Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage

Last year while doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at a local bookstore, I saw Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage. I thought the title was interesting, so I bought the book and asked Steve if he would give it to me for Christmas. Then I put it on my reading list for 2007.

Before reading this book, I knew nothing at all about Clementine Churchill - not even the correct pronunciation of her name. (It's "ClemenTEEN.") I'd read William Manchester's excellent, though unfinished, biography of Sir William Churchill years ago, and I'm sure Mrs. Churchill was mentioned, but if so, she didn't stay in my mind.

Clementine's youngest child, Mary, wrote this book, and it's actually an updated and revised edition of an earlier biography she wrote of her mother. It's thorough, interesting, but not ugly. Although some unpleasant events or characters are in this book, Mary chooses to dwell on the positive, not the sad or scintillating. I believe this biography not only gave me a true picture of Clementine Churchill, but also a more complete picture of her husband. He was ten years older than Clementine when they married, and had already begun a famous and illustrious career as a politician and a writer. She was young and from a very dysfunctional family, yet she made the perfect wife for him, to the surprise of many. Mary writes, "Right from the start of her married life she learned to live with crisis and controversy. Looking back, one can see that this period was a fitting training for the more sombre, deadly days that lay further ahead in their lives."

Throughout their lives Winston depended on Clementine's good sense and her self-sacrificing love for him. After he left politics and was truly retired, he still had many hobbies and outlets for his energy, particularly painting and writing. Clementine didn't really have any hobbies to fall back on when their lives slowed down, but as her daughter points out:

"If she had been more egotistical, more pleasure-loving or more personally ambitious, she might have been less at a loss when the calls of duty ceased to be so imperious and consuming. But if she had been any or all of these things, the history of her relationship with Winston, and her influence over him, would certainly have been different - and so, to some extent, might have been the history of our times."

They really had a happy marriage, and left a treasure-trove of letters and notes to one another that confirm their deep commitment to each other. Fortunately, they lived before telephone calls were common-place, (and before e-mails, instant messaging, and texting) so they wrote to each other almost every day - whether apart geographically, or together in the same house!

Mary was obviously close to her mother, but she says she learned so much about her parents after her mother's death when she went through mountains of correspondence and various diaries. I'm grateful that she made the effort to do so. This biography of Clementine Churchill was uplifting and encouraging, and it's a book I'll recommend often to anyone wanting to read something good.

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Blogger Dana said...

Enjoyed your review. I've been perusing a book about Churchill's paintings...hoping to post a FAF entry soon.

He was definitely an interesting character!

9:38 AM  
Blogger Sherry said...

I read this book last year. Well, I read about three-fourths of it before I had to return it to the library unfinished. I enjoyed it, too, and thought their marriage was one worth reading about and in some senses emulating.

10:17 AM  

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