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'House post'

He was the man who rallied Britons to defend their country in 1940 as it stood alone facing the threat of invasion. "We shall fight on the beaches," he declared to the House of Commons June 4, "we shall fight in the fields and in the streets...; we shall never surrender."

Winston Churchill's leadership during World War II was legendary. Yet his commanding bluster in public was counterpoised in private by a profoundly tender relationship with his wife, Clementine, whose advice he sought and valued.

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We know this from the more than 1,700 letters the two exchanged over the 57 years of their marriage.

Mary Soames, the Churchills' youngest daughter, talked to Marilyn Gardner about her parents' extraordinary partnership and enduring affection (page 18).

To be able to examine an intimate relationship through years of correspondence is extraordinary in itself. The measured force of the written word has long been undercut by the immediacy and transience of phones and e-mail.

An exchange of letters usually marks the absences in a marriage.

Yet even when the Churchills were under the same roof, letters and notes were slipped under doors. Some of these were Clementine's, where she gave her view of a person or situation. Lady Soames says of her mother, "Clementine was not a good arguer: she quickly become vehement and overemphatic ... and Winston under such fire presented a defensive obstinacy - which further exasperated her."

Of her mother's letter-writing stratagem, she concludes, "The 'house post' advocacy worked rather well: she wrote a reasoned case; he paid attention."

*Susan Llewelyn Leach is the assistant Ideas editor.

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