Monday, 14 July 2014

churchill's phrasemaking; churchill's literary-based opposition to hitler

Two extracts from Piers Brendon's review (Literary Review, April 2014) of The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor, by Jonathan Rose:

Rose starts from the unimpeachable premise that Churchill was in thrall to the words, spoken and written, with which he dramatised his life. There is, indeed, abandant evidence for this. As his friend Charles Masterman said: 'He is in the Greek sense a rhetorician, the slave of the words which his mind forms around ideas. He sets ideas to rhetoric as musicians set theirs to music. And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery.'

Asquith put it more pithily: 'Winston thinks with his mouth.' His real tyrant, observed Sir Robert Menzies, was the 'glittering phrase'. Such phrases could be misleading, none more so than his reference to the Mediterranean as 'the soft underbelly of Europe'. Yet even as a young man Churchill himself was aware of the danger of becoming, as Disraeli famously said of Gladstone, 'inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity'. He told his mother, 'I very often yield to the temptation of adapting my facts to my phrases.'

Similarly, as Rose rightly says, facts were always subservient to interpretation in Churchill's books.


Citing Churchill's fear that Hitler's domination of Europe would deprive Britain not only of territory but also of free speech, Rose asserts that 'the core of his implacable resistance to Nazism was essentially literary'. Furthermore, Rose affirms, Churchill 'recognized and resisted Hitler largely because the Fuhrer so closely resembled the fictional villain [Antonio Molara] he had created' in his only novel, a Ruritanian romance entitled Savrola, first published in 1899. But evidently the resemblance was not close enough. So, in the end, Rose decides that Churchill 'recognized his enemy because Hitler seemed to be an amalgamation of his three favorite melodramatic villains', Molara, Moses and the African tyrant in King Solomon's Mines.

Only a university professor of rare intelligence would conclude that Churchill needed adventitious aid from literature to appreciate the menace of Hitler.