April 7, 2017

Finest Hour 175, Winter 2017

Page 46

Catherine Heyrendt-Sherman, Winston Churchill: Biographie gourmande series. Paris: Payot-Rivages, 2016, 160 pages, €15.
ISBN: 978– 2228916547

Review by Antoine Capet

Antoine Capet is Professor Emeritus of British Studies at the University of Rouen.

The “Churchill industry” does not only operate in the Anglophone publishing world. France has seen a number of recent publications, which add little if anything to our knowledge of the great man, his entourage, and his times. See for instance my reviews of Frédéric Ferney’s Tu seras un raté, mon fils! in FH 169 and Churchill: La femme du Lion by Philippe Alexandre and Béatrix de l’Aulnoit in FH 172.

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The latest petit livre appeared in December 2016, just in time for the festive season and the presents associated with it. The title Winston Churchill has nothing special to attract the buyer. The sales pitch only comes with a small logo below it giving the name of this new series (the next book is to be on Marie-Antoinette—another sure crowd-puller): “Biographie gourmande” (a food-lover’s biography). No doubt there is a market for such a book in France. The pity is that the author has only an embarrassingly superficial knowledge of her subject, and she piles up cliché upon cliché, along with all the old “canards,” on Churchill’s drinking in particular.

If she has such a scanty knowledge, one may ask, where did she find the material to fill 130 pages of text? Very honestly, she lists in the endnotes all the sources for the many figures and anecdotes which she gives. But then the reader can see that most of the notes refer to two books in English: Churchill: A Life by Sir Martin Gilbert and Dinner with Churchill by Cita Stelzer. The book is in fact a re-hash in French of some of the indications given in these two English-language publications, with only passing borrowings from François Kersaudy’s standard biography in French and a couple of others. There is no original research whatsoever and no illustrations at all. The succession of ibid. references in the notes is the only impressive dimension of the booklet.

So Finest Hour readers had better go straight to Gilbert and Stelzer and keep their hard-won money, forgetting about this latest addition to the long list of negligible Churchill books. The more so as some of the translations are appallingly wrong (e.g., President of the Board of Trade becomes “président de la Chambre de commerce,” i.e., President of the Chamber of Commerce)—so even those who might have been tempted to buy it in order to brush up their French are strongly discouraged from doing so. This one is strictly for collectors who must have every publication on Churchill, good or bad, in any language.

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