Friday, December 02, 2005

C.S. Forester - Not Allowed to Fight

As Kirsty pointed out in an earlier post, C.S. Forester did not fight in the war. He was only 15 when the war started, and expected to enlist just like his father, brothers, and cousins once he was old enough to do so. His goals were to win a medal and then die along with the rest of his fellow officers, but to his dismay, this did not happen. At seventeen, Cecil was a 135 pounds and stood at six feet tall; he also wore glasses, but he still expected that he would be accepted into the army. Unfortunately, the doctor found a problem with his heart and would not let him pass the medical examination, leaving Forester devastated that he could not enlist and scared that his life would soon be over. What effect did this have on his work? How does The General compare to works of other authors like Owen and Sassoon who actually fought in the war? Apparently some of the first editions of his books actually said that he did fight in World War One. Because his descriptions of war were so compelling and realistic, people who wrote the bio's for the covers simply assumed that he took part in the war (Sternlicht, 23).

Perhaps his desire to fight in the war pushed him towards his career as a writer of war stories, allowing him to vicarioulsy live the war experience through his characters. But the experiences of the characters in The General do seem to differ somewhat from the works of writers who were actually on the front. In class we discussed the idea that the poetry of people like Sassoon and Owen is much more immediate. One is given direct access to the front lines of the trenches, while still getting the sense that one cannot fully comprehend the experience without actually being there. The following lines from "Dolce Et Decorum Est" are a good example of this:

"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues . . ."

But we cannot hear this experience. Although I have not read his other books, I think that Forester comes close to expressing the war experience with his wonderful storytelling ability, but Owen and Sassoon manage to go a step further, perhaps because poetry is a different, more effective vehicle of expression when it comes to war. I know that Sanford Sternlicht, a biographer of Forester, would disagree, but I am curious what other people think.

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