LIFE WAS MEANT TO BE LIVED"": A Centenary Portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt by Joseph P. Lash
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LIFE WAS MEANT TO BE LIVED"": A Centenary Portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Lash portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt, condensed in effect from old and new works (see A World of Love, below)--in a large-format, pictorial volume. On the negative side is Lash's constant stewing about the relationship with Franklin, in chapter after chapter, often in very much the same words. The frequent corollary: ""Some suspected that her busyness was meant to fill a vacuum that might not have existed if FDR had reciprocated her love."" But the reader will duly hear about: little ""Granny"" Eleanor, her beauteous, rejecting mother and adored, declining father (""a fear of loneliness and abandonment became the ruling emotions in her life""); her joyful finishing-school days, with Mlle. Souvestre; the unhappy early years of her marriage submissive to Franklin and his Mama; her WW I Washington ""readiness to initiate and administer as well as. . . to do the donkeywork""; the Lucy Mercer affair (""She felt that people who faced such ordeals honestly emerged stronger and more caring""); her social and political education, through contact with women-activists and, after FDR's polio attack, with Louis Howe; her self-improvement efforts, to serve as FDR's political surrogate; ""her sense of being an outsider,"" nonetheless. In the White House, Lash highlights her unorthodoxy, agitation-for-reform, ""continuing argument with the president over what was desirable and what was politically possible."" (On Earl Miller, earlier, and on Lorena Hickok, Lash is brief and to-the-point; his own ER relationship is treated obliquely.) The last 17 years of her life, as an independent force, are largely seen from her perspective--e.g., ""civility and good manners in political disputes seemed to her as natural as breathing""--which is both helpful and constricting. In this celebratory book, little is said of her family problems, while the anguish of her love for physician David Gurewitsch (major themes of A World of Love) is mooted. But note is taken, throughout, of criticisms and controversies. The whole cannot be called inspiring or inspiriting: Lash's tributes are too clichÉd (""saintliness was joined with practical wisdom,"" ""the one-time ugly duckling had turned into a giant killer""), his portrait too flat, too much an explanation. Readers will get a much keener sense of ER's energy and warmth from Dorothy Dow's spontaneous letters (above). But this does encapsulate the major themes, with photo-documentation. And the combination of subject, author, and centenary can hardly miss.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1984
Publisher: Norton