy Herrmann's "Anne Morrow Lindbergh: A Gift for Life" is the first biography of this talented woman, who not only filled the roles of wife, mother, companion, and copilot, but also developed a successful career as a writer. Her writings captured the joy and fear of flying and the difficult grace of daily living. Somewhat like May Sarton in her sensitivity, seriousness, and mildly irritating naivete, Mrs. Lindbergh also made use of a rich variety of forms - essays, poetry, fiction, and diaries - in her ongoing self-exploration. The results ranged from critically acclaimed works like "A Gift From the Sea" and "Bring Me a Unicorn" to strained and awkward attempts to justify her husband's political views.
Herrmann sympathetically portrays the inner tensions and conflicts faced by this gentle yet courageous woman. Relying on the impressions of those who came to know Mrs. Lindbergh, Herrmann deftly conveys her quiet charm and spirit. She also provides a thoughtful discussion of Mrs. Lindbergh's considerable literary output, separating the wheat from the chaff.
"Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh," by Joyce Milton, is a longer, more complete book. The narrative reads more like reportage - brisk, detailed, and fascinating - but it lacks the subtler perceptions of Herrmann's study. Milton, coauthor of a book on the Rosenberg spy case, devotes special attention to the kidnapping of Charles Jr. in 1932. She does a reasonably good job of combing through the evidence, but reaches no definite new conclusions. She does, however, conclude he r book with the rather unsubstantiated assertion that more people now remember the Lindbergh kidnapping than know who Charles Lindbergh was!
The third book, by Reeve Lindbergh, Charles and Anne's youngest child, is a novel that tells what it feels like to grow up on the inside of a legend. "Cressida Linley," who narrates "The Names of the Mountains" keenly perceives the paradox of her celebrated parents, "Cal and Alicia," who "on the one hand struggled to keep their lives unusually private, and on the other must have considered their lives to be of such public significance that they saved every scrap of evidence that would reveal, eventually,
all that they tried to keep secret."
Lindbergh, the author of several children's books and two previous novels, gently but firmly asserts that it is, indeed, fiction: Some of its characters and events are inventions.