An exploration of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) and her idealization of the father she hardly knew.
In her autobiography, Eleanor wrote that her father “dominated my life as long as he lived” and “was the love of my life for many years after he died.” TV journalist and social historian Burns (The Golden Lad: The Haunting Story of Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt, 2016, etc.) makes much of that statement, claiming that Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt (1860-1894), Theodore’s younger brother, “influenced her character more than anyone else ever did” and therefore deserves “the most prominent role he has yet known in a book.” Unfortunately, the author is mostly unpersuasive about Elliott’s influence and in his depiction of the “bond” between father and daughter. Burns draws his information largely from Roosevelt biographies by Joseph Lash, Blanche Wiesen Cook, David McCullough, and others and by a cache of letters between Eleanor and Elliott, written over two years, ending with his death when Eleanor was 10. Elliott was a tormented man, moody, depressed, and beset by demons. By the time he married, he was a “full-fledged alcoholic,” and as the years passed, he became addicted, as well, to laudanum and morphine. During Eleanor’s childhood, he was institutionalized several times—dramatic events kept from his daughter—but never cured. He had at least three affairs, one resulting in the birth of a son, and was estranged from his wife and family. Biographers acknowledge that when he was sober, he was a loving parent, far more so than Eleanor’s cold, dismissive mother, but he was hardly involved in her upbringing. From Burns’ evidence, the man she loved was largely imaginary. The author makes the odd decision to organize the dual biography in nonchronological leaps of time to prove that “theirs was a relationship for the ages.” But the alternating chapters offer a familiar portrait of Eleanor, underscoring how vastly different she was from her father.
A new light on the Roosevelt clan that serves as illumination of the short life of an unhappy man.