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.
Hazel Rowley (1951-2011) was born in London and educated in England and Australia. She moved to the United States in the late 1990’s and lived in New York City. She was the author of critically acclaimed biographies. Christina Stead: A Biography was a New York Times Best Book, and Richard Wright: The Life and Times was a Washington Post Best Book. Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre has been translated into twelve languages. Rowley was the recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation.,
1. What qualities attracted Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to each other? What fundamental differences existed in their personalities and aspirations? How did these differences enhance the relationship?
2. How were Franklin and Eleanor shaped by the shadow of their parents? How did Eleanor’s father affect her expectations of men? How did Franklin’s mother influence his approach to women?
3. What did you make of Eleanor’s zeal for mediocre, modest White House cuisine, despite FDR’s protests? Was she simply trying to be mindful of the millions who were struggling in poverty, or was it a more personal test of wills with her husband?
4. Discuss Franklin’s affair with Lucy Mercer and Eleanor’s attachment to Lorena Hickok. Did Lucy and Lorena share any traits? What do these choices in companionship reveal about Franklin and Eleanor’s emotional needs?
5. Hazel Rowley reminds us that FDR’s plans for economic recovery—from the creation of Social Security to the Works Progress Administration—and Eleanor’s commitment to eradicating abject poverty were considered radical and, to some (even within J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI), anti-American. Would twenty-first-century America elect FDR? Could Eleanor get elected today?
6. Discuss the turning point represented by the onset of Franklin’s polio. How did his attitude toward his political responsibility and his marriage seem to change? In what ways did the disease strengthen him? How might his marriage and his political life have been different without his disability?
7. The media guarded FDR’s physical image, publishing only photos that made him appear to be capable of standing on his own. Why was this? How has the media’s approach to political reporting changed since the Roosevelt presidency?
8. How did Eleanor enhance Franklin’s image among world powers? How did their marriage shift under the stress of a world war? What sustained FDR’s political life, which consumed nearly all his married years?
9. How did Franklin and Eleanor shape each other’s identities over a lifetime? What transformations did you observe in the way they interacted, and the way they viewed the world, throughout their decades together?
10. Were you surprised to read about Eleanor’s exhaustion as a parent, and her consenting to have six children despite her lack of enthusiasm for baby care? How did her maternal instincts manifest themselves in other ways? How did her close relationships with her grown children reflect a new chapter in her marriage?
11. Did FDR’s personality as president reflect his personality as a husband? Did he and Eleanor manage their marriage in the same way they managed their political work?
12. As Franklin’s fifth cousin and Eleanor’s beloved uncle, Teddy Roosevelt in some ways launched a family political dynasty. What does it take to create a politically successful family in America? Is our presidential term limit a good thing?
13. The Roosevelts viewed their wealth and privilege as a responsibility to serve those less fortunate. What prevented them from becoming materialistic? Did social justice motivate Franklin as much as it motivated Eleanor, or was his ambition rooted in something other than philanthropy?
14. Discuss Eleanor’s life as a widow. How was she helped and hindered by FDR’s lengthy time in office? Was she liberated by her return to private life, or (especially in the face of McCarthyism) was she rendered powerless?
15. What does the Roosevelts’ relationship say about the definition of a good marriage?
16. Barack Obama’s presidency has been widely compared to FDR’s, while the Roosevelt marriage has been compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s. Are these apt analogies? What could Obama and Roosevelt have learned from each other? What similarities and differences do you see in how Eleanor and Hillary addressed infidelity and saw the role of first lady as an opportunity for public service?
“This fascinating study of the Roosevelt marriage provides an inside look at a complicated relationship…Rowley is excellent setting in motion the competitions, jealousies, and rivalries among those vying for the president’s affection and attention. She accomplishes this while also charting the political progress of two heroic public servants, Franklin and Eleanor.” —Barbara Fisher, The Boston Globe
“A crackling new biography. . .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. . . A revelatory biography of a marriage.” —Maureen Corrigan, “Favorite Books of 2010,” National Public Radio
“Compelling history with first-rate character portraits of the Roosevelts and their closest friends.” —Terry Hartle, The Christian Science Monitor
“[An] enticing new biography. [Rowley’s] research, both meticulous and extensive, does not bloat the book into a doorstop. Franklin and Eleanor is less about history than about relationships, and it reads like a wonderful novel at times, giving us a vision of what parts of American life were like then.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post
“That Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt formed a splendid partnership is not news. But Hazel Rowley, author of acclaimed biogrpahies of Christina Stead, Richard Wright, and Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, dramatizes in intimate detail just how close the connection between husband and wife became…Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, upper New York State aristocrats, became more attuned to the lives of the American people than any other presidential couple–not a claim Rowley makes, but one that becomes evident in reading her magnificent biography.” —Carl Rollyson, The Star Tribune
“While numerous books have been written about the FDR presidency, this is a fresh look at what Rowley calls a ‘bold and radical partnership’. . .She brings vividly to life one of the great marriages in history.” —Elizabeth Bennett, Bookish
“Without resort to sensationalism, the author turns a familiar story into a page-turner.” —William D. Pederson, Library Journal
“Hazel Rowley has gone beyond the gossip and gives us a book of real insight and a tale that is as sympathetic as it is cautionary. I will go so far as to say that if you are going to read only one book about this extraordinary couple, this is the one.” —James Srodes, The Washington Times
“Here is the most consequential love story of the twentieth century, told with verve, swift narrative drive, and clear-eyed fondness for the lovers. ‘Clear-eyed’ because Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt’s marriage was as difficult as it was momentous: How many husbands have ever had to suffer being nagged about the fate of Yugoslavia? How many wives have had to endure the deflections and evasions of a dissimulator as artful as FDR? Hazel Rowley tells a tale as full of betrayals as it is of a fundamental fidelity, while detailing a partnership so powerful that it has shaped the lives of all of us who read about it today.” —Richard Snow, former editor of American Heritage and author of A Measureless Peril
“A distinguished biographer’s fresh take on the marriage of the Roosevelts, the most dynamic couple ever to occupy the White House . . . A focused account of a complex marriage that continues to fascinate.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Franklin and Eleanor is a fascinating read, rich with insight and detail. Here is a political marriage that rose above politics; a partnership that was driven as much by idealism as by ambition; and a friendship that survived despite all. Hazel Rowley is a wonderful writer with a gift–rare among historians–for entertaining her readers.” —Amanda Foreman, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
“Theirs was one of the great marriages in history, one that reshaped the lives of millions in their own time and beyond. In Hazel Rowley’s engaging new book, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt come alive anew in all their complexity, humanity, and greatness.” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
Franklin and Eleanor was published on October 26, 2010.The Franklin and Eleanor Audiobook is 2076 hours and 40 minutes. Speechify has the Unabridged edition version of the audiobook.
Both the publication language and the narration language are in English.
Franklin and Eleanor includes the following subjects: Presidents & Heads of State. The BISAC Subject Code is Biography & Autobiography, Political.
The author of Franklin and Eleanor is Hazel Rowley. Hazel Rowley (1951-2011) was born in London and educated in England and Australia. She moved to the United States in the late 1990’s and lived in New York City. She was the author of four critically acclaimed biographies. Christina Stead: A Biography was a New York Times Best Book, and Richard Wright: The Life and Times was a Washington Post Best Book. Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre has been translated into twelve languages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage in 2010. Rowley was the recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation.
The narrator for the Franklin and Eleanor Audiobook is Tavia Gilbert.