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ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: A Personal and Public Life by

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: A Personal and Public Life


Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1984
Publisher: Little, Brown

A sociocultural soap opera--of massive disproportion--in the generally sound and useful Library of American Biography series. The first 50 pages (of 228) take Eleanor Roosevelt to age ten; the last 24 cover the years of her world fame after FDR's death. The early pages are a work-up of her family: her parents' courtship and marriage (with stress on their Victorian abstention from premarital sex); her dashing father's instability and decline (likely caused, in the author's view, by inability ""to live up to the standards of achievement inculcated by his family, his friends, his society,"" not by an organic disorder); her relations with both parents (virtually denying that she was, or felt, rejected by her beauteous mother). All of this entails much dramatizing of incidents, much suppositional reconstruction (of the she-must-have-thought sort), and no little ""he brushed her lips with his"" writing. Then there is Franklin: his self-assurance and her insecurity, ""the difference in their temperaments,"" the accommodation between them following his ""infidelity,"" their distinct roles after his polio-crippling. Foremost, there is her search for selfhood: ""She began to realize that something within her 'craved to be an individual.' And what did it mean to be an individual? Eleanor probably did not know. . . She did not expect to enter a profession or earn her own living . . . [to assume] a man's role in a world of men. . . ."" The intense female friendships are discussed; but in the book's peculiar combination of clinical detail (ER had to give FDR a catheter so he could urinate) and less-than-candor, there's no mention that the women were lesbians. The passionate attachments to Joseph Lash and David Gurewitsch are noted, with no suggestion of their erotic nature or psychological import. The tenor: from her own hurts, she had a Great Heart; in breaking sexual and social bonds, she became a role model for women. Drivel--and as regards Eleanor Roosevelt's public life, pointless.