Diana Cooper on Winston Churchill

Diana Cooper on Winston Churchill

DianaDar­ling 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. She was capa­ble of cap­tur­ing a time 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 col­lab­o­ra­tion with her husband’s ambas­sador­ship to France was notable. So was her beau­ti­ful and lit­er­ate 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

Diana
Diana and Duff favored Amer­i­can cars; here they’re dri­ving a UK-issue 1937 Packard One-Twen­ty, Diana behind the wheel, of course. I can almost for­give her for park­ing the dog on the mis­fold­ed con­vert­ible top…

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.

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