The African Queen

The African Queen

3.6 8
by C. S. Forester

View All Available Formats & Editions

This novel is about an action in WW I between German forces and what might be called British irregulars. Rose Sayer, sister of an English missionary in German Central Africa, seems an unlikely heroine until her brother dies and she takes responsibility for her own life. With a gin drinking engineer, Allnutt, the indomitable Miss Sayer sets out on the African Queen, a


This novel is about an action in WW I between German forces and what might be called British irregulars. Rose Sayer, sister of an English missionary in German Central Africa, seems an unlikely heroine until her brother dies and she takes responsibility for her own life. With a gin drinking engineer, Allnutt, the indomitable Miss Sayer sets out on the African Queen, a leaky 30-foot river boat, to strike a blow for England and avenge her brother's death.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Forester is now remembered for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures; his 1935 novel has been forgotten in lieu of the popular 1951 film by John Huston. However, those who want to experience the original without Hollywood's alternations--protagonist Charlie Allnutt is British--will have to read the novel. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Sterling Publishing
Publication date:
Barnes & Noble Modern Classics

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1A LTHOUGH she herself was ill enough to justify being in bed had she been a person weak—minded enough to give up, Rose Sayer could see that her brother, the Reverend Samuel Sayer, was far more ill. He was very, very weak in—deed, and when he knelt to offer up the evening prayer the movement was more like an involuntary collapse than a purposed gesture, and the hands which he raised trem—bled violently. Rose could see, in the moment before she devoutly closed her eyes, how thin and transparent those hands were, and how the bones of the wrists could be seen with almost the definition of a skeletonÌs.

The damp heat of the African forest seemed to be in—tensified with the coming of the night, which closed in upon them while they prayed. The hands which Rose clasped together were wet as though dipped in water, and she could feel the streams of sweat running down be—neath her clothes as she knelt, and forming two little pools at the backs of her bent knees. It was this sensation which helped most to reconcile RoseÌs conscience to the absence, in this her approaching middle age, of her corset Ûa garment without which, so she had always been taught, no woman of the age of fourteen and up—wards ever appeared in public. A corset, in fact, was quite an impossibility in Central Africa, although Rose had resolutely put aside, as promptings of the evil one, all the thoughts she had occasionally found forming in her mind of wearing no underclothing at all beneath her white drill frock.

Under the stress of this wet heat that notion even re—turned at this solemn moment of prayer, but Rose spurned it and bent her mind once more with anguished intensity to the prayer which Samuel was offering in his feeble voice and with his halting utterance. Samuel prayed for heavenly guidance in the ordering of their lives, and for the forgiveness of their sins. Then, as he began to utter his customary petition for the blessing of God upon the mission, his voice faltered more and more.

The mission, to which they had given their lives, could hardly be said to exist, now that Von Hanneken and his troops had descended upon the place and had swept off the entire village, converts and heathen alike, to be sol—diers or bearers in the Army of German Central Africa, which he was assembling. Livestock and poultry, pots and pans and foodstuffs, all had been taken, even the portable chapel, leaving only the mission bungalow standing on the edge of the deserted clearing. So the weakness vanished from SamuelÌs voice as he went on to pray that the awful calamity of war which had descended upon the world would soon pass away, that the slaughter and destruction would cease, and that when they had re—gained their sanity men would turn from war to universal peace. And with the utterance of the last of his petition SamuelÌs voice grew stronger yet, as he prayed that the Almighty would bless the arms of England, and carry her safely through this the severest of all her trials, and would crown her efforts with victory over the godless militarists who had brought about this disaster. There was a ring of fighting spirit in SamuelÌs voice as he said this, and an Old Testament flavour in his speech, as another Samuel had once prayed for victory over the Amalekites.

ÏAmen! Amen! Amen!Ó sobbed Rose with her head bowed over her clasped hands.

They knelt in silence for a few seconds when the prayer was finished, and then they rose to their feet.

There was still just light enough for Rose to see SamuelÌs white—clad figure and his white face as he stood there swaying. She made no move to light the lamp. Now that German Central Africa was in arms against England no one could tell when next they would be able to obtain oil, or matches. They were cut off from all communication with the world save through hostile territory.

ÏI think, sister,Ó said Samuel, faintly Ïthat I shall re—tire now.Ó Rose did not help him to undress Ûthey were brother and sister and strictly brought up, and it would have been impossible to her unless he had been quite incapable of helping himself Û but she crept in, in the dark after he was in bed, to see that his mosquito curtains were prop—erly closed round him.

ÏGood night, sister,Ó said Samuel. Even in that swel—tering heat his teeth were chattering.

She herself went back to her own room and lay on her string bed in a torment of heat, although she wore only her thin nightdress. Outside she could hear the noise of the African night, the howling of the monkeys, the shriek of some beast of prey, and the bellow of crocodiles down by the river, with, as an accompaniment to it all Û so familiar that she did not notice it Ûthe continuous high—pitched whine of the cloud of mosquitoes outside her curtains.

It may have been midnight before she fell asleep, moving uneasily in the heat, but it was almost dawn when she awoke. Samuel must have been calling to her. Bare—footed, she hurried out of her bedroom and across the living room into SamuelÌs room. But if Samuel had been sufficiently conscious to call to her he was not so now.

Most of what he was saying seemed unintelligible. For a moment it appeared as if he was explaining the failure of his life to the tribunal before which he was so soon to appear.

ÏThe poor mission,Ó he said, and ÛÏIt was the Ger—mans, the Germans.Ó He died very soon after that, while Rose wept at his bedside. When her paroxysm of grief passed away she slowly got to her feet. The morning sun was pouring down upon the forest and lighting the deserted clearing, and she was all alone.

The fear which followed her grief did not last long.

Rose Sayer had not lived to the age of thirty—three, had not spent ten years in the Central African forest, without acquiring a capable self—reliance to add to the simple faith of her religion. It was not long before a wild resentment against Germany and the Germans began to inflame her as she stood in the quiet bungalow with the dead man.

She told herself that Samuel would not have died if his heart had not been broken by the catastrophe of Von HannekenÌs requisitions. It was that which had killed Samuel, the sight of the labours of ten years being swept away in an hour.

Rose told herself that the Germans had worse than SamuelÌs death upon their souls. They had injured the work of God; Rose had no illusion how much Chris—tianity would be left to the converts after a campaign in the forest in the ranks of a native army of which ninety—nine men out of a hundred would be rank heathen.

Rose knew the forest. In a vague way she could pic—ture a war fought over a hundred thousand square miles of it. Even if any of the mission converts were to survive, they would never make their way back to the mission Û and even if they should, Samuel was dead.

Rose tried to persuade herself that this damage done to the holy cause was a worse sin than being instrumental in SamuelÌs death, but she could not succeed in doing so.

From childhood she had been taught to love and admire her brother. When she was only a girl he had attained the wonderful, almost mystic distinction of the ministry, and was invested in her eyes with all the superiority which that implied. Her very father and mother, hard devout Christians that they were, who had never spared the rod in the upbringing of their children, deferred to him then, and heard his words with respect. It was due solely to him that she had risen in the social scale over the immea—surable gap between being a small tradesmanÌs daughter and a ministerÌs sister. She had been his housekeeper and the most devoted of his admirers, his most faithful disci—ple and his most trusted helper, for a dozen years. There is small wonder at her feeling an un—Christian rancour against the nation which had caused his death.

And naturally she could not see the other side of the question. Von Hanneken, with no more than five hun—dred white men in a colony peopled by a million Ne—groes, of whom not more than a few thousand even knew they were subjects of the German flag, had to face the task of defending German Central Africa against the at—tacks of the overwhelming forces which would instantly be directed upon him. It was his duty to fight to the bitter end, to keep occupied as many of the enemy as possible for as long as possible, and to die in the last ditch, if nec—essary, while the real decision was being fought out in France. Thanks to the British command of the sea, he could expect no help whatever from outside; he must de—pend on his own resources entirely, while there was no limit to the re‘nforcements which might reach the enemy.

It was only natural, then, that with German military thor—oughness he should have called up every man and woman and child within reach, as bearers or soldiers, and that he should have swept away every atom of food or material he could lay his hands on.

Rose saw no excuse for him at all. She remembered she had always disliked the Germans. She remembered how, on her first arrival in the colony with her brother, German officialdom had plagued them with inquisitions and restrictions, had treated them with scorn and con—tempt, and with the suspicion which German officials would naturally evince at the intrusion of a British mis—sionary into a German colony. She found she hated their manners, their morals, their laws, and their ideals Ûin fact, Rose was carried away in the wave of international hatred which engulfed the rest of the world in August, 1914.

Had not her martyred brother prayed for the success of British arms and the defeat of the Germans? She looked down at the dead man, and into her mind there flowed a river of jagged Old Testament texts which he might have employed to suit the occasion. She yearned to strike a blow for England, to smite the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Midianites. Yet even as the hot wave of fervour swept over her she pulled herself up with scorn of herself for daydreaming. Here she was alone in the Central African forest, alone with a dead man. There was no possible chance of her achieving anything.

It was at this very moment that Rose looked out across the verandah of the bungalow and saw Opportu—nity peering cautiously at her from the edge of the clear—ing.

She did not recognise it as Opportunity; she had no idea that the man who had appeared there would be the instrument she would employ to strike her blow for En—gland.

All she recognised at the moment was that it was Allnutt, the cockney engineer employed by the Belgian gold mining company two hundred miles up the river Û a man her brother had been inclined to set his face sternly against as an unchristian example.

But it was an English face, and a friendly one, and the sight of it made her more appreciative of the horrors of solitude in the forest. She hurried onto the verandah and waved a welcome to Allnutt.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The African Queen 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is truly a classic that is a must-read for everyone. However, this is a clear case where Hollywood has trumped the author. The movie's ending is so much better than Forester's, which I suppose proves that screenwriters can write good prose, too. The one annoying aspect of the book was the Cockney accent Forester gives Charlie Allnut. I found it distracting and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what he said. Humphrey Bogart at least was easy to understand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hey, if you don't like this book then you don't know what it is like to find purpose in hardship. Nor do you know about patriotism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
About two people, who have lived in africa for about 10 years, that travel down a river in a old boat. All they do is struggle fighting the weather, bugs, heat, malaria,and each other. They both have one goal in mind. The ending is a big let down. Its to much like real life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Forester's novel appears to be a fairly straightforward adventure tale, set in German Central Africa during WWI. Rose is the sister of an English missionary, who dies at the beginning of the novel after the Germans have driven off his 'flock.' She is picked up by Allnutt, a Cockney mechanic who works for a Belgian mine, running supplies up the river in the flat-bottomed 'African Queen.' He's basically a coward who will follow the path of least resistance, and so allows himself to be browbeat into a harebrained scheme by Rose. She intends to pilot the boat down river, through rapids that are generally agreed-upon to be unnavigable by a boat like the 'African Queen,' and onto a lake the Germans dominate thanks to a giant gunboat. There, they will rig some explosives Allnutt has on board and ram the ship, blowing it--and themselves--up, thus striking 'a blow for England' and avenging Rose's brother's death. Depending on how you read it, this is either the stuff of great derring-do, or a critique on the futility of heroism in WWI. As an adventure tale, the characters are rather too flat. Allnutt is drawn as too pliable a character, especially for one who has somehow ended up running a boat in the middle of Africa. Rose somehow becomes an expert pilot in a matter of a week, managing to master the nuances of a creaky and unwieldy vessel in extreme poor conditions. Along the way she sheds her proper upbringing and godfearedness with rather unlikely alacrity (unless, that is, Forester was trying to say that such beliefs are rather ephemeral anyway). Their love affair more or less works in the context of the adventure they're on, but it's very hard to imagine it continuing in the outside world. The ending is somewhat more interesting, foreshadowing some of the bleakness of Pierre Boulle's novel Bridge on the River Kwai.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was the biggest waste of time, for me. The book was very slow and very dry. The only action came from 2 chapters. I could never get into the book and after a few pages I had to put it down. If you like action or adventure you will not like this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pretty good book. Both the dialouge and the action is engrossing. BUT: Why in the world do they drink boiling hot tea in the middle of the African jungle?