I’m collecting in my head all the intriguing figures I would possibly like to write a biography about. I nominate to myself the Other Winston Churchill (1871-1947), the American writer. He was better known at the turn of the twentieth century than his namesake (who is three years younger), such that he apparently requested that the British Churchill use the ‘S’ between his names. He was one of the world’s best selling novelists, but according to William C. Chase ‘a crisis of faith and values causes Churchill to abandon his pursuit of popular success and influence and devote himself to self-understanding. One result will ultimately be the appearance two decades later of The Uncharted Way, a meditation on religion…Churchill desires no popular acclaim, and receives none.’
Introducing an online reader of Chase’s works, Chase mentions that ‘sentimental moral drama cum juvenile romance’ was ‘typical of most of Churchill’s novels, helped him achieve “best seller” status in the early twentieth century, and accounts for the collapse of his reputation after 1920.’ It’s ironic that the same thing that would make someone so very popular would also make them so quickly forgotten – but it rings true of much mediocre or middlebrow literature, film and music. Not just sentimentality or moralising but sticking to the expectations and limits of a genre and an audience.
Of course, a biography has already been written of this Churchill – Robert W. Schneider, Novelist to a Generation: The Life and Thought of Winston Churchill (1976); one may well be enough, and perhaps we do not have the space to remember him further. But in the right hands, I suspect his life could make a fascinating book.