Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The African Queen

Posted by nliakos on December 30, 2012

by C. S. Forester (Little, Brown paperback; originally published in 1935)

I love the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn; it was my mother’s favorite movie! I own a copy and have seen it multiple times on TV, but I never thought about the novel it was based on or even realized that it was based on a novel; so when I came upon this paperback in a Friends of the Library second-hand bookstore for $2, I got it out of curiosity.

The first thing that struck me was how faithful to the novel the movie actually is. Many familiar scenes come right out of the book: Rose pouring the gin into the river, running the gauntlet past Shona and then going down the rapids, fixing the broken propeller, losing themselves in the Bora Delta, the leeches, and more.  I even recognized some familiar lines of dialogue, such as, “Yes, if you think that will do. But couldn’t you stick it on, somehow? Weld it. That’s the right word, isn’t it? Weld it on,” and many others. But Charlie Allnutt is a Cockney in the book, not a Canadian (I suppose Humphrey Bogart was unable to impersonate a Cockney). Rose Sayer, the prim missionary’s sister with a will of steel, is definitely based on Forester’s Rose, who is depicted as even stronger in the novel than she is in the film. In fact, Rose is in charge pretty much throughout the entire journey down the Ulanga and the Bora; Allnutt is depicted as lacking both will and intelligence, although he is capable of carrying out Rose’s demands. And the ending is different, but it had to be: the film ends with Charlie and Rose happily backstroking across the Lake, the implication being that they will live happily ever after despite the improbability that they will ever reach the shore, let alone survive on land without supplies if they do. The Germans aboard the Louisa are better people than those in the movie, and the Louisa meets her end in a different way.

For me, the biggest surprise was the power of Rose’s character in an era I had assumed to be lacking in feminism. And in a novel written by a man, too!

C. S. Forester, the pen name of Cecil L. T. Smith, is known for writing a series of historical novels about a character named Horatio Hornblower, as well as numerous other novels often with naval settings (which explains all the detailed boat lore in The African Queen!) and several works of nonfiction as well.

The African Queen is a great story and a quick read!

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