'Gift' documents solo side of Anne Lindbergh

February 28, 1993|By Ann Egerton

A GIFT FOR LIFE: ANNE MORROW LINDBERGH. Dorothy Herrmann. Ticknor & Fields. 325 pages. $24.95. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was both an old-fashioned girl and a woman ahead of her time.

She wrestled with the conflict between her instinct and training to be a devoted wife and mother and her need to write and forge her own identity. The daughter of a powerful banker, diplomat and U.S. senator and of a vivacious, self-confident mother, she married the internationally famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, the first man to fly across the Atlantic alone. Her family and husband, in biographer Dorothy Herrmann's words, "both sustained and trapped her."

The shy, petite and bookish Anne Lindbergh flew frequently with her husband, surveying air routes for embryonic commercial airlines across the United States, Mexico, Central America, Canada, Europe, Africa and the Orient. They photographed archaeological sites, and she became a valuable member of his team, earning her pilot's license, learning how to operate a high-frequency radio set, and mastering navigation and Morse code.

Sixty years ago, their 20-month-old son was kidnapped and either accidentally dropped to his death or murdered. The couple had been badgered by curiosity seekers and the press before the kidnapping; afterward, their world went mad.

Photographers broke into the Trenton morgue, took pictures of the baby's body and splashed them over the papers. Outside the trial, vendors sold miniature ladders and locks of hair claimed to be the baby's. After members of the press ran off the road a car in which the Lindberghs' second child was riding, they fled to England. Her first book, "North to the Orient," had been published to great praise, and she had begun work on "Listen to the Wind."

While Ms. Herrmann praises the couple's heroic flight pioneering and General Lindbergh's contributions to scientific research, especially his work on the perfusion pump (a precursor of the mechanical heart), and while she extols Mrs. Lindbergh's growing acclaim as a writer, she does not present them without flaw.

They were often dependent on the hospitality of Anne's parents and others; she, even with much domestic help, was a slovenly housekeeper; she frequently left her children for many months at a time to fly with him; and both were seduced, for different reasons, by the power and order of the Nazis, which resulted in his isolationism. Lucky Lindy's public image became tarnished. "The Wave of the Future," which attempted to persuade Americans not to enter World War II, and which presented a cloudy defense of the Germans, damaged her career.

Charles Lindbergh reclaimed some of his reputation through more than 50 bombing missions over the Pacific and with the publication of "The Spirit of Saint Louis." Mrs. Lindbergh's greatest literary triumph, "A Gift From the Sea," was published in 1955. Since Charles' death in 1974, she has not published any original work.

"In a sense," concludes Ms. Herrmann in this well-researched book, "he and their extraordinary life together were her only subject. . . . When he died, she was . . . bereft of something to write about."

Ms. Egerton is a writer who lives in Baltimore.

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