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'n Familiebiografie oor die Churchills

Nadat 'n mens Henry James (1843-1916) se literêre werk, bv sommige van sy romans, gelees het, maak dit sin om bv die omvattende biografie oor James deur Sheldon Novick (vol 1, 1996; vol 2, 2007) te lees. Selfs 'n roman wat aansluiting by James se lewe vind, soos Michael Heyns se The Typewriter's Tale (2005), kan verhelderend wees, hoewel laasgenoemde vir my 'n teleurstelling was omdat dit min tot my begrip van "The Master" bygedra het. Maar daar is nog 'n manier om die mens en kunstenaar James uit die verf te laat kom, naamlik 'n familiebiografie. Hierin het Paul Fisher voorsien met die publikasie van House of Wits; an Intimate Portrait of the James Family (2008).

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is van die moeilikste filosowe om onder die knie te kry. Naas werke deur Wittengestein, kan die leser sy begrip grootliks bevorder deur boeke soos Bruce Duffy se The World as I Found It (1987) enRay Monk se Lugwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (1990) te lees. Maar ook hier bied 'n familiebiografie, soos Alexander Waugh se The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War (2008), 'n wyer perspektief.

'n Tradisionele biografie en 'n familiebiografie is egter nie wonderkure nie, omdat hulle self mank aan gebreke kan gaan. Byvoorbeeld, sowel Novick as Fisher is beter literêr as wysgerig onderlê. Albei laat meer reg aan Henry as aan die filosoof/sielkundige William James (1842-1910) geskied. Insgelyks skryf Waugh met groter gesag oor die pianis Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961) as oor Ludwig.

Hier gaan ek egter oor Mary Lovell se The Churchills: A Family at the Heart of History; from the Duke of Marlborough to Winston Churchill (London: Little, Brown, 2011, 624p) skryf. Soos verwag kan word, handel die boek hoofsaaklik oor Winston Churchill (1874-1965). Wat die waarde van hierdie familiebiografie beperk, is enersyds die outeur se heldeverering ("Winston Spencer Churchill was a hero to me", p xi, en "The greatest Briton", p xii, "One of history's greatest men", p 1) en andersyds die oorpopulariserende "gossipy approach ... this is not unintentional" (p x). Ek gaan egter nie die teks resenseer nie, maar my aandag tot veral hierdie skinder-aspekte beperk.

Oor Winston se voorgeslag is daar die volgende opmerking: "Sarah on one occasion in middle age wrote to confide to a friend that on her husband's return from an overseas campaign he had 'pleasured' her before removing his boots" (p 6). Koning William III se "sudden and unexpected death ... occurred when his horse stumbled on a mole hill at Hampton Court ... King William was so unpopular that the mole was toasted all over London" (p 7). "John Churchill, the 1st Duke ... though he was then a rich man ... neglected to dot his i's and cross his t's in order to save on ink" (p 13). Die Hertog van Wellington "famously opposed the railway infrastructure because it would affect foxhunting" (p 19).

"Frances, Duchess of Londonderry, could not conceive of anything so low as her son marrying an American" (p 36). Maar Winston se ma, Jennie Jerome (1854-1921) was presies dit, 'n Amerikaner. Lees gerus Charles Higham se Dark Lady: Winston Churchill's Mother and Her World (2006). Oor sy geboorte het Winston gesê: "Although present on the occasion I have no recollection of the events leading up to it" (p 50). Oor sy ma het Winston geskryf: "She shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly - but at a distance" (p 65). Na die dood van Winston se pa, Randolph (1849-1895), is sy ma twee keer getroud met mans wat baie jonger as sy was. Jennie: "I have a past and he has a future, so we should be all right" (p 310). "The joke went around that Jennie had been seen in the park, peering into prams - when asked what she was doing, she replied that she was looking for her next husband" (p 310). Teen die einde van haar lewe het sy haar enkel gebreek en is haar een been afgesit: Jenny "joking that she would just have to put her best foot forward" (p 330).

Oor Winston het sy skoolhoof geskryf: "Very bad - is a constant trouble to everybody and is always in some scrape or other. He cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere. He has no ambition" (p 68). Winston se pa was net so negatief: "He has little [claim] to cleverness, to knowledge or any capacity for settled work. He has a great talent for show-off exaggeration and make-believe" (p 108). Hy verwys na Winston se "total worthlessness as a scholar ... it is a very great disappointment to me" (p 109).

Winston het in Suid-Afrika as oorlogskorrespondent diens gedoen (1899-1900). Hy het simpatie met die Boere gehad: "No people in the world received so much verbal sympathy and so little support" (p 196). In 1900 het hy 'n Britse parlementslid geword. Tydens die verkiesingsveldtog: "When one man declared that he would rather vote for the devil than for Winston, he disarmingly responded: 'But since your friend is not running can I count on your vote?'" (p 192). Winston het Ernest Cassel as sy finansiële adviseur gebruik en oor hom geskryf: "He fed the sheep with great prudence. They did not multiply fast, but they fattened steadily, and none of them ever died" (p 193). Winston: "The utility of most things can be measured in terms of money" (p 259).

"He worked through the night, often for several nights running, writing a speech ... his speeches, which sounded so impromptu, were in fact all written in advance and learned by heart ... Like his father [ook 'n parlementslid] before him, in order to ensure that an important speech was reported correctly the following morning, he often sent copies of the text to major newspapers, before delivering it" (p 197). Winston het self sy toesprake geskryf (p 511). Vergelyk dit met sommige van ons plaaslike politici wat toesprake voorlees wat amptenare geskryf het. Na die tyd kla hulle dat hulle buite konteks aangehaal is, hulle stellings verkeerd gerapporteer is, ens.

Aan een van sy vroeë vriendinne, wat sy huweliksaanbod afgewys het, het Winston in 1904 geskryf: "I love you because you are good & beautiful" (p 208). 'n Ander vriendin het gesê: "The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults, and the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues" (p 224). Oor sy voorkoms het Winston geen illusies gehad nie: "All babies look like me" (p 291). Reeds toe het Susan Stewart-MacKenzie gevra: "What is shopping these days but an unsuccessful struggle against overwhelming temptation?" (p 243).

"Winston was a romantic, never a womaniser" (p 252). In 1908 is hy met Clementine Hozier (1885-1977) getroud. "Among the wedding gifts the couple found twenty-two silver inkstands" (p 253). "Churchill once wrote: 'I married and lived happily ever afterwards'" (p 254). Ook: "It is a much better life now" (p 260). Maar van sy vrou is gesê: "She could ... display an acidity of tongue before which the tallest trees would bend, and she would occasionally give vent to uncontrollable temper" (p 255). "They always made a point of 'never allowing the sun to go down on their wrath'" (p 340). Clementine het hulle finansies bestuur, want "Winston always lived by his famous maxim: 'I am easily satisfied by the very best'" (p 270).

Ek het elders gelees dat Winston dikwels verkies het om by 'n hoë skryfblad te staan wanneer hy sy skryfwerk "in his own paw" (p 528) gedoen het. Volgens hierdie boek het hy meesal sy tekste gedikteer. "Winston kept a team of five secretary/typists busy all day and well into the night ('I shall need two women tonight,' he would tell his Private Secretary)" (p 493). Toe sy seun Randolph in 1939 wou trou, het Winston gesê: "All they needed to be married was champagne, a box of cigars and a double bed" (p 420). "Pol Roger was Winston's favourite champagne. ('In defeat I need it,' he said, misquoting Napoleon, 'and in victory I deserve it')" (p 533-534).

Toe Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) gedurende die Tweede Wêreldoorlog bedank en Winston die Britse eerste minister geword het, het hy gesê: "I do not think it would be much fun to go and take these burdens and neglects upon my shoulders" (p 403). Soos in die weermag van die nuwe Suid-Afrika, was daar 'n wanverhouding tussen die getal offisiere en manskappe: "Never before in the history of human endeavour have so few been buggered about by so many" (p 440). Amerikaanse steun was noodsaaklik vir 'n oorwinning. Winston het onthou wat Edward Grey gedurende die Eerste Wêreldoorlog gesê het: "The United States is like 'a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate'" (p 451). Toe sy kleinkind, Winston jr (1940-2010), Duitse masels kry, skryf Winston: "I am ashamed to say I told him it was the fault of the Germans" (p 471). In 1945 het Clement Attlee (1883-1967) Winston as eerste minister opgevolg. Winston het hom beskryf as "a modest man, and I know no one with more to be modest about" (p 488).

Wanneer hy geswem het, "Winston basks half-submerged in the water like a hippopotamus in a swamp" (p 455). Ten spyte van sy aansien, het Winston beskeie gebly: "I have never accepted what many people have kindly said: namely that I inspired the nation" (p 525). Op 'n keer het hy 'n seuntjie in sy tuin raakgeloop. "'Hello, who are you?' Churchill asked. 'I'm the third gardener's son, Johnny.' 'Well, Johnny, I'm Winston Churchill; pleased to meet you'" (p 493). "As Winston was leaving the men's room at the Carlton Club it was pointed out to him that his flies were undone. Winston glanced down, made the appropriate adjustment, and commented with a sigh: 'Dead birds don't fall out of trees'" (p 535).

Teen die einde van sy lewe het Winston gesê: "I do not want to do anything any more" (p 548) en nog later: "Why can't I just die?" (p 558). "Winston ... delivered his last coherent sentence: 'I'm so bored with it all'" (p 558). Van sy vyf kinders lewe nog net die jongste, Mary, gebore in 1922.

Johannes Comestor


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Jan Rap
2012-11-15 @22:15

Baie interessant Johannes. Winston het ook blykbaar die vogende oor Attlee kwytgeraak:

"An empty taxi arrived at number 10 Downing Street an Attlee got out", en ook:

"Attlee is a sheep in sheep's clothing"

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