FINDING A LOST NOVEL BY C S FORESTER
It was Mr Packwood who started it all. My enlightened English teacher of 1954, all brown suede shoes and antique vowels, had the pleasant habit of reading to his pupils for 10 minutes at the end of each lesson. Among the authors he selected was C S Forester whose Hornblower books were just appearing in paperback, and so my seed of enthusiasm was planted at the age of 8.
In the Hornblower stories I found Forester writing about ‘the man alone’. Here is a naval captain in mid-ocean with 750 men in his charge and no news from home for months on end. He is leader, mentor, administrator, judge and jury, chaplain, executor of his government’s wishes – and has no-one to fall back on or refer to. An extraordinary microcosm of the human condition.
In 1935 before the Hornblower series commenced, Forester had been offered a contract to write a film script in Hollywood. He had previously come across some late 18th century volumes of the Naval Chronicle and after the Hollywood contract, these accompanied him on his sea-journey back to England via Central America. The result was the first Hornblower novel ‘The Happy Return’.
Forester had missed England during his stay in California and he now wrote a classic London thriller about murder, sex and revenge. In his personal notes, Forester refers to it as ‘the lost novel… It was written, sent to London and Boston, accepted and made the subject of signed agreements’. He had not foreseen the pressure that would grow on him to write more Hornblowers.
But the Spanish Civil War intervened. Forester went to Spain and the Peninsula War of 140 years previously, stirred his interest. With a new sense of excitement he realised that this could lead to the second Hornblower novel for which his publishers were clamouring.
Forester wrote in his personal notes Long Before Forty ‘It would not be fitting for The Pursued to be published between these two [Hornblower] books. Publication was delayed and ‘the lost novel’ was really lost. It is just possible that a typescript still exists, forgotten and gathering dust in a rarely used storeroom in Boston or Bloomsbury.’
A few years ago a fellow Hornblower aficionado spotted a miscellany of Forester papers for sale at an auction in Knightsbridge. Colin Blogg the C S Forester Society’s founder and I acquired the text of The Pursued; a typescript, the pages in order and numbered, but differing – some original typing on (American) typing paper, some sheets carbons, some sheets roneos and a few photocopies. There are a few pencil corrections (word spacing, grammar) and some pages are hole-punched. Some text is very faded. The auctioneers will still not divulge the identity of the vendor.
There were complications regarding publication. We owned the paper – the physical property – but copyright remained vested in the Swiss owners of the author’s estate – if anyone has puzzled over the meaning of the phrase ‘intellectual property’ this serves to make the implication clear! But in November 2011 this little masterpiece of London life between the wars The Pursued – so very nearly, the One that Got Away – was published, three-quarters of a century after it was written. A thrilling find and a rare first view of one of the great English 20th century novelists at the peak of his powers.
This is a psychological thriller and murder story but not a whodunit – we know the identity of the murderer almost from the start; it is with the primeval pursuit of justice that C S Forester enthrals the reader. We do not follow an aristocratic detective or visit an American crime scene; Forester’s technique is to make the first murder and its consequences stand out in horrid relief against the paucity of middle-class English life in the 1930s.
There are similar themes to those of ‘the man alone’ Hornblower. Here it is the mother and grandmother who stands isolated, steadfast in her determination to fulfil her duty with her family trapped in a maelstrom of emotion and desire. In The Pursued it is the mother “walking swiftly along, her bright eyes searching every bye-road” who patrols the enemy and pursues her campaign.
The Pursued shares with the Hornblower novels, C S Forester’s descriptive techniques. Here he is on social presentation and structure, describing Hornblower’s paramour in A Ship of the Line: –
“Lady Barbara was there in a blue silk dress, blue-grey, the exact colour of her eyes. From a gold chain round her neck hung a sapphire pendant, but the sapphires seemed lifeless compared to her glance… The fringes of the room seemed to be deep in mist… The golden sunburn which Hornblower had last seen in her cheeks had disappeared now; her complexion was as creamy white as any great lady’s should be.”
And now, the eponymous wife in The Pursued: –
[Marjorie] “resettles her hair, which had been disarranged by putting on her frock [which] made her look fresh and cool…at the back of her mind, a mental picture of herself; cool and leisurely and soignée, walking gracefully out to the motor car to be borne away to the seaside”.
He is brilliant in capturing the physical environment too: –
“Hornblower looked out over the lush green of the park; beyond it rose the massive curves of the downs, and to one side, the tower of Smallbridge church rose above the trees. On that side too, an orchard was in full bloom, exquisitely lovely. Park and orchard and church were all his; he was the squire…”
And then, The Pursued
“It was mid-August now, and that early hour of the morning bore with it the faint hint of approaching autumn, only just noticeable and yet sweepingly comprehensive, calling up to the memory all Autumn in a single breath – morning fog, and changing colours, and the bonfires of Saturday afternoon gardeners; laying the first fires ready for the first chilly evening; roly-poly pudding instead of tapioca for dinner; and she must look out her winter coat to see that it really would last another winter”.
We launched The Pursued at my local booksellers Coach House Books in Pershore, on 5 November 2011 for which I had prepared a limited Edition of 25. The Penguin hardback has sold out, and the paperback is now doing well in Britain and the Commonwealth. The book has been translated into Spanish – Los Perseguidos – and into German (Tödliche Ohnmacht) and Greek. It was the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Afternoon Play and featured on German Radio Welle in 2014 and again in spring 2015.
The C S Forester Society was formed in 1999 and has celebrated the publication of The Pursued. At its 2015 General Meeting in Portsmouth the German Chairman, French Treasurer and Belgian Webmaster again celebrated the continuing success of C S Forester’s works. And Hornblower? – he might have been amazed, but on reflection he would have applauded. Mr Packwood, too.
Lawrie Brewer, October 2015