Assignment #5: Critical Analysis
The Success of Winston Churchill and The Crisis
Winston Churchill and his Civil War novel The Crisis enjoyed great success at the beginning of this century. Many of his books were best sellers, however The Crisis sold extremely well. As a best seller, this work received great accolad
es from critics, veneration from the famous, and the honor of being placed on the stage and screen. What was the reason for the contemporary success of this historical novel of Mr. Churchill's? More importantly, has the popularity of this author and hi
s book (The Crisis) survived the past this fashionable period? If fame and popularity for this man and his work have been lost in later years, why have they? Have they survived recognition anywhere, no matter how small a niche Mr. Churchill and his book
s may be in? Have they been basically forgotten? The answer, as we may see, may be ambiguous. However, it is an important (and interesting) line of thought to explore.
To best investigate the rationale for the success of Churchill and The Crisis, it is necessary to first illustrate the scope of these successes. During his career, Winston Churchill wrote ten novels. They sold on average 500,000 copi
es each. These novels went into fifty-four editions in the United States and they were translated into many foreign languages. (Schneider 1976, 297) In a listing of the most popular authors of fiction between 1900 and1925, Irving Harlow Hart ranked Wins
ton Churchill the highest in prominence. (Hart 1925, 619-20) Besides novels, Churchill also wrote three original plays, three poems, many articles for periodicals, and two non-fiction works. Two of his books were made into plays and three became motion
pictures. (Schneider 1976, 287) Through his success, Churchill met famous individuals such as Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill of Britain. (Ibid, 58-9 and 61-2)
The Crisis was a highly successful novel. As of 1975, The Crisis has sold 1,243,307 hardbound copies. (Hackett and Burke 1977, 26) It was an instant success. The first edition of more than 100,000 copies sold out in six days. (Titus 1963, 49) The Cri
sis was the best seller for 1901. (Hackett and Burke 1977, 65) Between 1901 and 1907, it was reprinted twenty-seven times. After 1910, there were eight reprintings. There were many other Macmillan editions (primary publisher) printed in various sizes,
theater editions, school formats, and paper novels. In addition, Grosset and Dunlap were printing editions. Many of these editions, including from Macmillan, have also been reprinted many times.(1) Many foreign editions were also printed. The Crisis h
as been referred to as "Churchill's best-selling, best-known work." (Titus 1963, 49) At the time of its orginal publication, Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt sent a letter to Churchill praising The Crisis. (Schneider 1976, 59) The Crisis has also adap
ted for the stage and screen as well as a "book-on-tape."(2)
One of the reasons that the man and his novel were especially popular was due to the conditions of the publishing industry that made the wide production and distribution of his novels possible. The Industrial Revolution provided machinery that increased
the production of books. The development of the flatbed press and then the cylinder press before the Civil War helped transform publishing. The rotary press necessitated further inventions such as the development of continuous rolls of paper and typese
tting machines to handle the speed of these new high-speed presses. (Tebbel 1975, 655) In Churchill's time steps were taken to allow the further mass production of books. Many publishers began to centralize their book production, many using machines at
every step of the process. The manufacturing of paper was greatly increased due to the large popularity of fiction. The development of domestic lightweight paper around 1902 allowed for a lighter, easier to carry and share bestsellers. (Ibid, 659-60) (
By far it was the strong backing and support of Churchill's publisher, Macmillan, that provided much success for The Crisis and his other works. Led by George Platt Brett, Macmillan was transformed from a small agency into one of the largest publishing
houses in the United States. Churchill was supported by a company with huge financial interests and the reputation for publishing fine American, classical, and scholarly works. These include works by Jack London, Jonathan Swift, and Lord George Byron.
(Kurian 1975, 174) The distribution of The Crisis was also aided by the expanding market of reprints through the publishing house of Grosset and Dunlap. (Ibid, 132)
There was a trend in book advertising that helped Churchill's books sell. This was the period when modern business methods of selling books first applied to book advertising. It was so successful that during this time many publishers increased their a
dvertising spending greatly. The romantic novel was commonly advertised in full-page features in magazines. Quotes about the book in the advertisements also appeared. Newspapers formed book departments in order in obtain book advertising. One example
is The New York Times Saturday Book Review Supplement.(4) (Tebbel 1975, 158)
Reviewers also helped sell Churchill's books. Critics both here and in Britain reviewed The Crisis in such periodicals as The Dial, The Literary Digest, Literature, The Outlook, and The New York Times Saturday Book Review Supplement. (5) The reaction
of the reviewers towards The Crisis was "overwhelmingly favorable." (Schneider 1976, 47) Robert W. Schneider claims that part of the reason for the popularity of Churchill's novels was the favorable treatment of them by the critics. In a study of the r
eviews listed in the Book Review Digest, eighty-five percent were approving. (Ibid, 297)
Winston Churchill and the reading public had a relationship that was very interactive. The public was very much an influence on the sales of Churchill's novels. Churchill's novels were written at the right time. Between 1890 and the First World War,
Americans were reading fiction at a manic pace. (Tebbel 1975, 170) It was pointed out in 1902 that American novels were the largest sellers in recent years. (Ibid, 171-2) Churchill's first writing came when historical romances were in vogue. (Hofstadt
er and Hofstadter 1950, 12) Albert Elmer Hancock wrote that Churchill was the "most notable writer in America of historical fiction." (Hancock 1904, 753) Churchill's writing occupied the attention of American readers more than any other author of this
period did. (Schneider 1962, 163) The Crisis was considered one of the most popular romances at that time. (Titus 1963, 144) Between 1901-1909 it was a best seller at 750,000 copies. (Schneider 1976, 297)
Another factor in Churchill's success lied in his sense of history and that it had a positive effect on the public. Critics responded favorable to his careful and thorough research into history for his books. Critics felt that The Crisis was a result
of meticulous study. ("Churchill's 'The Crisis' and the Critics." The Literary Digest 1901, 8) H.W. Mabie wrote that The Crisis had "a strong impression of history." According to H.W. Mabie, Churchill's work was "the most carefully studied and the m
ost convincing novel?written on the civil war." (Mabie 1901, 389) In his studies before writing a novel, Churchill would pose a number of historical questions for himself. These astute questions indicated that Churchill had an historical sophistication
equal to contemporary professional historians. (Schneider 1976, 47)
By far the most intriguing reason for Churchill's success was that he wrote for his generation. He spoke to the feelings of people who shared his generational experiences. This generation was the Progressive generation that rose out of the 1890's. Th
is generation rejected the business ethic and views of their predecessors. (Schneider 1962, 164) The youth condemned what they felt was civic corruption and vile business and industrial practices favored by many of the previous generation. Americans of
this period wanted someone who rejected materialism, upheld the values of honesty and patriotism, and condemned the abuses of capitalism. The epitome of these values was Theodore Roosevelt. Churchill admired and followed many of Roosevelt's beliefs of
activism to enact positive change and for bring honesty into civic life. Churchill felt a strong sense of American history and contempt for business. (Hofstadter and Hoftstadter 1950, 15) Many read Churchill because he provided them with characters that
supported family values over money. (Schneider 1962, 164)
Churchill's Progressive views can be seen in his portrayal of villains and heroes in his novels. Churchill's villains were capitalists with no honor or ancestry. Heroes, on the other hand, were moral individuals who were descended from high-ranking f
amilies. (Ibid, 168-9) A good example of a villain from The Crisis is Eliphalet Hopper, a Northerner driven by greed and ambition. This character does not care which side wins the war as long as he makes money. (Titus 1963, 49) Northerner Steven Brice
is a good example of Churchill's ideal hero from The Crisis. Brice represents the sense of the aristocracy, one with a Puritan background who was not afraid to mingle with commoners. (Schneider 1976, 52) In The Crisis Steven is portrayed as a noble man
who saves the Southern heroine Virginia from the sad fate of a forced marriage with Hopper. Steven and Virginia symbolize the honorable ideal of unity between North and South. (Titus 1963, 48-9)
Unfortunately, the popularity of Churchill and The Crisis did not survive for long. One possible reason is that the literary taste of Americans changed. The public, by the time Churchill was writing The Crossing, was buying fewer historical novels; the
ir taste was turning instead to interest in contemporary problems. (Schneider 1976, 96) Churchill, however, was able to survive because he was adept at adapting his writing to these changing literary trends. These were the problem novels. (Griffin 194
8, 331) An example of this type of novel is Coniston, where Churchill drew upon the political lore he learned while in the state capital Concord. With this book Churchill was able to advance his political views by writing for a national audience. He wa
s able to achieve what he could not in the New Hampshire statehouse. He was able to use his book as a "platform" to help him become more active in politics. (Blodgett 1974, 511-2)
It is more likely that a much greater shift in society due to the First World War caused a decline in Churchill's popularity. The American public lost faith in the Progressive view that humans could create a society in light of human reason. Utopia se
emed to be an unrealistic hope for the future. America was now dominated by a skeptical post-war generation. Moreover, these feelings were greatly felt by Churchill himself who lost faith in his own ideas. Churchill retired around this time. (Schneider
1962, 178-9) With his retirement, Churchill passed from public recognition. (Titus 1963, 144-5)
Today when one hears the name Winston Churchill, they most likely think of the former British Prime Minister. This is not a new mistake. A reviewer of The Crisis in the Chicago Chronicle wrote that this "great American novel" was "the work of the Engli
shman, Winston Churchill." (Schneider 1976, 63) Today, this confusion continues in such reputable institutions as the Bibliotheque nationale de France and businesses such as Amazon.com. In each instance American Churchill is placed under British Churchi
The Crisis only survives today in very specialized niches. It appears that The Crisis continues to survive as a library-binding reprint in book form. (Books in Print, 1997-98 Supplement, 399) The other instances are sound recordings from 1984, 1988 (O
CLC Prism) and 1991 (http://www.amazon.com; Internet; Accessed 22 April 1999). Sales of The Crisis have slowly waned since 1945. Hackett lists no increase in sales of The Crisis between 1965 and 1975. (Hackett 1967, 25 and 1977, 26) There is no further
non-specialty publishing after 1949. (OCLC Prism)
Although The Crisis is not widely printed, it is still available through purchase from rare book dealers on web sites such as Bibliofind and reading at libraries such as the Library of Congress and Richmond Public Library. Winston Churchill and The Cris
is are not in high demand today. Despite this, Churchill and The Crisis are still remembered. Kenneth S. Davis mentioned it recently. ("My Favorite Historical Novel." American Heritage 1992, 87) Writers such as Robert W. Schneider and Warren I. Titus
who have composed extensive books about Churchill's life. Besides these facts, Churchill was an individual best remembered as a person of his generation and has been largely forgotten in modern times. The Crisis is a good example of turn-of-the-century
historical fiction. It should be at least be remembered for this instead of mostly forgotten like it is today.
(1) For sources for this publishing information, see Assignment #2 section, numbers 1,4, and 5.
(2) See Assignment #2, number 12.
(3) Norwood Press in Norwood, Massachusetts printed the first edition of The Crisis (See Assignment #1, number 12, verso of title page transcription). It is unclear if the publisher Macmillan (based in New York) did centralize their production. However,
they may have been able to cut costs (and increase production) by sending their work up north. (Tebbel 1975, 659) Perhaps they could have centralized their production for later printings, or enough work was done at Norwood Press to allow the mass product
ion of this novel in huge quantities to meet popular demand. The publication history of The Crisis may have spanned a transition period. Norwood Press is listed in a July 1895 edition of The Reference Directory of Booksellers, Stationers, and Printers o
f the United States and Canada although I could not, through browsing the shelves, find a listing for it in these types of directories later in the publication history of The Crisis. (Industrial Information Company of New Jersey 1895, 232) Although Tebbe
l states that lightweight paper began use around 1902, it is possible to infer its use with at least subsequent printings of The Crisis if not its use from the start.
(4) For more information about magazine and newspaper advertising, see Assignment #2, numbers 9 and 11.
(5) For more information about these reviews, see Assignment #4.
Blodgett, Geoffrey. "Winston Churchill: The Novelist as Reformer." The New England Quarterly 47, no. 4 (December 1974): 495-517.
Books in Print, 1997-98 Supplement. New Providence, N.J.: R.R. Bowker, 1998.
"Churchill's 'The Crisis' and the Critics." The Literary Digest 23, no. 1 (6 July 1901): 8-9.
Griffin, Lloyd W. "Winston Churchill, American Novelist." More Books 33, no. 9 (November 1948): 331-8.
Hackett, Alice Payne. 70 Years of Best Sellers 1895-1965. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1967.
Hackett, Alice Payne, and James Henry Burke. 80 Years of Best Sellers: 1895-1975. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1977.
Hancock, Albert Elmer. "The Historical Fiction of Mr. Churchill." The Outlook 77, no. 13 (30 July 1904): 753-5.
Hart, Irving Harlow. "The Most Popular Authors of Fiction Between 1900 and 1925." The Publishers' Weekly 107, no. 8 (21 February 1925): 619-21.
Hofstadter, Richard, and Beatrice Hofstadter. "Winston Churchill: A Study in the Popular Novel." American Quarterly 2, issue 1 (Spring 1950) 12-28.
Kurian, George Thomas. The Directory of American Book Publishing: From Founding Fathers to Today's Conglomerates. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975.
Mabie, H.W. Review of The Crisis, by Winston Churchill. New York Times Saturday Book Review Supplement, 1 June 1901, 389.
"My Favorite Historical Novel." American Heritage 43, no. 6 (October 1992): 87.
The Reference Directory of Booksellers, Stationers, and Printers of the United States and Canada (July 1895). New York: Industrial Information Company of New Jersey: 1895.
Schneider, Robert W. "Novelist to a Generation: The American Winston Churchill." The Midwest Quarterly 3, no. 2 (January 1962): 163-79.
Schneider, Robert W. Novelist to a Generation: The Life and Thought of Winston Churchill. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976.
Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States. Vol. 2, The Expansion of an Industry 1865-1919. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1975.
Titus, Warren I. Winston Churchill. Twayne's United States Authors Series, ed. Sylvia E. Bowman, no. 43. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1963.
Amazon.com. Http://www.amazon.com; Internet; Accessed 22 April 1999.