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Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary…

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage

by Hazel Rowley

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190762,147 (3.85)8



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As the title of this readable biography suggests, Franklin and Eleanor focuses on the dynamics of their marriage. Hazel Rowley does a good job of untangling the chronologies of the husband and wife's romantic involvements with one another and with other people, though given the nature of the sources there is inevitably much that cannot be known. I knew only the vague outline of their lives before reading this book, and was fascinated to see the evolution of Eleanor from a shy and diffident young woman to a much more outgoing person who felt confident in shirking social norms and addressing the UN General Assembly.

This is rather a rosy account of the Roosevelts, though. Both were clearly people of great personal charisma, but while Rowley seems to think that attribute inherently a virtue, I am not so certain. How they used that charisma on others frequently seems to have been informed by an immense narcissism and emotional need, and a disregard for the needs and feelings of others. While Rowley acknowledges that in passing, she doesn't seem inclined to explore that too deeply. ( )
  siriaeve | Mar 29, 2016 |
After listening to the author on NPR, I realized how little I knew about this president and his wife. This biography is partly based on letters that both Franklin and Eleanor sent and received, yet the author does not reduce it to merely copying the texts of the letters. To say that their marriage was "unconventional" is putting it mildly. The President and First Lady were two very independent individuals who obviously loved each other but lived a style of marriage that would be considered scandalous even by today’s standards. I have seen many memorable quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt, so I was aware that she was somewhat of a radical, but I was amazed by the number of issues she embraced which were often at odds with her husband. Looking at the family dynamics of the Roosevelts made me wonder how such an arrangement, replete with affairs and scandals, would be handled by the media in today’s world. I was aware that, although Franklin spent much of his presidency in a wheel chair, he was rarely, if ever, photographed in that chair. In today’s world, can you imagine the press agreeing to put their cameras away while someone carried the president from a train to his car? Or while someone carried him to a stage and literally propped him up behind a podium and microphone to give a speech? Times have changed!
Read the book! I learned a lot about American history in the 30's and 40's and I enjoyed it. ( )
  TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
As an Anglophile one must acknowledge that FDR was one of the greatest friends of England prior to and during our (the American) time fighting WWII. He skirted the law of the land to give as much as possible to help England before we entered the war. Finishing the book on the story of FDR and Eleanor's romance I am filled with sadness for them. Eleanor found out after he passed away that one of the women he had an affair with after they married was visiting him the day he died and her family and White House staff hid that visit and several previous from her. For many years this story (and other indiscretions) were hidden by people in the know. Eleanor had several affairs herself. The two of them were affectionate to each other and frequently made a good team but love was lost somewhere in the first decade of their marriage.

The author makes it clear that Eleanor and others journals, letters, and interviews were often scrubbed to present the truth as they wished it to be presented. Eleanor wrote a long three volume autobiography but was very circumspect in protecting the FDR's and her personal legacy. The history of her and FDR's affairs are frequently preserved in their love letters to their lovers and some tell all testimony years after FDR passed away. They both achieved greatness but never contentment in love with each other. A sad indictment on a life lived less fully than it should be. I am a bit jealous of his large collection of books and living room filled with shelves full of books but hope for more faithful fulfilled living in my personal love life.

The author briefly mentions the falsehood that Charles Lindbergh was an anti-Semite Nazi sympathizer which is not accurate. She does not mention one of FDR's first public embarrassment with the Air Mail situation in 1934 choosing instead to identify the court packing effort to grow the Supreme Court as his first great set back as president. Towards the end of the book the author went from telling the story of the relationship of FDR and Eleanor to the story of their deeds and legacy. Not a bad end but I feel like she started to soon as the last few years together could have been fleshed out more.

I feel I must add that though I felt the author approved and admired Eleanor she was very fair with both FDR and Eleanor to record both their good qualities and bad and let their story tell the story of who they were. Stylistically well written and put together with a smooth flow to the story. ( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
I just devoured this book. I am not an historian, so I cannot debate the veracity of the facts. However, assuming this story sprung from research with integrity, it was a fascinating read. Indeed, a remarkable relationship existed between Franklin & Eleanor. It was based on acceptance of one another which stemmed from them being accepting of people in general. Superficial traits and public opinion had little to do with their loyalties, although they did require secrecy to live as their true selves. I like the idea that they both retained their humanity, the good, the bad, and the ugly, despite their public lives. Who are we to judge? As seems to be true for many memorable leaders, it seemes to me that the children probably suffered more than either parent. In this case, both parents were great leaders, so I would be interested to learn more about the impact their life choices had on their five children. Most interesting to me: their love of communal living combined with their fierce independence and their personal insecurities. ( )
  hemlokgang | Nov 12, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
The Roosevelts' nonconformist love lives, as well as their expansive impulses to turn the White House into a World War II-era hippie crash pad, have been recounted by other superb biographers, notably Blanche Wiesen Cook and Doris Kearns Goodwin. What distinguishes Rowley's chronicle is her focus on the evolution of the Roosevelt marriage from a standard-issue high-society alliance of its day to a ... what? We don't even have a term for such an unconventional relationship — certainly "open marriage" sounds too naughty, although "open" is what the Roosevelts clearly became.
added by CSMcMahon | editNPR (Nov 10, 2010)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374158576, Hardcover)

Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt’s marriage is one of the most celebrated and scrutinized partnerships in presidential history. It raised eyebrows in their lifetimes and has only become more controversial since their deaths. From FDR’s lifelong romance with Lucy Mercer to Eleanor’s purported lesbianism—and many scandals in between—the American public has never tired of speculating about the ties that bound these two headstrong individuals. Some claim that Eleanor sacrificed her personal happiness to accommodate FDR’s needs; others claim that the marriage was nothing more than a gracious façade for political convenience. No one has told the full story until now.

In this groundbreaking new account of the marriage, Hazel Rowley describes the remarkable courage and lack of convention—private and public—that kept FDR and Eleanor together. She reveals a partnership that was both supportive and daring. Franklin, especially, knew what he owed to Eleanor, who was not so much behind the scenes as heavily engaged in them. Their relationship was the product of FDR and Eleanor’s conscious efforts—a partnership that they created according to their own ambitions and needs.

In this dramatic and vivid narrative, set against the great upheavals of the Depression and World War II, Rowley paints a portrait of a tender lifelong companionship, born of mutual admiration and compassion. Most of all, she depicts an extraordinary evolution—from conventional Victorian marriage to the bold and radical partnership that has made Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt go down in history as one of the most inspiring and fascinating couples of all time.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:22 -0400)

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Hazel Rowley describes the remarkable courage and lack of convention--private and public--that kept FDR and Eleanor together. She reveals a partnership that was both supportive and daring--a partnership that they created according to their own ambitions and needs.… (more)

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