Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1948)
Winston Churchill famously observed to an Admiralty Lord; "Bah, British naval tradition! Two hundred years of rum, sodomy and the lash." And, while Churchill was actually a wild romantic, this view seems to capture much of the modern attitude towards this type of patriotic idealistic war narrative. After the disillusionments of Vietnam, films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon replaced more salutary fare, like Sands of Iwo Jima and Sergeant York. But in recent years, the wild popularity of Patrick O'Brian's ongoing Aubrey and Maturin series and the excellent A&E miniseries, Horatio Hornblower: The Duel, The Fire Ships, The Duchess and the Devil and The Wrong War (1998), have brought about a welcome revival of the fortunes of one of the most traditional war heroes in all of literature, C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower (A&E has even begun a Hornblower Book Club).
While not the first written, this novel is the first chronologically in the Hornblower series, beginning when he is a 17 year old midshipmen just coming aboard his first ship, The Justinian:
[Mr. Masters] looked with attention at the approaching
figure. It was that of a skinny young man
This description reveals much of the genius of Hornblower's character. He is an awkward neophyte, both socially and nautically speaking, and is often thrust into situations which threaten to overwhelm him. But his natural humility, indomitable will, quick mind and willingness to learn from mistakes all stand him in good stead. His superiors and the reader quickly recognize that this is a man who will accomplish great things.
The novel is packed with action sequences, even unrealistically so. But Forester handles naval scenes brilliantly, and it is, after all, fiction. [Anyone who saw the miniseries will be shocked to hear that all four episodes were drawn from the events of just this first book (let us hope they continue to produce more)]. This is old fashioned storytelling in the grand tradition, especially recommended for youngsters.
See also:C.S. Forester (2 books reviewed)
-WIKIPEDIA: C. S. Forester
-REVIEW ESSAY: Hornblower at the helm: On the series of novels by C. S. Forster. (John Steele Gordon, January 2022, New Crriterion)
Book-related and General Links:
-C. S. Forester, Storyteller (by his son)
-The Unofficial Horatio Hornblower Home Pages (info on chronolgy, plot summaries, etc.)
-Hornblower Bibliography (American Library Assoc.)
-Ha - H'm. The Hornblower Page
-A& E Hornblower Book Club
THE A&E MINISERIES:
If you like the Hornblower books, try:
Other recommended books by C.S. Forester:
Also check out the Hornblower movie from the 50's:
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd