Clementine by Sonia Purnell – A Book Review

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston ChurchillClementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell is a well-written comprehensive biography of a woman who probably hasn’t gotten enough credit for her contribution to the war effort. I’m speaking from the perspective of an outsider, an American, as opposed to a citizen of Great Britain. Perhaps Clementine’s work is better known and appreciated within her own country. It seems as though it was at the time, although the extent of her involvement in and knowledge of high level meetings probably wasn’t known.

I’m left wondering if Winston Churchill would have made it through WWII if it weren’t for Clementine. (She would probably be appalled at my use of her first name here.) She certainly made her own contributions in organizing the work of women and concerning herself with the people, such a equipping air raid shelters, but managing Winston and taking care of him was probably her greatest contribution. He was not an easy man to work for or with and she often acted as a buffer as well as being the only person who could approach him about certain things. She also was much more aware of how his actions were perceived among his staff and the public. I was surprised at how much more politically astute she was than Winston.

I went into this book without much knowledge of the Churchills, but it did help to have a basic knowledge of the world events that happened during their lives, especially WWII. I probably enjoyed the early part of the book more than the latter. Near the end of the war, it often seemed like a recitation of events with their reactions to them. However, the Epilogue was moving. It gave you a sense of how much less stress was in Clementine’s life after Winston died, yet at the same time how much she loved him.

It was not a perfect marriage, nor was Clementine a perfect woman. Purnell shows us the woman and the couple with both their good qualities and bad. But that’s what a good biography should do. And this was an excellent biography. I recommend it.

4 thoughts on “Clementine by Sonia Purnell – A Book Review

  1. Thanks for this review Susan – being a Scot with an Irish mother, our household was never a Churchill fan – my Irish grandfather said Churchill was the right man to be wartime PM against Hitler because ‘it takes a bully to fight a bully’! However, there is no doubt Churchill was clever and a man ahead of his time in many ways. He certainly thrived in the political world and his achievement during the war at lifting people’s morale is of course, legendary. It’s a pity it has taken so long for Clementine’s contribution and talents to be recognised but sadly not surprising. I’ll recommend the book to some of my students who love biographies – there’s a couple who lived in England during WW2 (one lady is 95 and served in the WAF) so I’ll be interested to hear what she knows or remembers about Clementine. Maybe the phrase ‘ behind every great man there’s a woman’ was inspired by the Churchills! It’s great when the forensic research of good historians lets us see the big picture while keeping us engrossed with personal details.

    • I’d be interested to know what your friends remember as well. As I said, I knew very little about Winston and nothing about Clementine before I read this biography. I got the impression that he certainly saw what was coming before others, but that without Clementine to moderate some of his actions he might not have been in place to take the actions he did. I can certainly see why your grandfather said what he did about him. Purnell did compare them to the Roosevelts in the book, particularly Eleanor, and I found that interesting. Clementine and Eleanor had some similarities, but were dealing with very different men. I love a good biography. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    • I want to read a bio of Winston now to get another perspective on his life. This is a good one though. I got it on Kindle or I’d be happy to loan it. Still can if you have a 2 weeks window when you want to read it. Let me know.

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