Friday, March 23, 2018

Tessa Arlen

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in the American Southwest.

Arlen's new novel is Death of an Unsung Hero, the fourth book in her Lady Montfort mystery series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have been absolutely riveted by Sonia Purnell’s biography of Clementine Churchill: First Lady: The Life And Wars Of Clementine Churchill. It is an engrossing account of a strong-willed and ambitious woman without whom – so Purnell argues with authority – Winston Churchill’s political career would have been a washout!

As much a character as her husband, Clementine wholly differed from him in every way: she supported women’s suffrage –Winston loudly did not; she was a Liberal at heart –he was as right wing as they made them then; she counted the pennies and he was frighteningly extravagant. She also loathed most of his best friends and had a notoriously high flashpoint: Winston fondly described an enraged Clemmie as “a jaguar dropping out of a tree.” But how she managed to survive her marriage to him was a constant question I found myself asking.

Clementine was married to Winston at a time when aristocratic women took a back seat in the world. They were expected to look beautiful, dress impeccably, sparkle as society hostesses and put up with whatever came their way with quiet, well-bred acceptance. But Winston rarely made a decision without her approval and however different they were the one thing that united them was their ambition. Their mutual goal, always, was the office of Prime Minister for Winston –a quest that required patience and diplomacy. Churchill possessed neither. His wife, fortunately, proved a genius both at patching up the wreckage caused by his bad decisions, and at offering good advice, the shrewdest of which was when, after the catastrophe at the Dardanelles in WW1 – for which Churchill carried most of the blame – she encouraged him to go to the Front. It would be good for his image, she told him, while she stayed at home running nine enormous workers’ canteens.

But the best of the book is where it relates to Clementine as the power behind her husband when he became Prime Minister during the Second World War. He consulted her over everything. She was his coach, his private adviser and his refuge. It was also revealing what a toll this took on her. Winston was a huge drama queen, swinging between morose silence if he was displeased to voluble tantrums. He was both demanding and neglectful and her health suffered so much that she often had to go away on ‘holidays’ without him for months at a time.

A tremendously fascinating read that reveals not only Clementine’s enduring strengths, but also her famous husband’s many weaknesses.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

--Marshal Zeringue