Celia Sandys discusses “Churchill as a Writer”

Celia Sandys

By Victoria Slater, CAS communications intern

Tea, scones, and a packed Bachelor Reading Room greeted Celia Sandys, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, on Monday, November 10. In the first of four lectures focused on her grandfather, Sandys talked about Churchill’s love for literature, and three of her favorite books he wrote. 

Sandys has made a name for herself has an internationally acclaimed author, journalist, and public speaker, with most of her work and research focusing on her grandfather’s life. And during her lecture, she was quick to emphasize her love and respect for Churchill’s work in all aspects of his life, but especially in his literature.

“Most people think of Winston Churchill as the man standing on the steps of Downing Street with a cigar in one hand and making a v-shape with the other,” she said. “… Part of the story that most people don’t know is that Wiston Churchill, the great political leader, was first of all a writer and a journalist. He made his living and supported his family by writing. His children used to say, ‘we lived from pen to mouth.’”

Sandys also emphasized that much of Churchill’s political success was rooted in his mastery of the English language. Without such a command of written word and speech, she argued that Churchill may not have been such a strong warleader and prime minister.

“His two largest aspects of life, that of the writer and that of the warleader, are very closely related,” Sandys said. “To a large extent, it was because he was such a master of the English language that he was such an effective leader of his country in a time of war.”

Churchill published 54 books and more than a thousand journalistic articles before his death in 1965. Out of all these, Sandys chose three books to discuss in depth, three she remarked as some of her favorites and perhaps less well-known in the general public. 

The first she discussed was Churchill’s “My Early Life,” a autobiography that follows his birth in 1874 all the way to the early twentieth century. Churchill published the book in 1930. In her discussion, Sandys highlighted many of the struggles Churchill faced that he documented with simple humor in “My Early Life.” These included his hatred for the subject of Latin and the grueling pressure he felt from his father, a prominent politican, to succeed in school.

The second book Sandys featured in her lecture was “Painting as a Pastime,” published in 1965, in which Churchill describes a hobby he picked up later in his life. Painting, Sandys explained, was an escape for Churchill during times of stress, especially during that era when politicans were expected to simply “get on with it.”

The third and final written work Sandys discussed was an essay Churchill published in  1947 called “The Dream.” In this essay, Churchill describes a vivid dream in which he was visited by his father’s ghost, who interrogates Churchill about his life’s successes. Sandys said that Churchill told his father he made a living as a writer and journalist, and the ghost vanished before Churchill could inform him of his much more noble feats. 

“What an extraordinary thing for Winston Churchill to say to his father in 1947. Here we have a man who held the highest office in his country, who led his country in victory over the Nazis, who was widely recognized as the greatest Englishman who ever lived, telling his father that he made his living writing books and articles for the press,” Sandys said. “But on reflection, perhaps the answer is not so odd after all … perhaps that is really how he would like to be remembered.”