Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Churchill Series – Sept. 9, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

In the Autumn 1982 edition the Churchill Centre’s quarterly, Finest Hour, historian Richard Langworth reviewed Clementine Churchill (Houghton Mifflin, 1979), a biography by her daughter, Mary Soames and Family Album (Houghton Mifflin, 1982), Soames sequel to Clementine Churchill. Excerpts from Langworth’s review follows: - - -

This reviewer should begin by admitting to serious prejudice, which influenced his judgment: he thinks Lady Soames is, to borrow a piece of Georgia vernacular, a peach.

But the most critical reviewer would be hardpressed to complain about CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL, a tour de force in a class by itself; or about her sequel, FAMILY ALBUM, just released by the same publishers. Both books are in their way "standard works," mandatory for any Churchill bookshelf, and so far ahead of similar works as to be incomparable.

CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL is of course the second "Clemmie" biography, but Fishman's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE was justifiably criticized as a potboiler. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that CSC was still alive when Fishman wrote it - and CSC was a very private person. Her daughter Mary undertook a really authoritative biography on the understanding that it would not be published in Lady Churchill's lifetime.

All that aside, it is a tremendous, inspiring story, a love story first and foremost, for the wonderful relationship between Sir Winston and Clementine must be labeled thus; yet it is also a professional, well-researched, competent history, with Clemmie's faults not expunged from the record, though they were overwhelmingly exceeded by her virtues.

Lady Churchill was, of course, first and foremost, the perfect mate and foil for her complex genius-husband: "Clementine had no hobbies, such as gardening - that great solace and refuge for countless Englishwomen. For her it was more a matter of administration - not an absorbing or satisfying occupation; and her own active involvement stopped after deadheading roses and irises. Nor did tapestry, knitting or embroidery . . . appeal to her . . . she had lost the habit of driving [along with its] blissful measure of independence . . . Throughout her married life, Clementine's first priority had been. to run her home. Her standards of perfection never altered, nor her attention to minute detail."

The great strain of being Mrs. Churchill, the recurrent grappling with what WSC called the Black Dog - depression - following the Dardanelles, Plug Street, the loss of office in 1929, the bittersweet Thirties, the 1945 election, the 1955 retirement, are all measured here, and one gets the impression that each took its toll on Clementine.

But the real lady is here too: the determined loyalist, the closet radical, the saviour of social occasions otherwise likely to be Winston-monologues, with that all-pervading interest in those around her.

No one can know without reading this book the true greatness of Lady Churchill, nor appreciate the crucial role she played in delivering, unsullied by events, an ebullient Winston, time after time, crisis after crisis, to inspire and ennoble the world. . . .

The remainder of Langworth’s review is here. I hope you read it.

Langworth’s review is only one of thousands of Churchilliana documents the Churchill Centre has made available on the Net; thereby helping sustain his legacy and inform future generations.