The biography of Winston Churchill’s unfailing champion.
Political reporter Purnell (Just Boris: The Irresistible Rise of a Political Celebrity, 2011) offers a sharply drawn, absorbing portrait of Churchill’s elegant, strong-willed wife, who was also his adviser, supporter, protector, and manager. “You are a rock & I depend on you & rest on you,” Churchill wrote to Clementine during one of her many escapes from the overwhelming demands of her selfish, “dictatorial,” and petulant husband. A lonely, shy child raised by her distracted and often cruel mother, Clementine married Winston after a brief courtship and immediately decided, she said, “to give her life totally” to him, putting his needs before her own and those of their children. No matter what slings and arrows were aimed at him, she was convinced of his greatness. Purnell argues persuasively for Clementine’s importance to history: she functioned as her husband’s astute political strategist; insisted that he consider her liberal, feminist views; vetted his speeches; and campaigned for his successes. After his reputation suffered horribly from his role in the disastrous 1915 defeat in the Dardanelles, Clementine urged him to enlist in the Great War, from which he emerged with a “military halo.” During both wars, Clementine took an active role, organizing canteens for munitions workers and lobbying to improve conditions for women and children on the home front. With impeccable taste and a perfectionism that caused many servants to quit, she created a warm, welcoming home in which the rich, powerful, and influential gathered. Among her many challenges was money: frequently, they were turned out of government residences when Winston’s positions changed; and he spent impulsively, buying estates that proved to be money pits and speculating in the American stock market in the 1920s, leading to a severe loss. While he worked ferociously to earn money from publications, Clementine economized. Purnell is sympathetic to the strains of Clementine’s life but unapologetic about her maternal shortcomings.
A riveting, illuminating life of a remarkable woman.