MOTHER AND DAUGHTER: The Letters of Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt by Bernard--Ed. Asbell

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER: The Letters of Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt

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Further raw material for the books bound to be written on the FDRs and their offspring--but, of itself, a collection of mostly mundane letters stitched together with shoddy speculation and offstage action (gleaned, largely without attribution, from previously published Roosevelt-family chronicles). To the extent that the book does sketchily cover Eleanor Roosevelt's life from 1916 (the first letter to 10-year-old ""Dearest Anna"") to her 1962 death, it's swamped by Joseph Lash's Love, Eleanor (below--wherein, moreover, some of the choicest bits also appear). From talking to the late Anna Roosevelt Halsted (d. 1975) and her widower, Asbell has garnered some conflicting impressions of her feelings about her parents; these, he mostly shapes (or twists) into the conventional comments on mutual resentments and underlying strains--evidence of which, however, is almost absent (not surprisingly) from the stream of how-everybody's-doing letters. (A typical ER missive reads: ""Baby Elliot had learned to crawl & their Great Dane is too cute with those children. The servants were out so Ruth was getting supper & 'Peter' ate a good part of a very substantial salad but we had plenty left."") The correspondence does highlight Anna's ""US""-forever second marriage to newsman John Boettiger (which, along with other passionate amours, ER seems to have enjoyed vicariously), and Boettiger's subsequent mental collapse. (Characteristically, the book fails even to mention their son John's 1978 account of the marriage, A Love in Shadow.) It also documents ER's eagerness to help her children--by caring for the offspring of their failed marriages, by sending them money or gifts, by lending herself to schemes for their benefit; and their dependence upon her well into middle age. On the other side, Anna's letters--especially from the years when she and Boettiger were running the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and trying to start up a paper in Phoenix (1936-48)--are minutely descriptive, warmly appreciative unburdenings. There is, however, one item of special (if peripheral) interest: Lucy Mercer Rutherford's letter to AR, in response to her condolences after FDR's death. And one memorable, passing reference to FDR therein--""waiting for you. . . with the Rabbi's cap on his extraordinarily beautiful head""--may come as close to conveying the nature of that relationship as anything we'll have. The bulk of the inclusions, though, deal with trivia--and shed no significant new light on the much-examined Roosevelt mÉnage.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1982
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan