Winston Churchill memoir extract

Text by Isabel Snowden, former Collections Officer at Jane Austen's House

This signed extract from Winston Churchill’s Second World War memoirs describes how Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, comforted him during a period of sickness in the middle of World War II. In 1943 Churchill was critically ill with pneumonia. Bed ridden, and with his doctors preventing him from working, the ailing Prime Minister turned to a novel to keep him entertained. Having his daughter, Sarah, read Pride and Prejudice to him provided a calm and comforting effect. The ‘M and B’ Churchill mentions to at the end of the passage may either refer to the medication he was being treated with, produced by May and Baker Pharmaceuticals, or, his doctors Lord Moran and Dr. Bedford.

In the extract Churchill marvels at how the characters appear unaffected by the war and political turmoil of the time. This is not to suggest that Jane Austen was unaware of the troubling times she lived in; two of her brothers were in the Royal Navy and her cousin’s husband was executed during the French Revolution. Instead Austen was able to provide a balm to the outside world in her novels, a chance for readers to escape from the great uncertainty of the time. This obviously had a positive effect on Churchill, temporarily escaping another war over a hundred years later. This is not the only instance of Austen’s novels providing a balm from the troubles of war; during the First World War, soldiers were prescribed Jane Austen novels as a treatment for shell shock.

This extract was sent to Jane Austen’s House by Sir Winston Churchill himself, during his second term as Prime Minister, in 1953. The Museum’s founder, Mr. T. Edward Carpenter, wrote to Churchill about his new museum; impressed by Mr. Carpenter’s work to preserve Jane Austen’s home, the Prime Minister sent this extract to become part of the Museum’s collection, where it has been on display ever since.