Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A European sojurn, 1936-1939

The Flower and The Nettle, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I didn't want to read this book.  I wanted to read the books I had waiting at the library, as I mentioned yesterday. But after finishing North to the Orient, I was drawn to this fourth volume of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's letters and diaries.  One reason for reading it now is that it covers the pre-war years in England, overlapping with Vera Brittain's Testament of Experience.

This book opens with the Lindberghs' arrival in England in January of 1936.  They had fled America, in part because of the relentless publicity that dogged them, and in part in reaction to the kidnapping and murder of their first child.  With their second son, Jon, they found a home first in the Weald of Kent, in an ancient house rented from Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West.  In 1938 the family, now including son Land, moved to a tiny island off the coast of Brittany, where they lived in a house with no running water.  In the spring of 1939, realizing that war was immanent, first Charles and then Anne and the children returned to the United States.

This book was not what I expected, yet I found myself lost in it.  The first section, in England, is very much focused on domestic details.  Though the Lindberghs became friends with Lady Astor and were drawn into the "Cliveden set," they spent much of their time at home in Kent.  The book does chronicle three trips to Germany, and one to Russia, taken at the request of American officials anxious for contacts and information, especially about the German air forces.  These trips became very controversial later, leading to accusations that the Lindberghs were Nazi sympathizers.  AML took great care in editing her letters and journals to emphasize the official nature of the trips, and their concerns (expressed at the time even to Nazi officials) about the treatment of the Jews under the Nazis.  Her writings also trace the growing tension over German aggression, from the reoccupation of the Rhineland to the occupation of the Sudetenland to the Munich Crisis.

The second part of the book, covering the move to France, reminded me a bit of a Breton version of A Year in Provence.  I kept marveling at AML's patience and persistence in just the daily struggle to keep house under such primitive conditions.  The island, part of chain exposed at low tides, is so small that I have been unable to find it on a map!  I wondered how much of the move was her choice, and how much a deferral to Charles.  She joined him on the trips to Germany and Russia, even when she felt great guilt over leaving her children for such long periods, in part because she felt her presence was necessary as a support and a sounding board.  In her diaries and letters, AML analyzed marriage, her own and others', as well as theoretical ones, and the roles and work of women.

Among the highlights for me: AML and her mother attending a showing of Snow White, which they both detested; the description of a ball at Buckingham Palace; AML seated next to Gaston Palewski at an Embassy dinner in Paris - Nancy Mitford's Colonel!  and a second Mitford contact, in meeting the Devonshires at another dinner (Deborah Devonshire's in-laws).

How often I seem to say this - but I like the Anne Morrow Lindbergh of her letters and journals.  And I've moved the final volume, covering 1939-1944, up the TBR pile.

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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!