Monday, January 17, 2011

Franklin and Eleanor

It's been a long time since I read a biography. When I stopped in at Prairie Lights Books earlier this month, Hazel Rowley's new book, Franklin and Eleanor: an extraordinary marriage (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) was on display, so I picked it up.

Two aspects of biographies fascinate me. We usually see many excerpts from letters exchanged throughout the person's lifetime, and letters such as those do seem to be something long gone. So I feel transported to another time and place (a good thing). Also, the number of pages the biographer takes to relate certain parts of the life story varies wildly. In this book, the account of Franklin's boarding school days and subsequent courtship with Eleanor takes up a goodly portion of the long opening chapter, but the birth of their first four children (in roughly five years' time) requires only eight pages.

Reading biographies helps to take us, as readers, out from underneath those parts of our own stories that rear up and lead to obsession over unmet goals, unresolved relationships, or past times that now look much different than they actually were. It's helpful to read that Franklin and Eleanor, each in their own ways, struggled with such similar family and vocational (or career) issues as those of us who are -- thankfully -- just ordinary people moving through Ordinary Time.


Blogger Castanea_d said...

I agree about reading biographies, and the benefits thereof for the reader. In fiction, everything tends to work out more tidily than in real life. In biography, there are always some messy loose ends, and often some things that go badly awry.

When the subject is a political figure, it is easy to point fingers and say "See that? What a horrible person!" I think for example of Thomas Jefferson. His recent biographers have tended to emphasize his sexual relations with one of his slaves.

If one starts thinking "What a horrible person," one must immediately add "Just like me." And it is in this that we find hope: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

But biographies also show us how people have, in spite of their imperfections, been magnificent in what they have done with the time allotted to them - such as, for example, Franklin and Eleanor.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Trees of the Field said...

I was surprised but happy to see you reading a biography. Just as I rarely read fiction, you rarely read non-fiction! Yet both are necessary to a healthy reading life. In different ways they take us out of ourselves to see life through the eyes of others. That cannot but help us deal with people, whether in Ordinary Time or not.

12:54 PM  

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