In an age when every politician produces a memoir, Churchill still towers over them all as a great literary figure capable of writing history, biography, even a novel (OK, the novel sucked).
Writing is generally an afterthought for politicians: The memoir is their genre, their time in elected office is the setting, they are the hero, and the result is not good. A book from any notable politician has become more an inevitability than an exception. It’s an almost obligatory close to a life in public service. There are of course exceptions, and a handful of recent outliers—Dominique de Villepin’s volume on French poetry, Newt Gingrich’s alternate histories. But no contemporary exception is quite so striking, in breadth, variety, and quality, as the written work of Winston Churchill.
No one would argue that history has misgauged Churchill’s significance by concentrating on his time as prime minister during World War II instead of upon his debacle of a single novel. But the biographical inattention to his voluminous body of written work nonetheless has been a strange oversight. Now that wrong has been righted, in a single stroke and ably so, by Jonathan Rose’s The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor.
Simply detailing Churchill’s literary record would make for an excellent volume. As Rose notes in his introduction, “Winner in 1953 of the Nobel Prize in Literature, a tremendously successful middlebrow author, he clearly could have made a handsome living from his pen even if he had never been elected to public office. In the Churchill Archives at Cambridge, one out of eight boxes is devoted to his literary affairs. And yet scholars have scarcely touched on that side of his life. He may be one of the most intensely studied individuals of modern times, according to Historical Abstracts, but he has only a handful of entries in the MLA Bibliography. Some entries refer to an altogether different Winston Churchill, an American novelist (1871-1947) of the Progressive era.”
Although Churchill’s writings embraced a world far less circumscribed than the narrow purviews of most politicians, it is nonetheless largely impossible to separate his prose from his life as a public servant. “For Churchill, politics and literature were two sides of the same career,” Rose writes, “impossible to prise apart.” For Rose this isn’t simply a question of Churchill’s writing his non-political works even as he kept one eye on the voting public. Rose is equally interested in how the influence worked the other way—that is, how literature and theater shaped Churchill’s political craft. The man’s “lifelong addiction to dramatic metaphors” isn’t coincidence; it’s centrally important.
It would be absurd to claim that Churchill’s literary talents were the meritocratic means of entry to a political career, not when his father was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons, and his grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather had all spent time in the House of Commons before their assured seats in the House of Lords. But those literary skills were immensely consequential to the ultimate shape of his legendary career.
SOURCE: Anthony Paletta
The Daily Beast