Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Hornblower so far...!

Enjoying these so much it only seems right that I gather them together in an attempt to interest any of my readers into also trying them...

As a log term admirer of the late Patrick O'Brien (I think his Jack Aubrey series is perhaps the quintessence of naval historical fiction) whose series I read to completion last year, I've long felt the need to do the same for Forester's Hornblower series as almost invariably anyone talking about the genre link the two names as virtually inseparable..

I'd read a couple of the Hornblower books a long time ago, but all of a sudden the opportunity to doi so arose, so taking the bull by the horns I launched myself happily into the series...

Anyone reading the books has a couple of choices on which order to read them, as unlike O'Brien, Forester wrote the books "out of order" chronologically...  so for example he went back and wrote some of the middle period books after he'd written the later books - I get the impression that Forester was not a happy writer and had to be heavily persuaded to sit down and write a new book - little bit like Conan-Doyle and Holmes...

Anyway - I chose the chronological route - so following Hornblower from the start of his naval career to the end...

Mr Midshipman Hornblower - chronologically this is the first of the Hornblower books but interestingly it was written about half way through the series as a "prequel" (blecchhhh..  horrible word). Not a novel as such.more a series of short stories, but just sublime writing.... Forester's Hornblower is a well rounded, complete character, with strengths and weaknesses, and the situations he finds himself in are always interesting, exciting, but not far fetched... as a man he is very different to Lucky Jack Aubrey - self conscious to the point of introspection, slightly humourless, tone deaf to music, thin and tall - what they share is an almost incomprehensible bravery in the face of the enemy ....

A good start....  9/10




Lieutenant Hornblower - second in the series, and the first full book after the series of short stories that made up Midshipman Hornblower...  Hornblower was promoted Lieutenant at the end of the previous book (following his exploits with the fire ships, as Hornblower effectively failed his - first and only - Lieutenants examination!)

This book starts with him as 4th Lieutenant on a 74 gun ship of the line (a two decker) which is commanded by a captain suffering from paranoid delusions... not a happy ship and the captain eventually succumbs following a mysterious fall in the hold..

Command of the the ship devolves to the 1st Lieutenant who is old, and approaching the end of his naval career, still without command, and disappointed. The ship carries on with its orders, and thanks largely to Hornblower's efforts they are largely successful..  At the every end Hornblower is finally offered a command only for the Peace of Amiens to be signed just as he gets home, and Horblower finds himself beached on half  pay...  9/10

Hornblower and the Hotspur - with the Peace of Amiens under strain and war with France imminent Hornblower is still on half pay and scraping a living from gambling (he's a highly skilled whist player). One of his fellow players is a senior naval officer, and is aware of what happened to Hornblower at the end of the previous book. Thanks to his influence Hornblower is promoted to Commander of the sloop HMS Hotspur. Pausing only to marry his landlady's daughter in too much haste (and out of pity) he is ordered to Brest to carry out reconnoitring duties before the war breaks out, there his ship is almost overwhelmed and captured by a French frigate. Once war fully breaks out, and the rest of the British fleet arrives to  blockade Brest, Hornblower's restlessness and perfectionism results prompts him to lead attacks and landing parties.

In spite of gaining an increasing reputation as a capable officer, Hornblower has never made a financial profit, & unlike Jack Aubrey he also has a fairly negative view of the prize system (another big difference between the two). Cornwallis, who is in command of the blockading fleet takes a shine to him and sends him on a mission that should allow him to to make a large amount of money from a Spanish treasure convoy - instead, true to form Hornbblower sees the bigger picture, and despite the differences in size Hotspur holds off a stronger enemy frigate sent to warn the convoy and misses out ont he prize money. Happily, the treasure is eventually seized by the crown so no prizes were received, but his actions do not go unnoticed. At the end of the book, his wife delivers him a son and as a result of the action with the frigate he is promoted Post Captain as one of the final acts of a retiring Admiral Cornwallis... another 9/10 - the action with the frigate is absolute gold dust

14 comments:

  1. I've been a Forester fan off and on for years- Try the Gun and Death to the French - We actually had Midshipman as a set book for eng lang O level at school and I've been a fan since- my edition is about 40 yearsd old

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    1. Hi Andy - yes I read "Death to the French" the year before last (a particularly dark book that I reviewed here http://steve-the-wargamer.blogspot.com/2010/11/death-to-french-cs-forester.html) but I'm looking forward to re-visitng "The Gun" at some time (still think of the hero as Frank Sinatra though!)

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    2. Personally I only remeber Sophia Lorens knockers.....

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  2. Steve

    I was a big Hornblower reader as a teen - I got the Swine flu (from the vaccine) over Christmas when I was 15 and these books were among my companions. About 10-12 years later, I sailed into Brest with my Dad on his 35 footer and it brought back many Hornblower memories.

    Cheers
    PD

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    1. Peter D - would love to do it - the book is very very good on the naviagation issues outside of Brest... Hornblower almost comes a cropper on the Fillettes... :o))

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  3. I have read every one of the Hornblower series many times over. A chap had the Hornblower books as a specialist subject on Mastermind and I almost beat him!

    Actually I did beat him as I wiped the floor with him in the General Knowledge round.

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    1. Phil - it amazes me you haven't embarked on a Napoleonic Naval project.... I'm severely tempted every time I pick up an O'Brien (and now Forester)!

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  4. I'm also in the process of re-reading Hornblower after a gap of about 40 years - having completed the Aubrey/Maturin saga in the space of about 6 months last year. It's interesting to compare the two - O'Brian is "naval history" in the broadest sense with as much emphasis on the social and natural history of the period. It's often frustrating how he seems to shy away from "action" scenes, even after a detailed and compelling build-up. In contrast, Forester is more episodic but is excellent on the detail of actions at sea and ashore. Given that Bernard Cornwell has openly admitted that he was inspired by Forester, it's perhaps not surprising to see the similarities in tone and structure between a Sharpe and a Hornblower novel.

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    1. Jeremy - re. Cornwell - yes indeed.. in fact he is writing introductions for the series I'm reading... I think where Forester wins is on characterisation - as much as I like reading his books too, you can't quite imagine one of Cornwell's macho men suffering such insecurities as Hornblower does...

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  5. I must have read the series a dozen times. Whist I enjoy the O'Brien books I don't think he is a patch on Forester to be honest.
    Another similar author was Dudley Pope with his Ramage series - it's a long while since I have read any of those but they were also fairly good.

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  6. I confess I've never actually read a Hornblower. I love O'Brien, which I discovered in my mid-20s after growing up with Alexander Kent's Bolitho series (which I think he did write in sequence; they certainly benefit from being read in chronological order). I also enjoy Julian Stockwin's "Kydd" series - not the height of sophistication, but his research is sound and there's plenty of action. Anyway, very useful review, Steve.

    Best wishes

    Giles

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  7. Oddly, I have never read Hornblower (although I have them all in my library somehwere). I started with the Dudley Pope Ramage books and then went on to Alexander Kent, O'Brien and another series I enjoyed, which no one has mentioned, the Nathaniel Drinkwater books by Richard Woodman.

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  8. I happened upon an old copy of Hornblower book in my grandmother's attic in France that had a very interesting notation in the front pages around the copyright. The edition was an eighth or ninth printing, and the dates of all the prior printings were listed. One of the printings, the one in 1941 if I remember correctly, had a notation next to it: Press destroyed by enemy action. You don't see that every day.

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  9. This is right up my street, great blog, consider yourself followed!
    Keep it coming.
    JJ

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