Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
by C.S. Forester
Hornblower, to make his dates really memorable, was supposedly born on July 4, 1776. In the first volume in the present edition, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
, he arrives at the harbor of Portsmouth on the south of England in the spring of 1794, when King George's England is at war with the revolutionary republic of France. We first see him as a gangly 17-year old with no experience at sea and a weak stomach (seasickness is his great weakness), freshly commissioned as a warrant officer or whatever the lowest commissioned rank is, but basically a junior Midshipman.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is an episodic novel, really more a series of ten interconnected short stories that could practically stand on their own. Each of these little incidents relates a step in Hornblower's early development, and reveals a facet of his remarkable character. And he is both a perplexing and a lovable character: voraciously curious, a habitual and avid learner; reserved, self-possessed, even rather shy; tactful yet very proud; full of honor and integrity and moral courage; self-motivating, self-reliant, and intensely self-critical; and finally, very imaginative and resourceful, and as time goes by, increasingly heroic and brilliant.
You know there's going to be something terribly special about this guy from the very first, when he crawls miserably aboard the HMS Justinian to serve under the sickly Captain Keene. In the first story, "Hornblower and the Even Chance," the nearly suicidal youth picks a duel with an obnoxious shipmate and thereby proves both his courage under fire and his pride. Then in "Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice" the young midshipman fails in his first command--a captured "prize ship"--near the beginning of his long service on board the frigate Indefatigable under the brilliant Captain Pellew. In the sequel to this story, "Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure," Hornblower turns the tables on a French privateer that captures him and his prize crew. This story ends with the one of the first big surprises about Hornblower's character: the penalty he imposes on himself when no one else blames him for his failure.
In "Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer" he behaves with fierce courage during a nighttime raid on a French corvette that has taken refuge in a well-fortified river. In "Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God," he has an encounter with a holy idiot, unholy below-decks entertainments, and a gripping ship-to-ship battle. In "Hornblower the Frogs, and the Lobsters," his ability to speak French earns Hornblower an important role in an attempt by British infantry and French emigres to invade France, an interesting first experience of battle on land. In "Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys," England's new enemy (Spain) attacks the Indefatigable and its convoy with a force of galleys rowed by slaves--an advantage when the sailing ships are stranded in calm waters. And of course Hornblower acquits himself remarkably.
In "Hornblower and the Examination for Lieutenant," his first attempt to earn a promotion by examination is interrupted when Spanish fire ships attack the harbor. In "Hornblower and Noah's Ark," you see the remarkable things that result when Hornblower is put in command of a cattle ship under quarantine for the plague. And finally, in "Hornblower, the Duchess and the Devil," our hero again fails in the command of a prize ship, this time experiencing the aid of a remarkable woman as well as a long stay in a Spanish prison where his courage and integrity are put to the test one more, extraordinary time.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is a varied and fascinating collection of incidents from early in the career of a character who, if one reads the books in the order they were published, would already be familiar and beloved, but who for those like me reading them in chronological order makes a dashing and compelling first appearance. I had only bought this one volume to see what I would think about the series, and based on how much fun it was to read and how well I liked the Hornblower character, I immediately went out and started buying the other volumes as well. This is a procedure that I have repeated many times...
Recommended Age: 14+
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