C.S. Forster is best known to most of us as the creator of the swashbuckling hero Horatio Hornblower, a character brought to life by Ioan Gruffudd in the recent ITV series, but Forester wrote much more than this, having over thrity novels and numerous other literary works attributed to his name. At the moment, due to the popularity of the Hornblower series, the works of Forester are having something of a revival, but little is known about the man himself.
Cecil Scott Smith was born in August 1899 in Cairo, Egypt, the youngest of five brothers and sisters. His father was working in Cairo as an English teacher in a school set up by the British government to give upper-class Egyptian children a taste of the British eductation system. In 1901, his mother took him and his siblings back to England to attend British schools, leaving his father in Egypt and limiting contact with him to just one month a year.
He attended Alleyne's School and then Dulwich College in 1915. He attempted to join the army, but did not pass the physical examination. Around this time he adopted Geoff and Florence Belcher, the mother and father of two of his schoolmates, as his surrogate parents. Geoff suported him financially and he enlisted in Guy's Medical School, but didn't work, spending his time writing instead. He left in 1921 to pursue his literary career, but didn't make enough money to live on he reached the age of 27.
In the interim he had adopted the pen name 'C.S. Forester', and written several books:
Of these, Payment Defered
was the most succesful, and made enough money for him to secretly marry Kathleen Belcher, daughter of Geoff and Florence
. It was re-written as a play in 1931, and filmed in 1932 starring Charles Laughton
With Kathleen, Forester took a dinghy tour around the British Isles and then across to Europe. This spawned two books about his journeys, The Voyage of the 'Annie Marble' (1929) and 'Annie Marble' in Germany' (1930). He also wrote many other books and poems at the same time. From this point, Forester began to focus on novels and gained a good reputation for his stories. The most important of these were:
was made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart
and Katherine Hepburn
By the 1930's, Forester was called to Hollywood to produce a pirate film with Arthur Hornblow, working for Niven-Busch. Unfirtunately they were pre-empted by the release of Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn, which appeared to lifted in its entireity from the plot they were working on. With this and a pending paternity case from an aging opera singer, Forester leapt on the first boat back to England. On this fated trip, he met Babara Sutro, a photographer, and took a one day cruise in the steamer's motorlaunch around the Gulf of Fonesca. Here the ideas for Hornblower were born, and Forester began his first swashbuckling novel The Happy Return starring Lady Barbara, Hornblower and Bush.
Hornblower was a character that Forester identified with and it is thought very much wanted to be, if only he had had the courage. The series was very successful and spawned eleven books and two short stories, as well as a film and the modern ITV series.
Gregory Peck, who played Hornblower in the 1951 film, said of his character: I like a hero, particularly sea-going hero, who gets seasick, who gets nervous before every battle, because I think people are like that and I don't really subscribe to the hard-nosed guy who's afraid of nothing. Hornblower is a very human character, and the books follow the rise of his career, from youthful midshipman to married Admiral which is possibly why they hold such appeal to us today.
Hornblower was not Forester's only work by any means. He continued to work in Hollywood and England, and during World War II wrote a lot of propaganda in America, trying to keep the USA on Britain's side. He also wrote as a war correspodant for The Times. This brought him acclaim from many ministers and important officials, and he moved out to settle permanently in Berekly, California.
In 1943 his writing ceased briefly when he was disgnosed with atherosclerosis in his legs. This stemmed from a visit to the Bering Sea, and left him permanently crippled. He then divorced Kathleen in 1945, and remarried Dorothy Foster, another woman from his youth in secret in 1947. Sadly in 1966, Cecil Scott Forster died of a severe heart attack, having suffered a mild heart attack in 1962 and a paralysing stroke in 1964.
For a complete Bibliography, see the C.S. Forester Society website:
for more quotes and historical information.