Churchill, Winston 1871-1947
CHURCHILL, Winston 1871-1947
PERSONAL: Born November 10, 1871, in St. Louis, MO; died March 12, 1947, in Winter Park, FL; son of Edward Spaulding (import merchant) and Emma Bell Blaine Churchill; married Mabel Harlakenden Hall, 1895 (died, 1945); children: Mabel, John, Creighton. Education: U. S. Naval Academy, received degree, 1894. Religion: Episcopalian.
CAREER: Army and Navy Journal, New York, NY, editor, 1894; Cosmopolitan, New York, NY, managing editor, 1895; full-time writer from 1895; Republican member of Cornish, NH, legislature, 1903-05; Republican National Convention, Chicago, IL, delegate from New Hampshire, 1904; Progressive Party candidate for New Hampshire governor; Scribner's, New York, NY, writer, 1917-18. Military service: Served as naval cadet on the San Francisco, New York Navy Yard, 1894.
MEMBER: Authors League of America (president, 1913).
The Celebrity: An Episode, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1898.
Richard Carvel, Macmillan (New York, NY) 1899.
The Crisis, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1901.
Mr. Keegan's Elopement, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1903.
The Crossing, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1904.
The Title-Mart: A Comedy in Three Acts, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1905.
Coniston, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1906.
Mr. Crewe's Career, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1908.
A Modern Chronicle, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1910.
The Inside of the Cup, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1913.
A Far Country, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1915.
The Dwelling-Place of Light, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1917.
The Faith of Frances Craniford, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1917.
A Traveller in Wartime; With an Essay on the AmericanContribution and the Democratic Idea, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1918.
Dr. Jonathan: A Play in Three Acts, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1919.
The Crisis: A Play in Four Acts, S. French (New York, NY), 1927.
The Uncharted Way: The Psychology of the GospelDoctrine, Dorrance (Philadelphia, PA), 1940.
Contributed to periodical publications Atlantic, Century, Harper's, North American Review, and Yale Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Winston Churchill (no relation to the British Prime Minister) was best known for his earnest, naive historical romances. Churchill's work exceeded all others in popularity during the early twentieth century, but he gradually turned away from his popular historical romances to approach political and moral questions more directly. He also became increasingly involved with the Republican and Progressive political parties, and eventually took up theological speculation. He set aside the"natural storytelling," which had pleased both critics and audiences early in his career, in favor of political and religious musings. Moreover, as a reviewer in the Cyclopedia of World Authors explained: "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."
Churchill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 10, 1871. His family was wealthy; Churchill's father, Edward Spalding Churchill, was a successful importer and his mother, Emma Bell Blaine Churchill, was a descendant of Jonathan Edwards. Churchill's mother, however, died soon after his birth, and Louisa and James Gazams, Emma's half-sister and brother-inlaw, raised him. His relatives sent him to the Smith Academy in St. Louis as an adolescent; eventually, he went to the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, taking his degree in 1894. But after one year working in the Naval Yard in New York, and a brief stretch as an editor at Cosmopolitan, Churchill supported himself by marrying St. Louis iron heiress Mabel Harlakenden Hall. The two settled in New Hampshire and raised three children: Mabel, John and Creighton.
After his marriage, Churchill produced a manuscript version of The Celebrity: An Episode, which he left with the Macmillan editors. After much prodding from the publishing house, he eventually finished the novel; immediately, the gentle, satirical novel was a hit. With so much encouragement, Churchill embarked on his most famous historical novel, Richard Carvel. The novel describes the adventures of the Carvel family during the years leading up to the American Revolution; as Wade Hall explained in an article for Dictionary of Literary Biography: "It is a roomy, epic Victorian novel with a large cast of historical and invented characters, violent encounters, romantic interludes, intriguing entanglements, daring rescues, adventures over land and sea, and comfortable conclusions. The historical personages intermingle convincingly with the fictional characters." The novel was a huge success. Churchill's thorough historical research contributed heavily to his critical success. Larry Olpin, writing for the Encyclopedia of Romance and Historical Writers, noted: "Churchill took particular care to be historically accurate in his novels. He always did his homework, reading the historical material available to him and carefully checking historical facts. He paid special attention to biographies and used them to benefit his fiction." But Olpin also cautioned: "[Churchill's] portrayal of history seems accurate, and he is able to capture the essence of a minor character whether from history or totally from his imagination quickly and effectively. In contrast, his weaknesses are all too glaring to the modern reader. His plotting is loose and episodic and he relies too heavily on coincidence. His handling of romance is sentimental and awkward. He also has difficulty drawing major characters who are almost always entirely virtuous and novel or villainous and ignoble, and what is worse he cannot refrain from making this point repeatedly." Nevertheless, as a writer in World Authors pointed out: "The novel was hailed by readers and critics in both Britain and the United States, eventually sold more than a million copies, and was, according to the New York Times, 'more widely read and discussed during its first year than had been the case with any other book ever published up to that time.'"
Churchill followed up this success with The Crisis, in which he tells the story of Stephen Brice, a Boston lawyer who falls in love with Virginia Carvel, a Confederate soldier's daughter. Virginia decides to marry Clarence Colfax, a like-minded Confederate, but through the dark days of the war Virginia realizes she truly loves Brice. This preceded The Crossing, which many consider Churchill's best book. It relates the tale of David Ritchie, who grows up on the Kentucky frontier. The story includes a war, orphanhood, career forays across the United States, and a sentimental romance. The novel suffered from the troubles characteristic of all Churchill's historical romances. Olpin wrote: "Churchill tries to do too much in each novel. His novels are too long and too broad in their scope given his constant repetitions and his penchant for seeing everything through the restricted sense of absolute right and wrong." Hall countered: "Despite its contrived plot, The Crossing is a fast-paced, gripping story told in authentic language." When The Crossing was published, Churchill was one of the most famous authors of his day. As the New York Times explained after Churchill's death in 1947: "there were two Winston Churchills who were somewhat in the news. One was a young Englishman, who had had a dashing career as a correspondent and soldier but who still had to be identified as a son of Lord Randolph Churchill. The other was the author of Richard Carvel, an American historical novel which beat all selling records. In 1900, even after the British Churchill had been taken prisoner by the Boers and dramatically escaped, there was no question in this country as to which Churchill was the Winston Churchill." But it was noted in the Cyclopedia of World Authors, "In the summer of 1899, the novelist received a letter from the British Winston Churchill, who was no relation, explaining that henceforth he would sign his books Winston Spencer Churchill."
Despite his fame as a novelist, Churchill turned from the historical stories that so delighted his audience. He increasingly sought a voice in politics rather than literature. His homely morals, which had seemed pleasantly familiar in a narrative of distant times, now became the focus of Churchill's polemic. From 1903 to 1905 Churchill held a seat in the New Hampshire legislature; in 1906 he ran for—but did not win—the New Hampshire governorship. These experiences gradually found their way into his fiction, notably his tale of political corruption, Coniston. In this novel, Jethro Bass seeks power by depraved politicking. His ladylove, Cynthia Ware, snubs him for another, but Bass eventually reconciles with her new family by letting go his political might. The novel ends with Cynthia's daughter getting married. The old-fashioned tone pleased many critics as well as readers. The New York Times hailed Churchill as a "born storyteller," adding: "Coniston can hardly fail to give its readers food for thought. Well will it be for our government if these readers are many, and if they straightway proceed to run according to the reading." But a Cyclopedia of World Authors wrote: "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 morals." Churchill continued to write "message" fiction, notably in both Mr. Crewe's Career and A Modern Chronicle. Later, however, his novels turned from political to religious moralizing; in The Inside of the Cup, Churchill describes St. John's Church, a once godly place now settled by corrupt urbanites. As William Higgins explained in the Reference Guide to American Writers, the pastor of the church "comes to see the necessity for preaching a social gospel rather than a purely spiritual one. . . . The novel is less hard-hitting than, say, Charles Monroe Sheldon's In His Steps." Higgins explained, "Churchill's popularity declined gradually after he forsook the historical romance, but in 1920 he found himself almost without an audience." Toward the end of Churchill's career, he published less, preferring to consider theological and moral questions rather than writing about glamorous, daring figures. Nevertheless, his early novels—and, to some extent, his later books—raised the bar for historical fiction because of Churchill's steadfast insistence on thorough research. Though his stories seem, to many critics, to have wilted through the years, they are still good examples of historical romances that connect with contemporary tastes.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 1991.
Cyclopedia of World Authors, Salem Press (Pasadena, CA), 1997.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Gale, Robert L., The Gay Nineties in America, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1992.
Hart, James D., The Oxford Companion to AmericanLiterature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Oxford Companion to English Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature inEnglish, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Reference Guide to American Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
American Literary Realism, summer, 1975.
Midwest Quarterly, January, 1962.
New England Quarterly, December, 1974.*