Discoveries in Austin and Berkeley

Following the 2022 AGM of the C. S. Forester Society I examined Forester’s papers at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, and the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California. Since I’d travelled so far from Australia to Spain, continuing home the long way round was a relatively small extra cost.  My focus was on Hornblower.

  • As expected, based on the “finding guides” available from both libraries, autograph (hand-written) manuscripts were available for: Happy ReturnShip of the LineFlying ColoursMidshipman (incomplete), “McCool”, Atropos, West Indies (incomplete), Hotspur, Companion, and Crisis (8 of 11 novels).  Typescripts included “His Majesty”, “Hand of Destiny”, “Charitable Offering”, Midshipman (chapters 9 and half of 10 only), Atropos, West Indies (chapter 4 only), Hotspur, Companion, and Crisis.
  • Forester’s handwriting is atrocious.  Only practice and a familiarity with his style makes reading it possible, and even then some words can only be guessed at.
  • The first line of the Happy Return manuscript shows a name crossed out twice in turn.  The first used might be Acheron, though it’s unclear, and the second is Doris.  The third name, left standing, is Lydia.  Similarly, Crystal was originally Hankey.
  • Forester wrote the alterations to Atropos for the version serialised in The Saturday Evening Post.  The action with the Castilla is shifted from Spain to Crete, allowing a reduction in the novel’s length.  This confirms the suspicions I noted in my “Hornblower and the Castilla” article in Reflections No. 26.
  • Forester wrote chapters 10, 11, and part of 12 of Crisis.  They appear in the autograph manuscript but not in the typescript that was published.  In these chapters Hornblower is read in as a captain commanding the London Sea Fencibles and meets his first lieutenant.  He later meets Miranda and another officer before the three board a ship of the line completing to sail for a rendezvous with the fleet off Spain.
  • Crisis shows by far the most extensive rewriting by Forester of all the manuscripts I viewed.  Only three years earlier in Companion (chapter 24) he wrote how reluctant he was to discard what he’d already set down on the page.  With Crisis he reached page 64 before realising, I think, that he’d become bogged down at the Admiralty.  That version has Hornblower return there a third day in succession to meet Miranda and he has substantially longer discussions.  Forester stops short before Hornblower can agree to be a spy and be promised promotion.

    Manuscript page 37 has Hornblower hand over his captured despatch, early in chapter 8, and the seals of the new French Empire are revealed at the Admiralty. Pages 38 to 64 are replaced with pages A to O; so 15 pages replace 27 to reach the end of chapter 9.  Then pages P to Z and 100 to 103, 15 never-published pages, contain chapters 10, 11, and part of 12.  The first descriptions of a Miranda encounter are pushed back until after Hornblower has read himself in.

    The Michael Joseph (UK) edition of Crisis follows the typescript closely but the Little Brown (US) edition contains many editorial adjustments to word order, phrasing, and similar matters of style.  Early inspection of the other manuscripts suggests that Michael Joseph was generally much closer to Forester’s writing, even excluding the Americanised spellings substituted by Little Brown.  That said, the differences are only a matter of style and not of fact, outside a small number of corrections probably made or approved by the author.  The editor’s hand at Little Brown became heavier over time with Crisis the novel most impacted, perhaps in the knowledge that the author was no longer available to reject changes.
  • Forester’s style, retained initially by Michael Joseph, did not include a comma at the end of speech, nor before a continuation of speech in a single sentence.  Correspondence from Michael Joseph himself shows that this was intentional for the 7 novels up to and including Lieutenant but the final 4 novels published, from Atropos on, included these commas.  Some of the later typescripts show the commas but none of the autograph manuscripts do.  Little Brown uniformly added these commas in their US editions.
  • In a few cases editors have corrected Forester’s rendering of local dialects: in the US edition of Atropos, “hunderd” became “hundred”; “babby” became “baby”; and both the US and UK editions of Crisis turned “childern’ll” into “children’ll”.  These words were all carefully spelt out in the autograph manuscripts, a sign that Forester was guiding his typist for the unusual spellings he intended.  Otherwise, generally his handwriting was so bad that there would be almost no chance of distinguishing “er” from “re”.
  • Forester’s correspondence with his literary agent shows that the five chapters of West Indies were written in the same order as they first appeared in book form.  Previously I thought that Chapter 4, “The Guns of Carabobo”, could well have been written second since it was serialised second and that’s also where it belongs chronologically.
  • Early versions of the maps that appear in Companion were traced in 1963 from published maps by Forester’s then-secretary Commander John Dale Pye Hodapp Jr., USN (retired), in consultation with Forester.  The credited artist, Samuel H. Bryant, produced the publication-quality artwork, adding dot-stippling along the coastlines and small illustrations in the margins, but the maps, tracks, numbered points of interest, etc. were sent to him in close to their final form.

James Ashton


James Ashton