ELEANOR by Rhoda Lerman


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How did Eleanor feel, that summer of 1918, when she came upon Lucy's letters to Franklin? ""I stood still and the veins at my neck bulged with hot anger, not fear, and the blood rushed to my face."" That's real feeling. Rhoda Lerman's attempt to speak for Eleanor Roosevelt, to demonstrate how a retiring socialite became the people's champion, founders, however, on more than literary clich‚s and a tin ear. There's also the rampant symbolism: cagey Henry Adams presents Eleanor with a copy of ""young Herbert Hoover's"" translation of Agricola's treatise on mining, calls her ""lead,"" and incites her, cautiously, to change: ""When the psyche of lead is changed, it is a change in history."" Other Big Names signal wildly. Bernard Baruch, in postwar Paris, approvingly pronounces her ""a long shot"" (and, for his encouragement, gets a pep talk on upholding ""the dignity of man and self-determination""). ""Uncle Ted,"" dying, advises her that, to keep Franklin, she should ""make him President."" On her own, meanwhile, she has had a brief, profound encounter with a sergeant in a Washington canteen and befriended a maid's shell-shocked ex-fianc‚--who turns up in Palmer-raid times as a rabble-rousing foe of her new feminist radical friends. (The fictive and the factual frequently intersect.) Then, disillusioned by Franklin's flaccid opportunism as a V.P. candidate, she declares her intent to be ""me me me""--and Franklin contracts infantile paralysis. ""Yes, Mr. Adams, I understand now. . . . As wretched as I am, though, I feel the lead gone."" Even the legion of Eleanorites will find this graceless scavenger hunt a bit hard to take.

Pub Date: April 5th, 1979
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston