Book Chat

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage

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Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary MarriageI’m no fan of FDR, but I’ll admit to some curiosity about him, especially as it relates to the interactions between him and Eleanor. She seemed like such a strong woman, ahead of her time. So, I was curious to read Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage.

I learned that Eleanor lost both parents at an early age and grew up a very determined, conscientious oldest child. She always felt she needed to earn love from others. As an acquaintance said, “I always thought she was the loneliest human being I ever knew in my life; and so used to bad treatment … that it did not occur to her to ask for anything for herself. Not ever.”

Franklin, by contrast, grew up as the adored and spoiled only child of a mother and older father. When his father died, his mother became even more enamored of Franklin. When Franklin and Eleanor married, Eleanor’s uncle, Theodore Roosevelt (who was president at the time) escorted her down the aisle. TR apparently enjoyed the limelight, as his own daughter described him as “the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”

I really felt bad for Eleanor (honestly, I’d probably feel bad for most women of that time). She had six children in her first 11 years of marriage (one died in infancy), although she wrote that she approached motherhood “with a keen sense of responsibility but very little sense of the joy which should come with having babies.” Near the time the last baby was born, Franklin began an affair with family helper Lucy Mercer. Eleanor discovered this when she found a bundle of letters from Lucy to FDR while unpacking his things as he recovered from an illness (and FDR always seemed to be suffering from one illness or another). She told a friend she felt as if the bottom had dropped out of her world.

At age 39, Franklin came down with the worst possible illness for an aspiring politician — polio, or infantile paralysis as it was apparently called in the day. He became crippled. Eleanor helped Franklin through the early days of his illness, although the self-sacrifice was hard to bear. A friend of hers who was caring for an invalid husband as well wrote, “Ours are the years when clear perception has come and with it the intense desire to live while we may.”

As the years went on, Eleanor and Franklin came to an understanding: although they remained married, they each largely lived their own lives. Eleanor spent much time with women friends. “You must learn to allow someone else to meet the need, without bitterness or envy, and accept it,” she said of Franklin’s female caregivers, who often became romantic interests as well.

This is the second book I’ve read about FDR (the first being “FDR Goes to War“), and I found it interesting how events can be portrayed differently by different authors. In “War,” I read that Eleanor wanted to help Jewish refugees from Europe seeking to enter the US, but FDR was opposed to this. In this book, both Roosevelts were said to want to help the refugees, but Eleanor was outspoken about¬† supporting them, while FDR told her “it’s better if I don’t.” This author suggested that often FDR would “float” an action he wished to take by having Eleanor support it. He would observe whether it went over well or not, and then decide his public position.

The Roosevelts had 5 sons (one died in infancy) and a daughter. I found myself feeling sorry at times for the daughter, Anna, who even in adulthood sometimes had to play the role of “protecting” her dad from her mom’s temper and heavy-handedness. “Mother, can’t you see you are giving Father indigestion?” she said after one contentious dinnertime ‘debate’ between the two.

Over and over, I kept comparing FDR and Eleanor to Bill and Hillary Clinton. There seemed to be so many similarities. Like Bill, FDR was jovial and charming, and always had a group of women around to cater to his every whim. “You realize that like all people who work for this man — I love him,” said Daisy Suckley, one of his admirers. “If he told me to jump out of the window, I would do it, without hesitation.”

While Eleanor was aware of her husband’s female admirers, higher-ups tried to keep the entire story from her. When FDR died, she learned for the first time that longtime “friend” Lucy Mercer had been with him for his final days. “I had an almost impersonal feeling about everything that was happening,” she wrote. “Much further back I had had to face certain difficulties until I decided to accept the fact that a man must be what he is, life must be lived as it is …” I can totally see Hillary Clinton writing something similar.

The author was definitely of a liberal bent, using phrases like “a thick fog of conservatism settled over the United States,” Republicans “snidely” reported on the Roosevelts, a mention of the 1960 election being “frightening close,” etc. I suppose I might expect this from someone writing about a democrat subject, but still it always surprises me that so many non-fiction authors don’t seem to mind letting their biases come out in their books.

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Saffy's AngelA friend recommend Saffy’s Angel to my youngest daughter, who read it, enjoyed it, and then recommended it to me. I liked it a lot as well. It tells about Saffron, whose siblings (Rose, Cadmium, and Indigo) were all named after paints on the color chart (their parents are artists). Saffy discovers that her name isn’t on the chart, and sure enough — she’s adopted. She ends up on an adventurous journey looking for an elusive angel figurine that her beloved grandfather left her in his will.

I won’t go into much detail, but read this book! I loved it. It’s especially great for a child who is bright in an artistic (rather than a conventional) way. The characters are all quirky and vividly created. They reminded me a lot of those in the Mysterious Benedict Society books. I’d say this is aimed at upper elementary or middle school kids. It’s just a wonderful story blessedly free of vampires, zombies, and romance (well, there is a bit of that with an older sister, but it’s sweet and serves a purpose).

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I Want It Now Willy WonkaI got I Want it Now! A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when it was free for Kindle. As you can probably guess, it’s a memoir of Julie Dawn Cole, or Veruca Salt, as you know her if (like me) you grew up watching “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” She’s the famous, bratty “I want it NOW” girl who ended up as a “bad egg” in the factory.

I really enjoyed this book! It wasn’t perfect (had some editing issues), but overall it was a fun trip down memory lane. Cole tells various things about the filming of the movie that I found interesting. She turned 13 during the filming, and since she lived with a single mom and didn’t have a lot of money, she was the only one of the “Wonka kids” who spent the few months of filming at the Munich hotel on her own, without any family along.¬† She took weekend trips to Neuschwanstein castle and other Bavarian spots (and she includes postcards and photos from the time).

The movie was made in 1970, and the sets were all “real” as opposed to computer-generated. Harper Goff, who worked with Walt Disney, designed many of the sets and they were kept secret from the kids until the actual filming, so that the wonder on the kids’ faces would be real. The Chocolate Factory was filmed in Munich Gas Works.

Other trivia: the boy who was obsessed with TV’s was annoying and obnoxious in real life as well as in the film. Augustus Gloop, the German boy who loved sweets, only spoke German and thus was somewhat isolated during filming.

Julie talks about how kind Gene Wilder (Willy) was to the kids, and how she had such good memories of the time overall — eating lunch in the chocolate factory, as the song “Pure Imagination” was played in the background, etc. She and the other girl, Violet the “blueberry girl,” both had a bit of a crush on the boy who played Charlie. Charlie didn’t act again after Willy Wonka, but went on to become a veterinarian.

Fun book if you enjoyed the movie.

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5 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. I’ve often thought that it helps to read multiple biographies of a person to get any kind of clear picture about them. It is sad that authors so blatantly show their biases.

    I Want It Now sounds fascinating!

  2. I’m adding Saffy’s Angel to my (and my girls’) list! It sounds great, and I think I’ve read other reviews of it lately, so this seems like just one more confirmation.

    Have you ever been to Warm Springs, GA, FDR’s retreat? We’ve been, and it is very interesting.

    The Willy Wonka book sounds interesting!

  3. Years ago in Cheryl Fenton’s class we watched a movie about the Roosevelts. I knew they somewhat tolerated each other, only. My parents strongly disliked FDR. Mother’s mother’s name was Eleanor. Three years after my birth a stork circled over the Huntingburg Indiana area and another daughter descended. Mother wanted to name her Eleanor. Daddy would not hear of it because that was Eleanor Roosevelt’s name. He was the president when both Elaine and I were born. Even though my folks strongly disliked him, Mother said when they heard on the radio he died she lost any appetite to eat supper. I want to think she said it was on a Sunday. We were at war which always makes for turbulent times. It reminds me of my emotions with John Kennedy. I cried when he was elected and cried again when he was assassinated.

  4. I think I might find the book about FDR interesting. I so regret that I was not allowed to be named Eleanor. What a disappointment!

    As to the book about Willy Wonka, I know nothing about that character and even had trouble following your review because there were so many characters in it. I don’t think that would be my cup of tea.

  5. Thanks for the reviews. All sound interesting. I do love biographies. I’ve read several this summer. My Mother Golda Meir, My Story by Elizabeth Smart, and Special Heart by Bret Beier. Now I’ve started Laura Bush’s memoir. Golda’s story was amazing and Elizabeth’s book was really unimaginable. Both women very admirable. Not sure I could read about FDR and Eleanor’s marriage it they’ll remind me of Bill and Hill though.

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