I think that, very often there's a pain that's just too painful to touch. You'll break apart. And I think her mother's death and disappearance and abandonment was something she just never could deal with. Eleanor Roosevelt, when she's really very unwell in 1936, she takes to her bed. She has a mysterious flu.
I think FDR was very dashing and charming and debonair, and probably reminded her of her father. A great bon-vivant. He loved to party. He loved to sing. He loved to have fun. And he wrote beautiful letters, just as her father did, which - alas and alack - Eleanor Roosevelt destroyed. But she refers to his beautiful letters. And she was charmed by him.
One of the things for me, as a biographer, that is so significant is for Eleanor Roosevelt - the child who never had a home of her own, who lives in her grandmother's home and then goes to school and then gets married and lives in her mother-in-law's homes, and then in public housing (like the White House and the State House) - housing becomes for Eleanor Roosevelt the most important issue.
It's right around this time that her Grandmother Hall dies. And Eleanor Roosevelt is responsible for making all the funeral arrangements. And there are a couple of things that she really understands, as she contemplates her grandmother's life and makes the funeral arrangements. One, she's really talented, an organizational woman. She knows how to do things. She begins to compare her life to her grandmother's life. And it's very clear to her that being a devoted wife and a devoted mother is not enough.
Eleanor Roosevelt loved to write. She was a wonderful child writer. I mean, she wrote beautiful essays and stories as a child. And Marie Souvestre really appreciated Eleanor Roosevelt's talents and encouraged her talents. Also, she spoke perfect French. She grew up speaking French. She's now at a french-speaking school where, you know, girls are coming from all over the world. Not everybody speaks French.
Eleanor Roosevelt fights for an anti-lynch law with the NAACP, with Walter White and Mary McLeod Bethune. And she begs FDR to say one word, say one word to prevent a filibuster or to end a filibuster. From '34 to '35 to '36 to '37 to '38, it comes up again and again, and FDR doesn't say one word. And the correspondence between them that we have, I mean, she says, "I cannot believe you're not going to say one word." And she writes to Walter White, "I've asked FDR to say one word. Perhaps he will." But he doesn't.... Read more »
And Grandmother Hall really imagines that she can raise Eleanor and her two brothers differently than these children were raised. And if she is very strict and everything is very regimented and ordered and disciplined, that they will become the perfect children who her own children did not become.
Well, the fact is, we can never know what people do in the privacy of their own rooms. The door is closed. The blinds are drawn. We don't know. I leave it up to the reader. But there's no doubt in my mind that they loved each other, and this was an ardent, loving relationship between two adult women.
Well, when Eleanor Roosevelt's mother dies, she goes to live with her Grandmother Hall. And her Grandmother Hall is in mourning. She's in widow's weeds. She's in her 50s, but appears very old. And she's exhausted from raising rather out-of-control children. Her favorite daughter, Anna, has died (Eleanor's mother), and she has living at home two other sons, Vallie and Eddie. And they are incredible sportsmen, incredible drinkers, out-of-control alcoholics.
I think Eleanor Roosevelt always had a most incredible comfort writing letters. I mean, she was in the habit of writing letters. And that's where she allowed her fantasies to flourish. That's where she allowed her emotions to really evolve. And that's where she allowed herself to express herself really fully, and sometimes whimsically, very often romantically. And it really starts with her letters to her father, who is lifelong her primary love.
I mean, if you pause over what it means at the age of 76 that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, the happiest single day of her life was the day she made the first team at field hockey. Field hockey is a team sport. Field hockey is a knockabout - I mean, picture Allenswood, the swamps of north London. It's a messy sport. So she really enjoyed playing this rough-and-tumble sport in the mud of Allenswood, a team sport. And she was very competitive. And she loved being competitive, and she loved to win. And that, I think, was all of the... Read more »