Published: 2020 | Hardcover: 336 pages | Genre: Historical Fiction
Lady Clementine is a first-person fictional account of Clementine Churchill, written by Heather Benedict Terrell writing under the name of Marie Benedict. The novel takes us through Clementine’s life from 1904 through 1945 as the wife and witness to the rise of one of history’s most powerful and influential leaders, Winston Churchill.
Clementine and Winston both had something in common from their childhood – they were the children of neglectful mothers. This is what draws them together and they begin a strong, synergistic relationship that helps them both on their path to ambition.
Clementine was Winston’s advisor on everything – from the speeches he is famous for to the military decisions that led to Britain’s triumph in World War II, Winston relied on her advice heavily. But Clementine is more than Winston’s wife. She is ambitious, strong-willed and outspoken. Even when she is not welcome in places of power, surrounded by men, she asserts herself as an authority. She refuses to cow down or give in to pressure and keeps persevering for causes she has designed for herself, apart from Winston’s agenda.
Clementine emerges as a powerful role model for women thanks to her unflinching attitude. Especially interesting was her role in pushing for women’s participation in the war effort and her work on air-raid shelters. She also did a lot to support the women’s suffragette movement in Britain. She rises as an equal partner of Winston’s, saving him on numerous occasions both politically and literally.
However, Clementine’s life was not without sufferings. She faced immense pressure as a politically-active mother, which cost her the life of one of her children at the tender age of two. She continued to be immersed in daily decisions and affairs of her household, having to run it on a shoestring budget for most of her married life. She shielded her husband from angry, whip-yielding suffragists and dealt with women vying for Winston’s affections. All through her years as a wife, Clementine had her plate full and this had consequences on her mental health. Yet, through trials and triumphs, the Churchills navigated nearly every political crisis together. From the disasters in the Dardanelles campaign during World War I to his role as a prime minister during World War II when he had to face Hitler, Clementine was Winston’s constant support, counselor and friend.
When asked during one of the interviews, what inspired her to write this book, Marie Benedict said,
To bring to life a woman who played an extremely influential role in politics but about whom the world knows little about, is no easy task. However, as a reader, I expected a lot more drama and action. The story only gets interesting once World War II starts, which is halfway through the book. I do believe that both Winston and Clementine Churchill must have had a lot more to their characters and situations. The book, however, seems extremely singular in perspective – it talks only about what Clementine did and on most occasions that comes across as a rant. It is difficult to connect with either of the Churchills as real people because it only shows the readers scattered snippets of their lives. The book had a lot of tell, less show. Benedict has relied heavily on using foreknowledge of events to guide the journey of her characters’ arcs which to my mind limits the reader’s enjoyment.
What is redeeming about the book is Benedict’s efforts in portraying a woman about whom history knows little. Her depiction of Clementine’s difficult relationship with her children is quite poignant – Clementine faced the pressures of being an absent parent and was driven to guilt continuously. It was only in her later years as a parent that she was able to form a bond with her youngest child.
Benedict has managed to create a character who you eventually admire for her contributions and strength, and for this the author deserves praise.