What Would Claire Booth Luce Have Thought of Elizabeth Edwards and Rielle Hunter?

What Women Really Think
May 6 2009 2:05 PM

What Would Claire Booth Luce Have Thought of Elizabeth Edwards and Rielle Hunter?

Hanna , I hear what you say about moxie. What interests me about Edwards is that she doesn't fit any clear mold. She seems at once very strong and very vulnerable. One almost feels that in the very fact that she has lived with advanced cancer for such an extraordinary length of time. On the other hand, Susannah's close reading of the passage about Rielle Hunter is spot-on, to my ear. In this description of how the affair began, Edwards uses language that implicitly depicts Rielle as a fierce, amoral hunter (her last name, after all), and John as little more than biological silly putty; if Elizabeth doesn't quite make John out to be an innocent pup, she does suggests he is merely too pliable. The agency is all the Huntress's.

I suppose that's natural; most of would be angry at the other woman, especially if she's as touchy-feely as Rielle sounds. Do any of you remember this Newsweek piece by Jonathan Darman about his encounters with her? If I were Elizabeth, I'd be both threatened by Rielle's brand of sinuous femininity and put off by it. If you buy the portrait painted in the Darman piece, Rielle seems to possess a brand of sexual wile that I can’t help feeling is somehow more deeply associated with womanhood, to this day, than almost any other quality. When I read about these women, with their New Age sensitivity, their way of leaning in close at the bar and asking "What sign are you?" I often find myself thinking they're the true "XX" and I'm, say, X and a 1/2.

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What's interesting to me about the passage Susannah posts is how you can see that Edwards sort of feels that too, otherwise she would never use words like "target." The Rielle that Edwards writes about is just a new version of Crystal Edwards from The Women. She sees something she wants and doesn't hesitate to wreck a marriage to get it. These days, though, Crystal Allen doesn’t sell perfume at the perfume counter; she is into astrology and cleanses and freelance video work. In this reading, Elizabeth, of course, is the wholesome wife (Mrs. Stephen Haines) played by Norma Shearer; only the movie doesn't end with her reconciliation with her husband. It ends with her on a talk show, sharpening her nails a bit. And who could blame her?

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.

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