Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Monarch
Barbara A. Perry
Category: Nonfiction: Biography
Synopsis: Perry presents the life of the matriarch of the Joseph P. Kennedy family.
Date finished: 22 November 2013
I didn’t grow up in the Kennedy era. The golden lights of Camelot had long dimmed by the time I was aware of politics and power. What I knew about the Kennedys came from a TV special I watched several years ago and a book here or there. With the dozens of books being printed this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, I settled on this one to read. I’m always more interested in the woman’s role in a family and history than the man’s.
I wasn’t disappointed with the biography. It was comprehensive, covering Rose Kennedy’s life from her birth in 1890, through her Victorian coming-of-age through the 1910s-1950s when she gave birth to and raised nine children; to the years as a president’s mother; the years of grief following the assassination of two of her children and the tragic deaths of two more, and one daughter’s mind lost to a botched lobotomy; to the years of caring for her husband after his stroke; and into her later years filled with grandchildren. Through it all she traveled widely, kept close to her Catholic faith, and watched her family raise in prominence and importance—and occasionally fall in scandal.
As with any biography, you don’t know how true the story you’re reading is, but then, Rose was a chronic re-imaginer of family history. It seems that her own autobiography would be no more accurate. Perry seemed heavy-handed in her depiction of a woman who traveled to escape her family. While I tended to agree with her assessment that Rose didn’t so much raise her children as oversee the raising of her children, if you had nine children and millions of dollars, would you not take a Riviera escape now and then? It’s what women in that situation did.
Still, her insistence that she raised her children and that’s why they became so influential and created American history, is something I attribute to her reimagining tendencies. Her children were sent away to boarding schools at young ages (Teddy was only seven). And her sons began political careers almost immediately upon graduation from their Ivy League educations. I’d argue that money had a fair amount to do with their influence and power. I think Rose was too out of touch with how the average family lived to understand this. She talks about knowing they had money because as time when by she had bigger houses and more maids and more expensive fur coats. (page 57)
I had always hoped that the Kennedy clan was more noble than the scandals they brought upon themselves. Joe Sr., JFK, and Teddy were all philanderers. Kathleen (Kick) died in a plane crash with her married lover. Joe Jr., too, was seeing a married woman. Rose never publically (or privately, it would seem) acknowledged Joe’s infidelity. She would never divorce him due to her Catholic faith (and one would guess, reliance on the standard of living under Joe’s roof), she seemed to settle for jewels and furs and expensive clothes and extravagant vacations as retribution. Acknowledging his unfaithfulness would put a crack in the foundation of the empire, and that was something Rose would not allow.
Other areas colored by Perry:
It cracked me up to see Ted Kennedy portrayed as a political moderate. Good heavens, that tells you about Perry’s political ignorance or prejudices.
It’s presented that Jackie remarried only for Ari Onassis’s money, that the Kennedy fortune wasn’t enough for her. I have no facts to back up my assertion other than the information that Jackie ended up with only $26 million after Onassis’s death, and that she had to fight his daughter (and sole heir) for it in court. JFK was said to be worth $100 million at one point. Twenty-six million is a drop in the bucket, frankly.
Perry spent a long time conjecturing over which of Rose’s medicines may have caused which side effects in her life, and that bored me. Need we go that far?
Although Jack was quoted as saying his success, and that of his brothers and sisters, was due to his father, not his mother (page 312), there is no doubt that Rose raised a president, three senators, a congressman, an attorney general, two World War II military heroes, an ambassador, and two Presidential Medal of Freedom winners. And no matter her part in that, it is a phenomenal legacy.
Would you recommend this to a friend?Yes, I think so.
You might also enjoy:Mrs. Kennedy and Me