Forgotten Fiction: the Other Winston Churchill
Everyone knows Winston Churchill (1874-1965) the British Prime Minister during the Second World War. But there was another Winston Churchill (1871-1947), an American novelist, whose fame at the turn of the century surpassed that of his British contemporary.
Churchill's first published novel was The Celebrity (1897). It became a minor bestseller in spite of having a risible plot involving wealthy people, yachts, disguises and romance. But it was when Churchill turned his hand to writing historical fiction that he produced a series of blockbusters that made him the bestselling author of his generation.
His most popular work, the historical novel Richard Carvel (1899), sold over two million copies, a phenomenal number for the time. It takes place in colonial America, before, during and after the Revolutionary War and skillfully combines fictional and real life characters. Distinguished by a breadth and accuracy of historical detail, Richard Carvel set a benchmark for the historical novel. In addition to his thorough historical research, Churchill also visited the locales he wrote about so he could describe them effectively.
Churchill followed up Richard Carvel with The Crisis (1901) another historical novel. Set in the period around the American Civil War, it was again the bestselling book of the year.
After these historical novels, Churchill published two reform novels about New Hampshire politics, Coniston (1906) and Mr. Crewe's Career (1908). Churchill had been elected to two terms in the New Hampshire legislature and drew on this experience to compose these bestsellers.
Churchill then changed course and began writing fiction that addressed social, religious and moral issues. A Modern Chronicle (1910), The Inside of the Cup (1913) and A Far Country (1915). But Churchill's popularity was now beginning to wane slightly. While The Inside of the Cup was the top seller of the year, A Modern Chronicle and A Far Country were the second bestselling books in the year they were published.
Churchill's final novel was The Dwelling-Place of Light (1917), another exploration of moral and religious themes. It sold well but not at the level of his earlier efforts. Sometime after finishing The Dwelling-Place of Light, Churchill retired from both writing and politics. He withdrew from public life and devoted himself to water-colour painting. Some two decades later he did publish one non-fiction book about religion, The Uncharted Way (1940). The book was rather esoteric and the reading public had already largely forgotten about Churchill during his absence from publishing. Consequently it garnered little interest and sold poorly.
Churchill passed away in March 1947 while staying in Winter Park, Florida, having been entirely eclipsed by the great British statesman, who had become and would remain the Winston Churchill to the world.