Biographics -- a bumper crop; Edith Kermit Roosevelt; Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady, By Sylvia Jukes Morris: Coward , McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. $16.95.
Edith Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt's second wife, avoided the limelight, destroyed much of her own correspondence, and aksed friends to do the same with her letters. "One hates," she said, "to feel that all one's life is public property."
Edith's desire for privacy, however, has not thwarted Sylvia Morris, for she has used all the available sources at her command to create a convincing portrait of this private person. She has accomplished more she has kept Edith's scene-stealing husband a part of the surroundings. As a result, this biography represents craftmanship of the highest order.
Shy and bookish, Edith Carow grew up in New York City with the children of Theodore Roosevelt sr. From early on, she took a fancy to "Teedie"; they became inseparable. The relationship prevailed through the first two years of college, only to end abruptly in the summer of 1878. In the fall of that year, Theodore met Alice Hathaway Lee, and after his graduation from Harvard they were married. It is the first of the many disappointments and sorrows that touched the life of Edith Carow.
Three years after losing his first wife in childbirth, Teddy again began seeing Edith regularly and discreetly. They were married in December of 1886.
for Edith it meant significant adjusments, because Teddy was a man with a zest for life that made him somewhat insentive to the responsibilities of being a husband and father.
In time, surrounded by four energetic sons and a daughter, plus her stepdaughter Alice, her life was devoted to containing her family's competitiveness and exuberance. Edith's command post was Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt home overlooking Long Island Sound. When TR's political career so dictated, she skillfully shifted to New York, Albany, or Washington.
The White House years were her finest. The most delightful part of it all was that the presidency kept Theodore at home much of the time. Edith cherished every minute of it. She tastefully redecorated the White House; more important, she turnes it into a real home. The elite came to "their" White House, because Edith made certain that the nation knew that the Roosevelts, for all their wild antics, were a family of culture and refinement.
The years after they left Washington were Edith's most difficult. There was the loneliness, when Theodore was hunting in Africa or exploring in South America. There was the strain of World War I, when her sons entered military service, and Quentin, the youngest lost his life.
The later years, the years of her widowhood, brought a quiet to Sagamore Hill that Edith found unbearable. She took refuge in travel -- to Europe, South America, Africa, the Orient, around the world, anywhere in order to forget. The loss of two more sons during World War II was he final blow to her courage. Things had not turned out quite the way she had hoped. Only her first love had lived up to her expectations.
Sylvia Morris's portrayal is perceptive and sensitive.