End of the Line

Action This Day: Working With Churchill

Memoirs by Lord Normanbrook and Others, edited and with an Introduction by Sir John Wheeler-Bennet
St. Martin's, 272 pp., $5.95

Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill

by Ralph Martin
Prentice-Hall, 404 pp., $8.95

Churchill Revised: A Critical Assessment

by A.J.P. Taylor. and, Others
Dial Press, 274 pp., $5.95

Churchill as Historian

by Maurice Ashley
Scribner's, 246 pp., $6.95

Churchill in His Time (to be published on October 24 by Houghton Mifflin as Churchill in Power: As Seen by His Contemporaries)

by Brian Gardner
Methuen, 355 pp., 50 shillings

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill; drawing by David Levine

Books about Churchill continue to lollop out of the publishing houses. Sometimes they are reminiscences, sometimes family studies, sometimes assessments of him as statesman, strategist, historian—we shall soon probably have an assessment of him as a painter. By far the most agreeable reminiscence in Action This Day is by his private secretary Jock Colville, who has a lively sense of comedy. His description of Churchill adding every few months to his set of gadgets and working in bed with sponges attached to his elbows makes one realize that the great man had a touch of eccentricity that one associates with that bizarre Victorian philosopher, Herbert Spencer.

One of the reasons why Colville’s account is so agreeable is that he conveys the bubbles in Churchill’s mind, his delight in play upon words, the schoolboy fun, and at the same time gives in a few pages a better account than any other yet available of Churchill’s role in his last administration and of his last astonishing act of will power in partially recovering from a sizable stroke. Incidentally Colville and Normanbrook in their accounts of these last years of Churchill’s power give Moran, Churchill’s doctor, a working over which admirers of his rash book ought to consult.

The first volume of Ralph Martin’s biography of Churchill’s mother, which is boudoir reading, contains the not too interesting speculation that, as her healthy first son was born “only seven months after marriage” (it was in fact seven-and-a-half months), Churchill was conceived out of wedlock. The trouble about this book is that though it contains a lot of unpublished material it cannot compare with Robert Rhodes James’s biography of Lord Randolph Churchill in its understanding either of the political background or of the peculiar horror, vacuity, and boredom of London Society under the leadership of the Prince of Wales. On the other hand, Martin is a good deal more explicit than James, writing in Churchill’s lifetime, was able to be, about the disease—tertiary syphilis—which killed Lord Randolph Churchill and of the nightmare of his last years.

Brian Gardner has had the interesting idea of showing Churchill during the Second World War in the looking glass of other men’s opinions. He quotes in particular from the speeches of the opposition, both of the right-wing die-hard Chamberlainites and of the left-wing critics of Churchill’s war policy such as Aneurin Bevan and Shinwell. The opposition was important because it worked on Churchill as the same sort of irritant as he himself used upon the Chiefs of Staff. But the criticism also reminds one of how the almost unbroken series of Allied defeats in 1941 and 1942 subjected Churchill’s strategy and plans to pressures which surprisingly made virtually no impact upon his ability to control Cabinet, Coalition, and Parliament. Gardner’s book has the curious effect of making one wonder how Churchill could ever be said to have won the war…

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