The African Queen by C.S. Forester – book versus film

The African Queen cover

How many times have I watched the 1951 film The African Queen? I have no idea, but there are definitely bits of it that I could act myself, you’re probably the same. Anyway, I hadn’t realised that it was based on a book by C.S. Forester which was published in 1935 so when I saw the book in an Edinburgh secondhand bookshop recently I snapped it up.

I really enjoyed reading this book but all the way through I was comparing it with the film, and as a fan of Humphrey Bogart for me the film just pips the book. In the book the character of Allnutt is a whining cockney, so there was just no way that he was going to trump the character of the Bogie version of Allnutt. The setting is of course German East Africa during World War 1.

There are quite a lot of differences in the storyline, because I suppose that the early 1950s film industry wasn’t going to shock their audiences with a Katherine Hepburn in the shape of Rose (sister of a missionary) who very quickly has a sexual relationship with Allnutt as she does in the book. I don’t recall that in the film Rose realises that she had always been under the thumb of either her father or brother and had never been able to make decisions for herself. She found freedom with the death of her brother who had been a miserably strict Christian missionary.

There’s a lot in the film which is faithful to the book, the whole journey in The African Queen is as it was in the book, until close to the end which is very different, but the ending would definitely not have got past the prudish sensibilities of the times. I prefer the book’s ending. The writing makes it so easy to imagine the surroundings, even if you hadn’t seen the film I think. The film features large African animals, just because they could I suppose, but they don’t appear in the book which sticks to the mosquitoes and leeches which are shudderingly horrible enough.

Several times Rose is described as being only slightly below Charlie (Allnutt) socially, something which was important at the time I suppose, but in the film she seems so superior. For once I found the film more enjoyable than the book, and not just for Humphrey Bogart!

You can see a short trailer for the film below, if you’re interested.

What I’m Reading

Unusually for me I have no books that I can write about, this is what happens when you get stuck into the knitting season instead of reading – and when you choose to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant. This one has been waiting for me to pick it up for years. It’s a Virago and has quite small print and 495 pages, but I only have 80 to go and I’m very much enjoying it. Just in case you don’t know, the Scottish surname Marjoribanks is pronounced Marchbanks. This one has been on my Classics Club list since I joined years and years ago, and I’m now on my second list of classics.

I have still been buying books, unsurprisingly and have recently added these ones to the piles:

Recently Purchased Books

The Rendezvous and other stories by Daphne du Maurier
The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith (about the Charge of the Light Brigade)
The Double Image by Helen MacInnes
The African Queen by C.S. Forester (I could act the film myself, but if it’s on TV I find myself watching it again).
Midwinter Nightingale by Joan Aiken
Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit (featuring standing stones and more)

From that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library, I have:

Rosie Scenes from a vanished life by Rose Tremain
The Marches by Rory Stewart
They are both blogpal recommendations, and lastly
Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine

That last one will count towards the Reading Europe Challenge. Have you read any of these books?

A Ship of the Line by C.S. Forester

 A Ship of the Line cover

A Ship of the Line by C.S. Forester was written in 1938 and I read it because it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize that year, I’m trying to read my way through as many of the winners as I can. Mind you, I can’t find any mention at all in the book’s introduction (by Bernard Cornwell) or on the jacket of the fact that it did win the prize.

It is of course a Horatio Hornblower tale of the sea during The Napoleonic Wars. It begins with Hornblower taking command of a ship called the Sutherland, it was originally captured from the Dutch and it’s design isn’t really suitable as a warship, it’s described as the ugliest and least desirable two-decker in the Navy List. Hornblower is having a hard time getting enough men to man the ship, he’s having to make do with prisoners and even men who have been pressed into service.

The action quickly moves off to the coast of Catalonia in Spain, where Hornblower and his ship’s company engage in sea battles and conduct raids on shore against the French army. It is of course set at a time when Napoleon was rampaging around Europe, particularly Spain.

To begin with I really didn’t think that I was going to enjoy this book, it seemed like it was going to be far too much of a sort of ‘boys’ adventure’ tale, with lots of fighting going on, but I ended up getting really into it, and when Hornblower mentioned that he knew the area well because he had been held captive in Ferrol for two years in the past, I felt quite at home too because of course we sailed into Ferrol just a few months ago.

The only annoying thing is that it would have been better if I had read the previous books in this series first.

I must admit that I had no idea that C.S. Forester had written The African Queen (which I have seen so often I could act all the parts myself, including the leeches!) in fact quite a few of his books were made into films. I’ll probably read some more in this series, apart from anything else, it ended so abruptly that I feel I have to find out what happens next in Hornblower’s life.