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TWO WINSTONS—AND A FAMILY PORTRAIT

A TWO-PERSON biography described in The New York Times Book Review, June 11, 2017, reminded me of a family portrait in one of our bookcases. The common theme is the name Winston, as in Sir Winston Churchill and Winston Smith, the main character in George Orwell’s 1984. Come to think of it, the word “theme” is a commonality as well.

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks, Penguin Press, 2017.

In “The Two Winstons,” reviewer Richard Aldous identifies a shared theme of individual freedom and critical thought in the works and lives of Winston Churchill and George Orwell. Aldous begins with a Churchill quote, which may well be apocryphal: Sir Winston was said to have rejected a dessert by grumbling, “Take this pudding away; it has no theme!”

Sir Winston Churchill, 1874–1965, English statesman, writer, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1940–1945, 1951–1955.

Churchill was a highly regarded writer. Among his works are a six-volume memoir The Second World War and a four-volume History of the English-Speaking People. About these writings, Churchill once quipped, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”

Aldous notes that, during the Battle of Britain, Churchill “issued a directive on brevity, ordering his staff to write in ‘short, crisp’ paragraphs and to avoid meaningless phrases. ‘Most of these wooly phrases are mere padding,’ the prime minister complained, ‘which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word.’ ”

George Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, 1903–1950, English novelist, journalist, critic, outspoken supporter of democratic socialism.

George Orwell’s writing was also known for its lucidity and conciseness. His 1946 essay Politics and the English Language includes six rules for writing English. The second rule is “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”

Orwell’s sixth rule is also worth noting: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

Aldous observes, “Orwell’s most famous novel, 1984, enjoyed a renewed wave of attention in the days after the inauguration of Donald Trump.” Indeed, SimanaitisSays surfed this wave in “A Quartet of Alternative-Fact Books.”

To Trump’s credit, Aldous writes, “And as the new president moved into the White House, among his first gestures was to restore the famous Jacob Epstein bust of Churchill to the Oval Office. He is even said to model a scowl on that of Britain’s wartime leader.”

Sir Winston Churchill, bust by Sir Jacob Epstein, 1947. Image from Christie’s.

It was the scowl comment that aroused family interest, but let’s first clarify this matter of the Epstein Churchill bust. I confess that elements of the following read like an Abbott and Costello bit.

The original Epstein was completed in 1947 and cast in an edition of 10, maybe 12, maybe 16. Examples reside in Britain’s Imperial War Museum; the Iziko South African National Gallery; Churchill College, Cambridge; Paris’s Centre George Pompidou—and, since 1965, in the White House.

In recent years, this particular bust was displayed on the White House second floor, outside the Treaty Room, now part of the president’s private rooms. It was this “Treaty Room Churchill” that temporarily moved into the Oval Office at Trump’s request.

However, there had already been an “Oval Office Churchill” there during the George W. Bush presidency. This one had been on loan from the British Government Art Collection while the Treaty Room Churchill was off being restored.

At right, President George W. Bush, with Andrew Natsios, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan. The Oval Office Churchill is the one against the wall on the viewer’s right.

The Oval Office Churchill returned to British hands, its Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2009. However, it came back to the Oval Office again later in January 2017, when it replaced the Treaty Room Churchill requisitioned there by Trump.

For all I know, the Treaty Room Churchill may be back upstairs. Sir Winston would have likely been capable of clarifying this historical tibdit.

I am on rather firmer ground with family history. When Wife Dottie’s older brother Williard was a little tyke, he was dressed up, much to his evident displeasure, for a photographic portrait.

At left, Sir Winston Churchill, c. age 67. Portrait by Yousuf Karsh. At right, Williard Kemp, c. age two. Portrait by Victor Leopold Hetzel.

Years later, when Wife Dottie mused, “You look like Churchill here,” Williard replied, “Yes, that was the day I bit the bulldog.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

One comment on “TWO WINSTONS—AND A FAMILY PORTRAIT

  1. sabresoftware
    June 17, 2017

    I seem to recall that when asked how he achieved that perfect scowl on Sir Winston’s face, Karsh replied something to the effect “simple, I just confiscated his cigar”.

    Currently I am reading his WWII memoir, in the early part of volume 2. It is a slow read. Fascinating information, but I have to keep a dictionary at hand as he has a tremendous command of the English language, well beyond my feeble skills.

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