By Hazel Rowley
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Copyright © 2010
Franklin and Eleanor: and Extraordinary Marriage? A fascinating look behind the scenes at a political marriage, but I don’t know that I would call it “extraordinary.”
Hazel Rowley recaps the chronological history of the Roosevelt’s as a couple. She gives us glimpses into the physical and mental makeup of these two people who would change the 20th century for the better and describes who their marriage operated and how the Franklin and Eleanor felt about each other. She does all of this within its historical backdrop and context very nicely.
What this book does not do is show us how “extraordinary” their marriage was. Of course this all depends on your definition of the word “extraordinary,” as it can have a broad meaning. I personally think of extraordinary as meaning unusually excellent; however it can also mean something that is unusually strange or even having a special purpose. If you prefer that latter as your definition then by all means Franklin and Eleanor’s marriage certainly meets the criteria. If the former, my view of the word, fits your definition, then the Roosevelt’s fall far short.
The Roosevelt’s marriage was special because of the way they used their marriages to further their agenda’s. Franklin wanted to be president; he wanted the power which he felt he could use to help people and to make the nation stronger. Eleanor wanted to help people as well and she used their marriage to further her social agenda. Nothing wrong with having these ambitions I guess, but in the context of having an “unusually excellent” marriage it doesn’t fit. Franklin was a philanderer and he was flirtatious, betraying his wife to the end. Eleanor in turn was often pushy, unfeeling, and dabbled in lesbian relationships as well as relationships with younger men. While physical romances are not proven outright the emotional romances are proven, and one usually leads to the other unless health issues make that impossible. This was likely the case later in Franklin’s life. I understand that no marriage is perfect but the extraordinary marriages are built on love and affection and two people trying to grow closer to one another despite the obstacles. Franklin and Eleanor instead chose to remain married, but in essence live separate lives. The bond these two had was undeniable, but it was born out of familiarity and necessity for the furtherance of their interrelated and concurrent agendas.
All that being said “Franklin and Eleanor…” was enjoyable to read as a behind the scenes of history book. It was interesting to read what was going on in FDR’s personal life as he made his meteoric rise to political power and dealt with the issues of the nation. I just would have changed the title from “… An Extraordinary Marriage” to “A strange Marriage” or “A Marriage for a Special Purpose.”