C. S. Forester
August 27 is the birthday of the
novelist who wrote under the name, C. S. Forester. Born Cecil Louis
Troughton Smith in Cairo, Egypt, in 1899, his father was a minor British
official working in Africa. In 1901, his mother, Sarah Smith,
took her five children to London where Forester was educated at Alleyne's
School before entering Dulwich College in 1915.
After being graduated, he began writing hack biographies and shameless
His experiences as the captain of a
ship inspired him to write his first really successful novel, The African
Queen (1935), about an evangelical English spinster and a grizzled
small-boat captain who fall in love while navigating a river through Central
Africa. Forester had never been to Central Africa, but he managed to make
the novel convincing anyway. The book was made into a classic film starring
Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
At the beginning of World War II,
Forester traveled on behalf of the British government to America, where he
produced propaganda encouraging the United States to remain on Britain's
side. Following the War, he remained in America, making Berkeley,
California, his new home.
Forester got the idea for his most
famous character, Horatio Hornblower, after he was called to Hollywood to
write a pirate film. While the script was being drafted, another
studio released Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn, based on the
same historical incidents about which Forester was writing. Rather
than scrap the movie, and to avoid an impending paternity suit, Forester
jumped aboard a freighter bound for England.
While traveling along the
coast of Central America, he outlined Beat to the Quarters, which
introduced the now legendary characters Hornblower, Bush, and Lady Barbara.
Hornblower, a fictional Royal Navy midshipman born on the Fourth of July,
1776, becomes a hero in the naval wars against Napoleon. The first
novel featuring the new character was The Happy Return (1937), a
prophetic title, since Forester followed the book with 10 sequels.
Readers still remember the character of Hornblower today because he is so
unique: heroic but also introverted, suffering from sea-sickness, full of
self-doubt, class-conscious, a fanatic about discipline and efficiency, and
a hater of the poetry of Wordsworth.
Forester wrote several novels with military and naval
themes, including The African Queen, The Barbary Pirates, The General,
The Good Shepherd, The Gun, The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck, and
Rifleman Dodd. But his Hornblower chronicles, spanning eleven
books, have proven to be among the most enduring
in English literature, its main character rivaled in popularity only by Sherlock Holmes.
C. S. Forester died in 1966 while working on Hornblower During the Crisis.
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