The General (novel)

The General (novel)

C. S. Forester's book "The General" is a short novel about an ordinary British Army officer in the Great War, or World War I.

Forester is best known for his famous series of Horatio Hornblower novels which he began in 1937; few of his other works are well-known: "The General" (1936) and "The African Queen" (1935) are exceptions and remain popular.

"The General" follows the career of Herbert Curzon from the time he joins the army as a subaltern through his experiences in the Second Boer War to the happy day he is given a regiment of his own to command. Curzon is unexceptional in every way, an officer like any other officer, and it is the very ordinariness of Forester's character that serves to give the novel power.

As the Great War begins Curzon takes his part as a major of an unfashionable cavalry regiment. He is given a temporary promotion to battalion command and then quickly a brigade command. At the battle of Ypres, he manages to keep his head about him and upon the death of his brigadier becomes a general. Curzon returns to England while his unit is in Belgium, and is promoted again through odd intrigues. He is promoted again and again, eventually being placed in command of a hundred thousand men, and orders attacks that condemn many of them to pointless mutilation and inevitable death amongst the shells and the gas and the machine guns.

Yet Curzon—General Sir Herbert Curzon by this time—is not a brutal man or an uncaring one: simply a brave and honest but stubborn and unimaginative leader. For Forester, the tale of Herbert Curzon's almost inevitable rise to high command, the senseless slaughters he directs, and his eventual retirement to the life of an aged cripple in a wheelchair, is not about Curzon himself—it is about the attitudes and mores of the British Army and of British society more generally, the attitudes that (in Forester's view) led to the appalling casualties and the horrors of the First World War.

For Forester, to understand Herbert Curzon's simple courage and determination to do his duty is to understand how men like Curzon, who were not by nature evil, were led to order the cream of their country's manhood to sacrifice themselves in the pointless bloody slaughter of the Somme or Verdun or Gallipoli.

"The General" has been widely praised as being an excellent and very realistic account of the mindset of the British Officer Corps in times of war, and as such many veterans are surprised to learn that the author himself never actually served in the armed forces. In fact, a persistent, yet unsubstantiated, rumor states that Adolf Hitler was so impressed with the novel that he made it required reading for his top field commanders and general staff in the hopes that it would allow prominent German officers to be able to understand how their British counterparts thought. This rumor is referred to as fact by Forester in a foreword to a later edition of the novel.

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