Clementine Churchill as Literary Critic

Clementine Churchill as Literary Critic

Q: Clementine as Editor

Your book Churchill By Him­self is a trea­sure to which I fre­quent­ly refer. I am a retired pro­fes­sor who recent­ly lost his wife. I am prepar­ing a memo­r­i­al to her and found Churchill’s words as quot­ed in Andrew Roberts’ recent biog­ra­phy to be per­fect. The sense of his words is that his wife Clemen­tine was was a fre­quent, strong and fair crit­ic of his writ­ings, always help­ful. I know that is not much to go on but I would appre­ci­ate cor­rob­o­rat­ing infor­ma­tion.  —M.S., via email

A: “Here firm, though all be drifting”

I will have to pon­der your ques­tion, because his remarks about Lady Churchill are main­ly trib­utes to her as wife, friend and advi­sor, not lit­er­ary critic–although of course she was that too. I don’t think she vet­ted many of his books. An excep­tion per­haps is The World Cri­sis, which she expe­ri­enced per­son­al­ly, often painful­ly. “Here firm,” he often said of her in those hard­er days, “though all be drift­ing.”

Her coun­sel was more fre­quent­ly sought over his speech­es, but was some­times reject­ed. In 1945, for exam­ple, she warned him not to say the Labour Par­ty would have to rely on “some form of Gestapo” to enforce their pro­grams if they were elect­ed. Aside from the inju­di­cious com­par­i­son, vot­ers had a hard time see­ing Clement Attlee, the mild-man­nered Labour leader, as a stormtroop­er. (I can’t resist a note: In the 1980s a Lon­don friend, life­time Labour vot­er, said the activ­i­ties of cer­tain Lon­don Labour coun­cils “indeed remind me of the Gestapo.” Whoops!)

“…shaking her beautiful head [over] some new and pregnant point I am developing…”

There are prob­a­bly many instances where she close­ly influ­enced his com­po­si­tions. We must look out for them. (I am com­pil­ing a new, extend­ed and revised edi­tion of Churchill by Him­self.) Her role as crit­ic was not­ed by many beside her hus­band. One such was  Lady Diana Coop­er, quot­ing WSC in on page 512 of my book. I will elab­o­rate on that by sup­ply­ing some of the sur­round­ing words:

Calm she also had, with a well-bal­anced judg­ment of peo­ple and situations—consistent and reli­able. She often knew the sheep from the goats bet­ter than Win­ston did. “Clem­mie sits behind me on the plat­form, shak­ing her beau­ti­ful head in dis­agree­ment with some new and preg­nant point I am devel­op­ing,” I remem­ber his say­ing, with pride in her sta­ble Lib­er­al­ism, after some Tory meet­ing. Her devo­tion nev­er sub­ject­ed her to becom­ing a door­mat or to tak­ing the eas­i­er way with her high-pow­ered Her­cules.

Lady Diana’s trib­ute to CSC is beau­ti­ful. You can read it in a few min­utes, and you should. Her son, Lord Nor­wich, did not know it exist­ed until we wrote him for reprint per­mis­sion. The full text (elab­o­rat­ed some­what with excerpts from her oth­er writ­ings) is on the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project web­site.

“Warm summer sun, Shine kindly here…”

I will keep your request in mind and add any­thing I find to this page. Baroness Spencer-Churchill died on 12 Decem­ber 1977, out­liv­ing her hus­band by over a dozen years. After cre­ma­tion, her ash­es were placed in Churchill’s grave at Bladon at a pri­vate fam­i­ly ser­vice on 16th Decem­ber.

My sym­pa­thies on your loss. I can­not imag­ine that myself, and always hope I shall go first. This was Churchill’s luck. It is, I real­ize, self­ish. On wife­ly trib­utes, my favorite, from Mark Twain to his wife Livvy, also applies to to Clemen­tine:

Warm sum­mer sun,
Shine kind­ly here,
Warm south­ern wind,
Blow soft­ly here.
Green sod above,
Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.

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