Women in history have gotten up to some pretty amazing things, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh is no different. She was educated, brave, daring, worthy of attention in her own right. But her achievements have all but fallen by the wayside, eclipsed by the shadow of her larger-than-life husband. His achievements are the ones we remember, the ones we are taught in school. In The Aviator’s Wife, however, Melanie Benjamin seeks to give voice to a woman whose guts and gumption not even her husband could match.
Benjamin’s work is one of historical fiction, largely biographical but fictionally personal. She seeks to lend a new perspective to the story of Charles Lindbergh, or “Lucky Lindy” as he is so often called. We see, through Anne’s eyes, a new perspective on the events of their lives, what it was like to be an early celebrity always in the spotlight, what it was like to have a child kidnapped and to have the whole experience chronicled by American media, what it was like to be married to someone who is emotionally unavailable. In some respects, these experiences are unfamiliar. Most of us will never know what it’s like to have the spotlight ever on us, watching every move, marking every fault and bad decision. In other respects, though, Anne’s story is one that’s been echoed by women across generations. She struggles with who she is (mother, wife, aviatrix, writer, lover) and who she wants to be. She questions whether she can wear so many hats all at once, whether anyone will ever remember her as anything other than “Charles Lindbergh’s wife.” In this way, Benjamin is able to capture the universality of some experiences, showing us that humanity is inescapable, regardless of the historical setting or the social context of our situations.
While the idea of having this new perspective is thrilling in some ways, making these historical figures more real to those of us who remember them only through textbooks, the unreliability of the narrator is a factor here, and at times readers may find themselves prompting a reminder that this account is fiction, even though it is based on real events and people.
For all its relevance to female life, some readers may find themselves frustrated with Anne’s apparent lack of backbone in the story when it comes to her relationship with her husband. She realizes fairly early on in their marriage that theirs is not one of equality and romance, and according to her narrative voice, she is at least somewhat bitter towards Charles throughout their whole marriage. But she never does anything about it, at least not in a way that Charles ever knows about. Call it the convention of the time, call it weakness, but Anne’s lack of backbone where her husband is concerned is nothing short of frustrating throughout the narrative.
Terminal Notes: Readers will be entertained by this version of Anne’s story, despite some unreliability and the tenuous relationship between reader and protagonist. While Anne’s inability to stand up to her husband in any real way is frustrating, she is also a surprisingly sympathetic character whose life is as worthy of consideration as her husband’s, albeit for different reasons.