In Quentin and Flora: A Roosevelt and a Vanderbilt during the Great War, Chip Bishop highlights the poignant relationship between two people caught up in tumultuous history. In an interview with the Theodore Roosevelt Center, Bishop describes his favorite photo of Quentin, how his feelings for Flora changed while writing the book, and his interest in German stamp collecting. Bishop will also appear at this year’s Theodore Roosevelt Association Conference. He will speak at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in New York City.
Q: Archival research was essential to this book. What items surprised you and were there things you hoped to find, but didn’t?
A: While reading Theodore Roosevelt’s letters online from DSU (Dickinson State University), I was troubled by the depth of the hurt that Quentin’s death caused him. At times, it seemed like Theodore was absorbing overwhelming guilt. I was pleased to also discover how tenderly Theodore welcomed Flora into the Roosevelt family following the loss of Quentin.
Q: You include photos from your own visit to France. How did seeing the sites related to Quentin’s life and death, influence the writing of the book?
A: Visiting Quentin’s sites in France represented closure for me. While researching and writing the story, I admit that I got too close to my main characters, Quentin and Flora, and almost lost my author’s objectivity. But I think I recovered from that during the final editing.
Q: What is your favorite photo of Quentin?
A: It’s the formal portrait of him about age 15 at the Groton School. In his suit and tie, he conveys such great Rooseveltian poise and promise – promise that unfortunately was only partially fulfilled.
Quentin at the Groton School. Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Q: What approach did you use for organizing the archival materials as you wrote your book?
A: I have my own system that, while unconventional, works for me. I write out notes in longhand in spiral notebooks. Then I index the notes according to subject matter or scene that I want to feature in the book. Those subjects/scenes then permit me to organize chapters in my mind. Then I turn to my laptop to draft the narrative.
Q: As you wrote the book, did your feeling toward Quentin and Flora change? If so, how?
A: I was a Quentin fan from the start, and early-on I felt sorry for Flora as the victim of her family’s excesses. But as the story progressed, especially following Quentin’s death, I grew to respect and admire what Flora achieved. She was an extraordinarily strong and resilient woman who overcame enormous obstacles.
Q: For many Americans, World War I is the least familiar of the conflicts the U.S. has been involved in. What do you wish the general population knew about the war?
A: I hope my story conveys an example of the great sacrifices that American individuals and families suffered as a consequence of the war. We generally know the horror of the battlefield but don’t usually appreciate the behind-the-scene tragedies that result. The Roosevelts, in particular, were victims of the Great War in many physical and emotional ways.
Q: You enjoy collecting German stamps. Do some of your stamps represent the WWI narrative? What images do they choose to emphasize?
A: Actually, my collecting interests center on the Third Reich period of German history. But since I wrote the book, I find that I am more and more in search of German stamps from the Great War era. Germany is a very complicated country to collect because it issued stamps for many of the nations it occupied during war.
Q: In doing research, were there any stories you resisted telling in order to stay focused on this book?
A: I wish I had time and space to use more quotes from Quentin and Flora’s letters to each other. They were so expressive in their sentiments. But in the end, I had to settle for a lesser number of quotes that were representative of what they wrote. Wouldn’t it be special if, someday, someone would publish the actual transcripts in a book called, Letters from Quentin and Flora?
Q: What are your next projects?
A: I’m going to finish my ‘Roosevelt trilogy’ with the first-ever biography of Elliott B. Roosevelt, Theodore’s younger brother. It’s a dark but hopeful tale of a promising young man who became a hopeless alcoholic, drug addict and unfaithful husband. But, significantly for history, Elliott was the loving and influential father of Eleanor Roosevelt, the nation’s first lady during the Depression and World War II.
For more information on how World War I impacted Theodore Roosevelt, please plan to attend this year’s symposium from September 25-27 at Dickinson State University and Medora.