Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lucy, by Ellen Feldman

Reviewed by Brittany Mangus

I don't really remember how I stumbled upon this book, but I'm glad I read it. This is a biographical fiction novel about FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lucy Mercer Rutherford (Eleanor's personal social secretary and FDR's mistress).

It's written in the first person, from Lucy's (rose-colored) point of view. It takes place from 1914-1945, focusing mostly on the time period (1914-1918) when FDR met Lucy, which was before FDR was stricken with polio.

As a fan of similar period novels (The Age of Innocence, The Buccaneers, Ethan Frome, etc.) I was fascinated by this book; the characters exude the New England Victorian culture and Lucy mentions the strict social rules of the era. (For example, a patrician woman must never occupy a man's newly-vacated chair, for fear that his body heat may still be felt.) This book even weaves in some newly-discovered and very interesting information about FDR and another mistress, Missy LeHand.

I have read other biographies about former presidents so it was especially fun to read this "sort-of" biography in the form of a fictional novel. What was very interesting to me was how each chapter began with one or two actual quotes from people who knew FDR, Eleanor and Lucy. Often, they contradicted each other, which added a human element to the story.

FDR first met Lucy Mercer around 1914 when she was working in their home as Eleanor's social secretary. A not-so-secret romance blossomed. The affair was well-known to everyone in their social circle... everyone except shy, reserved, and repressed Eleanor.

However, in the fall of 1918, Eleanor discovered love letters from Lucy to her husband in his suitcase. Historians and this author agree that "the Lucy Mercer affair" was the catalyst that defined the great leaders who FDR and Eleanor herself would one day become. At the time, Eleanor forbade FDR from seeing Lucy ever again. Lucy, however secretly came back into the President's life near the end of it (the Secret Service gave her a code name "Mrs. Paul Johnson"), and was with him on the very day he died in Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945. What was not known until very recently was exactly when she re-entered his life. They now believe that it was much sooner than earlier thought.

It was interesting to compare the choices made by the women who loved FDR. Lucy married Winthrop Rutherford (a man 29 years her senior), whereas Missy never married and devoted her life to FDR. Daisy Suckley likewise never married and shared a similar expectation (with Lucy and Missy) that she would someday "retire" with FDR once his 4th term in office was over. Eleanor chose to remain married to FDR, despite accounts that she "did not act like a wife." (In fact, she frequently lived separately from him.)

There are many more secrets and interesting personality quirks and flaws that I will leave for you to discover. It is a fascinating novel about fascinating people- I recommend it!

"Lucy: A President, A Marriage, A Love Affair" By Ellen Feldman
Even though this book is about an affair, true to Lucy's patrician nature, there are no "details."
Biographical Fiction/Historical Fiction
304 pages
Published by WW Norton & Co. (2004)


Tristi Pinkston said...

I know everyone has their skeletons to hide in closets, but this one sort of makes me sad. Not FDR!! :)

Brittany said...

Maybe it's the three-initial thing. JFK, FDR... they both had their mistresses! :p

While reading "Lucy", I also read a non-fiction book called "Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford and the other remarkable women in his life" by Joseph Persico.

It was a nice companion book to "Lucy" and fleshed out other parts of the story for me. I recommend both. Yeah, you see FDR, warts and all, but I feel like I understand him a little bit better.

Anonymous said...

I found a Wonderful site on Isaiah!
The site has free lessons on every chapter.
Very well done and in the author’s own voice.
Every Isaiah Chapter has the Analytical Commentary of Isaiah. Enjoy this personable verse-by-verse commentary of Isaiah by well-known Hebrew scholar Avraham Gileadi.

“Dr. Gileadi is the only LDS scholar I know of who is thoroughly competent to teach the words of Isaiah”—Professor Hugh Nibley, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. (1. 6. 2003)

“It is my testimony that this man has been brought forward and trained at this time to help those inside the Church into Isaiah, and those outside the Church, Jew and Gentile, through Isaiah into the Church” —Arthur Henry King, author, former BYU professor and London
Temple President.

“Dr. Gileadi has achieved a major breakthrough in the investigation of a book of such complexity and importance as the Book of Isaiah”—Professor David Noel Freedman, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“Dr. Gileadi’s work will render obsolete almost all the speculations of Isaiah scholars over the last one hundred years . . . enabling scholarship to proceed along an entirely new line . . . opening new avenues of approach for others to follow”—Professor Roland K. Harrison, Wycliffe College, Toronto, Canada.

“Only one who is truly at home not only with the Hebrew but with the ancient manner of biblical thought could have produced such an insightful and ground-breaking book”—Professor S. Douglas Waterhouse, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

“Avraham Gileadi’s unsealing of the Book of Isaiah will forever change people’s
understanding of Judeo-Christian religion, lifting it to heights hitherto known only to prophets and saints”—Arie Noot, corporate executive, Edmond, Oklahoma.

“Isaiah Decoded is a huge breakthrough for the seeker of truth—Jew, Christian, Moslem, and agnostic. From an ancient writing, Gileadi has brought to light eternal truths about the nature of God and our relationship to him that have lain buried for centuries in the dust of time”—Guy Wins, fifth-generation Jewish diamond dealer from Antwerp, Belgium.

“Gileadi is the only scholar I know who has been able to express the Jewish expectation of the Messiah in relation to the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth”—Daniel Rona, Israeli tour guide, Jerusalem, Israel.

“Dr. Gileadi has clearly demonstrated his mastery of the Book of Isaiah and of the scholarly literature dealing with it”—Professor Ronald Youngblood, Bethel Theological Seminary, San Diego, California.

“Avraham Gileadi’s books and tapes take the casual observer of Isaiah’s words and transform him into an enlightened and lifelong student of the Word of God”—Allan and Nancy Pratt, LDS mission president, Toulouse, France.

“Dr. Gileadi has awakened a whole new depth of my understanding of Isaiah’s prophetic message. His books and tapes illuminate the urgent relevance of Isaiah’s writings to our own day”—Becky Douglas, supervisor and sponsor of three orphanages in India, Atlanta, Georgia.

“Dr. Gileadi’s translation [of the Book of Isaiah] is clear and smooth, allowing the reader to appreciate the power and beauty of Isaiah as conveyed in the Hebrew original”—Professor Herbert M. Wolf, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

“Gileadi has uncovered an amazing message written in a divine code by the prophet–poet Isaiah. This will give comfort, hope, and joy to masses of people as they cope with the perplexing events now unfolding before their eyes”—Fenton Tobler, thirty years elementary school principle, Las Vegas, Nevada.