Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills

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9780395963197: Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills

Winston and Clementine Churchill wrote to each other constantly throughout the fifty-seven years of their life together, from the passionate and charming exchanges of their courtship and early marriage until the year before Winston's death in 1965. Written solely for each other's eyes, spontaneously and with great candor, their letters provide rare and revealing insights into both the great political and social events of a turbulent century and the intimate world of an extraordinary partnership. Here are Winston's and Clementine's vividly expressed reactions to the social reforms of the era, the harrowing experience in the trenches of the western front, the personalities of world leaders, the early defeats and the long-awaited victories of the Second World War. In moving detail we hear of Churchill’s dramatic career and his final, deeply felt reflections on the fading of his enormous powers. Here also are domestic minutiae, society gossip, financial anxieties and minor quarrels, private jokes, and endearments. To read these letters is to view the grand sweep of history reflected in the daily triumphs and tragedies of two allies in love, politics, and life. Mary Soames, the only surviving child of this remarkable couple, has brought her parents to life as no biography could. We hear Winston in his own voice, broken and somber, contemplating the failure of the Dardanelles campaign in 1915, the nadir of his career. And we hear Clementine, compassionate and strong, responding with words of measured advice, her love, and her belief in his historic destiny. Above all, their correspondence illuminates what Soames calls "their enduring and heroic partnership," a partnership that was not free of troubles but was built on a foundation of affection, humor, and loyalty. Bringing these letters together for the first time, Winston and Clementine is a personal and often surprising portrait of one of history's titanic figures. It is also an important and powerful document of our times.

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Review:

"I seize this fleeting hour of leisure to write and tell you how much I liked our long talk on Sunday," Winston Churchill wrote to Clementine Hozier in April 1908, shortly after their third meeting, "and what a comfort and pleasure it was to me to meet a girl with so much intellectual quality and such strong reserves of noble sentiment." They were married by September; he was 29, she 19. They would remain married--though, due to political circumstances, they were not always together--until his death in 1965. During that time, their daughter Mary Soames remarks, some 1,700 items of personal correspondence passed between the two. Winston and Clementine is far from a complete collection, but it does offer a comprehensive overview of their epistolary relationship and the deep love and mutual respect upon which their marriage was based. It may be somewhat disconcerting to see the man who stirred a nation to war with "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" and other memorable phrases sending "kisses to my sweet and beloved Clemmie cat," yet it also makes the imposing statesman seem more human.

Sometimes Clementine would send written messages to Winston even when they were together; it was an opportunity to gather her thoughts, or avoid taking up her husband's time with arguments when he was busy managing the war. In June 1940, for example, she told him that "there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic and overbearing manner.... I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you." A few of the letters are accompanied by little cartoon animals that they would draw for each other: she always drew the posterior view of a sitting cat, while he would sketch pug dogs, and later pigs. Even toward the end, when they both had to deal with increased infirmity and tragedies among their children, they still found time to send "little love messages" to each other. Looking back at their marriage, with Soames's edifying commentary sprinkled throughout (as well as a quite well-done biographical dictionary), is an experience both revealing and touching.

About the Author:

Mary Soames, born in 1922, is the youngest and only surviving child of Winston and Clementine Churchill. During World War II she served in mixed antiaircraft batteries in England and northwestern Europe and accompanied her father as an aide on several wartime overseas journeys. In 1947 she married Captain Christopher Soames, later Lord Soames, the politician and diplomat, a vice president of the European Commission and the last governor of Southern Rhodesia. He died in 1987; they had five children. She is the author of Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage, which won the Wolfson Prize for history, A Churchill Family Album, The Profligate Duke, and Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter.

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