Winston Churchill the Novelist

February 4, 2015 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The fiftieth anniversary of Churchill’s state funeral brings out the usual accolades as well as the customary recriminations. It is a long standing British past time to place men and women on pedestals just in order to spend huge amounts of emotional energy shooting them down like twirling floating ducks at a seaside fair.

Whatever one thinks of Winston Churchill, there is no escaping the fact that he was a remarkable man. His leadership during the Second World War has become iconic; a symbol of stubborn bulldog resistance against a pervading evil that risked destroying the very freedoms that Britain had worked so hard for hundreds of years to create and embed in its very national psyche. His writing is evocative and intensely personal. Anyone reading his six volume history of The Second World War feels as if Winnie were talking to him/her personally. His other books, including A History of the English-speaking Peoples and the many memoirs of his adventures at different times in his life, are a real pleasure to read. His paintings are thoroughly evocative and his artistic talent is all the more amazing when we consider that he did not start painting until he was an old man. His pamphlets on hobbies and on art are well worth reading.

It is also true that Churchill was a self publicist, an apparent spendthrift who could not manage his money and who spent significantly more than he had in the bank. It is also true that he politically moved from the Conservatives to the Liberals back to the Conservatives. It is true that he wrote in admiration of Mussolini. That his biography of Marlborough was more a family white wash than a frank life story. That he expressed noxious imperialist and often, by today’s standards, racist views. That he toyed with religions including having an admiration of Islam, dressing up accordingly and generally pontificating about his new found faith – that caused his dearest and nearest to write to him warning him of the folly of becoming a Muslim (in itself as outrageous an example of early Islamophobia). That he unfairly blamed the Jews for Bolshevism whilst telling the whole world that he had always been a Zionist. That he went even further and outrageously said that Judaism was responsible for “the gospel of Christ and the gospel of Antichrist… And that this mystic and mysterious race had been chosen for the supreme manifestations, both of the divine and the diabolical.” That he believed that superior races like the white man had a stronger claim to a land over its indigenous Native Americans, Maoris, Aboriginals, Palestinians and other unfortunates. So, Churchill was a complex man – a mixture of the brilliant and the objectionable. In other words, like Hamlet’s father, “he was a man, take him for all in all, [we] shall not look upon his like again.”
Churchill was also a man for all seasons. He was a politician, a soldier, a historian, a biographer, an orator, a witty rapporteur and a hilariously wicked humourist, an artist, a parliamentarian and so many other personas. Indeed, his life inspired endless anecdotes many of them apocryphal – a true sign of a man larger than life leaving a indelible imprint. And where there is a blank in any anecdote, story tellers confabulate the missing part to round off a good Churchillian story. He was also a novelist. He wrote one novel: Savrola. Savrola is a swashbuckling narrative of political intrigue. It has its evil characters. Its romantic hero. Its traitors, fighters, cowards, heroes, its luscious woman worshipped by anyone remotely male without any apparent reason apart from her spectacular beauty and her admirers’ staggering arrogant sexist penis obsession – it even has horses, trains, ships, soldiers, navies, swords…

As a narrative Savrola can compare favourably with similar novels such as The Prisoner of Zenda, The Thirty Nine Steps and other adventure stories so beloved by boys so long ago. Indeed, I found myself reverting to my boyhood reading when I read about the revolutionary war against the evil dictator. I really wanted to know what happened next just as I did so long ago. I urged the heroes to give the villains a much deserved drubbing. I rejoiced when this happened. Yet, it could be argued that Churchill’s narrative is a little naïve and his characters are rather two dimensional. Their moral code is reminiscent of the worst excesses of imperial power and aristocratic arrogance. Their dialogues are stilted and come straight out of garish Victorian melodramas at their most artificial.

The reason that I found the novel well worth reading has much to do with its famed author. He wrote it when he was a very young man of twenty three years. He confesses that the novel allows him to expound on his political and personal philosophy. He tells his mother that “All my philosophy is put in the mouth of the hero”. The only problem is that his hero, Savrola, actually loses the fight – or does he? Well, I suppose that there is something very Churchillian in Savrola’s refusal to renege on his promise not to harm prisoners even if it were to save a city. There is, also, something very romantic about Savrola escaping the victorious Republicans whose leader and inspiration he previously was, doing so arm in arm with the beauteous and all too feminine Lucile. But does he? Churchill could not resist leaving us in suspense as he ends the novel with the turncoat Miguel joining the republican revolutionary ranks, helping Savrola and Lucile escape in a train originally readied for the escape of the now dead old president: “Although he had deserted the President when he saw that he was ruined and his cause lost, he hated Savrola with a genuine hatred. An idea came into his head.” But then, Savrola does try to go back to do his duty, and, threatened with arrest and certain death, he is helped to escape by a republican officer who had fought by his side. He rejoins Lucile and they disappear into the post end of novel world. I, for one, assume that that cad Miguel’s evil plans are deservedly foiled…

The other points of interest in Churchill’s one and only novel are the interesting political perspectives that he shows us. He can not help but show admiration for the heartless president whose delicious Machiavellism does show him to be a clever politician (in today’s quirky world, he would be a hero rather like bankers or financiers). Churchill makes merciless fun of the way that the British Empire threatens and bullies the small and defenceless Republic of Laurania with a greedy eye on its natural resources. He indulges in somewhat archaic values of chivalry and bravery under fire. His characters are wonderfully patrician – rather as he and his family were at the turn of the last century. For these and many other insights into Churchill the young man, this novel is well worth reading despite its inherent literary lightweight and artificial narrative structure. It is also an exciting adventure story for romantic little boys after they have retired back into the dotage of their second childhood.


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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi

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