Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her Son John Julius Norwich 1939-1952, Chatto & Windus, 2013, 520pp.
Lady Diana Duff Cooper, “the most beautiful woman in England,” had a penetrating mind and brilliant pen, capable as few others of capturing a time, earlier in this century, when women considered the world laden with opportunity for fulfillment. She proved this with her famous seven-year performance in Max Reinhardt’s “The Miracle,” her able collaboration with her husband’s ambassadorship to France, her notable trilogy of memoirs.
Sir Alfred Duff Cooper was one of Churchill’s most stalwart friends and allies, serving loyally as WSC’s first wartime Minister of Information and then as his liaison to de Gaulle. The end of the war found him serving as British ambassador in Paris.
In 2013 their son John Julius (Lord Norwich) published Darling Monster, the correspondence between him and his mother. Excerpts of Lady Diana’s letters offer many wonderful views of Winston Churchill, whom she deeply admired throughout a lifelong friendship.
Diana on Winston
18 October 1940: “Papa [Duff Cooper] came home all right at about nine [after dining at Downing Street], as Winston dines at seven in a little blue sort of workman’s overall suit. He looks exactly like the good pig who built his house of bricks.”
19 February 1941: “Great excitement last weekend. We went to Ditchley where Winston was staying….Winston does nearly all his work from his bed. It keeps him rested and young….We had two lovely films after dinner —one was called Escape and the other was a very light comedy called Quiet Wedding. There were also several short reels from Papa’s Ministry. Winston managed to cry through all of them, including the comedy.”
9 January 1944: “There was our old baby in his rompers [boiler suit], ten-gallon cowboy hat and very ragged oriental dressing gown, health, vigour and excellent spirits.”
13 January 1944 (at a picnic): The Colonel [Churchill’s codename] is immediately sat on a comfortable chair, rugs are swathed round his legs and a pillow put on his lap to act as table, book-rest, etc. A rather alarming succession of whiskies and brandies go down….[Churchill then insisted on descending the gorge, and had to be heaved up with a rope.] Clemmie said nothing, but watched him with me like a lenient mother who does not wish to spoil her child’s fun.”
14 November 1944, Paris: The first night we dined…with the Duckling [WSC] at the Quai d’Orsay. It was rather boring. Clemmie was sleepy and Winston as difficult as he always is until the champagne has warmed him….but after the feast, in the Napoleon III salon, with English [Scotch!] whisky dropping on the exquisite Savonnerie carpet, his old magic took charge of us all as he weaved his slang and his pure English into a fantastic pattern.”
Diana on Duff
Lady Diana was a worldly woman who took no notice of Duff’s many affairs: “Why should I mind if they made him happy? I always knew: they were the flowers, I was the tree.”
She left her son with practical advice (31 December 1957): “Drink less for your health and looks and charm’s sake, beware of unclean whores, love your mother and sleep deep.”
Her “Winston and Clementine,” first published in The Atlantic just after WSC’s death, was as fine a tribute to the Churchill marriage as we are likely to encounter.
Diana and Duff were two bright lights of the Churchill era. It is a joy to read their correspondence (A Durable Fire: The Letters of Duff and Diana Cooper 1913-1950 (London and New York 1983, edited by their granddaughter Artemis), if only to preserve such writing as this, Diana to Duff in the trenches, 1918:
“It is I that must read [our letters] to the envious young—flauntingly, exultantly —and when they hear yours they’ll dream well that night, and waking crave for such a mythical supreme lover and regret that they are born in the wrong age—as once I did before I saw your light, crying for Gods and wooers…”
Shortly after they met, Duff wrote to Diana: “Bores with God’s help we will never be.” They weren’t.