Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Aviator's Wife, Paris Wife, Pastor's Wife
I just finished the new novel, THE AVIATOR'S WIFE by Melanie Benjamin.
Similar to Paula McLain's THE PARIS WIFE, the story focuses on the wife of an incredibly famous man.
THE AVIATOR'S WIFE is told from the point of view of Anne Morrow, the wife of Charles Lindbergh.
I have to say that I have a problem with both of these titles.
I understand that these women had social standing primarily, or at least in large part, because of their famous husbands.
At the same time, these women were strong, intelligent, interesting women. Do they have to be defined by their relationships with men?
This is a personal issue for me. I used to be married to a pastor. In the churches he served, I always felt like The Pastor's Wife, defined and seen solely through my relationship to my husband and his role.
As The Pastor's Wife, I felt expected to behave certain ways - that I had to be ever present in church and at church functions, that my children had to behave well at all times, that I had to behave well at all times, that the house provided to us had to be spotless, that we had to entertain church members in our home.
It was an uncomfortable position for me. While I always felt as though I was living in a fishbowl and constantly scrutinized, I felt as though I was seen as more of a backdrop to my pastor husband than a real person.
I felt as though almost no one saw me for who I was. That I was a woman raising kids, which was sometimes hard for me; and that I was supposed to make it look easy. That I taught school and loved it. That I missed friends and family across the country. That I loved to read. That I loved to think and challenge myself and others. That I didn't agree with everything the church, or my husband(!) said.
The pastor's wife role felt incredibly confining.
So the titles of each of these books, about fascinating women but proclaiming their primary identity as WIFE, bothered me.
It seemed that in THE AVIATOR'S WIFE, Anne Morrow also struggled with being defined by her relationship to her husband.
Women then were expected to marry and were most often defined by their husbands. Anne and Charles were married over 80 years ago, and Anne struggled with being seen solely as Lindbergh's wife. She was a pilot herself and wrote many books. She often felt (this novel is based on her books and diaries) invisible while the world adored - and at times reviled - her husband.
She wrote most famously about her struggle to be her own person in GIFT FROM THE SEA, originally published in 1955, which still resonates today.
The novel spans Anne Morrow Lindbergh's adult life, including Charles and Anne's adventures flying around the world together, the brutal murder of their firstborn son, Anne's challenge to almost single-handedly raise five children, as well as her desire to be known and seen for who she was on her own.
Her struggle doesn't seem so dated, as it resonated with me as I read the novel. I would have liked to have read this...and GIFT FROM THE SEA while I was married to the pastor.
I also really enjoyed discovering more about Anne and Charles, Anne's success as a pilot and author, the advent of air travel, Charles's influence in military air power in World War II both for Germany and the U.S...there is a lot here!
In the afterword to this book, Melanie Benjamin said that her hope when people read her historical fiction is that they want to find out more about the people she writes about and the times in which they lived.
She has succeeded grandly here! Both in the telling of Anne's story and in inspiring the reader to want to learn more. Well done.
And thank you to librarything.com for sending me an Advance Reader copy of this book!
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