Churchill's Black Dog: Background information when reading Mr. Chartwell

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Mr. Chartwell

A Novel

by Rebecca Hunt

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt X
Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Feb 2011, 256 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder
Buy This Book

About this Book

Churchill's Black Dog

This article relates to Mr. Chartwell

Print Review

Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the famous British prime minister who told Hitler "we shall never surrender" during World War II, was not the first to describe depression as a "black dog." The Oxford English Dictionary cites earlier uses of the phrase in literature and in nursery lore; for example, a sullen child was said to "have the black dog on his back." But Churchill was the most famous, and the expression is now indelibly linked to him.

Most of what we know about Churchill's black dog comes from a memoir his personal physician, Lord Charles Moran, published after his death. "In his early days," Lord Moran writes, "he was afflicted by fits of depression that might last for months. He called them the 'black dog.' He dreaded these bouts and instinctively kept away from anything that seemed to bring them on." Churchill told Moran in 1944, "I don't like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through...I don't like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second's action would end everything. A few drops of desperation."

The image is a powerful one - envisioning depression as a black dog makes it into a physical, externalized presence. And the fact that the black mood is a dog, and not, say, a dragon, means there is the possibility that it can ultimately be brought to heel. In an era when depression was understood less as a clinical illness than as a spiritual failing, the idea that depression could be tamed with discipline must have been appealing. Churchill fought it with all manner of weapons. Even his famous hobby, painting, was a means to gain control.

Rebecca Hunt, the author of Mr. Chartwell, is not the first to find the conjunction between the powerful Churchill and the menacing "black dog" to be a compelling one. The mental-health community in particular seems fascinated by the possibilities inherent in Churchill and his metaphor. It's empowering to think that depression, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles (Hitler, for instance), can be subdued by ornery persistence and the liberal application of stimulants (cigars and whiskey). One British mental-health advocacy group went overboard in the exploration of this concept of "functional mental illness," however. In 2006 the mental-health charity Rethink commissioned a statue of the famous prime minister wearing a straitjacket. It was a fanciful vision - Churchill's "black dog" is more sulky than dangerous. The charity said it had devised the image to promote a new understanding of the face of mental illness, but in fact the sight of Churchill's recognizable jowly visage above a twisted torso restrained in a straitjacket proved to be too alarming to the public and too offensive to Churchill's relations. The statue was taken down.

Interesting Link: The Black Dog Institute: An information and advocacy site about depression, from an Australian mental health institute. Their logo shows Churchill's famous "V" for victory casting a shadow in the shape of a dog's head.

Reference: Lord Charles Moran, Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965 as quoted in Anthony Storr, Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind (New York, 1965).

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This article relates to Mr. Chartwell. It first ran in the February 16, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: We Are Not Free
    We Are Not Free
    by Traci Chee
    Author Traci Chee is best known for her young adult fantasy trilogy, The Reader series. We Are Not ...
  • Book Jacket: The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures
    The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures
    by Jennifer Hofmann
    The title of Jennifer Hofmann's perceptive debut novel with its bureaucratese strongly suggests a ...
  • Book Jacket: His Only Wife
    His Only Wife
    by Peace Adzo Medie
    21-year-old Afi is a talented Ghanaian seamstress eager to study fashion design, but her life is ...
  • Book Jacket: We Have Been Harmonized
    We Have Been Harmonized
    by Kai Strittmatter
    You'd be forgiven if, while reading We Have Been Harmonized, you momentarily mistook it for a ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Piranesi
    by Susanna Clarke

    A new novel from the NY Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Shadow King
by Maaza Mengiste

An unforgettable epic shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and named a best book of the year by the New York Times.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Memorial Drive

Memorial Drive
by Natasha Trethewey

The moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of tragedy.

Enter


Wordplay

Solve this clue:

L N Take I C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.