Monday, October 10, 2016

Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert, a novel of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok

Biographers are taking a new look at the women closest to FDR during his four-term presidency. Susan Quinn’s Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady was published by The Penguin Press in late September, while journalist Kathryn Smith’s The Gatekeeper, published by Touchstone three weeks earlier, surveys the life and influence of Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, FDR’s loyal chief of staff, and the first woman in that role.

Historical fiction readers have the opportunity to view these trailblazing women through the lens of fiction. Susan Wittig Albert’s Loving Eleanor, which beat the two biographies to press by over six months, is an engrossing novel about the same determined women covered in Quinn’s work   Lorena Hickok broke the glass ceiling as the first female reporter for the Associated Press, and in Albert’s novel, “Hick” narrates the story of how her career and life were deeply affected by her three-decades-long relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

The two first meet in 1928, during the early days of Eleanor’s role as wife to New York’s new governor. Hick finds herself disarmed by the vulnerability she doesn’t expect to see in a political figure. Eleanor and FDR have a long-term partnership, and share several children and a grandchild, but they move in separate circles. When Hick is assigned to cover Eleanor during FDR’s first presidential campaign in 1932, the attraction between Hick and the woman she nicknames “Madam” develops into a passionate affair, which has its ups and downs but finally settles into a loving friendship.

The narrative engagingly depicts how Hick encourages Eleanor to show her private side to the world by holding press conferences of her own and penning her “My Day” newspaper column – and how their relationship changes as Eleanor’s travel and other responsibilities become more demanding, and as her fame grows. It’s moving to see a woman as capable as Eleanor Roosevelt find her public voice at last, but just as affecting are many scenes involving Hick on her own. She’s obliged to quit her journalism career and leave Eleanor’s side (and the White House bedroom she’s occupied for years) in the name of damage control. Their affair attracts unwanted attention, and FDR’s reputation must be protected.

As an investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Hick travels to regions of incredible hardship, including West Virginia’s economically depressed coal country. In her new role, which is both more challenging and rewarding than she expects, she enables the voices of America’s overlooked citizens be heard by those in power.

For insight into the two women's daily lives and emotional connection, Loving Eleanor is well worth the read.

Loving Eleanor was published in February by Persevero Press ($14.99 pb, $5.99 Kindle, 306pp). I’m grateful for the opportunity to have read it via NetGalley.


  1. I did not know anything about Eleanor Roosevelt before I read this book. This gave me an insight into not just the history of two women but also an insight into American history.

    1. That was true for me also. Very little about women's history was taught when I was in school. I had heard of Eleanor Roosevelt before but knew little about her personal life, and knew nothing about Lorena Hickok before starting this book.