Winston Churchill

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In the first two decades of the twentieth century, novelist Winston Churchill was considered an earnest critic of American society. In this regard, he remains interesting, though newer and more penetrating social insights have superseded his.

Churchill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 10, 1871. His education was completed at the U.S. Naval Academy, although he never served in the Navy. Private means, instead, made it possible for him to devote his life to writing. Inspired by the American past, he began as a writer of historical novels; The Crisis and Richard Carvel were immediate successes. Churchill was widely read until the 1920’s, when new literary techniques and concerns made him seem old-fashioned. In 1895, Churchill moved to New Hampshire and married. Active in the political life of his state, he was a member of the legislature from 1903 to 1905, and he ran unsuccessfully on the Progressive ticket as a candidate for governor.

Churchill’s later novels have a tone of moral earnestness which gave substance to the questions he chose to present. When he tried to resolve the dilemmas he set forth for himself, however, he fell back upon the genteel and the romantic. His attitude toward the American democratic tradition was dualistic; the wealthy in his novels were usually superior in taste and even in morals. His novels were a reflection of the intoxicating growth and wealth of the period, which seemed to hold solutions for the old dilemmas. Humankind could control the environment and foresee new ethics.

Thus, though in his own time Churchill was regarded as a reformer, his books now gather dust on the shelf: His is a voice from long ago. He concerned himself, with the exception of his early historical novels, with then-current problems of divorce, religion, and class relationships, but to these problems he—as a product and endorser of the status quo—had no very compelling answer. Nevertheless, as late as 1924, his rank was fourth in a list of the ten “greatest” writers since 1900.

For Further Review

Hofstadter, Richard, and Beatrice Hofstadter. “Winston Churchill: A Study in the Popular Novel.” American Quarterly, Spring, 1950, 12-18.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. American Fiction. 1936. Reprint. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1964.

Schneider, Robert W. Novelist to a Generation: The Life and Thought of Winston Churchill. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976.

Sinclair, Upton. “American Churchill.” Saturday Review of Literature, June 9, 1951.

Speare, Morris Edmund. The Political Novel: Its Development in England and in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1924.

Steinbaugh, Eric. Winston Churchill: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985.

Titus, Warren I. Winston Churchill. New York: Twayne, 1963.

Walcutt, Charles Child. The Romantic Compromise in the Novels of Winston Churchill. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1951.

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