Monthly Archives: December 2015

With ‘Sophia,’ A Forgotten Suffragette Is Back In The Headlines


Sophia Duleep Singh (fourth from left) fought for causes like women's suffrage and better treatment of Indian soldiers in World War I — enraging the British government.i

Sophia Duleep Singh (fourth from left) fought for causes like women’s suffrage and better treatment of Indian soldiers in World War I — enraging the British government.

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Sophia Duleep Singh (fourth from left) fought for causes like women's suffrage and better treatment of Indian soldiers in World War I — enraging the British government.

Sophia Duleep Singh (fourth from left) fought for causes like women’s suffrage and better treatment of Indian soldiers in World War I — enraging the British government.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

We get so many books in the mail — hundreds every week — that we can’t read them all, and sometimes all we can do with a book is say hey, that looks interesting, and file it away on the shelf.

That’s what happened to Anita Anand’s book Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, which was definitely the One That Got Away from me this year. I put it aside with vague good intentions, and then I forgot about it — until Princess Sophia ended up in the news.

Sophia

Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary

by Anita Anand

Hardcover, 416 pages |

purchase

When the movie Suffragette came out in October, critics noticed something off: The film’s struggling women were all white. In fact, one of the most important women in the suffragette movement was an Indian princess, Sophia Duleep Singh. But she didn’t make an appearance in the movie.

“Suddenly there was this sort of tidal wave of outrage from people who were saying, why wasn’t she in the movie?” says Anand. “So my first response was, why are you so angry? You hadn’t heard about her until fairly recently.”

Anand herself knew nothing about Sophia until she saw an interesting face in an old magazine photo. “It was black and white, but something about it just told me that this woman was as brown as I was,” she says. “She had the same sort of features as one of my aunties, and I just thought, you know, I’ve been a political journalist for 20 years; how is it that I don’t know about an Indian suffragette?”

Here’s how the suffragette princess disappeared from history.

Sophia Duleep Singh was named after her father, Duleep Singh, the last maharajah of the Sikh Empire. The British had forced him to give up his rich kingdom in Northern India — and his famous diamond, the Koh-i-Noor — when he was just a child. Sophia grew up in England with Queen Victoria as her godmother.

“And then something changed,” Anand says. “Something changed, to turn her into this harridan witch-woman who was out on the streets, embarrassing the throne, embarrassing the government, throwing herself at the police, campaigning for women’s rights. Her plummet from grace was just like a falling asteroid.”

What changed? Sophia made a trip to India in 1903, to see the grand celebrations for the accession of King Edward VII as emperor of India. She was shocked by the deprivation and the brutality of life under British rule — and by the officials of the Raj, who treated her no better than any other brown face.

“So she returns from India suddenly with this sense of fire in her, that it is not right to have equals treated as underclasses, be they brown or be they female,” Anand says. Sophia wanted a cause to fight for, and she found several: better treatment of Indian soldiers and her lifelong passion, women’s rights. She threw herself into the struggle — grappling with police at protests, throwing herself at the prime minister’s car and selling suffragette newspapers outside her apartment at Hampton Court Palace.

All of this enraged the British government. Sophia was constantly getting arrested. And while she was never behind bars for long — no one wanted to lock up or force-feed Queen Victoria’s goddaughter — authorities found other ways to get to her. “She was really punished for standing up to the British establishment, and as a result, more or less deleted from history,” Anand says.

The government worked to keep Sophia’s name out of the headlines; its refusal to throw her in prison meant that she was never truly famous among the suffragettes — and Sophia herself hated the spotlight. She died in 1948, essentially invisible.

But now, almost 70 years later, this fascinating woman is finally getting her due.

50 Wonderful Things From 2015


Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike XXL.i

Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike XXL.

Claudette Barius/Warner Brothers


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Claudette Barius/Warner Brothers

Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike XXL.

Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike XXL.

Claudette Barius/Warner Brothers

More and more, I eschew end-of-year best-of lists for the simple reason that they’re arbitrary and imply a comprehensiveness on which they can never deliver. What works for me is to compile a list that reflects some of the enormous gratitude I feel for getting to enjoy other people’s work and art — one that doesn’t even pretend to define what is best, but simply to share some of the abundant good stuff I run into.

Keep in mind: these are cultural — mostly pop-cultural — things. These are not the best things in the world. Like yours, my actual list of wonderful things from the year, if I wrote it in a journal instead of for work, would be a list of people, of hugs, of dinners, of walks and experiences.

And finally: There are things I really love that aren’t here because I’m too close to the people involved. In some cases, I found things I liked so much that I went out and drafted the people who made them into my universe of pals by any means necessary. Sorry, pals.

Here we go.

1. The somewhat polarizing closing sequence of Trainwreck, the gender politics of which could be debated at length, but which ultimately was an effective summation of one of the things that movie is about: When you’re in love, you just have to do the best you can.

2. The final shots of Andrew Haigh’s deceptively quiet film 45 Years, as Charlotte Rampling, without speaking, demonstrates that while the story has seemed up to that point like it’s operating on an engine of wistful resilience, it has a sterner spine and a more complex view of the longevity of a marriage than it seemed to have only moments earlier.

3. The clever, self-aware sequence in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in which the film takes aim at the trope of men pointlessly grabbing women’s hands before taking off running. (Bonus: the cast singing the theme music with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots.)

4. The startlingly graceful flexible poles used as critical fighting apparatuses in Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s true that the apocalyptic landscapes are gorgeous to look at, but throughout the film, new visual ideas appear by the minute, and it’s brilliant to offset the explosive, mechanical action of the vehicle chases with the smooth, rhythmic swaying of the poles.

5. The first musical number of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in which star Rachel Bloom warbles the ditty “West Covina.” It’s a confident, affable, wonderfully bent introduction.

6. Every scene between Melissa McCarthy and Allison Janney in Spy, a film that uses actor after actor (Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Cannavale, Morena Baccarin) to do something that’s different from what they usually do but somehow utterly perfect for them.

7. Bokeem Woodbine’s star-making role (an overused term, but fitting here) as Mike Milligan in the brilliant second season of FX’s Fargo. There’s so much great work in that season (Patrick Wilson would have been a perfectly good choice for this list, or Jean Smart, or Kirsten Dunst), but Woodbine was menacing, creepy and still sympathetic enough that his dreams were enough to constitute the stakes for the end of his story.

8. The end of the first season of Lifetime’s wonderful unREAL, in which Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) lie exhausted on their backs — reflecting the pose in which Rachel started the season — trying to process all they’d been through together and the bizarre, dysfunctional closeness that they both relied on.

9. The moment in Inside Out when Riley is finally able to talk to her parents about her sadness and her longing for Minnesota. The adorable emotions were the stars, but it’s Riley who’s really at stake, and to be comforted by her parents was her victory.

10. Perhaps the greatest terrible trailer in the history of humanity: the uproariously ridiculous tease for the Jennifer Lopez film The Boy Next Door.

11. The spare dialogue given to Matt Damon in Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard’s stellar (har) adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian. Damon doesn’t say much, since there’s no one to say it to, but that means that when he says, for instance, “[Bleep] you, Mars,” you really hear it.

12. A scene from Hulu’s Casual in which freshly divorced Valerie (Michaela Watkins) finds herself on an elevator, contemplating a situation in which she never expected to end up. She glides through emotions in a way that transcends the usual comedic trope of laughing leading to crying, so that the questions are both independently interesting: why she’s laughing and why she’s crying.

13. The scene in Netflix’s Master Of None in which Dev, played by Aziz Ansari (who co-created with Alan Yang), first makes a serious approach to Rachel, the girl he likes, and learns that she has a boyfriend. There are a million ways to go with this conversation — he can be sad, rejected, angry, resentful, jealous, self-pitying — and they just went the really honest route of stressing how bummed he is and how much he wishes they were in a different situation. It feels unexpectedly frank and fair, and in a way far more romantic than anything else he could have done. “You’re so cool; there’s not a lot of cool people,” he says. Everybody’s been there, right?

14. The turn at the end of the fall finale of The Mindy Project, now living on Hulu. Mindy and Danny’s relationship didn’t suddenly get better when they had a baby and got engaged; it got more complicated. And as Mindy measured her young son’s crib (a gesture for which heavy-hearted context had already been provided), the show made an unexpected but not unwelcome turn toward considering whether this relationship was really a good idea — a surprising move for a show so rooted to Mindy Kaling’s love of romantic comedy.

15. The combined impact of Rami Malek’s face as gorgeously presented by creator Sam Esmail and a team of directors across the first season of USA’s weird, uneven, ultimately transfixing Mr. Robot.

16. The scenes in David Simon’s Show Me A Hero that capture with just the right kind of intensity the emotion and cacophony of local politics.

17. The scene in Straight Outta Compton (caution: language) in which Eazy-E learns to rap from Dr. Dre. Funny and surprising and providing a bit of balance to the image of the members of N.W.A. as supergeniuses, it has a gentle sense of humor and a humility that helps build the relationships between the characters.

18. The audaciously dorky but weirdly sexy convenience-store dance Richie performs in Magic Mike XXL. The film isn’t perfect, but it has a punchy, raunchy, sex-positive vibe that’s very hard to resist, nowhere more than in this in-your-facedly silly display that, like other items in the convenience store might advertise, is for her pleasure.

19. Sydney Lucas at the Tony Awards singing “Ring Of Keys” from Fun Home. The best moments at the Tonys happen when one performance can take a show from a niche product to a pop culture phenomenon, and Lucas helped Fun Home make that leap without breaking a sweat.

20. The way the final chapters of Mad Men lingered on Peggy Olson, creating indelible images of her — particularly on roller skates and walking in shades with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth — that honestly dwarf the images of Don from the closing episodes. It wasn’t immediately evident at the time, but Peggy became more unforgettable, more special, more relevant, just as Don became more frozen, more confused, more back on his heels.

21. The cameos in the basement riff-off in Pitch Perfect 2. It’s far from a perfect film, to say the least, but if you manage to make it to that riff-off without knowing whom to expect, the incongruous nature of some of the contestants makes it worth your time.

22. The opening sequence of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The entire show felt like something that only accidentally made it to viewers, and its weird, earwormy intro fit it perfectly.

23. The ESPN documentary I Hate Christian Laettner, which managed to make sense both to people who hated him and to people who loved him, and which shed a lot of light on what sports “hate” means and comes from.

24. Leslie Knope giving her friend Ron Swanson the ideal job at the end of Parks & Recreation. A lesser show would have forced Ron into growth more easily equated with change, where Parks was smart enough to know that the love that grew up between these very different people was based on their ability to accept each other as they were. “Your job would be to walk around the land alone. You’d live in the same town you’ve always lived in; you’d work outside; you’d talk to bears.” She did know him after all.

25. The podcast Switched On Pop, from which many episodes could be chosen, but I’ll go with one of the first I heard: the investigation of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” So good and sharp and fun.

26. Speaking of podcasts, the episode of Startup in which Gimlet Media investigated the issue of burnout in the company, which was not only great radio but public service for everyone who has ever thought you could ask people for infinite investment without expecting some fallout. (Also the episode on diversity. It was a year of introspection.)

27. You can’t make your whole list out of Vines, but give me one: this is the one Vine that, for me, explained why Vine is sometimes the technology we’ve needed all our lives.

28. The wonderful, confessional, angry, humble, grateful piece that Lost writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach wrote about the show’s complicated legacy, its relationship with its incredibly demanding fans, and the fundamental fact that, as a project of humans, it was doomed to imperfection. It’s one of the best reality checks that have been written on the topic of fans who convince themselves they know how to write and make perfect television, if only someone would ask them.

29. Squeaking in at the end of the year: the New York Times review, sort of, of Senor Frog’s. There are times — as with an infamous review of all things Guy Fieri — when the Times‘ forays into the culture of the masses feel like condescending class commentary, but somehow, in reviewing the bonkers world of Senor Frog’s in Times Square, writer Pete Wells steers clear of sneering at tourists and keeps in mind that one goes to different restaurants for different reasons, and one does not go to Senor Frog’s for the high-end cuisine. Most of all, though, it’s a constantly surprising, gorgeously witty, sparklingly written piece of helpless, shrugged-shoulders limboing.

30. The episode of This American Life called “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, Say It In All-Caps,” in which writer Lindy West tracks down a troll, Ira Glass busts vocal-fry-haters for selectively disliking it in women, and more.

31. The movie dance compilation — no, hear me out! — that demonstrates that there is an art to the YouTube collage. Look at the uses of Omar Sy and Brad Pitt, for instance: Work went into making sure those things worked flawlessly and seemed meant to be. There are a million videos that aspire to be this one, which makes it stand out all the more. (Seriously, there’s a lot going on: Dirty Dancing, Grease and Footloose all get important placements in the structure of the music — not an accident. The second use of West Side Story is genius, as is the Jon Cryer appearance.)

32. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, a show from HBO that has figured out how to be hilarious but not glib while providing long, deeply researched segments on nonsexy topics like food waste and ones that have faded from headlines like TV preachers. For me this year, there was nothing more consistently satisfying and entertaining, not just on late night, but on television.

33. Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance, written with sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Particularly if you get your hands on the audiobook, it’s an intriguing mix of comedy and thoughtfulness and research, and while it’s mostly not earthshaking, it’s intriguing.

34. The Mystery Show episode “Belt Buckle.” You think you know how much punch the resolution is going to have, and then it has so much more than that.

35. The Another Round episode with Hillary Clinton. Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu ask Clinton questions that don’t typically get asked in ways that encourage other outlets to think about what they do and don’t ask, and why.

36. This stupid, irresistible YouTube video from the wonder that is Ikea.

37. The unexpected punch (sorry) of Creed, a film that could so easily have been lazy and obligatory and is instead vital, fun and often moving.

38. Maris Kreizman’s generous, thoughtful, provocative book Slaughterhouse 90210, a project based on a Tumblr with a deceptively simple structure and a great deal to say.

39. The strong sophomore seasons currently in play from ABC’s family comedies Fresh Off The Boat and Black-ish. Yes, both are part of some increased diversity in family shows, but even were that not the case, they’d be great to behold based solely on how reliably funny and confident both have become.

40. Viola Davis’ brilliant speech upon winning her Emmy, which came close to justifying the existence of award shows.

41. Effie Brown of HBO’s Project Greenlight, a producer who gave voice to so many frustrations about impossible, puffed-up creatives that she needs her own podcast, preferably called “Whatever, Bore-sese.”

42. The tremendous piece Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur wrote after a particularly bizarre American League Championship Series game. Even for non-baseball fans, a delight.

43. Catastrophe, a U.K. romantic comedy brought to U.S. viewers by Amazon, starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan as a couple whose path is most unexpected. Funny, odd, dirty, honest — just about all you can ask for from such a story.

44. Lily Tomlin’s performance in Grandma, as well as her sneakers. Highlights of an impeccably cast movie across the board.

45. Parul Sehgal’s essay for The New York Times Magazine about the word “flawless.”

46. The HBO series The Jinx — not for its more widely discussed bathroom mutterings, but for the discovery of the spelling error that, for me, is the actual moment the whole thing breaks open.

47. Ava DuVernay’s Barbie doll and all the user-submitted photos thereof.

48. What makes the podcast Judge John Hodgman so satisfying is that it’s really funny, but it’s also always really wise and really humane. In May, Hodgman took the case of a family where the father doesn’t want his young daughter to have birthday celebrations. As strange as that sounds, the judge found a lot to say about what was driving the father’s anxiety, what he owed to his family, and what he could and couldn’t expect from parenting.

49. As fashion and cultural commentary, Jazmine Hughes’ Cosmopolitan piece on dressing like Cookie from Empire for a week made me smile.

50. My favorite parody account in the history of Twitter, Emo Kylo Ren, created by The Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri. (Contains intermittent Star Wars spoilers. Hilarious spoilers.)

I have to tack on one quick thing that wasn’t from this year but that I found this year, which is a YouTube video in which user Bunan Tsokolatte paid gorgeous musical tribute to “Sparks, Nevada,” a segment from The Thrilling Adventure Hour. For a bunch of reasons — how loving and clever and charming it is, how it salutes a great project that moved into new chapters this year, how unexpected it is — this was one of my real highlights, and I just couldn’t bear to leave it out for calendar reasons alone.

And let me close with a few personal things that I enjoyed doing or working on in 2015: talking to Trevor Noah; talking to Judy Blume; hearing Audie Cornish talk to Shonda Rhimes; Chris Klimek’s review of San Andreas, which was a delight to edit; multiple live shows; and more words about Cinderella than I ever thought I’d get to write. Thank you for listening and reading, and happy 2016.

‘Shame And Wonder’ Is Light On Shame, Heavy On Wonder


Shame and Wonder

Essays

by David Searcy

Hardcover, 228 pages |

purchase

Shame and Wonder is a series of wandering essays on cartoons, comic books, model rockets and other passions of a midcentury boyhood, as well as meditations on travel and friends and whatever else drifts into its slow and dreamy orbit. And everywhere, David Searcy finds the strange and marvelous in careful examination of the quotidian.

His essays are often aimless, but with refrains and echoes: Searcy hunts for odd resonances and likes to get caught on the familiar corners of the world, turning them suddenly strange so you step back and see the ordinary world for the odd and lonely and magnificent thing it is.

In my favorite essay, a sweet, funny and slightly mournful meditation on Scrooge McDuck, Searcy finds a cyclical inescapability in the structure of cartoons and comics: cartoon characters try, strain, travel, but at the beginning of the next episode, they are always back where they started, neither sadder nor wiser. Nothing has ever changed: “Hopes and fears will cancel out and they’ll return to life between the quarterly issues — Donald Duck to a house like ours and Scrooge to the money bin, the sweet ennui, the old dissatisfaction.” New life is impossible.

He’s just as good on custom cars, normal cars transformed through years of labor into magnificent machines: “The idea, I think, was more or less that paradise is possible … The marvelous implicit in the everyday. How striking and encouraging to discover that a ’51 Ford pickup or whatever had a soul. Who would have thought? So, get behind the wheel of that and where do you go? Can you imagine?”

But for every thought that emerges slow and lovely like a sunrise from an ordinary view, there’s a clunker. The issue, I think, is that Searcy’s writing, though searching and gorgeous and meditative and all that, lacks a sense of play and self-awareness. A slightly beery smell, middle-aged and macho, comes from some of these pieces: I got tired of the habitual horizon-staring and gun-fingering, and wished for a little bit more introspection.

For instance (and this is going to sound petty), I couldn’t forgive a stance Searcy adopts early on in an essay about the killing of a coyote. The backbone of the essay is a story he hears from a dental hygienist, who tells him about a trap her father set for a coyote that was killing off his sheep.

The essay opens, “I’m in the dental hygienist’s chair and she’s a new one, although very much the same bright, cheery presence as the last, which works for me. The unencumbered heart is best, I think, in matters such as these.” She tells him to floss. “I hate to floss. It seems sort of prissy — like a manicure or something.” It’s a minor snottiness and doesn’t really have anything to do with the essay, but it embodies a broader posture: In an essay about hunting, the cheery dental hygienist and her very reasonable thoughts on flossing are implicitly contrasted with unprissy, uncheery things like guns and outsmarting coyotes and looking manfully into the distance, as much of the essay is spent doing.

The dangers of gum disease aside, it’s slightly derisive (can we presume her heart is unencumbered?) and contributes to the broader taste of self-seriousness and ungenerosity that keeps the book from being purely good company.

Even a touch of humor would help. In an essay about the prizes found at the bottom of cereal boxes, Searcy tries to convey the awe and excitement he felt as a child digging through the cereal for the prizes: “Not the ones you had to send away for … I mean the ones you’d find in the cereal box itself as if by accident … That something-out-of-nothing sort of power and unlikeliness — to which a child, so recently produced out of that powerful unlikeliness, would be especially sensitive.” For Searcy, the imbuing of meaning is so habitual that it sometimes approaches parody. No child thinks, finding a piece of plastic in his Lucky Charms, “I too was born miraculously, from inexplicable origins!”

But, gripes aside, this book is a lovely implicit argument for a particular orientation toward the world: continuous awe and wonder (the titular Shame never makes much of an appearance). Searcy advocates the magnificence of the ordinary, and the effect of his writing is like seeing how ordinary objects, put under a microscope, become otherwordly and strange — or normal words, repeated over and over again, become suddenly alien.

The world should be wondered at, the trees, the people, the strange instruments we devise for our survival and pleasure, are all spectacular if looked at too long, too closely. The pavement is as strange as the stars.

How Clementine Churchill Wielded Influence As Winston’s Wife


Lady Churchill in April 1965

Lady Churchill in April 1965

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images


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Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

At the outset, biographer Sonia Purnell didn’t know much about Clementine Churchill. “I confess, like millions of others, I had absolutely no idea who Winston Churchill’s wife was,” Purnell tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

But then Purnell stumbled onto a letter from 1940, when Winston Churchill had just become prime minister. It was the middle of World War II, and England was in a very bad state.

“She realized that he was in danger of losing support of the very people he needed most,” Purnell says. “He was being brusque and rude and rather overbearing. So, she wrote him this letter. And it just tells him how he needs to bring people alongside him, to make them love him. His behavior changed as a result of this. And people changed their minds about him.”

After reading that letter, Purnell had to find out more about the woman who influenced England — and her statesman husband — through two world wars. The result is Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. Purnell talks with Inskeep about Clementine Churchill’s background, her ambition, and what she’d be doing if she were alive today.

Interview Highlights

Clementine

The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill

by Sonia Purnell

Hardcover, 436 pages |

purchase

On how Clementine “threw herself into” being Churchill’s wife

I think she realized she couldn’t be the ordinary wife. She would lose Winston. She would never see him. So really from very, very early on, she threw herself into making herself the right sort of woman for him. She wanted to prove that she was up to it. A lot of people thought she wasn’t when she first married him. She’d come from this rackety background. She was quite shy. And so she pushed herself to become this incredibly wise, measured, knowledgeable, well-read person.

On her background

She was the granddaughter of a Scottish earl. But her mother was something of a Victorian wild child: Lady Blanche. She was married off, and it was a pretty loveless match. He didn’t want children. She did. She went about this with some enthusiasm, shall we say … without him! … She had up to 10 lovers on the go at once. As a result of this, her mother was shunned by polite society, had very little money. They kept having to move house. Her putative father, [Sir Henry] Hozier, tried to kidnap her. She managed to escape. But none of this was the sort of life you would normally expect of the granddaughter of a Scottish earl.

On what attracted Winston to her

I think because of her rackety background — she had no money, she was making her own living — she wasn’t like the normal society women that he’d met, who were interested in frocks and balls and not much else. So, suddenly here was a woman who was interested in what he had to say about all sorts of things, and he found that thrilling. She found it rapturous that here was someone prepared to talk about great and exciting world events — events which she wished she could be a part of.

The Churchills — Winston, Clementine and two of the their children, Sarah and Randolph — head to the House of Commons on Budget Day, April 15, 1929.

The Churchills — Winston, Clementine and two of the their children, Sarah and Randolph — head to the House of Commons on Budget Day, April 15, 1929.

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On how Clementine helped her husband rebuild his career after some disastrous mistakes

I think he always wanted to be prime minister. She always wanted him to be prime minister, too. I think the difference she made was that earlier in his career, he made countless mistakes. Take the Dardanelles [and the Gallipoli Campaign], for instance, in the first world war — disastrous military campaign. … And for many Empire troops, this was something that has, you know, stayed in history as a military disaster. You might argue it wasn’t really Churchill’s fault … you might argue it was. In any case, he got the blame. …

His career was completely shot. And she saw that the way back — he had to redeem himself. And if by volunteering to fight in the trenches at the Western Front, he could show people that he wasn’t this hothead. He wasn’t just all about him.

On how, when he went to fight with the British army on the Western Front, Clementine warned him not to come back too soon

Yes, can you imagine? … A wicked bullet could find him at any moment. But she wanted people to want him to come back. She knew that if he just came back, people would say, “Oh, it’s the same old Winston. He’s not learned.” If he stayed out there long enough that people realize that he was needed, then that would be different.

On how Clementine took action on her own

She saw that all Britain had in 1940-1941 was a collective spirit, and that had to be fostered and nurtured and protected. And yet, people were discontented. The air raid shortages and the Blitz — they were pretty horrible. They were cold; they were dark; they were scary. And so she went about ordering all the government ministers around: Please put heating in there. Please make sure there’s a fire exit there. Please manufacture 2 million new beds so people can sleep alongside their children during the raids to stop them from becoming too frightened. She saw that by dealing with these problems, you would foster that incredible Blitz spirit that people still talk about now.

On how researching Clementine affected the way Purnell views political couples today

Eleanor Roosevelt (left) and Clementine Churchill pose for photographers shortly before making an address over the CBC network in 1944.

Eleanor Roosevelt (left) and Clementine Churchill pose for photographers shortly before making an address over the CBC network in 1944.

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Sometimes I look at some of the political spouses today and I wonder where their ambition is. I mean, obviously times are different now. But in Britain, you very rarely hear anything about the prime minister’s wife apart from what frock she’s wearing or where she went on holiday. I’m amazed, really, that we’re still in that position where we don’t celebrate the fact that in many ways we get two for the price of one, because with the Churchills, we did.

On what Clementine might have done had she been born in a different time

She once said early in life she would have loved to have been a statesman in her own right if only she had been born with trousers rather than petticoats. I think if she were alive today, I suspect very much that she would be in the British Cabinet. She would certainly be an MP, and maybe, who knows, she might’ve gone for the prime minister’s job herself.

Despite ‘Star Wars’ Success, Disney Stock Drops




ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If you were holding stock in the company that made the new “Star Wars” movie – that would be Disney – you might expect to see a bump in value. But the day that the force awakened, shattering box office records, shares in Disney closed down. That surprised us. To find out what’s happening with that company, we turn to Ben Fritz, entertainment reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Hiya.

BEN FRITZ: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Last week when “The Force Awakens” opened in theaters around the world, everyone knew it was going to make a killing, but Disney stock is down nearly 10 percent this month. What’s going on?

FRITZ: Sure. Well, I think a lot of investors assume that “Star Wars,” which is owned by Disney since they bought Lucasfilm a few years ago, was going to be a blockbuster. And it is, and that’s great. But people on Wall Street are always looking for the cloud inside a silver lining, and at the same time that “Star Wars” is great, ESPN, the popular sports network which Disney also owns, is facing some challenges. And that is a big concern for people on Wall Street, and they’re sort of looking at it as an opportunity to say, woah, hold on; it’s not all roses and sunshine at Disney.

SIEGEL: Now, Disney remains a profitable company…

FRITZ: Very much so.

SIEGEL: …Doing better than some other broadcast companies. Everybody’s having a drop in viewership and advertising. What’s the big problem with ESPN that you spoke of?

FRITZ: The big problem, Robert, is that ESPN has been the growth driver for Disney for quite a while. It’s been growing at a, you know, high single-digit rate every year. And the company had told investors to expect that for the next several years. But then in August, they said, well, it’s not going to be growing quite as fast as we had hoped. And the reason is that the young people are not subscribing to cable as much as they used, so there are fewer people paying for ESPN. And you know, they are certainly trying to develop a new digital plan, you know, to be delivered over the Internet and so on, but that future is uncertain. And the way they’ve been making big money in the past is kind of falling apart.

SIEGEL: How many subscribers has ESPN lost?

FRITZ: Yeah, so they lost 3 million this year, 4 million the year before. They’re currently at 92 million. And there’s no reason to think that that path is not going to continue. That’s worrisome of you’re a Disney investor because no matter how much money they’re making from “Star Wars,” they seem to be losing growth on the cable business at the same time.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Ben, help me out here a little bit. I’ve always assumed that if anybody has cable television, they have ESPN. It would be the – that and C-SPAN would be the most logical things you’d find there.

FRITZ: Yes, yeah – no. Almost anybody who has cable does have ESPN, but not as many people have cable anymore. And what you’re seeing is a lot of what they call in the industry cord-nevers, which are people in their 20s who are saying, why even start subscribing to cable; I can get everything I was from Netflix or Amazon or Hulu and – to kind of pick the services that I want. And if you do it that way, then you don’t get ESPN.

SIEGEL: Where does ABC Television figure in all this? Is it doing well? Is it – does it bring in less than ESPN?

FRITZ: ABC is doing relatively well compared to other broadcast networks, but that’s like saying you’re doing really well these day in the newspaper business. It’s a tough business in broadcast, and it makes a lot less money than cable and ESPN. So no matter how well ABC does, it’s kind of a drop in the bucket compared to cable networks like ESPN.

SIEGEL: Disney recently announced that it’s adding a huge “Star Wars” theme to its Disneyland Park in California, talks of spinoff movies, TV shows. There’s merchandise everywhere you turn. Is Disney banking on “Star Wars” to keep the company profitable?

FRITZ: Very much so. “Star Wars” is not the only thing they have, but it’s quickly become one of, if not, their absolute biggest franchise. And outside of ESPN, Disney has kind of built its business around these franchises like “Star Wars” and Marvel superheroes and “Frozen.” And so that’s very much a big part of the company’s future. “Star Wars” is at the heart of it. And I think the question for any Disney investor is, is the growth of these franchises like “Star Wars” enough to make up for the challenges in cable TV, specifically ESPN.

SIEGEL: Ben Fritz, entertainment reporter for The Wall Street Journal, thanks.

FRITZ: Sure. It’s my pleasure.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

‘Shame And Wonder’ Is Light On Shame, Heavy On Wonder


Shame and Wonder

Essays

by David Searcy

Hardcover, 228 pages |

purchase

Shame and Wonder is series of wandering essays on cartoons, comic books, model rockets, and other passions of a midcentury boyhood, as well as meditations on travel and friends and whatever else drifts into its slow and dreamy orbit. And everywhere, David Searcy finds the strange and marvelous in careful examination of the quotidian.

His essays are often aimless, but with refrains and echoes: Searcy hunts for odd resonances, and likes to get caught on the familiar corners of the world, turning them suddenly strange so you step back and see the ordinary world for the odd and lonely and magnificent thing it is.

In my favorite essay, a sweet, funny, and slightly mournful meditation on Scrooge McDuck, Searcy finds a cyclical inescapability in the structure of cartoons and comics: cartoon characters try, strain, travel, but at the beginning of the next episode, they are always back where they started, neither sadder or wiser. Nothing has ever changed: “Hopes and fears will cancel out and they’ll return to life between the quarterly issues — Donald Duck to a house like ours and Scrooge to the money bin, the sweet ennui, the old dissatisfaction.” New life is impossible.

He’s just as good on custom cars, normal cars transformed through years of labor into magnificent machines: “The idea, I think, was more or less that paradise is possible … The marvelous implicit in the everyday. How striking and encouraging to discover that a ’51 Ford pickup or whatever had a soul. Who would have thought? So, get behind the wheel of that and where do you go? Can you imagine?”

But for every thought that emerges slow and lovely like a sunrise from an ordinary view, there’s a clunker. The issue, I think, is that Searcy’s writing, though searching and gorgeous and meditative and all that, lacks a sense of play and self-awareness. A slightly beery smell, middle-aged and macho, comes from some of these pieces: I got tired of the habitual horizon-staring and gun-fingering, and wished for a little bit more introspection.

For instance (and this is going to sound petty), I couldn’t forgive a stance Searcy adopts early on in an essay about the killing of a coyote. The backbone of the essay is a story he hears from a dental hygienist, who tells him about a trap her father set for a coyote that was killing off his sheep.

The essay opens, “I’m in the dental hygienist’s chair and she’s a new one, although very much the same bright, cheery presence as the last, which works for me. The unencumbered heart is best, I think, in matters such as these.” She tells him to floss. “I hate to floss. It seems sort of prissy – like a manicure or something.” It’s a minor snottiness, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the essay, but it embodies a broader posture: In an essay about hunting, the cheery dental hygienist and her very reasonable thoughts on flossing are implicitly contrasted with unprissy, uncheery things like guns and outsmarting coyotes and looking manfully into the distance, as much of the essay is spent doing.

The dangers of gum disease aside, it’s slightly derisive (can we presume her heart is unencumbered?), and contributes to the broader taste of self-seriousness and ungenerosity that keeps the book from being purely good company.

Even a touch of humor would help. In an essay about the prizes found at the bottom of cereal boxes, Searcy tries to convey the awe and excitement he felt as a child digging through the cereal for the prizes: “Not the ones you had to send away for … I mean the ones you’d find in the cereal box itself as if by accident … That something-out-of-nothing sort of power and unlikeliness—to which a child, so recently produced out of that powerful unlikeliness, would be especially sensitive.” For Searcy, the imbuing of meaning is so habitual that sometimes approaches parody. No child thinks, finding a piece of plastic in his Lucky Charms, “I too was born miraculously, from inexplicable origins!”

But, gripes aside, this book is a lovely implicit argument for a particular orientation towards the world: continuous awe and wonder (the titular Shame never makes much of an appearance). Searcy advocates the magnificence of the ordinary, and the effect of his writing is like seeing how ordinary objects, put under a microscope, become otherwordly and strange — or normal words, repeated over and over again, become suddenly alien.

The world should be wondered at, the trees, the people, the strange instruments we devise for our survival and pleasure, are all spectacular if looked at too long, too closely. The pavement is as strange as the stars.

How Clementine Churchill Wielded Influence As Winston’s Wife


Lady Churchill in April 1965

Lady Churchill in April 1965

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

At the outset, biographer Sonia Purnell didn’t know much about Clementine Churchill. “I confess, like millions of others, I had absolutely no idea who Winston Churchill’s wife was,” Purnell tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

But then Purnell stumbled onto a letter from 1940, when Winston Churchill had just become prime minister. It was the middle of World War II, and England was in a very bad state.

“She realized that he was in danger of losing support of the very people he needed most,” Purnell says. “He was being brusque and rude and rather overbearing. So, she wrote him this letter. And it just tells him how he needs to bring people alongside him, to make them love him. His behavior changed as a result of this. And people changed their minds about him.”

After reading that letter, Purnell had to find out more about the woman who influenced England — and her statesman husband — through two world wars. The result is Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. Purnell talks with Inskeep about Clementine Churchill’s background, her ambition, and what she’d be doing if she were alive today.

Interview Highlights

Clementine

The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill

by Sonia Purnell

Hardcover, 436 pages |

purchase

On how Clementine “threw herself into” being Churchill’s wife

I think she realized she couldn’t be the ordinary wife. She would lose Winston. She would never see him. So really from very, very early on, she threw herself into making herself the right sort of woman for him. She wanted to prove that she was up to it. A lot of people thought she wasn’t when she first married him. She’d come from this rackety background. She was quite shy. And so she pushed herself to become this incredibly wise, measured, knowledgeable, well-read person.

On her background

She was the granddaughter of a Scottish earl. But her mother was something of a Victorian wild child: Lady Blanche. She was married off, and it was a pretty loveless match. He didn’t want children. She did. She went about this with some enthusiasm, shall we say … without him! … She had up to 10 lovers on the go at once. As a result of this, her mother was shunned by polite society, had very little money. They kept having to move house. Her putative father, [Sir Henry] Hozier, tried to kidnap her. She managed to escape. But none of this was the sort of life you would normally expect of the granddaughter of a Scottish earl.

On what attracted Winston to her

I think because of her rackety background — she had no money, she was making her own living — she wasn’t like the normal society women that he’d met, who were interested in frocks and balls and not much else. So, suddenly here was a woman who was interested in what he had to say about all sorts of things, and he found that thrilling. She found it rapturous that here was someone prepared to talk about great and exciting world events — events which she wished she could be a part of.

The Churchills — Winston, Clementine and two of the their children, Sarah and Randolph — head to the House of Commons on Budget Day, April 15, 1929.

The Churchills — Winston, Clementine and two of the their children, Sarah and Randolph — head to the House of Commons on Budget Day, April 15, 1929.

Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On how Clementine helped her husband rebuild his career after some disastrous mistakes

I think he always wanted to be prime minister. She always wanted him to be prime minister, too. I think the difference she made was that earlier in his career, he made countless mistakes. Take the Dardanelles [and the Gallipoli Campaign], for instance, in the first world war — disastrous military campaign. … And for many Empire troops, this was something that has, you know, stayed in history as a military disaster. You might argue it wasn’t really Churchill’s fault … you might argue it was. In any case, he got the blame. …

His career was completely shot. And she saw that the way back — he had to redeem himself. And if by volunteering to fight in the trenches at the Western Front, he could show people that he wasn’t this hothead. He wasn’t just all about him.

On how, when he went to fight with the British army on the Western Front, Clementine warned him not to come back too soon

Yes, can you imagine? … A wicked bullet could find him at any moment. But she wanted people to want him to come back. She knew that if he just came back, people would say, “Oh, it’s the same old Winston. He’s not learned.” If he stayed out there long enough that people realize that he was needed, then that would be different.

On how Clementine took action on her own

She saw that all Britain had in 1940-1941 was a collective spirit, and that had to be fostered and nurtured and protected. And yet, people were discontented. The air raid shortages and the Blitz — they were pretty horrible. They were cold; they were dark; they were scary. And so she went about ordering all the government ministers around: Please put heating in there. Please make sure there’s a fire exit there. Please manufacture 2 million new beds so people can sleep alongside their children during the raids to stop them from becoming too frightened. She saw that by dealing with these problems, you would foster that incredible Blitz spirit that people still talk about now.

On how researching Clementine affected the way Purnell views political couples today

Eleanor Roosevelt (left) and Clementine Churchill pose for photographers shortly before making an address over the CBC network in 1944.

Eleanor Roosevelt (left) and Clementine Churchill pose for photographers shortly before making an address over the CBC network in 1944.

PhotoQuest/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Sometimes I look at some of the political spouses today and I wonder where their ambition is. I mean, obviously times are different now. But in Britain, you very rarely hear anything about the prime minister’s wife apart from what frock she’s wearing or where she went on holiday. I’m amazed, really, that we’re still in that position where we don’t celebrate the fact that in many ways we get two for the price of one, because with the Churchills, we did.

On what Clementine might have done had she been born in a different time

She once said early in life she would have loved to have been a statesman in her own right if only she had been born with trousers rather than petticoats. I think if she were alive today, I suspect very much that she would be in the British Cabinet. She would certainly be an MP, and maybe, who knows, she might’ve gone for the prime minister’s job herself.

Despite ‘Star Wars’ Success, Disney Stock Drops




ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If you were holding stock in the company that made the new “Star Wars” movie – that would be Disney – you might expect to see a bump in value. But the day that the force awakened, shattering box office records, shares in Disney closed down. That surprised us. To find out what’s happening with that company, we turn to Ben Fritz, entertainment reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Hiya.

BEN FRITZ: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Last week when “The Force Awakens” opened in theaters around the world, everyone knew it was going to make a killing, but Disney stock is down nearly 10 percent this month. What’s going on?

FRITZ: Sure. Well, I think a lot of investors assume that “Star Wars,” which is owned by Disney since they bought Lucasfilm a few years ago, was going to be a blockbuster. And it is, and that’s great. But people on Wall Street are always looking for the cloud inside a silver lining, and at the same time that “Star Wars” is great, ESPN, the popular sports network which Disney also owns, is facing some challenges. And that is a big concern for people on Wall Street, and they’re sort of looking at it as an opportunity to say, woah, hold on; it’s not all roses and sunshine at Disney.

SIEGEL: Now, Disney remains a profitable company…

FRITZ: Very much so.

SIEGEL: …Doing better than some other broadcast companies. Everybody’s having a drop in viewership and advertising. What’s the big problem with ESPN that you spoke of?

FRITZ: The big problem, Robert, is that ESPN has been the growth driver for Disney for quite a while. It’s been growing at a, you know, high single-digit rate every year. And the company had told investors to expect that for the next several years. But then in August, they said, well, it’s not going to be growing quite as fast as we had hoped. And the reason is that the young people are not subscribing to cable as much as they used, so there are fewer people paying for ESPN. And you know, they are certainly trying to develop a new digital plan, you know, to be delivered over the Internet and so on, but that future is uncertain. And the way they’ve been making big money in the past is kind of falling apart.

SIEGEL: How many subscribers has ESPN lost?

FRITZ: Yeah, so they lost 3 million this year, 4 million the year before. They’re currently at 92 million. And there’s no reason to think that that path is not going to continue. That’s worrisome of you’re a Disney investor because no matter how much money they’re making from “Star Wars,” they seem to be losing growth on the cable business at the same time.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Ben, help me out here a little bit. I’ve always assumed that if anybody has cable television, they have ESPN. It would be the – that and C-SPAN would be the most logical things you’d find there.

FRITZ: Yes, yeah – no. Almost anybody who has cable does have ESPN, but not as many people have cable anymore. And what you’re seeing is a lot of what they call in the industry cord-nevers, which are people in their 20s who are saying, why even start subscribing to cable; I can get everything I was from Netflix or Amazon or Hulu and – to kind of pick the services that I want. And if you do it that way, then you don’t get ESPN.

SIEGEL: Where does ABC Television figure in all this? Is it doing well? Is it – does it bring in less than ESPN?

FRITZ: ABC is doing relatively well compared to other broadcast networks, but that’s like saying you’re doing really well these day in the newspaper business. It’s a tough business in broadcast, and it makes a lot less money than cable and ESPN. So no matter how well ABC does, it’s kind of a drop in the bucket compared to cable networks like ESPN.

SIEGEL: Disney recently announced that it’s adding a huge “Star Wars” theme to its Disneyland Park in California, talks of spinoff movies, TV shows. There’s merchandise everywhere you turn. Is Disney banking on “Star Wars” to keep the company profitable?

FRITZ: Very much so. “Star Wars” is not the only thing they have, but it’s quickly become one of, if not, their absolute biggest franchise. And outside of ESPN, Disney has kind of built its business around these franchises like “Star Wars” and Marvel superheroes and “Frozen.” And so that’s very much a big part of the company’s future. “Star Wars” is at the heart of it. And I think the question for any Disney investor is, is the growth of these franchises like “Star Wars” enough to make up for the challenges in cable TV, specifically ESPN.

SIEGEL: Ben Fritz, entertainment reporter for The Wall Street Journal, thanks.

FRITZ: Sure. It’s my pleasure.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

‘Shame And Wonder’ Is Light On Shame, Heavy On Wonder


Shame and Wonder

Essays

by David Searcy

Hardcover, 228 pages |

purchase

Shame and Wonder is series of wandering essays on cartoons, comic books, model rockets, and other passions of a midcentury boyhood, as well as meditations on travel and friends and whatever else drifts into its slow and dreamy orbit. And everywhere, David Searcy finds the strange and marvelous in careful examination of the quotidian.

His essays are often aimless, but with refrains and echoes: Searcy hunts for odd resonances, and likes to get caught on the familiar corners of the world, turning them suddenly strange so you step back and see the ordinary world for the odd and lonely and magnificent thing it is.

In my favorite essay, a sweet, funny, and slightly mournful meditation on Scrooge McDuck, Searcy finds a cyclical inescapability in the structure of cartoons and comics: cartoon characters try, strain, travel, but at the beginning of the next episode, they are always back where they started, neither sadder or wiser. Nothing has ever changed: “Hopes and fears will cancel out and they’ll return to life between the quarterly issues — Donald Duck to a house like ours and Scrooge to the money bin, the sweet ennui, the old dissatisfaction.” New life is impossible.

He’s just as good on custom cars, normal cars transformed through years of labor into magnificent machines: “The idea, I think, was more or less that paradise is possible … The marvelous implicit in the everyday. How striking and encouraging to discover that a ’51 Ford pickup or whatever had a soul. Who would have thought? So, get behind the wheel of that and where do you go? Can you imagine?”

But for every thought that emerges slow and lovely like a sunrise from an ordinary view, there’s a clunker. The issue, I think, is that Searcy’s writing, though searching and gorgeous and meditative and all that, lacks a sense of play and self-awareness. A slightly beery smell, middle-aged and macho, comes from some of these pieces: I got tired of the habitual horizon-staring and gun-fingering, and wished for a little bit more introspection.

For instance (and this is going to sound petty), I couldn’t forgive a stance Searcy adopts early on in an essay about the killing of a coyote. The backbone of the essay is a story he hears from a dental hygienist, who tells him about a trap her father set for a coyote that was killing off his sheep.

The essay opens, “I’m in the dental hygienist’s chair and she’s a new one, although very much the same bright, cheery presence as the last, which works for me. The unencumbered heart is best, I think, in matters such as these.” She tells him to floss. “I hate to floss. It seems sort of prissy – like a manicure or something.” It’s a minor snottiness, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the essay, but it embodies a broader posture: In an essay about hunting, the cheery dental hygienist and her very reasonable thoughts on flossing are implicitly contrasted with unprissy, uncheery things like guns and outsmarting coyotes and looking manfully into the distance, as much of the essay is spent doing.

The dangers of gum disease aside, it’s slightly derisive (can we presume her heart is unencumbered?), and contributes to the broader taste of self-seriousness and ungenerosity that keeps the book from being purely good company.

Even a touch of humor would help. In an essay about the prizes found at the bottom of cereal boxes, Searcy tries to convey the awe and excitement he felt as a child digging through the cereal for the prizes: “Not the ones you had to send away for … I mean the ones you’d find in the cereal box itself as if by accident … That something-out-of-nothing sort of power and unlikeliness—to which a child, so recently produced out of that powerful unlikeliness, would be especially sensitive.” For Searcy, the imbuing of meaning is so habitual that sometimes approaches parody. No child thinks, finding a piece of plastic in his Lucky Charms, “I too was born miraculously, from inexplicable origins!”

But, gripes aside, this book is a lovely implicit argument for a particular orientation towards the world: continuous awe and wonder (the titular Shame never makes much of an appearance). Searcy advocates the magnificence of the ordinary, and the effect of his writing is like seeing how ordinary objects, put under a microscope, become otherwordly and strange — or normal words, repeated over and over again, become suddenly alien.

The world should be wondered at, the trees, the people, the strange instruments we devise for our survival and pleasure, are all spectacular if looked at too long, too closely. The pavement is as strange as the stars.

How Clementine Churchill Wielded Influence As Winston’s Wife


Lady Churchill on April 1965

Lady Churchill on April 1965

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

At the outset, biographer Sonia Purnell didn’t know much about Clementine Churchill. “I confess, like millions of others, I had absolutely no idea who Winston Churchill’s wife was,” Purnell tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

But then Purnell stumbled onto a letter from 1940, when Churchill had just become prime minister. It was the middle of World War II, and England was in a very bad state.

“She realized that he was in danger of losing support of the very people he needed most,” Purnell says. “He was being brusque and rude and rather overbearing. So, she wrote him this letter. And it just tells him how he needs to bring people alongside him, to make them love him. His behavior changed as a result of this. And people changed their minds about him.”

After reading that letter, Purnell had to find out more about the woman who influenced England — and her statesman husband — through two World Wars. The result is Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. Purnell talks with Inskeep about Clementine Churchill’s background, her ambition, and what she’d be doing if she were alive today.

Interview Highlights

Clementine

The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill

by Sonia Purnell

Hardcover, 436 pages |

purchase

On how hard she “threw herself” into being Churchill’s wife

I think she realized she couldn’t be the ordinary wife. She would lose Winston. She would never see him. So really from very, very early on, she threw herself into making herself the right sort of woman for him. She wanted to prove that she was up to it. A lot of people thought she wasn’t when she first married him. She’d come from this rackety background. She was quite shy. And so she pushed herself to become this incredibly wise, measured, knowledgeable, well-read person.

On her background

She was the granddaughter of a Scottish earl. But her mother was something of a Victorian wild child: Lady Blanche. She was married off and it was a pretty loveless match. He didn’t want children. She did. She went about this with some enthusiasm, shall we say … without him! … She had up to 10 lovers on the go at once. As a result of this, her mother was shunned by polite society, had very little money. They kept having to move house. Her putative father, [Sir Henry] Hozier, tried to kidnap her. She managed to escape. But none of this was the sort of life you would normally expect of the granddaughter of a Scottish earl.

On what attracted Churchill to her

I think because of her rackety background, she had no money, she was making her own living. She wasn’t like the normal society women that he’d met who were interested in frocks and balls and not much else. So suddenly, here was a woman who was interested in what he had to say about all sorts of things and he found that thrilling. She found it rapturous that here was someone prepared to talk about great and exciting world events — events which she wished she could be a part of.

The Churchills — Winston, Clementine, and two of the their children, Sarah and Randolph — head to the House of Commons on Budget Day, April 15, 1929.

The Churchills — Winston, Clementine, and two of the their children, Sarah and Randolph — head to the House of Commons on Budget Day, April 15, 1929.

Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On how Clementine Churchill helped her husband rebuild his career after some disastrous mistakes

I think he always wanted to be prime minister. She always wanted him to be prime minister, too. I think the difference she made was that earlier in his career, he made countless mistakes. Take the Dardanelles [and the Gallipoli Campaign], for instance, in the First World War — disastrous military campaign. … And for many Empire troops this was something that has, you know, stayed in history as a military disaster. You might argue it wasn’t really Churchill’s fault … you might argue it was. In any case, he got the blame. …

His career was completely shot. And she saw that the way back — he had to redeem himself. And if by volunteering to fight in the trenches at the Western Front, he could show people that he wasn’t this hothead. He wasn’t just all about him.

On how, when he went to fight with the British army on the Western Front, Clementine warned him not to come back too soon

Yes, can you imagine? … A wicked bullet could find him at any moment. But she wanted people to want him to come back. She knew that if he just came back, people would say, “Oh, it’s the same old Winston. He’s not learned.” If he stayed out there long enough that people realize that he was needed, then that would be different.

On how she took action on her own

She saw that all Britain had in 1940-1941 was a collective spirit, and that had to be fostered and nurtured and protected. And yet, people were discontented. The air raid shortages and the Blitz; they were pretty horrible. They were cold; they were dark; they were scary. And so she went about ordering all the government ministers around: Please put heating in there. Please make sure there’s a fire exit there. Please manufacture two million new beds so people can sleep alongside their children during the raids to stop them from becoming too frightened. She saw that by dealing with these problems, you would foster that incredible Blitz spirit that people still talk about now.

On how researching Clementine affected the way she views political couples today

Eleanor Roosevelt (left) and Clementine Churchill pose for photographers shortly before they make an address over the CBC network in 1944.

Eleanor Roosevelt (left) and Clementine Churchill pose for photographers shortly before they make an address over the CBC network in 1944.

PhotoQuest/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Sometimes I look at some of the political spouses today and I wonder where their ambition is. I mean, obviously times are different now. But in Britain, you very rarely hear anything about the prime minister’s wife apart from what frock she’s wearing or where she went on holiday. I’m amazed, really, that we’re still in that position where we don’t celebrate the fact that in many ways we get two for the price of one, because with the Churchills, we did.

On what Clementine might have done had she been born in a different time

She once said early in life she would have loved to have been a statesman in her own right if only she had been born with trousers rather than petticoats. I think if she were alive today, I suspect very much that she would be in the British Cabinet. She would certainly be an MP and maybe, who knows, she might’ve gone for the prime minister’s job herself.