Archive for July 31st, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

To read of Eleanor and Franklin is to weep at what we have lost. Gone is the ancient American sense that whatever is wrong with human society can be put right by human action. Eleanor never stopped believing this. A simple faith, no doubt simplistic – but it gave her a stoic serenity. On the funeral train from Georgia to Washington: “I lay in my berth all night with the window shade up, looking out at the countryside he had loved and watching the faces of the people at stations, and even at the crossroads, who came to pay their last tribute all through the night. The only recollection I clearly have is thinking about ‘The Lonesome Train,’ the musical poem about Lincoln’s death. (‘A lonesome train on a lonesome track/Seven coaches painted black/A slow train, a quiet train/Carrying Lincoln home again…’). I had always liked it so well – and now this was so much like it.”

I had other thoughts in 1962 at Hyde Park as I stood alongside the thirty-third, the thirty-fourth, the thirty-fifth, and the thirty-sixth Presidents of the United States, not to mention all the remaining figures of the Roosevelt era who had assembled for her funeral (unlike the golden figures in Proust’s last chapter, they all looked if not smaller than life smaller than legend – so many shrunken March of Time dolls soon to be put away). Whether or not one thought of Eleanor Roosevelt as a world ombudsman or as a chronic explainer or as a scourge of the selfish, she was like no one else in her usefulness. As the box containing her went past me, I thought, well, that’s that. We’re really on our own now.

The above are the last 2 paragraphs of Gore Vidal’s November 18, 1971 essay “Eleanor Roosevelt”. NY Review of Books.