Two audiobooks have been released this year about the 30+ year relationship between former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickok. The relationship began as a romance and mellowed into a sustaining, supportive friendship.
Volumes have been written by and about Eleanor and to a more limited extent, you can find writings by and about Hick. Every nook and cranny of Eleanor’s life poured over by historians, journalists, critics, and politicians. Happily, however, these two books contribute to a more complete view of the women behind the personages. I’m miles behind folks, though, since I have only just now got my hot little hands on a copy of Empty Without You, a collection of the letters, annotated by Rodger Streitmatter. I recommend listening to Loving Eleanor and Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady. It isn’t necessary to start with one over the other, though. Enjoy!
Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert is told with through the framework of a fictional memoir written by Hick and left with the voluminous correspondence she shared with Eleanor (known to her, fondly, as Madam, ER, and Eleanor). The letters were donated to the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, with the provision that they remain sealed until ten years after Hick’s death. Albert, known for The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter and mystery series, draws from extensive research to pen a vivid story surrounding the the two women’s romance and friendship. Albert includes information at the end of the story for readers who want to find out more. She also clarifies which parts of the novel are creative license. These additions reflect important truths that were hidden away or reinterpreted by persons who found the letters unpalatable. Albert highlights Doris Faber’s 1980 biography of Hick, which demeans its subject; a result, Albert writes, of Faber’s disapproval and disgust with the relationship revealed by the letters. The novel spans four decades, covering the women’s first meeting prior to FDR’s term as Governor of New York until Hick’s death in 1968. It’s an engrossing read. Told through Hick’s eyes, it takes on an especially personal, candid tone.
Karen White narrates this story with a wonderfully straight forward style suited to the personality of it’s primary voice. Lorena eschewed jewelry for suits; built a successful career as a journalist; and relished solitude, a stark contrast to the life she lived while active and as part of Eleanor’s life. Skilled narrators resist exaggerated imitations of real persons. Eleanor Roosevelt has a very distinctive voice. White’s performance of ER reflects the cadence produced by a patrician upbringing. I enjoyed the depth of her delivery, as the emotional weight of ER’s experiences, hopes, and passions, pour through the speakers.
You can learn more about the authors, narrators, and where to purchase a copy of these audiobooks via the links below.
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Eleanor and Hick is a sympathetic, well-researched exploration of the relationship between the two women. While not all readers will agree on the weight or interpretation of the materials sources, the book will definitely inspire spirited conversation.Author Susan Quinn delves into primary source material and other resources from collections housed at the FDR Library, the Library of Congress, and universities, in order to present a balanced, informed, and contextual look at the women’s lives together and as individuals.
Narrator Kimberly Farr delivers a solid performance. Her frank tone, with upticks of emotion for direct quotes, draws out the public and private personas of Eleanor and Hick.
Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady
Author: Susan Quinn
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Produced by Penguin Audio
Length: 13 hours, 44 minutes
Release date: September 27, 2016
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Rodger Streitmatter curated and annotated a collection of letters Hick and Eleanor wrote to each other. He provides important context and discussion of their relationship. Prior to her death in 1968, Hick donated thousands of these letters to the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, with the directive to keep them sealed until ten years after her passing. When the cache became available to researchers, some were dismayed and unsettled by what they discovered. One of Hick’s biographers, Doris Faber, produced a less than favorable book after she read them, according to the author’s note at the end of Loving Eleanor. I’ve just picked up a copy for my own library and look forward to reading them.
Empty Without You
Editor: Rodger Streitmatter
Published by Free Press
Originally published in 1998
Hardcover, paperback, and ebook copies are available. Don’t forget to check with your local public library for availability.