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College letters reveal a conflicted Hillary

All over America, boomer women are praying that there is no John Peavoy in their past. That is to say, no erstwhile friend who saved their college letters and feels compelled to share them with The New York Times.

Most aren't as famous as Hillary Rodham Clinton and so wouldn't inspire a long-ago pen pal to dig up their angst-filled ramblings. Nor, we can imagine, are most as literate and thoughtful as Hillary was during her years at Wellesley College.

But everyone of the pre-Facebook age must be wondering whatever happened to whatshisname - and those blasted letters!

Given America's intimate knowledge of Hillary's life and marriage, it seemed unlikely that there was anything left to know. What possible humiliations could remain for her to suffer?

Enter the Dickensian Peavoy. He's got mail.

Some of the dozens of letters from a four-year period in the 1960s had been previously quoted by author Gail Sheehy in her 1999 biography, "Hillary's Choice." Eight years later, Times writer Mark Leibovich got a peek and now we're all reading between the lines.

No one should be held accountable for the thoughts of her college self - a time notable for self-aborption - but Hillary can't feel much embarrassed by her mental doodlings. Her letters reveal that she was self-deprecating, self-aware, intellectually curious and morally demanding of herself.

Her thoughts were not atypical of college students in the tumultuous '60s. The boomer generation marinated in the civil rights and anti-war movements and came of age with the drug and sexual revolutions. It was a heady time, but also a period of immense upheaval, not only in the larger world but also within the moral child.

Hillary was certainly that. Raised a Republican in a conservative, middle-class home, her cultural experience, as for many boomers, was at odds with that of her parents. Becoming independent of her family was clearly a source of inner conflict.

"God, I feel so divorced from Park Ridge, parents, home, the entire unreality of middle class America," she wrote. "This all sounds so predictable, but it's true."

Hillary was scornful of complainers and do-nothings, noting even that her pen pal was a "reactor' rather than an "actor." She was also disapproving of, but not judgmental toward, friends who slept over with boyfriends or took drugs. She was toughest on herself, critical of her self-absorption and ramblings about "me," which she described as "the world's saddest word."

Otherwise, young Hillary seemed to be struggling to pull together all the pieces of her intellectual journey to form a cohesive worldview. She invoked Freud, Voltaire, Oscar Wilde and even Doctor Zhivago, but notably skipped cultural icons others of her generation might have mentioned: Dylan, Baez, Leary, Ginsberg, Hoffman.

She was not, in other words, cool or hip, but seems to have been tethered to a more disciplined, intellectualized world. If her future husband never inhaled, Hillary never exhaled.

Most poignant was Hillary's struggle between her child-self and her emerging adult-self. All sentient humans take this journey, of course, but Hillary's path was a vivid contretemps between her childish id and her finger-wagging superego. She remembered sweetly the child she was, playing in a shaft of dappled sunlight filtering through the dense elms in her family's front yard. She pretended "there were heavenly movie cameras watching my every move."

The omniscient eye comforts every imaginative child, but Hillary's authoritarian superego was contemptuous of the narcissism implicit in the image, the need to be the center of attention. At the same time, she was reluctant to surrender and had compassion for the girl-child.

And so it goes for all of us. It's called growing up. Some people do it with varying degrees of awareness; some never do it. The trick to healthy adulthood is balancing the two forces - the dueling inner child and disapproving Church Lady - in the service of the ego, but Hillary's ego kept coming up short, she wrote.

Reading too much into these musings is a temptation to resist. Even so, it seems not much of a stretch to say that Hillary's superego won the joust. She married an id boy and let Bill Clinton carry the couple's narcissism for her, while Hillary carried the cross of self-discipline and moral vigor for him.

Mr. Id and Mrs. Superego. Quite the twofer.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at kparker@kparker.com.