The Splendid and the Vile

I am reading Eric Larson’s brilliant book – The Splendid and the Vile – in small doses; Larsen’s writing makes it easy with short chapters and a conversational style to this nonfiction.   I am turning to Churchill to get me through the increasing count of the infected and the anxiety of sheltering in place.  I need Churchill to calm me and reassure me with his mastery of words and ideals, when the leadership of my own country fails to do so.  I hope if I read through the book slowly, the crisis would be over by the time I finish.  It is not working; I may have to read the book again.

I haven’t felt much like reading, writing, thinking – getting out of bed? – lately, but Churchill is an inspiration.  As Larsen documents the year before the Americans finally joined the war, he includes Churchill’s daily routine as well as his preparation for his decisions and his motivational speeches.  Churchill’s life and personality are so well intertwined with his decision-making, the whole picture of the man creates confidence and admiration – no wonder Goebel banned Churchill’s speeches from German radio.

Susan MacNeil, author of one of my favorite fictionalized Churchill books – Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, the first book in the Maggie Hope mystery series, notes from her research;

“Despite the alcohol, despite the naps, despite the baths, Winston Churchill was a work horse.   All accounts have him rising at eight, reading newspapers and attending to paperwork all morning from bed, taking the first bath of the day, then meetings and dictation, then luncheon. After lunch, a nap, then writing, second bath, dinner, and work often long, long past midnight. It was in this way that he was able to “… press a day and a half’s work into one,” as he’s quoted saying…a tenacious attitude…{with} an interesting balance — long hours of work, true, but balanced by rest and meals.”

In Larsen’s accounting, he notes famous decisions as well as behind the scenes dramas:   Larson draws from the diaries of Churchill’s wife, Clementine, and notes from their daughter to fill out private conversations at dinner meetings and with his staff; he notes the radio address with Churchill refusing to remove his cigar from his mouth as he speaks.  His close advisors’ personalities show through as Larson references their anxieties in letters and notes.  

I am still reading and I am still sheltering in place.  The book is a comfort in a strange way – if the world could come together before, surely it could do it again.  

As a regular subscriber to Robin Sloan’s (author of Sourdough) newsletter, I appreciated his sign off on his most recent email:

As you might have heard, the Federal Reserve recently released one (1) emergency Churchill quote to every American writer, a significant injection of liquidity and bombast.  I will use mine immediately:

Now, this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Here is my Churchill quote or rather a famous phrase attributed to Churchill:   “KPOKeep Plodding On.”   Churchill modeled how important it is to take care of yourself; then, back at it – every single day until it’s over.

So, KPO, everyone, and hopefully when this war is over, as Queen Elizabeth promised, …”we will meet again.”
Related Articles:

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

Number Ten Downing Street, with Churchill as the P.M. and Germans bombing London, is the setting for Susan Elia MacNeal’s first book in the Maggie Hope spy mystery series – Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.  With a mix of Bridget Jones panache and Ian Fleming espionage, MacNeal establishes a new sleuth with a mathematical brain and the charming mix of English parents and American upbringing.

Maggie Hope defers her acceptance into the Ph.D. program at M.I.T. to travel to London to sell the old Victorian house bequeathed to her by her British grandmother.  When the war starts, she takes on roommates and, despite her qualifications, can only get a job as a typist.

Secret Messages in Fashion Drawings

Spies are everywhere, and Maggie soon uncovers a code hidden in an ad for women’s dresses.  MacNeal supplies a reference in her historical note about Nazi agents in England embedding Morse code in drawings of models wearing the latest fashions.  Maggie finds Morse code in the hem of a dress.

The secret of Maggie’s father’s disappearance as well as the murder of one of Churchill’s staff add to the suspense, and the action escalates with a plot to murder Churchill and bomb St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Along with descriptions of  the horrors of London during the Blitz, MacNeal includes excerpts of famous speeches and lovely poems you may want to memorize.

By the end, Maggie has saved the day and been offered a promotion.  A fun, fast read with both history and adventure – and a possible romance brewing for the beautiful and brilliant red-head.

Thanks to Amy for introducing me to Maggie Hope.  I can’t wait for the next book in the series – Princess Elizabeth’s Spy – to be published in October.  In the meantime, as Churchill advises – KPO (Keep Plodding On).