by Ted Morgan ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 15, 1982
A deadly biography of the mercurial young Churchill, 1874-1915, may be hard to envision; but this is it. Morgan (On Becoming American, Maugham) has no particular knowledge of British history or politics, no particular talent for portraying character; he has no personal admiration for Churchill and, carping apart (the bumptiousness, the self-promotion, etc.), only one thing to say--ad infinitum: scorned by father Randolph as a child and a youth, ""he created a fantasy father he could worship and emulate."" (""Not the ravaged syphilitic of unsound mind whose political career was a shambles, and who was regarded as a madman by Lord Salisbury and Queen Victoria. . . ."") That Churchill did overcome his rejection in identifying with his father is self-evident. And when he too took an independent stance (crossing over to the Liberals, in 1904), he had his father as a model; when he fell (after Gallipoli, in 1915), he had his father's misfortunes as a solace. But it is nonsense to pretend that the Randolph Churchill of ""Tory Democracy"" and the Unionist Alliance was not an inspired political leader, but merely a ""cynical opportunist""; that Winston simply made him up. The crude, rote psychologizing (which posits nurse Mrs. Everest as the second ""crucial influence""--""life-enhancing"" where Randolph was ""life-diminishing"") is accompanied throughout by cheap gossip-mongering: after Gallipoli and Admiral Fisher's dramatic resignation, when the Asquith government totters and Churchill must leave his Admiralty post, we hear for pages about Asquith's debilitating infatuation with a young woman--and nothing about his expeditious formation of a Coalition government (with a place, even, for Churchill). The text itself, as it pertains to Churchill, is chiefly (and acknowledgedly) derived from the multipartite official biography and companion, documents volumes. In that sense, nothing important is omitted: Sandhurst, military service in India; reporting in India, the Sudan, and South Africa; election to Parliament; successive Cabinet posts (Under Secretary, Colonial Office, 1905-08; President of the Board of Trade, 1908-10; Home Secretary, 1910-11; First Lord of the Admiralty, 1911-15); friendship with Lloyd George. But save for the insertion of the gossip, nothing is added either. And given Morgan's inability to clarify the issues (Protectionism/Free Trade, the Parliamentary crisis), coupled with his constant shifts into trivia (Clemmie's ""sudden, irrational storms,"" WC's every tiff), the book reads like 668 pages of petty disparagement.
Pub Date: June 15, 1982
Page Count: -
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982
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