Forester, C(ecil) S(cott)
C(ecil) S(cott) Forester 1899-1966
English novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and scriptwriter.
Forester was a prolific writer of thrillers, action novels, short stories, and travel books. He is best known for his popular series of novels about the fictional nineteenth-century British naval officer, Horatio Hornblower.
Forester was born Cecil Lewis Troughton Smith on August 27, 1899 in Cairo, Egypt, where his father was an official in the Egyptian Ministry of Education. At a very young age he was sent back to England to begin his education. His mother encouraged a somewhat scholarly isolation in young Forester, who read voraciously. He attended secondary schools of excellent reputation, becoming a member of the Officers' Training Corps at Dulwich College. He was rejected for military service because of a heart condition, however, and thus did not participate in World War I. Forester then entered medical school at Guy's Hospital in London but found it did not suit his talents. In 1921 he left medical school, adopted the pen name Cecil Scott Forester, and embarked on a writing career. His first novel met with several rejections, but by the mid-1920s he was becoming a successful novelist and biographer. In 1926 he married Kathleen Belcher, with whom he would have two sons. After the success of the film adaptation of his novel Payment Deferred (1926), Forester moved his family to California, where he began screenwriting in Hollywood. The best known of his efforts in this period was the 1951 film, The African Queen. The Foresters disliked the ambiance of the movie industry and eventually settled in the San Francisco area. In the late 1930s Forester began writing the Horatio Hornblower series of novels which would later solidify his popularity. During the 1930s Forester was also a European correspondent, witnessing the Spanish Civil War and the German annexation of Czechoslovakia. During World War II he worked for the British Ministry of Information and traveled on British warships. In the mid-1940s Forester began to suffer from arteriosclerosis of the legs, a crippling disease, but continued to write adventure fiction and screenplays. His first marriage ended in 1944. In 1947 he married Dorothy Ellen Foster and the following year suffered a heart attack. He continued to produce numerous novels and screenplays during this period and even after a second heart attack in 1962. Suffering from the effects of a debilitating stroke, Forester died on April 2, 1966.
Forester's first popular novel was the thriller Payment Deferred, later made into a successful film. Plain Murder (1930) was another well-received thriller. After cruising extensively with his first wife on the coastal and inland waterways of France and Germany, Forester published The Voyage of the Annie Marble (1929) and The Annie Marble in Germany (1930). Two novels, Death to the French (1932; titled Rifleman Dodd in the United States) and The Gun (1933), were set in the Peninsular war, an incident in the Napoleonic campaigns. Perhaps Forester's most famous novel, The African Queen, published in 1935, is a tale of an English spinster and a rough-hewn boat captain and their adventures in German-controlled central Africa during World War I. The award-winning film version of this story starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart brought this story to an even wider audience. The character of Lord Admiral Horatio Hornblower first came to light in 1937 in The Happy Return (entitled Beat to Quarters in the United States), which first appeared as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post. Hornblower, a class-conscious, disciplined, introspective young man, appeared in ten more novels. Some of the other novels in the Hornblower series, also first serialized but not published in chronological sequence, included A Ship of the Line (1938), The Commodore (1945), Lord Hornblower (1946), Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950), Hornblower in the West Indies (1958), and Hornblower and the Hotspur (1962). In 1951 a film, Captain Horatio Hornblower, starring Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo, combined the first three Hornblower novels. An “Horatio Hornblower” miniseries on the Arts and Entertainment (A & E) television network in 1999 and a sequel in 2001 brought new popularity to this well-known character. Forester produced a number of other works in the decades between the 1930s and his death, among them The Earthly Paradise (1940; United States title, To the Indies), a story about Columbus's third voyage to the New World; The Ship (1943), which follows a British warship and its crew to the war-torn island of Malta; and The Barbary Pirates (1953), a story for older children.
Forester is generally regarded as a popular novelist and has not elicited much criticism from literary scholars. Reviewers, however, have often commented on the phenomenon of Hornblower, the quintessential literary adventure hero who has assumed a life of his own. Forester's ability to tell a good story, to invoke the ambiance of the Napoleonic era, and to bring a pseudo-historical character to life has appealed to generations of readers. Film incarnations of Forester's works have proved equally popular. The only full-length study of Forester, by Stanford Sternlicht in 1981, was revived in 1999 to coincide with the first part of the A & E Network miniseries based on a Hornblower novel. The sequel to that series in 2001 also brought renewed interest in Forester's writings.
Payment Deferred (novel) 1926
Brown on Resolution [Single-Handed] (novel) 1929
The Voyage of the Annie Marble (nonfiction) 1929
The Annie Marble in Germany (nonfiction) 1930
Plain Murder (novel) 1930
Death to the French [Rifleman Dodd] (novel) 1932
The Gun (novel) 1933
The African Queen (novel) 1935
The General (novel) 1936
The Happy Return [Beat to Quarters] (novel) 1937
Flying Colours (novel) 1938
A Ship of the Line [Ship of the Line] (novel) 1938
*Captain Hornblower, R.N. [†Captain Horatio Hornblower] (novels) 1939
The Earthly Paradise [To the Indies] (novel) 1940
The Captain from Connecticut (novel) 1941
Poo-Poo and the Dragons (juvenilia) 1942
The Ship (novel) 1943
The Commodore [Commodore Hornblower] (novel) 1945
Lord Hornblower (novel) 1946
The Sky and the Forest (novel) 1948
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (novel) 1950
Randall and the River of Time (novel) 1950
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SOURCE: Sternlicht, Sanford V. “Hornblower: The Man Alone.” In C. S. Forester and the Hornblower Saga, pp. 89-115. Syracuse, N. Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay from the only full-length study of Forester, a revised reprint of a 1981 edition, Sternlicht presents a full description of all of the Hornblower novels, along with background sources and an assessment of the importance of the series in popular literature.]
C. S. Forester created Horatio Hornblower in 1937. Their association continued until Forester's death in 1966. It began as Forester watched a freighter captain, the skipper of the S. S. Margaret Johnson, make decisions for that little world he commanded, his ship.1 It developed into a parable for English indomitability in the face of tyranny perpetrated by Napoleonic France or Hitlerian Germany. It ended as a fictional epic of a successful British naval officer, cast in the Nelsonian mold, who was born in obscurity on July 4, 1776, and who survived shot and shoal to live into an honored old age. In the process, Horatio Hornblower became one of those few characters in art who step out of the covers of a book or the arch of a proscenium stage seemingly to usurp an actual place in history. Sometimes those characters survive because they are true to life; Hornblower is true to history.
For Forester, the series were...
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SOURCE: Sternlicht, Sanford V. “Postwar Allegory and Philosophy: 1947-1954.” In C. S. Forester and the Hornblower Saga, pp. 128-41. Syracuse, N. Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, a revised reprint of the 1981 edition of Sternlicht's book, Sternlicht discusses the strengths and shortcomings of two philosophically oriented novels which were not part of the Hornblower series.]
As a world-renowned popular novelist with a following in the millions, and with his Hornblower novels serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, the most widely read family magazine in America, Forester could have stuck to the Hornblower Saga and continued to make a great deal of money and satisfy his readership without writing anything else. Instead, while producing three Hornblower novels in the 1947-1954 period, Forester wrote his two most philosophical novels: The Sky and the Forest (1948) and Randall and the River of Time (1950). He also published a book for adolescents—The Barbary Pirates (1953)—and under the title of The Nightmare (1954), a collection of short stories, of mixed quality, previously published in periodicals and all taking place during World War II.
The Sky and the Forest and Randall and the River of Time stand as fine achievements of a mature novelist who can work successfully in another genre besides the...
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SOURCE: Fultz, James R. “A Classic Case of Collaboration: The African Queen.” Literature Film Quarterly 10, no. 1 (1982): 13-24.
[In the following essay, Fultz discusses the collaboration between James Agee and John Huston on the film version of The African Queen and also delineates differences between the film and Forester's novel.]
After John Huston abandoned plans to film James Agee's adaptation of “The Blue Hotel,” he asked Agee to write a script of The African Queen. This was in 1950, a year in which Agee's life was pretty much taken over by the director whose dazzling cinematic sense he had admired in The Battle of San Pietro and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The two men became friends early in that year when Agee wrote an article entitled “Undirectable Director.” He wrote that, while most films were stillborn in the scripting stage, Huston's work had “a unique tension and vitality” because he made the story “seem to happen for the first and last time at the moment of recording. It is almost magically hard to get this to happen.”1
Ironically, it would seem that this spontaneity of style so admired by Agee the critic would be made still harder to achieve by Agee the script-writer, whose practice was to usurp the director's role in spelling out the most detailed instructions. Nevertheless, Agee and Huston were to...
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SOURCE: Forester, John. “Father's Tales.” American Scholar 66 (autumn 1997): 533-45.
[In the following essay, Forester's son reminisces about his father's often self-absorbed behavior.]
My father, author of Captain Horatio Hornblower and other novels, was a storyteller, and I started reading his books when I was seven. He spent part of most mornings at the desk in his study, a ground-floor room that looked onto the front garden of our house in suburban London, and when he was in there all the household had to be quiet. No vacuuming, no loud shouting, not while Father was working. However, one morning I found him writing in three books spread out on the dining room table, each one held open by other books resting on the margins of the pages. He was marking the books with his pen, a desecration I had never seen him commit before. In our house, you never made marks in books; they were too precious, and many belonged to the library. As he turned the pages of the books, they turned their pages back themselves.
“What are you doing, Father? Can I hold these?”
“I'm correcting them. I have to mark them exactly alike. Here, hold this one while I correct that one.”
“What made them wrong?”
“These are the books you see me write at my desk. The printer has made these proofs and sent them back to me so I can see if he has...
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SOURCE: Mason, M. S. “‘Hornblower’ Strikes Blow for the Good Guys.” Christian Science Monitor (2 April 1999): 18.
[In the following review, Mason discusses the 1999 A & E Hornblower series and reports on an interview with the star, Ioan Gruffudd.]
It's rare these days to find old-fashioned virtues tacked on to young male characters in the movies or television—virtues like honor, moral courage, and chivalrous defense of the vulnerable. Yet those things are still attractive, even self-evidently desirable, especially when attached to a dashing young hero like Horatio Hornblower.
The A&E network's four-part miniseries (April 4, 11, 18, and 25, airing 8 to 10 p.m.) is based on C. S. Forester's rousing nautical story Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950). The novel was based on a series in “The Naval Chronicle,” a monthly magazine published from 1790 to 1820.
The Welsh star of the TV miniseries is Ioan Gruffudd (pronounced yo-IN Griffiths), a young actor who will also appear next month as Pip in Dickens's Great Expectations (Masterpiece Theatre, PBS).
Already, this bright new talent is getting to polish his acting skills—it's a nice stretch from Horatio to Pip. Few actors of age could pull off the heroic goodness Horatio demands without seeming self-consciously precious.
“I admire [Hornblower's]...
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SOURCE: Grainger, John D. “Who Was Hornblower?” History Today 49, no. 10 (October 1999): 32-3.
[In the following essay, Grainger explores probable models for the character Horatio Hornblower.]
C. S. Forester's fictional sailor of the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Horatio Hornblower, was an immediate success when he first appeared in 1937, in The Happy Return. Sequels continued his story as he found love, promotion and worldly success. The books are still in print, and have been newly adapted into television films.
A recent biography of Admiral Sir James Gordon has claimed that he provides the ‘matrix’ for Hornblower's career (Bryan Perrett, The Real Hornblower, 1998). It appears, however, that the author's clinching argument for his theory is that Hornblower's absence from a particular campaign (on the Potomac in 1812) is proof of its correctness. It is perhaps better to consider Hornblower's fictional career more widely and look at Forester's methods and sources.
Forester was a skilled amateur sailor, experienced both at sea and in inland waters, and the books have stretches of jargon-laden, yet fully convincing, passages. For example, Hornblower and the Hotspur is set in the blockade of Brest just after the outbreak of war in 1803, and is a highly effective re-creation of life aboard a sloop in one of the most difficult operations of...
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SOURCE: Hastings, Max. “The Man Who Ruled the Waves.” Spectator 283, no. 8941-42 (18 December 1999): 32.
[In the following essay, Hastings marks the centenary of Forester's birth with a retrospective of the author's works.]
‘It was not long after dawn that Captain Hornblower came up on the quarterdeck of the Lydia.’ Thus, in February 1937, C. S. Forester launched upon the billows one of the most famous figures in historical fiction with the first words of his novel The Happy Return. His highly-strung and much-loved mariner sailed on thereafter through the ten bestsellers which succeeded the first.
Today, Forester's reputation is in eclipse, overtaken in his own element by Patrick O'Brian, who is perceived—with some justice—as a writer of greater depth and staying power (though dear John Keegan remains passionately loyal to Hornblower, complaining that ‘nothing ever happens in O'Brian's books’). The recent television series based upon the Hornblower oeuvre lacked conviction. It is unusual to meet anyone under, say, 40 who has read The Gun or Death to the French.
But I noticed in the flyleaf of one of the books the other day that 1999 is Forester's centenary year. Before it passes I wanted to pay a debt of pleasure to the author on behalf of all his old fans, to recall the manner in which he gave a generation so much...
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SOURCE: Mason, M. S. “‘Horatio’ Storms the Seas Again.” Christian Science Monitor (6 April 2001): 18.
[In the following review, Mason offers a positive assessment of the second series of television adaptations of the Hornblower stories.]
Horatio Hornblower is back in another ripping, high-seas yarn. It is a delight to see that the sequel to the original television miniseries (first aired on A&E in April of 1999) is richer, more complex, and more exciting than the first. It is just as delightful to note how young Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd (pronounced “Yowan Griffith”) has grown into the role, offering us a refined, manly, and experienced hero of the high seas.
The films are based on the books of C. S. Forester, a series that many young boys of another generation looked forward to with glee. The books follow the adventures of a talented, daring young man as he moves up through the ranks of the British Navy at the turn of the 19th century.
In the new miniseries, Part One: The Mutiny (beginning Sunday on A&E, 8-10 p.m.), a more mature Lieutenant Hornblower ships out with one of Admiral Nelson's star heroes, Captain Sawyer (played with sterling verity by David Warner). But however great a man he once was, Sawyer is mentally unfit to command the ship. Hornblower and his friends realize that every man's life aboard is endangered by the captain's...
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Breit, Harvey. “Talk with C. S. Forester.” New York Times Book Review (6 July 1952): 4.
Offers an interview with Forester.
McGregor, Tom. The Making of C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. New York: HarperEntertainment, 1999, 124 p.
Provides a reader's companion to the A & E television series based on Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.
Perrett, Bryan. The Real Hornblower: The Life of Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Alexander Gordon, GCB. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1997, 160 p.
Studies a possible model for Forester's Hornblower character.
Pope, Steve. Hornblower's Navy: Life at Sea in the Age of Nelson. New York: Welcome Rain, 1999, 112 p.
Presents a description of life in the Napoleonic-era British navy.
Wertheimer, Ron. “Authentic Hornblower: Where Grim Meets Ghastly.” New York Times (2 April 1999): E31.
Reviews the 1999 Hornblower television series.
Additional coverage of Forester's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 83; Contemporary Authors: Obituary, Vol 25-28R; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol....
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