Saturday, August 6, 2011

A difficult journal of World War II

War Within and Without, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This is the fifth and final volume of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's published diaries and letters, covering the years 1939-1944.  This has been on my TBR pile for years, along with the fourth volume, The Flower and the Nettle, which I read and posted about back in June.  This volume opens as the Lindberghs return to the United States following several years' residence in England and France.

I really struggled with this book and almost gave up on it more than once.  All her books have been challenging reads for me.  Each covers dark times in her life, especially Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, with the death of her father and the kidnapping and murder of her first child.  But this was a different type of challenge.

The first part of the book is consumed, as her life was at the time, with her involvement in the isolationist movement, aimed at keeping America out of the war in Europe.  Charles Lindbergh of course became one of the most prominent spokesmen for the isolationists, through his involvement in America First.  Anne insists in her letters and diary entries that she is not just following in his wake, that her beliefs are her own and differ at times from his.  One of my problems was that I couldn't figure out exactly what her beliefs were, what lay behind her isolationism.  In 1940, she published a book, Wave to the Future, an attempt to to explain her position, which led many people to label her a fascist or Nazi sympathizer.  Perhaps in preparing her diaries and letters for publication, she felt it unnecessary to explain herself again, but I found the lack of context very frustrating (and I have no interest in reading Wave of the Future).  In the Introduction, she says that she was converted to pacifism in college, after reading Erich Maria Remarque.  From the earlier diaries, pacifism didn't seem to play much of a part in her life in those years, compared to someone like Vera Brittain (whose Testament of Experience I read back in May). 

This first part of the book is difficult to read, with the Lindberghs divided by their opinions from most of their friends and even family.  Anne attempts to tone down some of Charles' more extreme statements, particularly his disastrous speech claiming that "Jewish elements" were one of the main influences dragging America into war.  Yet she writes constantly of her belief in Charles, his essential rightness and integrity.  As in the earlier volume, she is clearly concerned to defend them both against charges of anti-semitism and fascism.  In the Introduction she says, "Rereading the diaries almost forty years later, I am appalled at my innocence of politics and the violence of my indignation," a reaction the reader is likely to share.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war, Charles goes to work for the Ford company as a consultant at a bomber plant near Detroit, Michigan.  The second part of the book is the chronicle of their lives there.  It includes the birth of two more children, a daughter and a son; their writing careers, as Charles begins work on The Spirit of St. Louis; and Anne's sudden decision to take courses in art at nearby Cranbook Academy, where she immerses herself in clay modeling.  Though Anne constantly discusses war news in her diaries, at least of the European theater (there is almost no mention of the Pacific theater), this is not the account of the home front that I expected, unlike again Vera Brittain's book.  It chronicles Anne's struggle to care for home, husband, children, while finding the time and mental space to write.  As she says, "One writes not to be read, but to breathe." 

A constant theme in this book is Anne's search for "her" kind of people, artists, writers, thinkers, as opposed to Charles' people, who are practical men of action.  Anne's kind is exemplified by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, whom she meets in 1939, and who is the first person to discuss her writing as "craft."  It is almost like love at first sight for her, and though she never meets him again (due in part to her politics), she mentions him frequently in her diaries.  This book ends in 1944, soon after his death.   Though it comes also at a turning point for the family, as they move to Connecticut, it feels like the real end of the book is his death, and the end of her hopes that the conversation begun in 1939 might continue some time in the future.

There is no explanation for why this volume ends in October 1944, and none for why it was the last such volume that she published.  It seems an odd place to stop, leaving the story of her life half-told, but perhaps that is a fitting end to this odd, uncomfortable, often difficult book.

2 comments:

  1. What a thoughtful post, and I've appreciated reading your reflections here. Anne Morrow Lindbergh fascinates me, and I think a big part of it is the complexity you've highlighted. Not easy, but oh so interesting!

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  2. She seems to have been very aware of her own complex nature, she acknowledges it in her journals, and at times I think she worried about the strain it put on relationships, especially with her husband. I find her fascinating, too.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!