One of our recommended books is Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

LADY CLEMENTINE


From Marie Benedict, the New York Times bestselling author, comes an incredible novel that focuses on one of the people who had the most influence during World War I and World War II: Clementine Churchill.

In 1909, Clementine steps off a train with her new husband, Winston. An angry woman emerges from the crowd to attack, shoving him in the direction of an oncoming train. Just before he stumbles, Clementine grabs him by his suit jacket. This will not be the last time Clementine Churchill will save her husband.

Lady Clementine is the ferocious story of the ambitious woman beside Winston Churchill,

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From Marie Benedict, the New York Times bestselling author, comes an incredible novel that focuses on one of the people who had the most influence during World War I and World War II: Clementine Churchill.

In 1909, Clementine steps off a train with her new husband, Winston. An angry woman emerges from the crowd to attack, shoving him in the direction of an oncoming train. Just before he stumbles, Clementine grabs him by his suit jacket. This will not be the last time Clementine Churchill will save her husband.

Lady Clementine is the ferocious story of the ambitious woman beside Winston Churchill, the story of a partner who did not flinch through the sweeping darkness of war, and who would not surrender either to expectations or to enemies.

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  • Sourcebooks Landmark
  • Hardcover
  • January 2020
  • 336 Pages
  • 9781492666905

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$26.99

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About Marie Benedict

Marie Benedict is the author of Lady Clementine, photo credit Heather TerrelMarie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in history and art history and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Author Website

Praise

“Benedict is a true master at weaving the threads of the past into a compelling story for today. Here is the fictionalized account of the person who was the unequivocal wind beneath Winston Churchill’s wings — a woman whose impact on the world-shaper that was WW2 has been begging to be told. A remarkable story of remarkable woman.” –Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Last Year of the War

“The atmospheric prose of Marie Benedict draws me in every single time. Lady Clementine’s powerful and spirited story is both compelling and immersive. Benedict fully inhabits the measured and intelligent voice of Clementine Churchill. Entranced throughout, I discovered the secrets behind a familiar story I thought I knew. Deftly moving from the early nineteen hundreds through World War II, Benedict skillfully paints a vivid picture of the times and life of Clementine, the remarkable woman who was the steady force beside Winston Churchill.” –Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis

“In her latest novel, Lady Clementine, Marie Benedict has gifted us all with another thoughtful and illuminating behind-the-scenes look at one of history’s most unusual and extraordinary women. Benedict stuns readers with a glorious assortment of Clementine Churchill’s most personal secrets: her scandalous childhood, her unexpected role as a social outsider, her maternal insecurities, and the daily struggles she faces to smooth her husband’s political blunders and to keep up with his relentless demands for guidance and attention. With a historian’s eye and a writer’s heart, Benedict provides an unforgettable glimpse into the private world of a brilliant woman whose impact and influence on world events deserves to be acknowledged.” –Lynda Cohen Loigman, USA TODAY author of The Two-Family House and The Wartime Sisters

Discussion Questions

1. Winston Churchill is one of the most recognizable figures of modern history. What did you know about his personal life before you read Lady Clementine? Did you have any understanding of his wife and children in particular, and did the book challenge any preconceived ideas about his private life?

2. While Clementine’s ancestral background was aristocratic, she grew up in relatively reduced financial circumstances, carrying the additional burdens of a peripatetic childhood and the uncertainty of her paternity. How did her unusual upbringing affect her behavior and opinions? How, in turn, did her belief system and background affect Winston, if at all?

3. Lady Clementine opens with Clementine describing herself as being “set apart” from the rest of society. How did this feeling manifest throughout the novel, and did it change throughout her life? How did this sense of otherness impact her relationship with Winston?

4. Throughout the course of the book, Clementine is transformed from a bright but hesitant and sometimes self-doubting young bride into the formidable wife of the prime minister, with a power base of her own and an impressive list of initiatives. Did Clementine’s metamorphosis surprise you, particularly given the historical limitations of women in the political realm? How did Clementine’s relationship with Winston both further her growth and hinder it? What sacrifices did she have to make in order to become such an influential political wife?

5. While motherhood was different in the time period of the novel and the class in which the Churchills operated, Clementine struggled with it. How would you characterize Clementine as a mother? Did she evolve as a parent over the years? Do you feel that she crossed the line of acceptability, even in the context of her time? How did her relationship with Winston impact her mothering? Compare and contrast modern motherhood with historical motherhood from this time, keeping in mind variations in class.

6. What drew Winston and Clementine together, and how did that change over the decades? How did Winston’s political alliances impact their interactions? What goal united them when their political views weren’t precisely aligned?

7. After she spends time with Eleanor Roosevelt, Clementine comes to a shocking realization about Winston’s view of her identity, or at least the way he presents her identity to the Roosevelts. What is the importance of female relationships in Clementine’s story and in the stories of other strong women?

8. Which, if any, of the characters in Lady Clementine do you find yourself relating to the most? Did you connect with Clementine?

9. What is the most surprising thing you learned about Clementine? Did it relate to her parenting? Her marriage to Winston? Her relationship with Terence Philip on the Rosauro? The amount of time away from her family?

10. Discuss the ways in which Clementine’s life encompassed issues that were not only historic but modern as well.

11. Winston Churchill left an enormous mark on history, and he is credited with saving Britain during World War II—but you now know that Clementine was a deeply influential figure in Winston’s professional and personal life behind the scenes. Do you think he would’ve been as successful if he didn’t have Clementine supporting him? How would you characterize her legacy?

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

September 12, 1908

London, England

I always feel different. No matter the sphere I inhabit, I always feel set apart. Even today. Especially today.

The weak, early September sun strains to break through the darkness of the cold morning. The pallid rays illuminate the cavernous bed-room assigned to me by my benefactress, Lady St. Helier. They hit the white satin dress hanging on the mannequin, reminding me that the gown waits for me.

As I finger the delicately embroidered, square-cut bodice, its sleek Venetian fabric finer than any I’ve ever worn, I am seized by a sensation fiercer than the usual isolation that often besets me. I crave connection.I hunt for the clothes the maids unpacked from my trunk and placed into the dresser drawers and mirrored armoire when I arrived at 52 Portland Place a fortnight ago. But I find nothing other than the corset and undergarments meant to be worn under the white gown today. Only then do I realize that the maids must have packed my belongings back into my trunk for my journey afterward. The mere thought of afterward sends a shiver through me.

Tying my gray silk dressing gown tightly around my waist, I tiptoe down the grand staircase of Lady St. Helier’s mansion. At first, I don’t know precisely what I am seeking, but I have an epiphany when I spot a housemaid working in the parlor. She’s kneeling before the fireplace grate.

The sound of my footfalls startles the poor girl, and she jumps. “Morning, Miss Hozier. May I help you with anythin’?” she says, wiping her blackened fingers on the cloth dangling from her apron.

I hesitate. Will I endanger the girl if I enlist her help? Surely Lady St. Helier will forgive any protocol breach I cause today.

“As a matter of fact, I could use your assistance. If it is not too much trouble, that is.” The apology is heavy in my voice.

After I explain my predicament to the girl, whose age must match my own, she races away down the back hallway toward the kitchen. At first, I think she may have misunderstood my request or thought me mad. But I follow her, and when she scurries across the rough wooden kitchen floor toward the servants’ staircase, I understand.

Wincing at the loud clatter of her work boots stomping up the stairway and down the hallway of the attic where the servants’ bed-rooms are, I wait. I silently pray that her racket does not rouse the rest of the staff. I fear that if they appear for their morning chores and find me in the kitchen, one of them will alert Lady St. Helier. When the girl returns with a bundle in hand— without any additional servants in tow—I sigh in relief.“What is your name?” I ask, reaching for the bundle.

“Mary, miss,” she answers with a minuscule curtsy.“I shall be forever in your debt, Mary.”

“It’s my pleasure, Miss Hozier.” She gives me a conspiratorial smile, and I realize that she is enjoying her part in this unorthodox plan. It may be the only deviation in the sameness of her days.

As I pivot and walk back toward the grand staircase, Mary whispers, “Why don’t you change in the pantry, miss? Less chance of being found out than if you head back up them stairs. I’ll make sure your clothes are returned to your bedroom before anyone notices them.”

The girl is right. Every step I take up that creaky grand staircase is one step closer to waking the lady of the house and her servants. Taking her advice, I enter the jar-lined pantry and close the door only partially to ensure some light will reach the enclosed space. I let my dressing gown and robe slide down and puddle on the floor, and I unwrap the bundle. Pulling out a surprisingly sweet floral dress, I shimmy into its floor-grazing cotton and then lace up the black boots Mary thought-fully included.

“Fits you right well, Miss Hozier,” the girl says when I step back into the kitchen. As she hands me her coat off the peg on the wall, she says, “Godspeed to you.”

I hurry out the servants’ door at the rear of the house and make my way down an alleyway that runs behind the row of luxurious Georgian homes lining Portland Place. I pass by kitchen windows beginning to glow with lamps lit by servants readying the house for their masters. A bustling world lies behind the mansions of Lady St. Helier and her friends, but because I always enter through the front doors, I’ve never witnessed the province at the back.

The alley lets out onto Weymouth Street, where a motorbus stops. It’s heading west to Kensington, and I know the route fairly well as I’ve taken it the other direction toward Lady St. Helier’s on several occasions. Mary’s wool coat is too thin for the brisk morning, and as I wait for the bus, I wrap it tightly around me in the vain hope of extracting a bit more warmth from its meager fibers.

The unadorned hat that Mary leant me bears only a small brim, and consequently, the working girl disguise does nothing to mask my face. When I step onto the bus, the driver recognizes me from the photographs that have run in the newspapers in recent days. He stares at me but says nothing at first. Finally, he sputters, “Surely you’re in the wrong place, Miss”—he drops his voice to a whisper, realizing that he shouldn’t reveal my identity—“Hozier.”

“I am precisely where I mean to be, sir,” I answer in a tone that I hope is kind yet firm. His eyes never leave my face as he takes the fare Mary had given me from her savings— which I plan to replace multifold—but he doesn’t say another word.

I keep my gaze lowered to shield my face from the curious onlookers who have been alerted to the oddness of my presence by the driver’s reaction. I hop off the bus the moment it nears Abingdon Villas, and I feel lighter the closer I come to the cream-colored stucco house bearing the number 51. By the time I reach up to lift the heavy brass knocker, the tightness in my chest begins to loosen, and I breathe with ease. No one answers the door immediately, but I am not surprised. Here, no bevy of servants lies in wait in the kitchen, ever ready to answer the knock of a front door or the ring of a master’s bell. Here, one servant does the work of many, and the household inhabitants do the rest.

I wait, and after several long minutes, my patience is rewarded with an open door. The face of my beloved sister Nellie, still creased with sleep, appears. She rushes in for an embrace before the shock of seeing me registers and she freezes.

“What on earth are you doing here, Clementine? And in those clothes?” she asks. Her expression is quizzical. “Today is your wedding day. ”

Interviews

A Conversation With the Author

While her husband is an enormously famous figure, Clementine Churchill is often relegated to the margins of history. How did you first hear of her, and what about her made you want to lend her story a voice?

During my time researching and writing books that—I hope—excavate important historical women from the shadows of the past and bring them out into the light of modern day, I feel as though I’ve developed an antenna for these women. As I was researching the onset of World War II for my novel The Only Woman in the Room, Winston Churchill, of course, figured prominently, and I couldn’t help but wonder about his family, his wife in particular. While I do not profess to be a Winston Churchill expert, I did find it peculiar that I knew nothing about the spouse of one of the most recognizable men in history. Who was she? What was she like? Where was she during all these world-changing events? So I went down the rabbit hole, as I often do when I’m intrigued, and I learned that Clementine Churchill was not only the quintessential woman behind the man, but also standing beside him—and often in front of him—helping him lead through some of the most critical moments in modern history. I knew hers was a story that deserved to be told.

Lady Clementine relies on a great deal of research, from the minutiae of British politics to the personal lives of historical figures. What did your research process look like for this book?

In some ways, my research for all my novels is quite similar. I begin by assembling and delving into any original source material that I can locate about the woman I’m writing about, filling in informational blanks with secondary source materials. Once I’ve finished amassing that data and created a timeline and broad outline, I’ll cast my net wide, researching relevant details about the character’s time period—from macro information such as political and military issues, cultural developments, and socioeconomic circumstances, to micro details such as attire, popular foods, and home decor. Unique aspects arise for each woman, of course, and I often find myself homing in on particular pieces of research. In Clementine’s case, it was a collection of letters between Clementine and Winston spanning the course of their relationship (which encompassed much of their lives) assembled by their daughter Mary. Not only did these letters provide singular insight into Clementine’s voice, but they also gave me an extraordinary look into the feelings they shared with each other, the way they spoke to each other and the topics about which they communicated.

This book is a piece of historical fiction, which of course means that while it’s based heavily on historical figures and events, it necessitates a bit of artistic license. Were there any specific moments or characters that forced you to rely more on fiction than fact?

I approached this novel as I did my other historical fiction: I look at the research on the macro and micro aspects of my character’s world as the architecture of my story—the foundation, the pillars, the roof. But in between the pillars and in the space between the foundation and the roof, there will always be gaps, unknowns from the research. And it is in those gaps that the fiction comes in to tell the story, using—I hope—a blend of the logic I developed over my decade as a lawyer, as well as my familiarity with the characters, time, and setting I’ve attained from the
research. As just one example of this, on the night before D-Day, we know that Clementine spent part of that evening with Winston. But we do not know the precise conversations they shared or the comfort and advice she might have offered him, and we cannot know the exact impact those exchanges might have had on his decision-making and leadership on the critical day. Therein lies the fiction.

Like any relationship, Clementine and Winston’s marriage changes with time. Theirs is especially strained, however, because of their growing political differences. Given this emotional complexity, was it difficult to write the evolution of their relationship?

Clementine and Winston had a particularly complex relationship because their bond not only filled emotional voids left in each other by their difficult upbringings, but it also fed their shared passion for politics and its underlying goals. In some ways, these two aspects of their relationship were intertwined. So when Winston’s politics began to deviate from Clementine’s, their relationship became difficult in some respects, and I had to really dig in to her psyche to envision how this would have affected her, given her feelings for her husband and their ongoing projects, as well as her somewhat fragile nerves. I imagined that, in order to carry them through challenging times, she focused upon those values that united them—the betterment of the lives of the English people and their safety in wartime—instead of the issues that divided them. Clementine’s inner conflict between her role as a mother and her career is something that can resonate with many contemporary women.

Were you inspired by personal experience when you delved into this issue?

As a mother myself, I found researching and writing about Clementine’s role as a mother particularly intriguing and eye-opening. I learned a tremendous amount not only about her very specific parenting experiences, but also about the mothering standards for women of her class in that era, which were quite different and much more hands-off than our own, and it made me reconsider various modern-day practices. This understanding provided a lens through which I could view Clementine’s parenting decisions more fairly, because they were oftentimes very dissimilar to the choices mothers would likely make today. But no matter the distinctions between parenting practices of her day and ours, I believe Clementine’s struggles over making the correct choices for her children—and living with the ramifications of poor selections—is something to which all mothers can relate, particularly those who juggle career demands as well.

As a writer of historical fiction, a large part of your job consists of creating deep inner lives for characters based on real people. Have you ever worried about misrepresenting someone or writing them inaccurately?

I always worry about my representation of the historical women about whom I write. I feel incredibly honored and privileged to tell their stories, along with a tremendous responsibility toward them. I try to keep that sense of responsibility at the forefront of my mind as I write my fictional interpretation of a piece of their histories—always reminding myself that it is indeed fiction that I write.

Clementine was a deeply influential figure in Winston’s professional and personal life. Do you think he would have been as successful if he hadn’t had Clementine supporting him?

While no one can know for certain what Winston’s legacy would have been without Clementine, I believe she was integral to his success. Historians can debate the impact her insights, intellect, and advice may have had on his political decision-making and leadership—particularly since the research isn’t as robust as I might like in that arena—but there can be no doubt that she supported him enormously from an emotional perspective. That role alone was very likely critical to Winston’s well-being, which ensured that he could fulfill the necessary leadership position in World War II. That said, I personally believe her professional and political impact was wide-ranging and key.