Hillary Clinton as a self-doubting misanthrope, prone to bouts of withdrawal and even depression? This stuff isn't in the script.
The former first lady's progress back towards the White House, this time on her own ticket, is one of the most carefully choreographed, cautious and calculated in modern campaigning. She herself is a study in on-message moderation, with answers so carefully scripted for focus groups that she has been damned as a political automaton.
Which is why the publication over the weekend of details of dozens of intimate letters written by the young Hillary Rod-ham to a high school friend has stirred up so much interest, raising anew the debates over how her political ambitions were formed and questions from her enemies about whether she is fit to lead the country.
At the very least, they are a fascinating insight into the emotional turbulence that once lay below the surface of the young student at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, who grew into one of the most scrutinised and yet ultimately inscrutable women at the centre of power in the US. "Sunday was lethargic from the beginning as I wallowed in a morass of general and specific dislike and pity for most people but me especially," the 19-year-old Hillary Rodham reported in a letter postmarked 3 October, 1967.
And in another missive that year, she had pondered her own developing personality: "Since Xmas vacation, I've gone through three-and-a-half metamorphoses and am beginning to feel as though there is a smorgasbord of personalities spread before me. So far, I've used alienated academic, involved pseudo-hippie, educational and social reformer and one-half of withdrawn simplicity.
"Can you be a misanthrope and still love or enjoy some individuals? How about a compassionate misanthrope?"
The intense and introspective correspondence was with John Peavoy, an equally smart classmate from Clinton's native Illinois, with whom she had formed a strong, if not particularly close, intellectual bond before they both headed to separate east coast universities. Their lives quickly diverged - his on to an academic path, where he now toils in obscurity as an English professor at Scripps College, a small women's school in southern California. The 30 letters, though, reflect their common explorations of a new life away from the influences of home, over a four-year period at the end of the Sixties.
"They are windows into a time and a place and a journey of self- discovery," Mr Peavoy told The New York Times yesterday. "This was what college students did before Facebook."
The real surprise about the correspondence is that it reveals an undercurrent of self-doubt even as the civic-minded Ms Rod-ham was pursuing a life in student activism, first in the Republican tradition she inherited from a bullying father, and soon in the Democratic party.
In a letter written in the winter of her second year, she confesses her own despair, describing a "February depression". She catalogues a long, paralysed morning skipping classes, languishing in bed, hating herself. "Random thinking usually becomes a process of self-analysis with my ego coming out on the short end," she writes.
And at one point she demands of herself: "Define 'happiness' Hillary Rodham, acknowledged agnostic intellectual liberal, emotional conservative."
These are the passages of the correspondence likely to be seized on by the modern-day Hillary Clinton's political enemies. Recent biographies, including one by Carl Bernstein, have made much of a streak of depression that runs through the Rodham family, particularly its menfolk. Clinton's uncle made a failed suicide attempt, and her two brothers are also prone to melancholy. The letters published over the weekend add to the evidence for what Bernstein described as Clinton's tendency during her college period to fall …