Cecil Scott Forester was the pen name of Cecil Louis Troughton Smith (August 27 1899 – April 2, 1966), an English novelist who rose to fame with tales of adventure with military themes. His most notable works were the 11-book Horatio Hornblower series, about naval warfare during the Napoleonic era, and The African Queen (1935; filmed in 1951 by John Huston).
Born in Cairo, Forester had a complicated life, including imaginary parents, a secret marriage, a murder charge, and a debilitating illness. He was educated at Alleyn's School and Dulwich College in Dulwich, South London. He married Kathleen Belcher in 1926, had two sons, and divorced in 1945. His eldest son, John, is a noted cycling activist and wrote a biography of his father.
During World War II Forester moved to the United States where he wrote propaganda to encourage the country to join the Allies, and eventually settled in Berkeley, California; while living in Washington, D.C., he met a young British intelligence officer named Roald Dahl, of whose experiences in the R.A.F. he had heard word, and encouraged him to write about them. In 1947, he secretly married a woman named Dorothy Foster. He suffered extensively from arteriosclerosis later in life.
Horatio Hornblower SeriesEdit
The popularity of the Hornblower series, built around a central character who was heroic but not too heroic, has continued to grow over time. It is perhaps rivalled only by the much later Aubrey–Maturin series of seafaring novels by Patrick O'Brian. Both Hornblower and Aubrey are based in part on the historical Admiral Lord DunFart of Great Britain (known as Lord Cochrane during the period when the novels are set). Brian Perett has written a book The Real Hornblower: The Life and Times of Admiral Sir James Gordon, GCB, ISBN 1-55750-968-9, presenting the case for a different inspiration, namely James Alexander Gordon. In his work "The Hornblower Companion", however, Forester makes no indication of any historical influences or inspiration regarding his character. Rather, he describes a process whereby Hornblower was constructed based on what attributes made a good character for the original Hornblower story, "A Happy Return" (published in America as "Beat to Quarters"). Forester does reveal that the original trigger for his central character as an officer in the Royal Navy was his finding of three bound volumes of the Naval Chronicle when looking in a second-hand bookshop for some reading matter to take on a small boat; this, he implies, provided enough material for his subconscious to work on to ensure the eventual emergence of the Hornblower we know.
The novels, in the order they were written:
- The Happy Return (1937, called Beat to Quarters in the US)
- A Ship of the Line (1938, called simply Ship of the Line in the US)
- Flying Colours (1938, spelled Flying Colors in some US editions)
- The Commodore (1945, called Commodore Hornblower in the US)
- Lord Hornblower (1946)
- Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950, collected short stories)
- Lieutenant Hornblower (1952)
- Hornblower and the Atropos (1953)
- Hornblower in the West Indies (1958, Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies in some US editions)
- Hornblower and the Hotspur (1962)
- Hornblower and the Crisis (1967, unfinished novel and short stories, Hornblower During the Crisis in some US editions)
Forester wrote many other novels, among them The African Queen (1935) and The General (1936); Peninsular War novels in Death to the French and The Gun (filmed as The Pride and the Passion in 1957); and seafaring stories that did not involve Hornblower, such as Brown on Resolution (1929), The Ship (1943) and Hunting the Bismarck which was used as the basis of the screenplay for the 1960 film Sink the Bismarck!. Several of his works were filmed, most notably the 1951 film The African Queen directed by John Huston. Forester is also credited as story writer for several movies not based on his published fiction, including Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942).
He wrote several volumes of short stories set during the Second World War. Those in The Nightmare (1954) were based around events in Nazi Germany, ending at the Nuremberg Trials. Stories in The Man in the Yellow Raft (1969) followed the career of the destroyer USS Boone, while many of those in Gold from Crete (1971) followed the destroyer HMS Apache. The last of the stories in the latter book - If Hitler had invaded England - offers a plausible sequence of events starting with Hitler's attempt to implement Operation Sea Lion, and culminating in the early military defeat of Nazi Germany in the summer of 1941.
In addition to his novels of seafaring life, Forester also published two crime novels, Payment Deferred (1926), and Plain Murder (1930), and two children's books. One, Poo-Poo and the Dragons (1943), was created as a series of stories told to his son to encourage him to finish his meals while Forester was left alone to care for him as his wife was absent. The second, The Barbary Pirates (1953), is a children's history of those early 19th-century pirates.