The Kennedy Women: the saga of an Amerian family
by Laurence Leamer
Joe Kennedy amassed a fortune and John F. Kennedy became president. Aside from these singular events touching their lives, there wasn’t much triumph for the Kennedy women. With the exception of daughter Kathleen, the patriarch was seemingly indifferent to them. In the author’s view, Eunice was a smart woman who was a social worker prior to marrying Sargent Shriver. Patricia and Jean, he deemed shy. Ethel and Joan, as in-laws, are casualties of the Kennedy mystique. Jackie, of course, led a turbulent life until she seemed to find peace with her children and her work. This book was rushed to publication after her death.
General Discussion Questions: Nonfiction/Biography
Use these questions to facilitate a lively discussion. Choose the questions that you think are most appropriate to your group and the book you've read, and feel free to modify them any way you wish.
1. For the person who chose 'his book: What made you want to read it? What made you suggest it to the group for discussion? Did it live up to your expectations? Why or why not?
2. What did you know about the subject prior to reading this book? Did you learn anything new about this person? If you knew of the subject before, did anything you read change your opinion?
3. What is the subject's most admirable quality? Is this someone you would want to know or have known?
4. What did you find to be the most interesting events in this book? What, if anything, surprised you?
5. If this person impacted history, discuss what may have been different without his or her presence.
6. What did you learn about the time period in which the book is set that you did not previously know? Discuss the time period in history that each person in the group enjoys reading about most, and why.
7. Has reading this book inspired you to do further research on the subject and the time period discussed?
8. Compare this book to others your group has read. Is it similar to any of them? Did you like it more or less than other books you've read? What do you think will be your lasting impression of the book as a whole? How about the subject specifically?
9. What did you like or dislike about the book that hasn't been discussed
already? Were you glad you read this book? Would you recommend it to
a friend? Do you want to read more works by this author or more about
the book's subject?
The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family
Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum | Aug 12,1994
Details Writer: Laurence Learner; Genres: Biography, History, Politics and Current Events
According to some reports, a feeble Rose Kennedy, who turned 104 on July 22, is frequently entertained by her attendants with screenings of film footage depicting happy moments — and only happy moments — in the often unhappy history of her extraordinary family. This tenacious attachment to the positive and refusal to countenance the negative may be the secret of long life But as Laurence Learner makes exhaustively clear in The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family, it's also a form of living hell in which the women of this outsize dynasty have been trapped for generations.
Although Learner begins his gossipy genealogy with Joseph Kennedy's grandmother Bridget Murphy, who came to Boston in 1849, the spine of the saga is the rigid backbone of Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, pious Catholic daughter of the first mayor of Boston to be called before a grand jury on charges of corruption. Rose learned how not to see what she didn't want to see from her father — a man who ruled her life until she married Joseph Patrick Kennedy in 1914, whereupon Kennedy then and for the rest of his life assumed that imperious position. "He lived in a world where women served him," the author writes, "and in doing so, appeared to fulfill their own destinies." Rose in turn passed this harsh education in piety, stoicism, and appearances onto her daughters and daughters-in-law: No matter how much it broke their hearts and damaged their self-esteem, they stuck around as their men erred, strayed, swaggered, or fell.
Kennedy by Kennedy, Learner (who has also produced biographies of Johnny Carson, Ingrid Bergman, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan) catalogs casualties of feminine body and spirit: Rosemary, Rose's oldest daughter, mentally retarded and hidden away from the family after a botched lobotomy (at age 75 she lives, as she has since 1949, cared for by nuns in Wisconsin); Kathleen, the most defiant and popular of the sisters, who died in a plane crash in 1944, flying off for an adulterous weekend, Eunice and Pat and Jean, plus daughters-in-law Jackie and Ethel and Joan, all of them (except Eunice, the most politically minded of them, with the strongest marriage) trained as Kennedys to put up with the philandering of their husbands, all of them prepared to smile for the camera. "[Eunice] saw that to [Jack] sex was both a diversion, his chosen opiate, and an assertion of life," Learner writes in his goopy style that owes more of its flavoring to women's-magazine celebrity profiles than to rigorous biography "Jean had put up with her
Obviously, we live in a much different time than when the Kennedy's were at the peak of their power. Where today the media is anxious to break any story detailing the sordid exploits of any politician, over forty years ago they would help cover up the various scandals of the Kennedy family, including relationships with organized crime and all of The Kennedy Men's extremely active extramarital sexual lives. Would you care to comment on the change in the media's attitude towards politicians?
No people in the world have ever had the freedom that we have as Americans, and most of us don't even realize it. During the three decades that I have been writing, that liberty has dramatically expanded, and we know things about our leaders that were once known only to an elite few. I think it's healthy and good. In the end we'll redefine what human greatness is all about, and we'll realize that human greatness walks past us every day, if only we could recognize it.
This book caused me to re-evaluate any preconceptions that I might have had about The Kennedy Men. Yet, you manage to strip away the gloss that has been building up over the Kennedy family for nearly a century and present it in a completely unbiased way, hiding nothing, including the almost Machiavellian struggle of the Kennedys to attain and keep power. Do you think that this book might change the way that Americans view the Kennedy family?
I hope so. I have tried so very hard to present them and their lives in all their fullness, neither pandering to fantasies of what might have been, nor savaging them, kicking at their legacy to prove my superiority.
One of the strengths of your book is its compelling narrative style; it reads as much like a novel as a history book. Could you tell us some of your own literary influences (in either fiction or non-fiction) and what you are reading now?
I studied history as an undergraduate and in some of my three years of graduate school too, but I was never comfortable with pallid academic history that had a musty smell to it, and the taste only of other books and other historians. And for the life of me 1 did not understand how historians wrote books without interviewing people who were still alive and who knew their subject. I didn't want that kind of life. I got into journalism in the late sixties, a time when much of the most exciting writing was taking place in magazines. People waited anxiously for their copy of Harper's or Esquire. It was the beginning of the expansion of liberty that I've been talking about. Where once young writers went to John Dos Passos or John Steinbeck to learn what their time was all about, we went to Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer. I wanted, oh how I wanted, to join these writers in breaking through the barricades. I had a fascinating journey. T worked in a coal mine in West Virginia and wrote about that. I covered the war in Bangladesh. I did all kinds of things though I was at the end of this age. There's no magazine in America left that has that excitement of my early years in journalism. Article after article is written in this arrogant, dismissively ironic style that conveys primarily the writer's superiority to his subject. There's still great writing, great ideas, only you have to seek it out now, and they pop up unexpectedly even sometimes in the daily newspaper That period of superb magazine journalism is gone, but I think many writers have used this expanded liberty to full advantage. In The Kennedy Men, I have purposefully gone beyond the way most academic historians would write about this material. I wrote it as if it was all happening again, and it terribly mattered. I was angry at Joseph P. Kennedy's anti-Semitism, deeply admiring of Joseph Kennedy, Jr.'s, heroism
in World War II. I can't tell you how upset 1 was when I discovered that President Kennedy had ordered up napalm on a mission flown by American CIA pilots at the Bay of Pigs that killed up to 1,800 Cubans.
The novel I've read recently that impressed me the most was Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. It's a great political novel and deserves to be on the same shelf with Robert Perm Warren's All the Kings Men and H. L. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel. I've also just read the first volume of Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler. What struck me the most was realizing that in Germany, the center was gone: the shrill voices of the far left and the far right had taken over. Even if Hitler had lost, some other dark authoritarian solution would have arisen. Right now I'm in that small exclusive group reading David McCullough's John Adams. It's a wonderful book, but it would be wrong to look back at the founding fathers and think there was greatness then that is missing now. There was some of it in John F. Kennedy, and he was a man of such intellectual honesty that he would have understood his shortcomings as much as anyone. And it's in us too, and in our children and grandchildren.
Jackie Ethel Joan: Women of Camelot-by J. Randy Taraborrelli
Growing up in a Catholic household in New England, the Kennedys were considered kings. Not just rich royalty but religious, correct, large-familied, Yankee-ingenuity royally.! feel like I've read and heard every possible story I ever could about the family.
Now comes JACKIE, ETHEL, JOAN: Women ofCamelotby J. Randy Taraborreli, concentrating only on these three strong, courageous, and ultimately disgraced women who suffered the slings and arrows of clutching to the arms of political stars in the American political firmament. I learned a few things I never knew before, but there's little here that any even random follower of Kennedy myth and legend would know.
Joan Kennedy, ex-wife of Senator Ted, is the woman whom we learn the most about in this book, since she never suffered the martyred widowhood that her sisters-in-law did. Joan, the daughter of successful but alcoholic parents, became known as the Kennedy family's conscience, Her keen eye to family issues was not so clear when it turned upon her own life. Unable to reconcile herself to Ted's inability to remain faithful to her, Joan turned to the alcoholism that was her personal family heritage. With the help of Jackie, she was able to overcome her addiction to drink as well as her failed marriage, turning her life completely around in the process.
The other thing 1 did not realize was how close these women became, serving as sisters under the dual auspices of political wives as well as the women who suffered at the hands of their husbands' philandering and family hardball. Each of them worked hard on their husbands' campaigns (often pregnant with the ever-growing Kennedy family population) and all of them rallied around the others at times of crisis, such as JKF's dangerous affair with Marilyn Monroe and Ted's unfortunate "accident" at Chappaquiddick, at which point Joan was designated as the person to relay the family's condolences to Mary Jo Kopechne's family.
This is an interesting psychological study of forced sisterhood, of the intelligent women behind the powerful men, of a family whose legend threatens to outweigh the individual achievements of its members.
JACKIE, ETHEL, JOAN is a good summer read, so get a copy before Memorial Day and have it ready for your next vacation.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on October 1, 2000
Rose Kennedy No Time for Tears C.B. Church/Published 1976
Rose : The Life and Times of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Charles Higham / Mass Market Paperback / Published 1996
Rose Kennedy and Her Family : The Best and "Worst of Their Lives and Times Barbara Gibson, Ted Schwarz / Hardcover / Published 1995
Rose Kennedy and Her Family : The Best and Worst of Their Lives and Times Barbara Gibson, Ted Schwarz / Paperback / Published 1998
As We Remember Her : Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the Words of Her Family and Friends Carl Sferrazza Anthony / Hardcover / Published 1997
Jackie Kennedy Onassis Corley-Anderson, Catherine Corley Anderson / Paperback / Published 1996
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Ellen Ladowsky / Paperback / Published 1997
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis : A Portrait of Her Private Years Lester David / Mass Market Paperback / Published 1995
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis : The Making of a First Lady : A Tribute Jacques Lowe / Hardcover / Published 1996
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis : Woman of Courage (Achievers) Catherine Corley Anderson / Library Binding / Published 1995
A Thousand Days of Magic : Dressing Jackie Kennedy for the White House Oleg Cassini / Hardcover / Published 1995
The Uncommon Wisdom of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis : A Portrait in Her Own Words Bill Adler (Editor) / Hardcover / Published 1994
A Woman Named Jackie : An Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassi s C. David Heymann, C. David Heyman / Hardcover & Paperback / Published 1994
Jacqueline Kennedy a Woman for the World Robert T. Harding, A.L. Holmes / Published 1970
OTHER KENNEDY WOMEN
The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family Laurence Learner / Paperback / Published 1996
The Other Mrs. Kennedy (Ethel)
Jerry Oppenheimer / Mass Market Paperback / Published 1995
The Kennedy women; a personal appraisal PearlS. Buck
The World of the Kennedy Women; profiles in grace and courage Lois Daniel
J.C.Suares & J.Spencer Beck /1994
The Joan Kennedy Story : Living With the Kennedys Marcia Chellis / Published 1986
Joan — The Reluctant Kennedy: A Biographical Profile Lester. David / Published 1976
Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times McTaggar / Published 1984
Kennedy Wives, Kennedy Women Nancy Gager / Dell /1976 / Paperback