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May 3, 2012: Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis: Masculinity, Memory, and Spirituality in Postwar America – Brian Horrigan, Minnesota History Center

Brian Horrigan is Exhibit Curator at the Minnesota Historical Society. His most recent exhibit at the Minnesota History Center is on 1968. He is currently an IAS residential fellow supported by the National Endowment for the Humanties, completing a book examining twentieth-century American culture through the prism of one of its great celebrities, Charles Lindbergh. To an extent matched by few others in his time, Lindbergh (1902-74) sought to be the teller of his own tale. From 1927 up to the last months of his life, he was constantly writing, eventually producing no fewer than six autobiographical works and leaving unpublished more than a thousand pages of memoir. Along with his wife, the best-selling essayist and memoirist Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh would for decades identify his profession not as “aviator” but as “author.”

This talk is also available as an audio download (.mp3 – 57.2 MB) or as a video podcast (.m4v – 170.4 MB).

The Spirit of St. Louis (1953) is Lindbergh’s masterwork, one of the most significant—if unconventional—autobiographies of the 20th century. Begun in 1939 as a plain, factual recounting of his 1927 flight to Paris, The Spirit of St. Louis grew into a rich, allusive work of memory. It remained on bestseller lists for months, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. This presentation is based on a close reading of the manuscript versions and revisions of the book (archived at the Library of Congress).

Brian Horrigan analyzes the book’s development within the context of Lindbergh’s life as he wrote it—beginning while he was in “exile” in England in the 1930s following the notorious kidnapping case, continuing during both his fall from grace in 1940-41 for his opposition to American involvement in World War II, and in 1944 while he was traveling in the South Pacific in support of the war effort. But Horrigan also interprets The Spirit of St. Louis as an emblematic product of Cold War culture: suffused with nostalgia for more innocent times, reinforcing some gender stereotypes and challenging others, embraced by audiences that were eager for manly adventure but were also searching for spiritual meaning in a world transformed by war and the atomic age.

Question and Answer

This Q&A is also available as an audio download (.mp3 – 18.7 MB) or as a video podcast (.m4v – 104.5 MB).

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