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The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

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I came to The Aviator’s Wife, the story of Anne Morrow, Charles Lindbergh’s wife by Melanie Benjamin after reading The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb and Alice I Have Been by this same author. All are fictionalised accounts of real people.

The Aviator’s Wife is narrated by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who was a shy diplomat’s daughter when she met Charles Lindbergh. He had recently completed the world’s first transatlantic flight, travelling from New York to Paris in a single-engine monoplane, the Spirit of St Louis. From that moment on he was a hero, targeted by the press and unable to be anonymous or left alone anywhere except in the air.

Anne and Charles married, despite this story being unclear about whether or not they were ever in love with each other. Anne saw Charles as a hero and he saw her as good breeding material, unaware that her brother had mental health issues and that her sister was a lesbian. If he had known, it seems likely he would not have married Anne.

Anne learned to fly and became the first American woman to fly a glider. She also learned to navigate and acted as crew for her husband on many of his flights, and in addition, wrote best-selling books about their travels. Later, she published poetry, letters and diaries, and inspirational writing, of which she is best known for Gift from the Sea, a book of musings.

Anne and Charles’ first child was kidnapped for ransom and sadly, later found murdered. Later they moved to Europe to avoid the media who continued to dog them wherever they went. They went on to have another six children together.

Charles seems to have been an unpleasant man and is portrayed as being pro-Hitler, an anti-Semite, arrogant, cold and unemotional, while Anne, despite her accomplishments, appeared to be submissive and, particularly in comparison with her husband, unimportant. The author almost glosses over Anne’s long affair with the Lindbergh family doctor. Charles’ affairs with at least three women, resulting in his fathering an additional seven children is never explained satisfactorily either. Perhaps there is no explanation for either…

The Aviator’s Wife should have been fascinating, but wasn’t. The bare facts of this story tell of extraordinary lives but the narrator’s passive voice left me feeling uninterested and uninspired. My lasting impression is that Charles was a difficult man and Anne a doormat and that each would have lived a happier life married to someone else.

I’ve been a bit hit and miss with Melanie Benjamin. While I enjoyed the story of the real Alice in Wonderland, I didn’t like Tom Thumb’s or Charles Lindbergh’s Missus at all. If I read anything else by this author, I’ll look for pure fiction rather than fictionalised accounts of real people’s lives.

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Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin is an historical novel, the imagined life of Alice Liddell Hargreaves, who was told the story of Alice in Wonderland as a child by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), an Oxford mathematics professor.

The novel starts with Alice as an elderly woman. Alice is tired of always being Alice in Wonderland, and of sharing her memories of childhood and the author with fans of the stories. Alice feels as if those who fete her are disappointed to realise she is a real person with a real life, rather than a little girl frozen in time.

As a child, Alice’s father was the Dean of Christ Church at the University of Oxford and her mother, a socially ambitious woman who ruled the household. Alice was one of ten children, but for the purposes of this novel, only her older sister Ina and younger sister Edith feature prominently during her childhood, along with their governess, Miss Prickett (Pricks).

Mr Dodgson was a family friend. His preference was to spend time with the children, regularly photographing the girls, telling them stories while taking them for walks, rowing or on picnics, accompanied by Pricks and occasionally by other adult men from the University teaching staff. Alice is aware that Mr Dodgson enjoys her company most of all, although she and Ina vie jealously for his attention. Alice is also aware that Pricks has romantic feelings towards Mr Dodgson and she laughs and makes fun of her governess’s hopes.

Mr Dodgson very often used Alive and her sisters as models for his photography. The front piece of this Alice I Have Been is a photograph of Alice taken by Charles Dodgson, who posed her provocatively as a gypsy child. The book and this photograph particularly, interested me enough to Google Charles Dodgson’s photography. He was a prolific photographer of young girls (aged between seven and twelve years old) and very often the girl’s poses are provocative. Alice I Have Been stops short of accusing Mr Dodgson of being a paedophile, but the question is certainly raised.

The book describes the circumstances of Charles Dodgson telling Alice and her sisters the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and of Alice begging Mr Dodgson to write the story down, which he eventually did. He also gave the original manuscript to Alice. The story was published and was eventually followed by Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

The relationship between Alice, her sisters and Mr Dodgson ended after Alice, waking up on a train after an outing with Mr Dodgson, kissed him in the way her “Papa kissed her Mamma”. This was witnessed by Ina and Pricks, and the blame laid entirely with Mr Dodgson.

As an adult, Alice went on to have a romance with His Royal Highness Prince Leopold, the son of Queen Victoria, which ended at the Queen’s request. Alice believes this is because of her reputation having been stained by Mr Dodgson, but the official reason given is that the Queen wanted the Prince to marry royalty.

Alice eventually married and had children of her own, recognising all the while that she still loved and always would love the prince best of all.

Towards the end of the novel Alice and Mr Dodgson meet up again. He is a fussy old man by this stage, while she is the mother of rambunctious boys. Both are disappointed in each other. Mr Dodgson wants Alice to continue to be a child, and Alice wants Mr Dodgson to grow up.

I enjoyed Alice I Have Been, even though as I child I read and disliked Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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