Studded with the real love letters between a young Theodore Roosevelt and Boston beauty Alice Lee—many of them never before published—If a Poem Could Live and Breathe makes vivid what many historians believe to be the pivotal years that made the future president into the man of action that defined his political life, and cemented his legacy.
Cambridge, 1878. The era of the Gilded Age. Alice Lee sets out to break from the norms of her mother’s generation. Women are fighting for educational opportunities and exploring a new sense of intellectual and personal freedom. Native New Yorker, Harvard student Teddy Roosevelt, is on his own journey of discovery, and when they meet, unrelenting currents of love change the trajectory of his life forever.
We start this journey in 1884, the present for Theodore Roosevelt in this story.
We then go back in time to 1878 and meet Alice Lee as she’s eavesdropping on a conversation involving her cousin Richard Saltonstall. The debate is about allowing women to attend Harvard and it’s a bit heated. It’s not until one of the participants mentions old maids that Alice says something. She asks why aren’t there old bachelors? Her cousin Rose interrupts at that point and Richard informs them of the coming arrival of one of his Harvard Mates, Theodore Roosevelt.
From the moment Theodore sees Alice he is smitten. This book will take us from that moment through the ups and downs, illness, engagement and marriage.
I felt as though I was walking those streets, taking tea and even breaking the rules with Teddy and Alice. The letters when they are apart are fun, uplifting and laced with a touch of longing and humor.
I love the way the past comes to life. From the parlors in Massachusetts, to the drawing rooms of New York City, and gardens of Long Island estates we see the families meet and navigate the relationship.
I could feel Alice’s horror at discovering Teddy’s hobby and his dismay at her reaction that causes him to relinquish it. As well as his determination to win her over afterward.
There’s also betrayal from Alice’s mother with regard to her education. A shame since Alice was most opinionated and outspoken.
There’s Teddy’s journey from Harvard to the NY Senate, and on to be President. With all his travels out west during this time highlighted as well.
Mary Calvi has brought this story and the Gilded Age to life for me. While tragic, this is a love story for all time.
5 Contented Purrs for Mary!
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MARY CALVI is a 14-time New York Emmy award-winning journalist. Her second novel, IF A POEM COULD LIVE AND BREATHE: A NOVEL OF TEDDY ROOSEVELT’S FIRST LOVE, is based on love letters from the Gilded Age to and from Roosevelt and his first love, Alice Lee. Many of these letters have never been published and were long believed destroyed. Her in-depth research for her debut book, DEAR GEORGE, DEAR MARY: A NOVEL OF GEORGE WASHINGTON’S FIRST LOVE, is the basis of a Smithsonian Channel documentary.