The Aviator's Wife The Aviator's Wife discussion

Is it OK for a Historical fiction book to change the facts or personality of a famous person?

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message 1: by Dale (new) - rated it 1 star

Dale Ms Benjamin has struck gold with The Aviator's Wife. This book is currently on all the major Best Seller Lists, has garnered rave reviews from just about everyone, is a favorite with book clubs and word has it that Jennifer Garner will be producing and staring in a film version of this book. And no wonder. The book is entertaining and well written, but I believe with one major flaw. It is not true. Not only is it fiction, but the author has deliberately altered the past, ignored facts that didn't fit her profile and has changed the image of a famous 20th Century individual; then she tried to excuse it all by saying, Oh, by the way, this is "Historical Fiction" so I can do as I want. But can she? Apparently yes.

After Ms Benjamin's disclaimer, she states in the Author's Notes: " I began to realize how very few people were familiar with the truly operatic scale of Anne Lindbergh's life and marriage. This became my motivation: to tell her entire story; to understand the nature of this celebrated, but mystifying marriage between entirely original individuals." Does that sound like a book of fiction she is writing, or is the author presenting what she has discovered as fact? Or worse, is she manipulating facts to substantiate her own interpretation of Anne's life?

Anne Morrow married Charles Lindbergh in a publicity free-for-all in 1929. In 1932 her first child was kidnapped But that is where Ms Benjamin's fact turns to fiction.

In Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, Anne's published diary from (1929 - 1932) she states: "To be deeply in love is, of course, a great liberating force. The sheer fact of finding myself loved was unbelievable and changed my world, my feelings about life and myself. I was given confidence, strength and almost a new character. The man I was to marry believed in me and what I could do, and consequently I found I could do more than I realized, even in the mysterious outer world that fascinated me, but seemed unattainable. He opened the door to real life and though it frightened me, it also beckoned. I had to go."

Instead, Ms Benjamin created a timid character complaining that she let her husband control her and is unable to stand up for herself; that Anne hated flying because it meant leaving her child and she did so only to appease her husband. Ms Benjamin further states that Anne did not gain recognition in her own right and was overshadowed by her great husband. Ms Benjamin claims it was only late in life that Anne began to have a life of her own.

In her Author's Notes, Ms Benjamin wrote: "Some may wonder why I didn't mention every book Anne wrote, or every flight they took ..." She further states "While I acknowledge there are many details that I left out ... I was more interested in the emotion, the personal drama, than I was in giving a history lesson."

Some of the "details" the author left out, or changed, include: the fact that the first trip to the Orient happened before; not after the kidnapping. Anne was close to her family and she was devastated to learn of the death of her father. Ms Benjamin also neglected to mention that Anne's first book, North to the Orient (1935), telling of her adventures on that trip, won The National Book Award for the Most Distinguished General Nonfiction. Her second book, Listen! The Wind (1938) won the same award. Both of these books were written during the time Ms. Benjamin claimed Anne was mortified having left her child to go flying across Continents. Yet to read the glorious passages of these books; of Anne telling of her adventures while laughing at herself, you would know this was a different Anne than presented in The Aviator's Wife.

Listen to Ann's words written just before learning of the death of her father, and the kidnapping of her son: Anne's diary, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead. " En route to Shanghai, H.M.S. Hermes (early October (1931)."

"Charles shouted, "Jump!" (The wing in the water was acting as a pivot and turning the ship over.) ... So I went - strangely enough, without the slightest hesitation or fear, and yet thinking calmly as I went under, "I am jumping up-current and the ship is falling over in that direction. I'll probably get hit." The next second I was up and down-current from the plane - I'd slipped right under it. ... but it was surprisingly easy to swim; no feeling of fear or choking or anything. I knew how to swim and felt at home. Charles had watched me jump and go under and then (he) dove. When he came up, "There was little Anne Pan, perfectly happy paddling along like a little mud turtle."

Or her diary entry for 9/13/1932, almost a year later; written after her father's death and her child kidnapped: "Flight up to Maine in the Bird (biplane). Left Long Island Country Club at 1:15; arrive North Haven 6:15."

"I flew from Portland up. It was so beautiful again, the coast, islands, peninsulas, bays, and rivers all flowing southeast as though swept in a great wind out to sea. It was lovely to be flying myself. This last lap of the trip is always intimate and thrilling, like galloping home on your pet horse. ... They (the Islands) are all here, beautiful and still, spread flat before me, as they were the year before - and many years before - as they would be here, always. Daddy had died since last year, and the baby (I'm glad he lived in this beauty for a while). But these would be here, always. And I was happy as though I had recovered them for a moment, as though I had recovered everything ever lost, as though I had everything - everything worth having. And I tried to know why, to keep something from this moment of ecstasy, some secret to comfort me when I came down to the human world again."

Anne was the author of 14 books, including The Gift From the Sea (1955) which has sold over 3 million copies in 45 languages. During the time Ms Benjamin claimed Anne was overshadowed by her famous husband and not given credit for her own achievements, Anne received the U.S. Flag Association Cross of Honor for having taken part in surveying transatlantic air routes and the following year she was awarded the Hubbard Medal by the National Geographic Society for having completed 40,000 miles of exploratory flying. In addition, in 1935 she was the recipient of Honorary Masters and a Doctor of Letters Degree from her alma mater, Smith College, and honorary degrees from both Amherst College and the University of Rochester in 1939. Many other awards were to follow, including being named "One of The Ten Most Admired Women" by the readers of Good Housekeeping Magazine. (I ask you: "How could a woman unhappy with her life and marriage accomplish all this?")

Ms Benjamin states that although she read the diaries and books of Anne and Charles Lindbergh for research, " I truly believe that the inner life can be explored only in novels, not histories; or even diaries and letters. For diaries and letters are self-censored even at the moment of writing them; it's impossible to be absolutely honest with oneself."

Compare that with Anne's own words from her book, Wind and Tide: "I cannot see what I have gone through until I write it down. I am blind without a pencil. I am convinced that you must write as if no one were ever going to see it. Write it all, as personally and specifically as you can, as deeply and honestly as you can".

Here is a description by Anne's daughter, Reeve Lindbergh, in her book, Under a Wing, A Memoir. (Reeve is referring to their home on Long Island Sound where she and her sister, Anne Jr. grew up.)

"I felt sorry for the ducks. Was it not Eleanor Roosevelt herself who had cautioned us to be kind to our web-footed friends? Our mother had taught Anne and me the song associated with the former First Lady, and we would all sing it together, our mother laughing until she cried and had to blow her nose, as Anne and I puffed out our chests and spread out our arms like the opera singers in Bugs Bunny cartoons, affecting the throaty, flat-voweled and hollow accents we thought most appropriate to presidential families, radio performances, and the ASPCA:"

" Be kind to your web-footed friends.
Every duck may be somebody's muhhhther,
Be kind to your friends in the swump
Where the weath-ah is cold and dump.
Now you may think that this is the end...
Well, it is!"

So why didn't Ms Benjamin write of this high-flying, courageous Anne Morrow Lindbergh?

message 2: by Betsy (last edited Oct 01, 2014 02:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Betsy Hetzel Wow! Ms. Benjamin must be bleeding profusely from your many barbed statements, and I feel that you may have been a tad too harsh on her, in my opinion.
Yes, I am one of the ones who LOVED this book, have suggested it for my book club, knowing full well the problem w/ historical fiction, as you have explained above. I have always found it difficult to read about real historical people/events but then wonder about the words that have been put into their mouths and what that creates. But, then, that is historical fiction, and I found Benjamin's Anne to be a believable character, in her husband's shadow, torn between being with her children and her husband, putting her needs second to his "I need you", being controlled even as to how she was to grieve for her murdered son, etc. etc. and , all the while, yes, receiving many accolades for her aviatrix skills, her wonderful publishing history, and being there for her children as they grew up while Charles was off with his other three families. I certainly am glad that she was finally able, as she approached her 50's, to go off to Manhatten and have an interesting life, living a life that was satisfying to her and which I feel that she deserved.
I wonder what your feelings are about Benjamin's treatment of Charles, not just Anne ? IF he was the kind of person presented in the book.... well, I have little respect for him anyway, except for his extraordinary flying achievements.
So, let us agree to disagree. I understand your POV, I do, and I appreciate the research which you put into it; my response was written hastily, and I just jotted down quick thoughts. You posed an interesting question, and I will look for how others' respond.

Melissa Kitchen I love historical fiction. It often becomes my gateway into learning about a new person/event/topic. I read the author's interpretation of the story, then go find non-fiction to learn all I can.

message 4: by Susan (last edited Jun 18, 2015 06:19AM) (new)

Susan Grebe Thank you Dale for your post. It made me feel better about Anne Lindbergh. In this book, all she does is complain and complain and complain about her husband. I kept wondering what happened to the spunky Anne who married Charles. It seems that she became a bitter woman who was so wrapped up in her own privileged life that she couldn't see that 99.99% of the population was less fortunate than herself. In this book, I found her almost intolerable.

message 5: by Brian (last edited Jan 10, 2017 09:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian Douglas Dale: Instead, Ms Benjamin created a timid character complaining that she let her husband control her and is unable to stand up for herself; that Anne hated flying because it meant leaving her child and she did so only to appease her husband.

There were many points in the book where Anne thinks about her love for flying and how those moments when she is flying with Charles are when she feels most alive and free. You are confusing this with her feelings of remorse for leaving her pre-teen children for extended periods of time. Are you implying that she had no remorse for leaving the children? Does that make her more or less admirable?

message 6: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Robe Well I was reading about Lindbergh and her America First -Nazi sympathizer, controlling husband.whom she supported in a 1940 book that she (much) later turned away from..explaining she hadn't "known enough'..Her three year affair with her own doctor and continuing friendship with him. ..?. Did she know about her husband's double life which resulted in three European children with one mother, two children with her sister, and two with his secretary? Meanwhile she was writing poetically about marriage. She was "admired, pitied and hated" in her lifetime. But now she has been rehabilitated...not criticized for her 1930's admiration of Hitler and the very public belief that America should not enter WW II. Until Pearl Harbor happened.

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