Lawrence Brewer discovers a lost novel by CS Forester, acquires the rights and publishes it.
An enlightened English teacher in 1954 had the pleasant habit of reading to his pupils for 10 minutes at the end of each lesson. Among the authors he selected was CS Forester whose Hornblower books were just appearing in paperback, and so my seed of enthusiasm was planted at the age of eight.
The opportunity which has now borne fruit in the first publication of Forester’s ‘lost novel’ had its roots decades previously, in Hollywood in 1935. Forester had been offered a contract to write a film script. He had come across some late-eighteenth-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.
Forester had missed England during his stay in California. Not foreseeing the pressure that would grow on him to write more Hornblowers, he wrote a classic London thriller about murder, sex and revenge, The Pursued. 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.” But the Spanish Civil War intervened. Forester went to Spain and the Peninsular War of 130 years previously stirred his interest. He realised that this could be the second Hornblower novel for which his publishers were clamouring.
Forester wrote: “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.” In 1999 the CS Forester Society was founded in Oxford – the first meeting held at the Luna Caprese – by consultant clinician Dr Colin Blogg. We read about the ‘lost novel’ in Forester’s autobiography Long Before Forty and one of our members spotted a miscellany of Forester papers for sale at an auction in Knightsbridge. To our delight we 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 that took years to resolve. We owned the paper – the physical property – but copyright remained vested in the Swiss owners of the author’s estate. Having at last reached an agreement, I approached Forester’s old publishers, Michael Joseph, to find they are now part of Penguin Books. In November 2011, this 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 twentieth-century novelists at the peak of his powers.
Forester is master of the English landscape too: “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”. Later in his career Forester writes about “the man alone” – an underlying theme in the Hornblower novels. In The Pursued, rather than a naval captain in mid-ocean with 750 men in his charge and no news from home for months on end, we see the mother in isolation, with her family trapped in a maelstrom of emotion.
The CS Forester Society will celebrate publication of The Pursued at its meeting in 2012, to be held in Oriel College, Oxford, on Saturday 29 September. A special delegation is coming from Sweden, the Society’s Chairman is German, the secretary Dutch, the Membership Secretary comes from France – only the Treasurer is English. Hornblower might have been amazed, but on reflection he would have applauded.