Lieutenant Hornblower, by C. S. Forester

by Peter on December 24, 2010

This is the second book in the chronology of the Hornblower saga by C.S. Forester, but the seventh in the publication sequence. Lieutenant Hornblower is Lieutenant Hornblower, by C. S. Forester set in 1803, several years after Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. Here Hornblower emerges from his apprenticeship as midshipman to assume the responsibilities that await him as a lieutenant. The book differs from the other books in the series, as it is not written Hornblower’s point of view, but instead mostly from the viewpoint of Lieutenant Bush, a shipmate.

Bush joins the wardroom of the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Renown. Horatio Hornblower is the most junior lieutenant. The captain of the ship is a paranoid tyrant, Captain Sawyer, who is obsessed with the idea that his officers and midshipmen are conspiring to undermine his authority. It is a situation that breeds unhappiness and where trouble is brewing by the minute.

The lieutenants are terrorized by the captain, and wants to get rid of him, but do not dare to make any move. One night when they gather for a secret meeting. Captain Sawyer’s informer somehow finds out, and the Captain comes chasing after them. Somehow, during the confusion that follows, the captain mysteriously stumbles and falls down a hatch. He is badly injured. Thus the first lieutenant, a weak and cautious man, takes command.

Following the orders assigned the Captain; they attack a Spanish fort on Haiti, force a surrender of the Spanish there, capture a lot of prisoners and three prizes, and set out for the nearest English harbor. On the way, the Spanish prisoners rise against the crew, and only fast and determined action from Hornblower saves the day for the English.

In the end of the book, Hornblower has fallen on hard times. He is in London, without pay, and manages to stay afloat by playing whist professionally. This is not an easy life and requires hard work and long hours, but Hornblower is an excellent player and manages to survive.

Forester’s development of the characters is elegant almost to the extreme. He forges a mutual bond between Bush and Hornblower slowly and gently. Bush is shown to be a decisive, strong, but somewhat unimaginative leader. More and more looks to Hornblower’s excellent leadership and command, and observes Hornblower’s smooth and competent interaction both with juniors and seniors. Hornblower subtly guides his fellow officers to the right actions and decisions without overstepping the chain of command structure. Hornblower emerges as a man full of initiative and with a shrewd tactical mind.

A number of questions are left unanswered in Lieutenant Hornblower. Was Hornblower responsible for the captain’s downfall? What is the relationship between Hornblower and the servant girl in London?

Lieutenant Hornblower is a very exciting, realistic, fast-paced novel with a lot of naval action. It is, of course, also elegantly and skillfully written by C. S. Forester. It is not a book to be missed. A classic in naval fiction!

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