group discussion schedule:
All discussions will be held over Zoom and can be accessed through the links below.
Thought Prompts to consider while reading:
Week 1: Pages 1-89
Pg. 49: “Hick...learned early in life “never to expect love or affection from anyone.” In what ways, if any, does Hick’s perspective resonate with you?
Pg. 72: “I still lived under the compulsion of my early training...I looked at everything from the point of view of what I ought to do, rarely...what I wanted to do.” Does Eleanor’s statement feel pertinent to you? Why or why not?
Pg. 73 “Homosexuality was viewed in the wider world as both shocking and criminal. But among Eleanor’s political friends, such lifetime liaisons were common.” Was the author’s insight surprising to you?
Pg. 84 “FDR rather poignantly urged Anna to go slow with ending her marriage, telling her that many people who were in love saw each other rarely and “got on very well in the end without love.” What do you think about FDR’s statement?
Week 2: Pages 89-177
Pg. 119: “What wouldn’t I give to talk to you and hear you now, oh, dear one, it is all the little things, tones in your voice, the feel of your hair, gestures, these are the things I think about and long for”- Eleanor. The relationship between Eleanor and Hick becomes progressively more effusive and affectionate over time. What is your assessment of their relationship to this point?
Pg 150: “Yet something had shifted, away from the initial intimacy toward a deep friendship at a lower temperature. Hick was going to have to accept being “one grand person” - not the one and only.” What do you think about Eleanor’s treatment of Hick? What do you think about Hick’s response?
Pg 159: “None of these women used the word “lesbian,” but those in their circle. including Eleanor, understood that they were lovers and partners for life. In the Village, they could live without constant fear of disapproval. Eleanor seemingly had many LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues in her life. Is this surprising to you? What do you think about the social dynamics of “the Village”?
Week 3: Pages 177-273
Pg. 189: “When Eleanor told her friends that she refused to “live a life based on illusion,” she was referring in particular to her relationship with Nan and Marion. But it could have described her feelings about her life in general. She was no longer willing to go along with Hick’s fantasies…” What do you think caused this change of heart? Does it strike you as disingenuous, ironic, cruel, or something else entirely?
Pg. 227: “...on this occasion, at least, she was a better politician than her husband.” Which of Eleanor’s political endeavors have been most impressive to you so far? Would you argue she was “a better politician than her husband”?
P.g 234: “When Eleanor arrived at the 1940 Democratic convention to make her historic speech, the New York times spent two whole paragraphs on what she was wearing.” In what ways do you think Eleanor’s public and personal life would be different today? In what ways would it be the same?
Pg. 252: “Underlying Eleanor’s unhappiness was the realization that Churchhill and FDR were engaged in an elaborate courtship that excluded her and everyone else.” Do you think Eleanor felt more rejected on a personal or professional level? Do you think there was a line between the personal and professional for the Roosevelts?
Week 4: Pages 273-358
Pg 277: “...the head usher, informed Hick that she was “the sole occupant of the White House tonight- with forty-seven men to guard you.” Even after Hick’s relationship with Eleanor cooled and she began seeing another woman, Hick lived at the White House for years. Why do you think she stayed? What do you think of FDR’s lack of concern/attention towards Hick and Eleanor’s relationship over the years?
Pg 286: “Eleanor seems to have preferred...three-way attachments, where she could love without being expected to risk all of herself, to unlock that something that was “locked up inside.” Throughout their lives, FDR, Eleanor and Hick were involved in multiple “love triangles”. What do you think about the author’s insight that Eleanor preferred to love without risking all of herself? Do you fear the cost of risk in a relationship or in other areas of your life?
Pg 297: “Eleanor had a knack for keeping painful realities at bay until she could deny them no longer.” Thematically we see denial, in both personal and professional matters, as a near constant struggle for the Roosevelts. To what degree do you think their denial could be attributed to social pressures? To what degree could it be attributed to the Roosevelt’s personalities?
Pg 303: “Harry,” she told him when he first arrived, “the President is dead.” Truman...asked Eleanor if there was anything he could do for her. Her reply was characteristic: “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.” What do you think about Eleanor’s response to FDR’s death?
Pg 308: “For the first time in my life,” she told reporters, “I can say what I want. For your information, it is wonderful to be feel free.” Then [Eleanor] asked that this remark be kept off the record.” In your opinion, did Eleanor evolve over the years or did she still see “everything from the point of view of what I ought to do, rarely...what I wanted to do”? Did Hick live a more “authentic” life? Do you fear or have you feared not being able to live authentically yourself?