A superb yet neglected novel, ‘The General’ is the most vivid, moving – and devastating – word-portrait of a World War One British commander ever written, here re-introduced by Max Hastings.
Best known for his Hornblower novels, C.S. Forester’s 1936 masterpiece follows Herbert Curzon, who fumbled a fortuitous early step on the path to glory in the Boer War. 1914 finds him an honourable, decent, brave and wholly unimaginative colonel. Survival through the early slaughters in which so many fellow-officers perished then brings him rapid promotion. By 1916, he commands 100,000 British soldiers, whom he leads through the horrors of the Somme and Passchendaele.
Wonderfully human, this is the story of a man of his time who is anything but wicked, yet presides over appalling sacrifice and tragedy. In his awkwardness and his marriage to a Duke’s unlovely, unhappy daughter, Curzon embodies Forester’s full powers as a story-teller. Rendered with exquisite compassion are Curzon’s patriotism, diligence, sense of duty and refusal to yield to difficulties. But also powerfully damned is the same spirit which caused a hundred real-life British generals to serve as high priests at the bloodiest human sacrifice in the nation’s history. A masterful and insightful study about the character of 1914-18’s military commanders, ‘The General’ confirms Forester’s rightful place as one of the finest novelists of his generation.