'Lady Clementine' Explores Influence And Power In WWII

May 28, 2020

On today's program: A local author revisits the motivations behind one of history's most influential political wives; some big businesses in Pittsburgh could face grim prospects; and a new private grant program offers small businesses an alternative to federal loans. 

Imagining the inner life of Lady Clementine Churchill
(00:00 — 10:02)

The life and times of Winston Churchill have been chronicled in books, movies and more, but often forgotten is the partner who bolstered him through triumph, failure and the many faces of his own ambition. In her latest historical novel, Pittsburgh author Marie Benedict fills in the gaps overlooked by the history books, imagining a rich inner life for Lady Clementine Hozier Churchill.

Clementine was devoted to both Winston and his ideals, says Benedict, and equally ambitious in her vision for England in the early half of the 20th century. Both in Benedict’s novel and in real life, Lady Clementine carefully wielded her power as wife and advisor to one of England’s most powerful men to help women and the English laboring class.

Winston Churchill would not have become the figure known today if not for Clementine, Benedict tells The Confluence.

"Step by step in Winston's career, she took on more responsibilities," Benedict says. "She edited and vetted his speeches, which people don't really realize. She helped advise on policy and staff matters—he was appalling at dealing with his staff, as is rumored—and she undertook a variety of her own projects, which no one invited her to do. She just kind of claimed that for herself."

Whatever his failings, Benedict writes, Winston had total faith in Clementine, "and he wasn't going to let anyone stop him from inviting her into the political world that he inhabited."

Since Benedict first spoke to The Confluence in January, she says recent sales of all four of her novels have been “remarkable,” and she feels fortunate to be able to bring a level of comfort to readers during quarantine. Her next project is slated for release in January. Lady Clementine comes out in paperback July 7.

Big Pittsburgh retailers still looking online as region reopens
(10:10 — 13:57)

Storefronts could look a lot different than they did in the days just before the shutdown. After two months with their doors closed, retailers that were already in trouble are facing major challenges. 

Tim Schooley covers the retail business sector for Pittsburgh Business Times. He says that like other businesses across the country, three mainstays of Pittsburgh’s business scene—Dick’s Sporting Goods, GNC and American Eagle Outfitters—are adjusting to business during the pandemic. While Dick’s and American Eagle seem to be in relatively good financial shape, GNC recently warned investors that it might have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy if it can’t renegotiate $700 million in debt.

Schooley says that for these businesses, online sales have become increasingly important in recent weeks, and could help keep the companies afloat.

“Online sales have always just been a fraction for all retailers, but it’s been growing and growing quickly," he says. "I’m sure this whole event will change habits and further spur people to buy more of their product online.”

In the coming weeks, Schooley says he’ll be looking for what it takes to bring customers back to the stores.

“We can have all the government announcements for openings that we want, but if people aren’t comfortable going back, it’s not going to make that much of a difference,” he says. “It’s just a matter of paying attention to traffic and shoppers being able to go back to the kinds of places where these stores are located.”

Pennsylvania businesses make video pitches for emergency aid
(14:03 — 17:58)

Pennsylvania small businesses owners trying to survive the shutdown have gotten used to a lot of paperwork. Government grants and loans can have daunting applications and long wait times.

But a new private grant program in Pennsylvania is offering a simpler, speedier option. It requires one thing that others don’t, though: an on-camera pitch.

Keystone Crossroads Miles Bryan has been watching the tapes. He reports that the fund’s organizers say the videos help them understand what they can’t judge with numbers alone, like the value a business brings to its community beyond providing jobs or paying taxes.

 The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.