Ahhh, Eleanor. Be still my heart. I first fell in love with Eleanor Roosevelt when I visited Val-kill, a stone cottage on a sweet patch of land in upstate New York. Here are just some of the reasons I fell in love with her that day:
--she built her serene oasis in Hyde Park, directly across the street from the Roosevelt residence, the command center of her bitchy, disapproving mother-in-law.
--she built it as a retreat for herself and her friends, the couple Marion Dickerson and Nancy Cook. The three of them started an experimental furniture factory on the premises, and hung out whenever possible--three fierce, independent women quietly carving out their own little utopia. Of course, they also happened to be human so the whole thing ended in bitter acrimony. I actually find it kind of comforting--they screwed up a beautiful thing just like the rest of us tend to do.
--as she transformed into a global diplomat, she frequently entertained guests like Nehru, John Kennedy, and Haile Selassie in her homespun living room, making them scrambled eggs on the cook's night off.
I went home and immediately read Blanche Wiesen's Cook's biography, followed by a bunch of Eleanor's original writing, including her amazing newspaper columns My Day where she talks about everyday life and outlines her passionate views on social justice.
Then I read her letters to and from Lorena Hicock, Empty Without You. Whoa. Reading their letters is like riding the waves of a wild ocean storm. The highs are so passionate, so expressive--they go from tender, sweet endearments to some seriously scorching desires. The lows are fiery and dark, filled with jealousy, hurt, anger. It makes sense when you realize that they had all of the challenges of a long-distance, clandestine relationship, and then there was the fact that Eleanor happened to be First Lady of the United States (and Lorena was an AP reporter, just because things weren't complicated enough).
If you are in the mood for a glimpse into a passionate, stormy relationship between two extraordinary women, I would definitely give it a try.