London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1939. First edition, first printing. Full leather. This is an inscribed and finely bound, first edition, first printing of an important Churchill title - his last book published before the outbreak of the Second World War. The inscription, inked on five lines on the recto of the blank leaf preceding the half-title, reads “To | Audrey | from | Winston S. C | July 1939”. As confirmed by the illustrated plate affixed to the recto of a preliminary blank leaf, this presentation copy was inscribed and bound for the celebrated transatlantic socialite Audrey Evelyn Pleydell-Bouverie (1902-1968).
The magnificent fine binding was specifically commissioned by Audrey, consonant with the style of other bindings from her library, and was ostensibly bound contemporary to publication, indicated by “1940” gilt-stamped on the lower front pastedown turn-in. The exceptional full tan crushed Morocco binding features raised spine bands with gilt-ruled compartments, Audrey’s decorative “A” on the spine, and gilt-hatched spine ends. The covers feature gilt rule borders and gilt ruled edges. The contents are bound with all edges gilt, gorgeous double-layered orange, navy and gold silk head and tail bands, silk ribbon marker, and striking marbled endpapers framed by double gilt-ruled turn-ins.
Condition is very good. While the binding shows some spine toning and minor soiling, this does little to decrease the manifest caliber and aesthetic appeal of the binding and there is little appreciable wear. The contents are clean with no soiling or spotting. The gilt edges are so well executed and vividly bright as to make the text block look almost like a solid block of gold, despite a few trivial scuffs.
Step By Step includes 82 newspaper articles focused on foreign affairs written by Churchill between March 1936 and May 1939 at the end of his "wilderness years". Many of them, of course, contain his warnings and predictions about Nazi Germany. This is perhaps a surprisingly sober work at an increasingly sober time to have inscribed to a socialite, but Audrey was both an associate of the Churchills and a commanding social presence in inter-war London. The “A” on the spine of this binding is the initial of the only name she would retain over the course of three marriages. The birth of Audrey Evelyn James to an Anglo-American lumber and steel magnate seemed predestined for social gossip. Audrey’s real father was said by some to be the Liberal politician Sir Edward Grey and Audrey’s mother, Evylyn, was rumored to be the illegitimate daughter of King Edward VII.
In 1922, Audrey married war hero Captain Muir Dudley Coats, who died in 1927. In 1930 she married American publisher and “fabulously wealthy” department store heir Marshall Field III. By the time they divorced in 1934, Audrey had played the society doyenne in New York, entertaining diplomats, politicians, artists, and actors, and been featured in Cecil Beaton’s Book of Beauty. After her divorce from Field, Audrey returned to London, moving in elite social and artistic circles. The Churchills were among the many she entertained and hosted in her homes. Certainly the informality of the inscription – to “Audrey” from “Winston S. C” – indicates a more than cordial familiarity.
In 1938, the year before this book was inscribed, Audrey entered her third and final marriage – to Peter Pleydell-Bouverie, youngest brother of the Earl of Radnor. It would prove her longest union; they divorced in 1946. The grand social life ended sooner. When the Second World War began in 1939, Audrey chose to remain in London, working for the Red Cross, and turned her home into a hostel for volunteers. In addition to an elite social circle, she also shared with Winston Churchill a love of painting. Audrey’s later years were colored by her love of art and she loaned a number of her works to the Tate during her lifetime, culminating in an exhibition of her Impressionist paintings there in 1954.
Step By Step was published in June 1939. Only a few short months later, on the first day of September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Churchill had spent the better part of a decade politically isolated, frequently at odds with both his party and prevailing public sentiment. Now he was invited to join the War Cabinet, reprising his First World War role as First Lord of the Admiralty.
Less than a year after Step By Step was published, in May 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister. As a measure of Churchill's prescience and ultimate vindication, when Step by Step was published Labour leader Clement Attlee, a political opponent who would replace Churchill as Prime Minister in late July 1945, wrote to Churchill, "It must be a melancholy satisfaction to you to see how right you were." Others were even more blunt. Sir Desmond Morton, military officer, government official, and appeasement opponent, wrote to Churchill, "Many years on, historians will read this and your speeches in Arms and the Covenant. They will wonder but I doubt they will decide what devil of pride, unbelief, selfishness or sheer madness possessed the English people that they did not rise as one man" and "call on you to lead them."
Reference: Cohen A111.1.a, Woods/ICS A45(a.1), Langworth p.197. Item #006712