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Forester as depicted in his son's memoir

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Forester as depicted in his son's memoir

Post by pauljm on Thu 28 Jan 2016, 15:30

Some years ago John Forester, son of C.S. Forester, wrote a memoir of his father in which he discussed (among other things) the writing of the Hornblower series, and of Forester’s other novels in both the historical and thriller genres. The book, entitled “C.S. Forester: Novelist and Storyteller”, was self-published by the author in two volumes and is rather hard to get hold of, although a digital version created in 2012 is available from Amazon.

Much of the book’s 870 plus pages deals with the difficult relationship between John and his father, which the author attributes to the latter’s devious and manipulative personality, providing far too many examples to prove his point. However within the minutiae of family life, C.S.’s womanizing and much other not very interesting detail, there are some nuggets that clarify aspects of the creation of the Hornblower saga.

For instance, while John Forester tells much the same story of the genesis of “The Happy Return” as his father did in “The Hornblower Companion” (conceived in 1936 while Forester was travelling on a slow voyage from Los Angeles to England via the Panama Canal), he suggests that the names of two of the principal characters came from colleagues that Forester had been working with as a screenwriter in Hollywood: Arthur Hornblow (a producer with Paramount) and Niven Busch (a close friend and fellow screenwriter).

The plots of both “A Ship of the Line” and “Flying Colours” were sketched out on another sea voyage, one which Forester took around the British Isles in May 1937. This makes sense since the ending of “A Ship of the Line” leaves Hornblower hanging, and the third book provides the resolution to his problems. According to John, his father had intended that “Flying Colours” (finished in May 1938) was to be the last of the series, and took a lot of pleasure in planting plot points in SotL that would be resolved in FC in order to wrap up the Hornblower story with a happy ending.

Other interesting points include:
• John F. ties the episode of adultery in “The Commodore” to Forester’s own adulterous experiences, and notes the criticisms C.S. received for inaccuracies in the book, including the eminent historian’s Sir Charles Oman’s comments on the siege of Riga
• John F. feels that “Lord Hornblower” contains the most complete psychological portrait of Hornblower, and that the fictional man’s character was very close to that of his creator.
• “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower” was originally published as a series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post, which explains its episodic character
• Lieutenant Hornblower” was also originally serialised in the Saturday Evening Post; Forester had a lot of trouble with the plot, partly because it is told from the perspective of Bush and thus Hornblower’s thinking must be inferred from what Bush observes. The author felt that if the books were read in chronological sequence that the psychological insight offered in the later books might be all the greater, since the reader had already seen Hornblower’s actions "from the outside” in this book.
• Overall, Forester was what his son characterizes as a lazy writer; he did not enjoy the process of writing, had to force himself to write his quota of words every day, and tried to make the books as short as he could while still fulfilling his publishing contract and offering a good story. While he found satisfaction in working out plot problems, he did not enjoy the overall process and tried to get it over with as fast as he could.

Other surprising (to me) pieces of information:
• C.S. claimed to have turned down an offer in late 1941 to write the official history of the Royal Navy in the Second World War, because he claimed his talents would be better used writing scripts for Hollywood films that advanced the Allied cause; I tend to doubt this claim, and there is no doubt that Stephen Roskill produced a far more important history of the RN than Forester would have ever done
• Forester also claimed to have been offered both a knighthood and a baronetcy, but turned them down “out of consideration for American feelings and customs”; personally I find it hard to believe he was made such an offer, and even harder to believe he would have turned it down if it was made, based on the psychological portrait his son provides of the man
• C.S. was hired to create the script for the epic television series “Victory at Sea” in the early 50s, but had to bow out because he found the task of matching words to screen images while also creating a coherent narrative beyond his capacity
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Re: Forester as depicted in his son's memoir

Post by 80 Winters on Sun 31 Jan 2016, 05:18

In C.S. Forester's own words:

" I formed a resolution to never write a word I did not want to write; to think only of my own tastes and ideals, without a thought of those of editors or publishers."

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