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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis... Obviously Dapper and Dreamy

Jackie O as an editor in the late
It's a wonder that I haven't written about Jackie before, but she seems like such an obvious choice, don't you think?  In fact, that's one of the reasons I haven't touched on the subject yet.

In some circles, it's supposed to be a sign of intelligence to look askance at people like Jackie Kennedy.  There were more than a few who decried her well-known qualities and acumen in the wake of the recent publication of her conversations with famed historian and Kennedy Administration official, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.  I, for one, still think that JBKO was tops, I even like her initials.

I first developed an interest in Jackie at about the same time I started reading J.B. West's Upstairs at the White House.  I came across a copy of the original White House guidebook that she championed in the early sixties and, combined with West's recollections, was instantly fascinated.  I also recall thinking that I could get the owner of the duplex we lived in to provide me with the funds to "restore" the house a la the Kennedy White House restoration.  The fact that it was probably built in the late seventies and had absolutely no historic or architectural interest didn't occur to me.  It was also around this time that I saw reruns of Upstairs, Downstairs and tried to install a bell system to summon servants to the various rooms in the house.  Evidently, such systems require supplies far more specialized than long pieces of yarn running down stairs and under doors attached to bells.  But, I digress...

I've just finished reading one of the best books about Jackie Kennedy that has been written to date.  Reading Jackie details the former first lady's existence after she started working as an editor at Viking and Doubleday.  While it draws on the whole of her life, the volume explores the idea that the books Onassis chose to edit reveal a great deal about her outlook and personality, creating an autobiography of sorts.  The author, William Kuhn, brilliantly supports this idea, showing Jackie as a complex and very real person, often quite unlike the image that we have commonly held.

In my opinion, the best book
written about Jackie to date.

What's most interesting to me is the idea that Jackie is so often seen only as she was as first lady, an image and personality fixed in our minds in pillbox and boucle suit.  In reality, she moved far beyond that period in her life, despite our unwillingness to accept it.  Far from the caricature presented by the press, Jackie was deeply intelligent and always curious.  With a wicked sense of humor and a passion for books, Jackie is inspiring for far more than we give her credit for.  Yes, there was the innate style and the fabulous fashion, but she bristled at the idea that she was more style than substance.  What mattered to her were ideas and the elevation of art to a place of real value in our democracy.

Jackie as we remember her.

Of course, it's endlessly fun to consider Jackie in her White House milieu (I obviously think this is true...  after all, who created the Jackie O Christmas stocking?) - the clothes, the decorating, the drastic change in the place of culture in Washington and beyond, but to look at her only as she was then is to miss some of the real lessons her life can teach, especially for women.  The idea that one is not stuck in any one time or place, but that growth is inevitable and welcome.  The fact that we are all somewhat contradictory in our interests, attitudes and behaviors.  The notion that to devote enormous energy to raising children is not an excuse to put aside your own interests or passions, but rather an opportunity to share them.  And the thought that we may all have new and exciting opportunities waiting for us in the later stages of our lives.

Check out Reading Jackie if you are at all interested in the "real" Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, what you will find is that she was far more interesting than any of us might have expected.

1 comment:

  1. It's hugely flattering to have the author of a blog discover your book and say such intelligent things about it. Thank you Jake!

    Bill Kuhn