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Anne Morrow Lindbergh was best known for her essay collection Gift from the Sea (1955), for the publication of five volumes of her diaries, and for her role as the wife of the pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh. Her perceptive records of the dramatic events of her life and of a woman’s role in society garnered public attention and critical acclaim.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Wealth Produces Comfortable Childhood
Lindbergh was born into a loving family. Her father, Dwight Morrow, was at various times a partner to banker J. P. Morgan, an ambassador, and a U.S. senator. Her mother, Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, was a poet, a trustee of Smith College, and a crusader for equal education for women. The Morrows’ wealth and status ensured that their children were well educated and well traveled at an early age. Lindbergh attended Mrs. Chapin’s School in New York and then followed in her mother’s footsteps by going to Smith College. After a composition professor encouraged her talent for writing, Lindbergh contributed to college publications and published a poem in Scribner’s Magazine. She met famous pilot Charles Lindbergh in 1928 at a family Christmas party in Mexico and married him in 1929. Anne learned the skills necessary to serve as Charles’s copilot, navigator, and radio operator, and the couple spent most of the early days of their marriage exploring the world through air travel, including a 1931 survey flight to the Orient via the Arctic Circle.
Writing through Tragedy
The hysterical hero-worship that Charles had inspired since his solo New York-Paris flight in 1927 was only intensified by his marriage to Anne and their subsequent adventures together. ”To millions around the world… looking at photographs of the ‘perfect’-looking couple…the Lindberghs seemed to enjoy the greatest possible good fortune that a young couple could have,” writes Alfred Kazin in the New York Times Book Review. The image of perfection was completed in 1930 by the birth of their first child, a son named Charles A. Lindbergh III. But on March 1, 1932, the illusion was shattered. That evening, when Anne went upstairs to check the child before retiring, she found his crib empty; the baby had been kidnapped. While Lindbergh had been in the public eye as an ambassador’s daughter and as the wife of a well-known aviator, the 1932 kidnapping of her and Charles’s first child generated even greater media coverage. The Lindberghs were besieged by reporters, photographers, and state troopers, and over twelve thousand people, including famous mobster Al Capone, offered their assistance. The baby’s body was found on May 12, 1932, in a ditch not far from their home.
Following the death of their child, Charles encouraged Lindbergh to write her first book, North to the Orient (1935), an account of their 1931 survey flight. To regain some measure of privacy after the 1935 trial of the alleged kidnapper, Bruno Hauptmann, the couple and their second child moved to England and resided in Europe until the outbreak of World War II. Lindbergh detailed her opposition to the war in The Wave of the Future (1940), a controversial book that contributed to the Lindberghs’ erroneous reputation as Nazi sympathizers. Lindbergh explains how her individualistic husband Charles was an isolationist, believing that the United States should not get involved in stopping the rise of Adolf Hitler. With war fever mounting, isolationism was popularly considered tantamount to treason, and Charles’s status quickly earned him the titles of antisemite and pro-Nazi. Although Anne only partly agreed with his position, she felt obliged to support it. She published sporadically from 1944 to 1966, during which time she wrote her most significant work, Gift from the Sea (1955), and a volume of poetry, The Unicorn and Other Poems (1956). Although John Ciardi’s scathing review of The Unicorn and Other Poems in the Saturday Review generated an extensive debate, the book was commercially successful, as were the diaries. Widowed in 1974, Lindbergh had residences in Connecticut and Hawaii as well as Vermont, where she died on February 7, 2001.
Works in Literary Context
Personal Narrative: Diaries and Letters
Lindbergh’s audience was considerably widened when publication of her diaries began in 1972. The public was eager to read the inside story on the celebrated couple, and the diaries sold briskly. Lindbergh had at first been reluctant to expose her personal papers. An autobiography was considered as a means of preserving Lindbergh’s sense of privacy, but it was finally decided that the original journals would be published. She explains her decision in the introduction to Locked Rooms and Opened Doors: Diaries and Letters, 1932-1935 (1974):
When one has processed and packaged part of one’s life in books, as I have, it is fair to ask, Why not leave it in that form? Why go back to the imperfect raw material of the diaries? Why publish the grimy minutiae of preparing for a trip; the tedium of long hours of work, the reluctant early risings; the exasperations of cold feet and dusty clothes; the irrational night terrors, lost tempers, and depressions? Because, after sixty, I think, one knows the ups and downs that life holds for everyone, and would like—a last chance— to see and present, truthfully and not glamorized, what happened.
Her decision to print the original journals and letters won the approval of readers and reviewers alike. According to Glendy Culligan of the Saturday Review, the ”letters and diaries [achieve] both spontaneity and art, thanks in part to her style, in part to a built-in plot and a soul-searching heroine worthy of a Bronte novel.”
Gift from the Sea is considered an important feminist document from an era during which little if any dissent was voiced regarding the proper role for women in American life. Lindbergh’s struggle with maintaining a sense of self while dedicating the majority of her waking hours in service to children, husband, social obligations, and career is a precursor to the public ruminations of women decades later on the trials and tribulations of ”having it all.” In fact, her husband Charles ”pressed her, almost fiercely, to write and was angry when household chores or children intervened,” remarks Washington Post Book World contributor Katherine Winton Evans. ”Almost all our quarrels,” wrote Anne in 1941, ”arise from this passionate desire to see me freed to fulfill what there is in me.”
Works in Critical Context
Despite the fact that Lindbergh was noted for her explorations of the self in relation to society, for her treatment of the diary as a serious literary form, for her historical documentation, and for her feminist themes, her works received relatively little critical attention.
Gift from the Sea
Gift from the Sea was to become one of Lindbergh’s most enduring works, a book that remained in print thirty years after its first edition. It is a collection of essays with the central theme of ”the tremendous and ever-encroaching problem of how to maintain an inner serenity in the midst of the distractions of life, how to remain balanced, no matter what forces tend to pull one off center,” as Sara Henderson Hay writes in Saturday Review. Each essay takes the form of a meditation on a seashell, and Elizabeth Gray Vining writes in the New York Times Book Review that Gift from the Sea ”is like a shell itself, in its small and perfect form, the delicate spiraling of its thought, the poetry of its color, and its rhythm from the sea, which tells of light and life and love.” She also argues against the notion that it should be seen primarily as a book for women: ”A sensitive, tensile, original mind probes delicately into questions of balance and relationship in the world today, and the result is a book for human beings who are mature or in search of maturity, whether men or women.”
The Unicorn and Other Poems
”There are many beautiful lyrics here,” praises Robert Hillyer in the New York Times Book Review for The Unicorn and Other Poems. ”The reader will be well rewarded who joins the poet in this garden by the mortal sea whence, from time to time, rifts in the clouds show flashes from immortality.” But Saturday Review poetry editor John Ciardi’s review is in strong disagreement. ”As a reviewer not of Mrs. Lindbergh but of her poems I have, in duty, nothing but contempt to offer,” Ciardi writes. He goes on to call it ”an offensively bad book—inept, jingling, slovenly, illiterate even, and puffed up with the foolish afflatus of a stereotyped high-seriousness, that species of esthetic and human failure that will accept any shriek as a true high-C.” A month after Ciardi’s review appeared, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins reported:
John Ciardi’s review of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s The Unicorn and Other Poems has produced the biggest storm of reader protest in the thirty-three-year history of The Saturday Review. Hundreds of readers have hastened to tell us of their pointed disapproval of Mr. Ciardi’s review; four have written in his support…. There are few living authors who are using the English language more sensitively or with more genuine appeal [than Lindbergh]. There is in her books a respect for human responses to beauty and for the great connections between humankind and nature that gives her work rare distinction and that earns her the gratitude and loyalty of her readers, as the present episode makes clear.
- Hertog, Susan. Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
- Ciardi, John. ”A Close Look at the Unicorn.” Saturday Review (January 12, 1957): 54-57.
- Cousins, Norman. ”John Ciardi and the Readers.” Saturday Review (February 16, 1957): 22-23.
- Culligan, Glendy. Review of Bring Me a Unicorn: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1922-1926. Saturday Review (March 4, 1972): 72-75.
- Evans, Katherine Winton. Review of Gift from the Sea. Washington Post Book World (March 10, 1974).
- Hay, Sara Henderson. Review of Gift from the Sea. Saturday Review (February 2, 1955).
- Hillyer, Robert. Review of The Unicorn and Other Poems, 1935-1955. New York Times Book Review (March 20, 1955).
- Kazin, Alfred. ”Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead.” New York Times Book Review (March 4, 1973): 1, 10.
- Vining, Elizabeth Gray. ”Islands All—In a Common Sea.” New York Times Book Review (March 20,1955): 1.
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