A distinguished biographer's fresh take on the marriage of the Roosevelts, the most dynamic couple ever to occupy the White House.
Scholars agree that Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the role of First Lady every bit as much as Franklin transformed the presidency. They divide, however, on the "touchy subject" of their unconventional marriage. Most see it as deeply troubled and champion one or the other partner. Rowley (TÃªte-Ã -TÃªte: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, 2005, etc.) declines to take sides, instead portraying the union as a courageous and radical arrangement that fulfilled the needs of each, a partnership as unprecedented as the manner in which they both served the country. By 1925, married 20 years with five surviving children, the Roosevelts were already a nontraditional union, for two reasons: Franklin's World War I affair with Eleanor's social secretary, Lucy Mercer, and his midlife affliction with infantile paralysis. From that point, notwithstanding a continuing deep respect and affection between them, they led largely independent lives, satisfying emotional needs through a series of romantic friendships that expanded the marriage into a kind of community involving colleagues, friends, employees and family. The people, with the exception of Louis Howe, FDR's longtime political advisor, rarely overlapped. Eleanor's circle included her bodyguard, a young socialist and her late-life personal doctor. She also cultivated close female companions, two Democratic Party activists with whom she lived for a time and a journalist. Rowley explores each of these relationships, acknowledges Eleanor's life on "the edge of the lesbian world," but admirably refrains from declarations for which she has no evidence. Franklin's intimates included a distant cousin, flirtations with a woman publisher and most importantly, his personal secretary, "Missy" LeHand. Intending not to idealize the marriage, the author nevertheless touches too lightly on the Roosevelts' powerful and devouring neediness. Their thoroughly undistinguished children were not least among the broken hearts and confused minds these two titans left behind.
A focused account of a complex marriage that continues to fascinate.Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt occupied the White House longer than any other first couple, with FDR always considered in the top triumvirate of American Presidents and ER ranking as the greatest First Lady according to the polls of experts. For those interested in the private record of these two public figures, this is the book to read. Biographer Rowley (Richard Wright) brings her honed skills to the Roosevelt marriage. Though the narrative is familiar and the author has not uncovered new information, she empathetically presents an incisive portrait of a new kind of marriage that was as fruitful to FDR and ER in some ways as their original Victorian marriage. They broke through convention just as Teddy Roosevelt had done in politics. A leitmotif of the book is how much FDR based his career on Teddy, with the major difference that FDR was ultimately much more successful. Similarly, Rowley insists that ER was not a reluctant First Lady but carved a new role for herself. Both ER and FDR were essentially active and flexible, adapting creatively to changing political and personal crises. VERDICT Without resort to sensationalism, the author turns a familiar story into a page-turner, bringing out the nuances of this marriage and of their relationships with others around them without demeaning either FDR or ER. This is the book for readers with an interest in American Presidents.--William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport[Page 116]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
"In my view, the Roosevelts' bond was political in every sense of the word," writes Rowley, who also argues that despite the difficulties in their marriage, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt always genuinely loved each other. And the difficulties in the marriage were many: Franklin's domineering mother; his flirtatiousness with attractive women; Eleanor's long, maddening retreats into self-righteous silence whenever she was hurt or angry. After 11 years of marriage, Eleanor offered Franklin a divorce upon discovering his affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer (she, not Eleanor, would be with FDR when he died). But after he was struck by polio in 1921, she tolerated Franklin's long romance with his secretary, Missy LeHand, while FDR allowed Eleanor her romantic relationships with her chauffeur, Earl Miller, and journalist Lorena Hickok. Despite Rowley's (Christina Stead) cheerleading that the cousins' conflicts brought out their courage and radicalism, and that they loved with a generosity of spirit that withstood betrayal, FDR emerges as a narcissist while Eleanor carved a spectacular life for herself out of a flawed marriage. While much of this story is familiar, the book is nonetheless an engrossing account of an unusual pairing of two extraordinary people. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Nov.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC