Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

March Books 12) Savrola, by Winston S. Churchill

Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but this was his only actual novel, published in 1900 when he was 26. Savrola is the liberal opposition leader in the small western European republic of Laurania; once it becomes apparent that the dictator's wife is secretly in love with him, you know how the story is going to work out, but Churchill tells a good yarn, in particular with some brilliant descriptions of the street-fighting as the revolution takes place, only marred slightly by a rushed last couple of pages.

It's impossible to read the book without bearing in mind the author's future career. The dictator is wrong because he has trampled over ancient rights and freedoms in the name of stability; the radicals on the other hand want to take the revolution toward repression and socialism, and Savrola has to steer a course between them. I was particularly attracted by this early passage in which Savrola writes the speech which will kickstart the revolt:
His speech - he had made many and knew that nothing good can be obtained without effort. These impromptu feats of oratory existed only in the minds of the listeners; the flowers of rhetoric were hothouse plants.

What was there to say? Successive cigarettes had been mechanically consumed. Amid the smoke he saw a peroration, which would cut deep into the hearts of a crowd; a high thought, a fine simile, expressed in that correct diction which is comprehensible even to the most illiterate, and appeals to the most simple ; something to lift their minds from the material cares of life and to awake sentiment. His ideas began to take the form of words, to group themselves into sentences; he murmured to himself; the rhythm of his own language swayed him; instinctively he alliterated. Ideas succeeded one another, as a stream flows swiftly by and the light changes on its waters. He seized a piece of paper and began hurriedly to pencil notes. That was a point; could not tautology accentuate it? He scribbled down a rough sentence, scratched it out, polished it, and wrote it in again. The sound would please their ears, the sense improve and stimulate their minds. What a game it was! His brain contained the cards he had to play, the world the stakes he played for.

As he worked, the hours passed away. The housekeeper entering with his luncheon found him silent and busy; she had seen him thus before and did not venture to interrupt him. The untasted food grew cold upon the table, as the hands of the clock moved slowly round marking the measured tread of time. Presently he rose, and, completely under the influence of his own thoughts and language, began to pace the room with short rapid strides, speaking to himself in a low voice and with great emphasis. Suddenly he stopped, and with a strange violence his hand descended on the table. It was the end of the speech.

The noise recalled him to the commonplaces of life. He was hungry and tired, and with a laugh at his own enthusiasm sat down at the table and began his neglected luncheon.
I think we can safely assume that Savrola's method of speech-writing was much the same as his creator's. (I wonder if they also shared Savrola's private passion for astronomy?)
Tags: bookblog 2012, nobel laureates

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