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Review: Franklin & Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley

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I don’t know quite where to start this post.  Even though this book was incredibly enjoyable and highly uplifting, I’ve avoided writing anything about it because it was so darned good and I fear that anything I have to say about it is going to do it little justice.  But as Franklin Roosevelt himself said: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’   My fear is off to the kitchen to make me a cup of tea so while it’s away, here goes.

I’m Australian and American history is not taught here in schools though it does occur at some universities.  When I was at university, I chose British politics and Middle Eastern politics to study so I know zip about American history.  I’d heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States in the 1940s or thereabouts, but only in the context of his visit to Australia during the war and that was about it.

But over the last few years, I’ve become greatly interested in American political history and the cause is rather an unusual one.  A few years ago I read a brilliant biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, the English feminist, educator and thinker of the late eighteenth century.  The biography was by Lyndall Gordon, called Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft, a passionate and highly-researched account of Wollstonecraft’s life.

In her book, Gordon outlines how Mary in her early twenties started a school in the North London suburb of Newington Green.  It was the 1780s and Mary’s neighbours were dissenters and radicals, most notably the preacher Dr Richard Price, a radical intellectual and supporter of the American War of Independence who was to have a significant influence on Mary’s thought.  His published pamphlets on Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty and Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution were highly influential, the last being written for American revolutionary leaders such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin (an old friend of Price), John Adams and others.  Through her exposure to Price and his ideas, Wollstonecraft was able to develop her own ideas on education for children and women’s rights.

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