In the news this week is the public notice of an auction of Jacqueline Kennedy's letters to an Irish priest in whom she confided over the course of fourteen years--1950 to 1964. They span her life from the age of 21 to the year after her husband was assassinated, 1964.
Mrs. Kennedy was a very private person and she said in the letters she did not have any one to confide in, to share her feelings so when she met Father Joseph Leonard, she began writing to him, knowing he would never divulge her words, and he did not. Father Leonard died in 1964 and all these years her letters have remained private.
Auction houses, when they have a treasure such as this, make bits of it public in order to publicize the auction and raise the bids. How would Mrs. Kennedy feel about this? Not good, I think. But, all these years later, I think it is a good thing. It gives us a personal picture of a very private First Lady, who on the surface seemed glamorous, a bit imperious, aware of her status and her wealth, dazzling in public, and a First Lady we all admired.
In the parts of the letters which have been made public she does not seem this way at all. If anything, she was very self-aware, saying that she was overcome with ambition, "like Mac Beth." She said that her life could look very glamorous from the outside, living in the world of "crowned heads and men of destiny -- but if you're in it, it could be hell."
Part of this was her sense of loss of her privacy and the media everywhere, but the main reason was John Kennedy's womanizing. She understood this before her marriage, even comparing it to her father's womanizing which caused her own mother so much grief. But it went on with more intensity after their marriage. President Kennedy, because of the power and prestige of the presidency, could have any woman he wanted and he did.
She did not have an easy childhood either. Her father, whom she adored, was an alcoholic who did not stay sober on her wedding day to John Kennedy, so at the last minute, she had her step-father walk her down the aisle. We see those lovely photographs of her dancing with her husband after the wedding. How sad she must have been inside, that her father let her down again.
I admire her even more so now. Despite all that was going on in her personal life, she made us proud of her as First Lady. The White House was dazzling, she was dazzling. The trips she took to Europe and India and other countries were beautifully set, making America seem sophisticated and elegant, like Mrs. Kennedy.
I find it comforting to know she had a confidant like Father Leonard, someone who listened.