Author Susan Wittig Albert
Narrated by Karen White
Published by Tantor Media
Publication date Mar 22, 2016
Running time 10 hours 29 minutes
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok—Hick—is assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1932 campaign, the two women become deeply involved. Their relationship begins with mutual romantic passion, matures through stormy periods of enforced separation and competing interests, and warms into an enduring, encompassing friendship documented by 3,300 letters.
Set during the chaotic years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War, Loving Eleanor reveals Eleanor Roosevelt as a complex, contradictory, and entirely human woman who is pulled in many directions by her obligations to her husband and family and her role as the nation’s First Lady. Hick is revealed as an accomplished journalist, who, at the pinnacle of her career, gives it all up for the woman she loves. Then, as Eleanor is transformed into Eleanor Everywhere, First Lady of the World, Hick must create her own independent, productive life. Loving Eleanor is a profoundly moving novel that illuminates a relationship we are seldom privileged to see, celebrating the depth and durability of women’s love. https://tantor.com/loving-eleanor-susan-wittig-albert.html
I was born a little late to experience the amazing Eleanor Roosevelt; but not too young to know we all benefited from her life and work. Eleanor Roosevelt helped bring this country, and many individuals, through some of the most difficult times it had experienced. The country had lived through a revolution, a civil war, the Great war and was, at her husband’s first term, in the middle of the Great Depression.
Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were cousins and married after a secret romance; the match was opposed by his overbearing mother who, apparently held the purse strings. The marriage was interesting and had five surviving children. But, he was a bit of a rover and after at least one affair she stayed in the marriage but it was from then on a friendship and political union. Eleanor lacked confidence and did not like the limelight.
Lorena Hickok, whose story was not less remarkable than Eleanor’s. While both had traumatic childhoods, Hick’s was horrible and without any relatives who would send her to a private school. She was bright enough to finish high school as she worked as a hired hand, but she and college didn’t suit. Hick, journalism, and work did suit and somehow, this woman, a child of abuse and privation, and she became a world-class journalist. Hick and Eleanor were first journalist and subject, then friends and confidants, and then had a romantic relationship. Hick helped Eleanor develop into someone who got it done, who spoke to and for people who were the underdogs of the world.
We read this in my book club. I was the the only member to have the audiobook which I felt was expertly read by the superb Karen White whose narration never fails to please. Club members were interested in the dynamic of the relationship between Hick and Eleanor, as well as the period in history and Hickok’s amazing rise to the apex of her field and her success in other professions.
We all agreed the book was a great story and well-written. Not all of us were able to come to terms with their relationship; with Eleanor’s being a public figure and apparently bisexual. It was apparent that Eleanor was desperate for love, and sought for relationships that afforded comfort without the potential for scandal a same sex romantic relationship would have at the time. The book also discusses Hick’s health issues, mostly diabetes, and it was surprising she lived as long as she did.
Of course Hick was the person who helped and encouraged Eleanor to become one of our greatest First Ladies. She encouraged her and helped her develop through press conferences and writing. In a sense, Hick wrote the end of their close relationship. Some thought Hick was selfish, wanting more of a commitment and she wished to be a priority in Eleanor’s busy and complicated life. Other bookclub members had compassion for her in that all relationships, especially those with more complications than normal. And, what could be more complicated than a lesbian relationship between a well-known journalist and the most public female figure of her time?
One great thing about Hick, or at least how she was written, is that she was not out, but she is not ashamed either. She would, of course have realized she had to stay in the closet at the time, but she didn’t have to be ashamed. Within her sphere of friends she was accepted for the brilliant creature she was.
This book draws on historical accounts and letters between Lorena and Eleanor. It was a great story, offering history, personal drama, and a great romance.