April 3, 2022

The Art of Being Winston Churchill: Marlborough


Throughout his Wilderness Years, Winston Churchill battled financial ruin, while succumbing repeatedly to an onslaught of ailments. During the summer of 1932, in Bavaria, as he retraced the footsteps of his ancestor the first Duke of Marlborough’s greatest battlefield triumphs, Churchill fell ill with paratyphoid fever. He recuperated in a Salzburg sanitarium. After returning home to Chartwell, however, he heedlessly resumed work on his lengthy biography of the duke—and relapsed severely. Marlborough: His Life and Times still somehow proceeded, supplemented in December by a £20,000 advance for a new project, to be titled A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

The publication of four massive Marlborough volumes became an almost annual event over the next five years. Meticulously researched and majestically written, the final work constituted a towering literary achievement when completed in 1938, perhaps the greatest of Churchill’s career. Despite all this near-superhuman, ongoing literary effort, however, Churchill’s finances continued to flirt with disaster. In August 1933 his bank account was overdrawn by £9,500. Only the publication of the first volume of Marlborough in October saved him from bankruptcy.

Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).

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