Monday, May 18, 2009


Hornblower and the Atropos (1953) is C. S. Forester’s fifth Hornblower novel chronologically, eighth by publication. Captain Horatio Hornblower, age 29, takes command of the Atropos, the smallest ship in the navy suitable for a post-captain, but before he can sail for sunken treasure, he has to manage his pregnant wife, coordinate Admiral Nelson’s funeral procession, and meet the king.

Hornblower continues to be his own worst enemy – he does not know himself. He continues to be heroic and ingenious, but always ascribes to himself the basest of motives, and he is typically wrong in his self-analysis. It is clear to the reader by now that he genuinely loves his family, but when his ship is found to be unready to sail, he considers all the time he has spent with them “wasted.”

Much of this novel follows the pattern that Stan Lee used to make his Spider-Man comics so successful – there’s always something. Nothing ever goes smoothly, and problems and complications are added with regularity. At the same time, Hornblower is still larger than life. He could fall down the stairs and capture a French frigate.

Hornblower and the Atropos has more humor and more action than the chronologically preceding books; it is also more episodic. And, for a change, this one ends with some unresolved drama. The character spotlight is shined on Hornblower only – Lieutenant Bush is missed, although he can’t reasonably be expected to show up everywhere.

On the whole, Hornblower and the Atropos is an action-packed page-turner, and a solid entry in the Hornblower series.