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.