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Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by [Sonia Purnell]
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Editorial Reviews


"An astute, pacey account of a woman who hardly ever emerged from the shadows. It is a sharp analysis of what it meant to be a politician's wife. . . that shows how much we can learn about Winston Churchill from his wife and marriage."The Wall Street Journal

“An acute and sympathetic biography which brings Clementine Churchill out of the shade into which her illustrious and domineering husband has cast her and shows how key she was to his success.  Sonia Purnell makes us ask how Clementine endured life with Winston, and provides the answers.” –Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919 and The War that Ended Peace  

“Thorough and engaging. . . Purnell’s extensive and insightful biography offers a much welcome portrait of Clementine Churchill, a woman whose remarkable life has long been overshadowed by her famous husband.” —Washington Post

“Fascinating… [Purnell's] book may leave you thinking Clementine is one of the most underrated, complex women in British history.” The Daily Beast

“A fascinating and well-written account of a woman who played a key role in many pivotal moments of early-20th-century British and world politics.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“The extensive research shines a deserved spotlight on Britain’s first lady through wartime and beyond." —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Sonia Purnell has restored Clementine Churchill to her rightful place in history. Behind every great man there is a great woman–and this was especially true of Winston Churchill.Clementine is a fascinating portrait of a highly complex woman who only ever showed a brave and elegant face to the world. At last, thanks to Sonia Purnell’s excellent book, we see her  true nature.” –Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

"Until this biography, Clementine’s influence had been completely overlooked and undervalued by Winston's biographers. Clementine was a complicated, mercurial figure, and Purnell does a wonderful job painting a full picture of a woman who was an excellent wife, a mediocre at best mother, and privy to some of the most profound moments of the modern era.Jessica Grose, Lenny Letter

“At last Sonia Purnell has given us the first political biography of  Clementine Churchill, a woman of power and progressive vision.  Although she was her husband's best guide and most astute advisor during the worst of times, her essential role is generally unacknowledged.   Boldly written and illuminating, this is a generative restoration of a fascinating woman who transcended family grief and marital agonies to lead her husband and the nation with grace, commitment and persistence.”
 –Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt
"In this wonderful book Sonia Purnell has at long last given Clementine Churchill the biography she deserves. Sensitive yet clear-eyed, Clementine tells the fascinating story of a complex woman struggling to maintain her own identity while serving as the conscience and principal adviser to one of the most important figures in history. Purnell succeeds brilliantly at an almost impossible task: providing fresh and thought-provoking insights into Winston Churchill in the course of examining his complicated marriage. I was enthralled all the way through."–Lynn Olson, bestselling author of Citizens of London 

 “An excellent book…Both scrupulous and fair-minded, Sonia Purnell has done her subject proud in this eye-opening and engrossing account of the strong-willed and ambitious woman without whom Winston Churchill’s political career would have been a washout.”
Miranda Seymour, The Telegraph

“It seems extraordinary that no one has given this remarkable woman proper biographical treatment before. . . She sacrificed her children and her health in the greater service of her husband, but she also kept him buoyant. This book is a salutary reminder that the Churchills were always a team.” The Times (UK)
“Compellingly readable. . . Sonia Purnell’s biography of Winston’s wife Clementine brings her out from behind the shadow cast by the Great Man. She became her husband’s wise counselor, discreetly offering sound advice, re-writing his speeches, toning down his foolish or angry letters, preventing him from making certain terrible political mistakes. . . Her wheeling and dealing was done behind a veil of gracious femininity.”
The Independent (UK)
“Eye-opening. . . A bold biography of a bold woman; at last Purnell has put Clementine Churchill at the center of her own extraordinary story, rather than in the shadow of her husband’s.”
Mail on Sunday (UK)
“In our own era of sturdy individualism, it is remarkable to read of Clementine’s resolve to subordinate her own desires and her children’s happiness to her husband’s cause. . . An intriguing study of a character both deeply flawed and, in her way, magnificent.”
The Evening Standard (UK)
“Sonia Purnell’s fine biography. . . brings out of the shadows this formidable woman who was much more than strictly a spouse.”Newsday
“A sharply drawn, absorbing portrait of Churchill’s elegant, strong-willed wife, who was also his adviser, supporter, protector, and manager. . . Purnell argues persuasively for Clementine's importance to history: she functioned as her husband's astute political strategist; insisted that he consider her feminist views; vetted his speeches; and campaigned for his successes. . . A riveting, illuminating life of a remarkable woman. Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“This exemplary biography illustrates how Clementine’s intelligence, hard work, and perseverance in often difficult circumstances made her every bit a match for her remarkable, intimidating husband, and a fascinating figure in her own right.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Purnell does a remarkable job of proving that Clementine had a large impact on Winston’s life. . . He seems to have known immediately upon meeting her that she would be the one who could support his great ambitions and moderate his mood swings and gambling. . . She edited his writing, advised him on political decisions, and volunteered in many ways throughout both world wars. Her significance, in many way, can be compared to that of Eleanor Roosevelt.”
--Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Level of Events
Fear defined Clementine Hozier’s earliest memory. Having been deposited by her nurse at the foot of her parents’ bed, she saw her “lovely and gay” mother, Lady Blanche, stretch out her arms toward her. Clementine yearned for her mother’s embrace yet she froze on the spot at the sight of her father slumbering at her mother’s side. “I was frightened of him,” she explained much later.1 By then the damage had been done. Clementine was never to gain a secure place in her mother’s affections nor would she conquer her trepidation of the forbidding Colonel Henry Hozier, who, she came to believe, was not her father anyway. For all the fortitude she would show in adulthood, her instinctive insecurity never left her.
The Hoziers were living on Grosvenor Street, in central London, a far cry from the romantically haunted Cortachy Castle, in the Scottish Highlands, where Lady Blanche had grown up. Clementine’s mother was the eldest daughter of the tenth Earl of Airlie, whose ancient Scottish lineage was enlivened by castle burnings and Jacobite uprisings. Her seraphic face belied her own rebellious spirit, and her parents, their family fortunes much reduced by the earl’s gambling losses, had been keen to marry her off. They were thus relieved when in 1878, at the age of twenty-five, she became engaged to Colonel Hozier, even though he was fourteen years her senior and only come-lately gentry of limited means.
Lady Blanche’s mother, also called Blanche, was a Stanley of Alderley, a tribe of assertive and erudite English matriarchs who combined radical Liberal views with upper-class condescension. They thought new clothes, fires in the bedroom and—above all—jam the epitome of excessive indulgence. Champions of female education, the Stanley women had cofounded Girton College in Cambridge in 1869. No less formidably clever than these eminent forebears, the elder Blanche had later mixed with the likes of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, the Tory prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, his bitter Liberal rival William Gladstone, and John Ruskin, the art critic, designer and social thinker. She had made her ineffectual husband switch the family political allegiance from Conservative to Liberal and was equally forceful with her tearful granddaughter Clementine, who was not her favorite. It was evidently unfitting for a girl of Stanley blood to show her emotions.
Hozier’s family made its money in brewing, gaining entrance to society thanks to the profits of industry rather than the privilege of birth. Although his elder brother became the first Lord Newlands and Henry himself received a knighthood in 1903 for his innovative work at Lloyd’s of London after a distinguished career in the army, the Hoziers remained essentially nouveau: middle-class stock who earned their own living.
In the eyes of many in the City, Henry was a “flamboyant” personality, but the Lloyd’s archives suggest a darker nature. He had graduated top of his class from Army Staff College and was decorated with the Iron Cross by Emperor Wilhelm I when serving as assistant military attaché to the Prussian forces during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and this and his service in Abyssinia and China appear to have gone to his head. His colleagues at Lloyd’s thought he was a “born autocrat” with an “excessive love of power” and an absence of humor. He also apparently suffered from an “excessive” fondness for spending the corporation’s money. An internal investigation in 1902 revealed that his business methods, while productive, were of “doubtful ethics.” Some of his soi-disant successes were, in truth, exaggerated or unfounded, and after he challenged one persistent critic to a duel in 1906, his reputation inside the upper echelons of Lloyd’s never quite recovered.2 Clementine was probably unaware of these stains on his character, admitting in a booklet she wrote for her own children, entitled “My Early Life,” that she knew very little about her father’s existence outside the home.
The earl considered his son-in-law a “bounder,” and Lady Blanche soon discovered to her horror that her husband’s previous career giving orders in the army had led him to expect the same unquestioning obedience at home. Far from liberating her from parental control, marriage to the splenetic and vengeful Henry proved even more restrictive. Before her wedding, Lady Blanche had assumed that she would become a notable political hostess in her own right. After leaving the military in 1874 Hozier had briefly dabbled in public life—standing unsuccessfully in 1885 as the Liberal Unionist candidate for Woolwich and helping to pioneer the idea of an intelligence service—but he had not the remotest interest in hosting his wife’s freewheeling aristo friends. Nor did he want children. Lady Blanche decided that she would take the matter into her own hands if he refused to oblige her. It was not helpful that Hozier was frequently away on business and unfaithful himself. Sexy, bored and lonely, Lady Blanche saw no reason not to shop around for a worthy mate of her own.
Five years after her wedding day, on April 15, 1883, she gave birth to her first child, Kitty. Two years later, on April Fools’ Day, Clementine (rhyming with mean, not mine) was born in haste on the drawing room floor. The twins—Nellie and William (Bill)—came three years later. It is now thought that none of the four children was Hozier’s and that there may in fact have been more than one biological father. Although it was not unusual for upper-class couples in the late nineteenth century to take lovers, the custom was to wait until an heir had been born before playing the field. Discretion was also expected. Lady Blanche ignored all the rules to such an extent that there were rumors of altercations between rivals. Indeed, she is reputed to have juggled up to ten lovers at once—a feat of athletic organization that she was pleased to advertise quite widely.
Clementine had no knowledge of all this as a child, and the family has only in recent years publicly acknowledged the question marks over her paternity. Doubts were, however, well aired by others during her lifetime. Lady Blanche’s own, albeit inconsistent, confessions to friends suggest that Clementine was in fact a Mitford. Her handsome and generous brother-in-law, the first Baron Redesdale, Bertie Mitford, was certainly a favored amour. Photographs of Clementine and Bertie—particularly in profile—suggest remarkable similarities, not least their fine aquiline noses. Perhaps it was as a tribute to her sister’s forbearance in sharing her husband in this way that Lady Blanche named her second daughter after her. Bertie’s legitimate son David went on to father the six renowned Mitford sisters: the novelist Nancy, the Nazi supporters Unity and Diana (whose brother Tom shared their fascist sympathies), the Communist Decca and Debo, later Duchess of Devonshire, and Pamela, who largely escaped public scrutiny.
Besides Mitford, the other prime candidate is Bay Middleton, an avid theatergoer of great charm and private melancholy. He later broke his neck steeplechasing but was a frequent visitor to Lady Blanche during the years when she conceived her two eldest daughters. She dropped hints to notable gossips that he was the one, although some have since suggested that this was a fig leaf for her sister’s sake. Such was the complexity of Lady Blanche’s sex life that we shall probably never know the truth. Clementine’s daughter Mary Soames found it “difficult to take a dogmatic view,” saying, “Je n’y ai pas tenue la chandelle.”3
The excitable younger Mitfords relished their great-aunt’s racy reputation, but the rest of Lady Blanche’s family thought her “mad.” London’s more respectable drawing rooms were similarly scandalized by the public uncertainty over the Hozier children’s paternity, with the result that Lady Blanche was regularly snubbed. Meanwhile, her children were cared for by a succession of grumpy maids and governesses who vented their frustration by swishing their wards’ bare legs with a cane. The one kindly soul in those early years was sixteen-year-old Mademoiselle Elise Aeschimann, a Swiss governess who arrived when Clementine was three. She thought the infant girl starved of attention and took to carrying her around everywhere, despite Lady Blanche’s admonitions not to spoil her. Mademoiselle Aeschimann started Clementine and Kitty on their lessons, especially French, and though she stayed only two years her warmheartedness made a lasting impression. Clementine later went to visit her in Switzerland and even helped her financially when she fell on hard times in old age.
Clementine remained an anxious child, however, and was tormented by a perfectionist streak. According to her daughter Mary she had a “most sensitive conscience, and suffered untold miseries if the immaculate white of her lace-edged pinafore was marred by spot or stain.”4 She took endless pains to form the neatest handwriting, a trait that led the adult Clementine to describe her younger self as a “detestable little prig.”5 Her principal emotional crutch was a large black pet poodle called Carlo, which devotedly listened to her troubles until it was tragically killed under the wheels of a train. Clementine had been ordered to leave the dog behind at the family’s new home, a country house outside Alyth in Scotland, but Carlo had pursued her to the station and tried to jump on board. “I do not remember getting over this,” she told her children many years later.6 Such emotional neediness—and a continuing fear of adults—earned her much maternal scorn. Kitty, by contrast, was puckish, pretty, shared her mother’s extroverted flamboyance and won Lady Blanche’s effusive love. Unsurprisingly, she became accustomed to getting her way—even once threatening to burn down the house to stop a governess from reporting her latest misdeed. Lady Blanche’s devoted preference for her firstborn was brazen and consistent.
In autumn 1891, Hozier sued for divorce and the two elder girls became “helpless hostages” in a bitter battle over custody and financial support. Clementine was just six when she and Kitty were wrested from their mother and sent to live with their father and his sister, the spinster Aunt Mary, who believed children benefited greatly from being whipped. Hozier found the girls an inconvenience, so he parceled them off to a governess in the Hertfordshire town of Berkhamsted. Rosa Stevenson advanced her charges little academically but both girls observed her fastidious housekeeping, including the two hours spent every day polishing the oil lamps: “They burnt as bright and clear as stars,” Clementine remembered fondly.7 She also recalled the delicious sausages, “although the slices were too thin and too few.”
Sadly, Aunt Mary considered Mrs. Stevenson too soft and uprooted the girls again, this time dispatching them to a “horrible, severe”8 boarding school in Edinburgh. The odor of yesterday’s haddock and the crumbs on the floor offended Clementine, and like her sister she felt desperately homesick.
Hozier finally relented and allowed Lady Blanche to extract her unhappy daughters and whisk them back to her rented house in Bayswater, a district then known among the smart set as the West London “wildlands.” Waiting for them there were the four-year-old twins Bill and Nellie, who, after a year apart from their elder siblings, no longer recognized them. Hozier came for tea on a couple of occasions but his awkward visits were not a success and soon stopped altogether. Once the divorce was finalized, almost all of his financial support dried up. Lady Blanche may have had her children back, but she was now dependent on her own cash-strapped family for handouts.
• • •
Over the following eight years, Lady Blanche and her brood led a peripatetic existence, moving from one set of furnished lodgings to another. In part this was out of financial necessity, to keep one step ahead of her creditors, but the constant roaming also suited her capricious nature. She ensured every new home was elegant and fresh, with snowy white dimity furniture covers (always two sets so they could be kept spotlessly clean) and fine muslin curtains on the windows. Clementine was enraptured by her mother’s ability to spin comfort out of the least promising circumstances, writing in “My Early Life”: “She had very simple but distinguished taste and you could never mistake a house or room in which she had lived for anyone else’s in the world.” Lady Blanche’s exalted standards even inspired a new verb: to “hozier” became synonymous among her daughters’ friends with to “tidy away.” Unfortunately the cost of such stylish homemaking pushed the family ever further into debt.
In an effort to earn her keep, Lady Blanche, who was an excellent cook, wrote culinary articles for the newspapers, but she sometimes found herself too bored or distracted to put food on the table for her own offspring. She was frequently absent (presumably with one of her many lovers) but if her children sometimes wanted for maternal attention they rarely went short of instruction. Their mother employed full-time French- or German-speaking governesses and other teachers were brought in as required. The only, rigidly observed, omission from their education was arithmetic, which Lady Blanche deemed “unseemly” for girls.
Around 1898, when Clementine was thirteen, Lady Blanche decamped from London for rooms near the railway station at Seaford, just east of the English Channel port of Newhaven. There she lived with her dogs Fifinne and Gubbins on the first floor at 9 Pelham Place, a modest gray terrace house, while Clementine, Kitty, Nellie, Bill and their “feather-headed” governess stayed at number 11. Lady Blanche refused to muzzle her dogs, in contravention of strict new antirabies laws, and was once summoned to the magistrates’ court in Lewes. Although she emerged from the trial with the desired “not guilty” verdict, perhaps due to the fact that one member of the bench was a personal friend, Clementine was troubled by her mother’s being “not very law-abiding.”9
This rackety existence could not have been in starker contrast to the four weeks the children spent every summer with their grandmother in the historic splendor of Airlie Castle. Here Lady Blanche’s mother, the Dowager Countess of Airlie, kept an unblinking vigil against any hint of a lack of gratitude—a subject upon which she had written an essay—insisting on the need to instill this virtue in young children as “otherwise they grow up louts.”10 She believed in fasting to “awaken the gifts of the Spirit” and loathed unladylike pursuits. Lady Blanche allowed Kitty and Clementine to play croquet (a practice that would later prove extremely useful) but only behind the gardener’s cottage, out of Grannie’s sight. She may have had a fiery temperament but her natural rebelliousness provoked her to give her daughters what were then unusual freedoms. Not only did she hire bicycles for them back in Seaford (with their being too expensive to buy), she allowed them to play bicycle polo on the rough grass opposite their lodgings too. Another beloved, unfeminine pastime was cricket, at which Clementine would in time become a decent player. She was also taught locally to play a creditable game of golf.
By now Clementine and Kitty were quite different: the former plain and awkward; the latter pretty and flirty—albeit impudent and ruthless as well. Clementine stood in her boisterous sister’s shadow but never showed any jealousy. In fact she found Kitty a comfort in a bewildering world. The star relied on a devoted supporting act, and while this role was far from easy it was nonetheless one in which Clementine came to excel. Like Lady Blanche, she was “dazzled” by her sister. Kitty, meanwhile, shared her younger sibling’s “unspoken contempt” for their mother’s “violent, ungovernable partiality.” “You mustn’t mind it,” she would counsel Clementine. “She can’t help it.”11

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00SI0B4LI
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Books (October 27, 2015)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ October 27, 2015
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 16913 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 426 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,137 ratings

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