Book review: Loving Eleanor, by Susan Wittig Albert

Albert Loving EleanorAlbert, Susan Wittig.Loving Eleanor. Persevero Press, 2016, HC. $27.95. ISBN 978-0989203548.

I have been an Eleanor Roosevelt devotee for decades, yet I confess I’ve been uncomfortable seeing “ER” hailed as a lesbian icon. It’s taken me time to embrace the seemingly-common knowledge that she and journalist Lorena Hickok had a physical relationship during Eleanor’s years as First Lady.

While many historians use as evidence the copious letters that flew between ER and “Hick” during their years of personal closeness, I’ve been skeptical of those flowery endearments’ true meaning, however seemingly intimate. Fortunately for us ER junkies, interest in her and Hick’s pairing has never diminished: Susan Quinn’s new book about their relationship is on its way to us this fall. We shall see.

But, in the meantime, we can all enjoy Susan Wittig Albert’s novelistic take on the Eleanor and Lorena story. As strictly historical fiction, Loving Eleanor offers much.

Lorena Hickok was America’s best-known female reporter and a mainstay of the Associated Press when she first met Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932, during Franklin Roosevelt’s first Presidential campaign. Hick was immediately drawn to ER who, as we know, co-existed with FDR in a basically loveless marriage. ER dreaded the prospect of becoming First Lady and thus losing the independent life she had already shaped for herself. She and Hick quickly became close friends, and, according to Albert, began an affair in 1933, prior to FDR’s first inauguration.

After that, they struggled to find private time together and often succeeded, though Hick traveled the country doing investigative work for the government, and ER’s public life overflowed with both White House duties and (suggested by Hick) her second career as a daily newspaper columnist. The 3,500 letters they exchanged buoyed Hick’s dream that once FDR was out of office, she and ER would live together permanently.

However, ER’s “busy-ness” would ultimately drive a romantic wedge between them. While both ER and Hick would find other companionship over the years to come, their mutual affection never died, although, as Hick put it, “The person I loved had become a personage.” They would remain devoted friends until their respective deaths in the 1960s.

Albert offers superb first-person narration in Hick’s voice. She includes abundant historical color, along with an excellent “biographical afterword” and bibliography. Whether or not you agree with her basic premise, this swift-moving novel is engrossing and very satisfying. It is highly recommended for all fiction collections.

Cathy Ritchie

Acquisitions/Selection Services

Dallas (TX) Public Library

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