America’s Winston Churchill—not to be confused with Great Britain’s Winston Churchill—was one of the most popular novelists in the early twentieth century. Descended from one of the earliest families of New England, Churchill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1871 and raised there. He received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy; although he did well at Annapolis, and in spite of his lack of personal wealth, he chose a literary career. His first novel, The Celebrity, was published in 1898, but it was his second, Richard Carvel (1899), a historical novel set during the American Revolution, that made Churchill a household name and brought him both popular and critical praise.
The Crisis is something of a sequel to Richard Carvel, with Richard’s descendants, Virginia Carvel and her father, among the major characters. Churchill initially envisioned The Crisis (originally titled The Third Generation) as a saga covering the period from the Civil War to the time of its writing, but then restricted the time to the Civil War era alone. The story is set largely in St. Louis, a simple choice since it was Churchill’s home until he moved to New Hampshire in 1900. It also gave the author certain advantages in structuring the novel. Missouri was both a slave state and a border state, and Churchill’s St. Louis was populated not only by Southerners but also by emigrants from New England who were unsympathetic to the Southern way of life, to its aristocratic values, and to slavery. Churchill explicitly postulates in The Crisis that the Civil War was, in many ways, a direct continuation of the struggle between the aristocratic Cavaliers who supported King Charles II during the English Civil War of the 1640’s and their opponents, the Parliamentary Puritans. The Puritans migrated to New England, the Cavaliers to Southern states, and in the mid-nineteenth century their descendants met, uneasily, in St. Louis.
Churchill’s historical interpretation is not accurate. The Southern aristocracy—and most Southerners were not aristocrats—was a U.S. development with no direct connection to England’s Cavaliers, but his reading of the past gives The Crisis a dramatic structural conflict of opposites. A more historically accurate choice is Churchill’s including as a third community in St. Louis the recent...
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