- - Thursday, July 19, 2012

By Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Pantheon, $27.95, 358 pages, illustrated

Undeniably popular with readers over many decades, Anne Morrow Lindbergh always has struck me as a very problematic figure. She was a skilled writer with a peculiarly seductive style that she was adept at using to take people into the strange, self-referential world that was hers, the still point of whirling celebrity and notoriety mixed with travel and genuine exploration. If her marriage to Charles Lindbergh joined her to one of the most celebrated figures of her time, her own family was genuine American mercantile royalty, with forays into statecraft and higher education. Her father, Dwight Morrow, was not only a distinguished figure on Wall Street but a diplomat as well, and her mother, a force for decades on the board of her (and Anne‘s) alma mater, Smith College, even served as its acting president.

So it is not surprising that Anne, born to such wealth and privilege, should seemingly have adopted “noblesse oblige” as her guiding principle (although she was too well-bred to make it an actual mantra). Her whole life seemed to drip with this attitude. As you read this final volume of her diaries and letters, as with all its predecessors, it is hard not to recall “Pride and Prejudice’s” Mr. Collins’ deathless phrase about his aristocratic patron, “Such amiability, such condescension.” For although Anne suffers — and she is adept at using her pain to enlist sympathy — there is no escaping that her readers are being taken up onto that anguished pedestal where she firmly roots herself, to see the world de haut en bas.

But even if you didn’t know that Charles Lindbergh fathered a half dozen children with up to three other women in Europe, with whom he maintained parallel families, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out that there’s something wrong with the elaborate, oh so sensitive picture Anne paints in the pages of this book. When she bemoans Charles‘ absence in letters to him, does she really not know about his other life, or, reading between the lines, is she passive-aggressively needling him? And you don’t have to go too far beneath the surface of her anguished ruminations about her relationship with her doctor to guess at the affair that hurt Charles so much and may well have been behind his own extraordinary quasi-marital response. What you have here is a facade, and even though Anne loads it with a lot of angst and rumination and self-criticism, there is something false about it.

But this facade is emollient compared to what occasionally pops up through the surface. In biographies of Charles, Anne gets a lot of credit for trying unsuccessfully to get him to eliminate from his celebrated speech as an America Firster in the early days of World War II the references to undue Jewish influence that did so much to discredit him and the movement as a whole. But what are we to make of her reaction to postwar Germany when sent there by Reader’s Digest in the summer of 1947? In a letter to Charles, she unburdens herself about her wrenching ordeal there:

“How right you were about Germany! That is really why I am so exhausted, emotionally and mentally — from the impact of Germany and no one I can talk frankly to about it. The impact of Germany is terrific the suffering and the tragedy, the need, the hunger, the hopelessness, the fear.”

On and on she goes, about the privations, the hopelessness, the travails of the Germans, with not a thought about why they find themselves in this predicament, what Germany has just done to bring about this lamentable state of affairs. And not a word about the suffering it visited on so many million — murdered, brutalized, starved, humiliated, annihilated. Not a hint of sympathy for those other victims as her heart breaks for the poor Germans.

Which reminds us that this was the author of “The Wave of the Future,” a nefarious book written in 1940 that embraced the dark forces of totalitarianism as inevitable, albeit rebarbative, because democracy was played out. Apparently noblesse didn’t oblige this child of privilege to keep faith with the free world she was far from being too good for.

• Martin Rubin is a writer and critic in Pasadena, Calif.

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