Thursday, 25 February 1999

C.S. Forester: The General (1936)

Edition: Penguin
Review number: 217

Forester's early novel is a succinctly told story of a fiction First World War general, Sir Herbert Curzon, from his days as a young officer in the Boer War to an ageing, bathchair-bound figure on Bournemouth Promenade.

Forester does not allow himself a great deal of space to develop his story, under two hundred pages in fact, so we are left with a fairly sketchy view of Curzon's life and character. His story concentrates on the Great War, and what he is mainly concerned to portray are the background and motivation of the men whose actions led to the death of millions.

Curzon is in no way a monster; the worst that can be said of him is that he is not terribly bright, that he's stubborn, unimaginative and conservative. These are in fact attributes which make him do rather well in the British Army of the 1900s, but they lead straight to the dreadful events of the War.

Our understanding of how generals like Curzon managed to act in the way they did is the major fascination of this book, and the way that Forester has written it keeps this aspect in mind in a fairly subtle kind of way. He is not out to depict the brutal horrors experienced by the front-line soldiers but to catalogue why and how men who were not evil made these things happen to them.

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