Origins of “The Happy Return”

Paul Martinovich from Canada shares with us some exemplary research into the origins of the first story to be written in the Hornblower sequence ‘The Happy Return’. You will find a strong case for a hitherto undisclosed source for the idea and indeed title – along with further insight into CSF’s rather secretive character and the odd minor slip-up!

If our Book of the Year is ‘African Queen’ for 2017 – about which, more will be promised as we progress our planned get-together in London and Greenwich in September – most of us first came to Forester through Hornblower. Paul previously outlined his theme in the Historic Naval Fiction Forum, and many thanks indeed to him for this erudite and gripping article.

Download “The Origins of a Classic Novel: The Happy Return” as PDF !


We are pleased to have had an email from CSF’s son John Forester, in USA. Here is his comment on Paul Martinovich’s article about the origin of the Happy Return story.

Date : Thu, 26 Jan 2017
Sender: John Forester

I have just read Paul Martinovich’s suggestion that the plot of /The Happy Return/ was suggested, in part, by the recapture of a brigand Caribbean frigate by Captain Yeo RN. It is quite likely that CSF knew this story. After all, when he and Kitty toured French rivers and canals in a very small motorboat (1928), he (as I remember learning) took with him some volumes of the Naval Chronicle. […]

CSF was known for his wide knowledge of Napoleonic affairs (and much else, also), as in his biography of Nelson. The fact that he used this knowledge in his storytelling was no secret, but neither was it important at that time to provide a pseudo documentation for his sources. On the other hand, the fact that the names Bush and Hornblower came from his associates during his two months or so in Hollywood, and Barbara from a passenger in the freighter he took from Hollywood to England, were not quite secret, but confidential. I had to discover these sources myself. CSF did not like to talk about his times in Hollywood; I have suggested before this that he left too visible a trail there. I don’t know about Arthur Hornblow, but CSF remained friends with Niven Busch, whom I also knew, and Barbara later took one of the book cover photographs.

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