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Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt were first cousins and close as sisters with less than a year difference. Eleanor spent summers at the Theodore Roosevelt estate. Teddy loved Eleanor to bits, being much more demonstrable to her than to his own daughter. Alice, who wanted so much to win her father's praise, resented it that Teddy held Eleanor up to her as a role model. But did she resent Eleanor herself? She acted as though she did, but did she down deep? She liked to cause trouble between Eleanor and Franklin, especially about Franklin's attachment to Lucy Mercer. Franklin was entitled to have his fun, because he was married to Eleanor, she said. Eleanor was such a strait-laced, serious minded, do-gooder who would be likeable if she'd only loosen up. That was Alice's expressed opinion of her cousin -- but Alice liked being abrasive and shocking. She didn't want to seem kind and charitable, a do-gooder like Eleanor. She didn't want to like her cousin. After all, they were on opposite political sides and opposites in outlook and temperament. Alice had wanted her brother to be President. Eleanor's "teapot dome mobile" scuppered that. Eleanor had wanted her husband to be faithful to her and serious about issues. FDR was actually a fun-loving, underhanded shocker, like Alice, and, like Alice, he wouldn't resist temptation. Marc Peyser goes under the skin of the relationships between the two cousins, with each other, with each girl's pain of growing up losing one parent in early childhood and living with one parent who didn't seem to appreciate her, with being public figures on opposite sides of the political fence, with being a Roosevelt woman in the first half of the 20th century. His thesis statement is that they were more alike than either would admit, and that, for all the bruising each did to the other - and each knew where the other would feel it most - they were always there for each other when the world bruised them.
The subtitle "the untold story . . ." begs some incredulity, since both Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt have had many biographers, not to mention written their own memoirs, while during their lifetimes both lived in the white heat of publicity for years at a time. Nevertheless it's an apt description, for Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have shed new light on both women in this joint biography which deserves a place on your shelves alongside Joseph P. Lash's Eleanor and Franklin and Edmund Morris's three volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1884, the year Alice and Eleanor Roosevelt were born, their family already ranked among the grandest of American bloodlines. Although they were wealthy and well connected their lives were tinged with sorrow: Alice's mother died shortly after her birth, while Eleanor's father's emotional problems and addictions led to the failure of his marriage and his early death. Our mental images of the two cousins in their childhood and teenage years depict Alice as the beautiful and self-confident Presidential daughter and Eleanor as a rather mousy do-gooder. The real story is more complex: Alice desperately needed her father's approval and resented Eleanor, who sometimes seemed to be closer to Theodore Roosevelt's idea of the perfect daughter. Both married men who seemed set for brilliant political futures and both were disappointed when their husbands proved unfaithful. Eventually both suffered setbacks: Alice's husband losing political power and Eleanor's losing his physical health. Eleanor, of course, helped revive her husband's career and saw him elected President four times, allowing her to make the position of First Lady more powerful than ever before. Alice's husband's death left her free to become the doyenne of the Republican Party and one of the most powerful (though unofficial) political presences in Washington DC for decades, while Eleanor's career soared to new international heights during her own widowhood.
I've read quite a bit about both Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, but I found much that was new and surprising to me in Hissing Cousins. Eleanor wasn't quite the meek little mouse who offered her husband his freedom after discovering his affair with her secretary, and Alice wasn't always waspish and unforgiving. Despite their political differences, the two cousins remained friends and associates throughout their lives. Both had difficulties with their children and grandchildren, both had sometimes ill-advised friendships, and both gained and maintained great political power despite never running for election.
Hissing Cousins is an enjoyable read. Peyser and Dwyer have keen eyes for good anecdotes and enjoy inserting bits of humor here and there, especially in their footnotes. Their research is impeccable but their writing is often informal and almost chatty. That's as it should be, since Alice Longworth was one of the great conversationalists while Eleanor Roosevelt disliked much of the pomp and circumstance that came with her positions.
Very Interesting & Informative book about two Dynamic ladies. Very insightful account of both Alice & Eleanor’s personal lives, and the events that motivated their distances. It’s so sad when 2 Beautiful Women, both talented & gifted in their own ways, could not share and join together to create a noteworthy world! It’s sad to read that personal jealousies and combativeness could get the better many family members, famous or not!
I read this as suggested by my book club and I loved it because I have a degree in History and Eleanor Roosevelt was a personal favorite. The other members of the club were not as thrilled with all the family members introduced in one way or another plus the fact that the families gave the same first name to their offspring so it was a bit confusing keeping the Oyster Bay relatives separate from Hyde Park. I found it fascinating that despite the cruel way Eleanor's mother treated her as a child, and the support of her doting father (whenever he was around) that she developed into the person that championed others and cared deeply about humanity in spite of suffering in her marriage. Alice on the other hand had a similar childhood but concerned herself as she grew up with making certain she took care of herself and made the news cycle.
I just finished reading "Hissing Cousins..." on my Kindle and was sorry to see it end. We women of the 21st century have many reasons to be profoundly grateful to these two women for our female framework. From Eleanor we learned how to deal with pain and to work through it to make the world a better place, and from Alice we learned sniping and snarking at its most virulent and clever. I think all smart women have a bit of each of these women within them, but never have the two aspects of femininity been illustrated in such sharp contract to one another as in these two cousins. This book is a wonderful, gossipy trip into the world of the Roosevelts, and it p provides a view of history not to be missed by those who wish to be well-informed about the evolution of our nation.
This book gives a balanced picture of the two cousins, both women of influence but in very different ways. Although much of the information about Eleanor Roosevelt has been amply covered in other books, her relationship to Alice Longworth has not been covered in other sources. And although Alice lived longer than Eleanor, her story is much less known. That both cousins were married to important political figures of their time, one a president and the other Speaker of the House, is rather amazing, and the fact that Alice was Theodore Roosevelt's daughter and Eleanor Teddy's brother's daughter adds to the saga of the Roosevelt family (both the Hyde Park and the Oyster Bay branches). The book is for the most part well-written, although there is some repetition that might have been better edited. Still, this is an excellent addition to the growing Roosevelt library.