Publication date: March 2019
Review, short version: One rose out of four.
Review, long version:
Who is or was the “American Princess?”
She was a pain in the ass, is who she was.
She was Alice Roosevelt (1884-1980), oldest child of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife Alice.
She’s the focus of Stephanie Marie Thornton’s American Princess.
There were already of number of books about Alice – her memoir Crowded Hours, biographies, and she always appears in Roosevelt family sagas along with her famous father, even more famous cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But, says Thornton in her Author’s Note,
“I was shocked – and more than a little delighted – to discover that no one had novelized Alice’s story.”
So Thornton did, and her book is easy to read, and the history aspect held my interest. It’s written in the first person, so we learn what Alice is thinking as well as what she’s doing. That helps in understanding why she did what she did.
Such as smoking cigarettes in public, riding in cars with men, staying out late partying, keeping a pet snake in the White House named Emily Spinach, and placing bets with a bookie.
That seems silly now, but it was shocking in the early 20th century.
I came to think of her as “Anything-For-Attention Alice.”
And I found her hard to like.
True, she had a rotten start in life. Two days after her birth, in the same house, her mother died of undiagnosed kidney failure. Eleven hours earlier that day, Roosevelt’s mother had also died, of typhoid fever.
Distraught, Roosevelt unloaded Alice on his sister Anne, and headed west, where he spent two years traveling and living on his ranch in North Dakota. Alice was raised by her aunt until Roosevelt remarried in 1886, to Edith Carrow.
Any attention Alice might have been getting from her father and new stepmother was soon divided when Alice’s half-siblings started arriving a year later – and divided even more in 1889, 1891, 1894 and 1897 as babies kept arriving.
Thornton’s Alice says,
“As always, I tried not to let it bother me that all my younger half-siblings were granted whatever pets and toys they set their hearts on, further evidence that I would forever be other when it came to our family.”
So to feel less other – and to get the attention she craved – Alice pushed the behavior boundaries.
And she never stopped.
Theodore Roosevelt became our 26th president in 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley, and Alice thrived on the attention she received from being the “first daughter.” Soon the press – and she was, by choice, in news a lot – began referring to her as our “American Princess.”
Alice says, rather smugly,
“There was no denying that I was the second most popular Roosevelt in the world.”
When Alice’s debut takes place in the White House with 600 of her closest friends, she’s elated – all the attention is on her. Says Alice,
“I’d become the talk of Washington by becoming the most successful, witty, and lively debutante of the season.”
Alice can get rather wearying after awhile.
She is credited with being witty, saying things like, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.” And some (in my opinion) very narcissistic things: “I pray for a fortune. I care for nothing except to amuse myself in a charmingly expensive way.”
And Alice could also be cruel. When her cousin (and Democrat) Franklin was running again for president in 1940, Alice – a Republican, just like Daddy – said publicly, “I’d rather vote for Hitler than vote for Franklin for a third term.”
American Princess is – like Alice’s life – full of high drama, much of it created by Alice.
If you read it, keep this in mind: