Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Hornblower and the Hotspur (1962) is C. S. Forester’s third Hornblower novel chronologically, tenth by publication. Horatio Hornblower has, more out of pity than anything else, gone ahead and married the rather pathetically devoted Maria, his landlady’s daughter. But England is mobilizing again for war with France, and Hornblower is immediately put in command of the sloop Hotspur and sent out in advance of an English blockade of Brest, whereupon Hornblower leads various raids against the French.

The running subplot here involves Hornblower’s feelings toward his wife and their coming child. When he marries her, he does not love her. While he is at sea, he begins to develop affectionate feelings toward her and the child, although he believes these to be insincere. Amusingly, given Hornblower’s inwardly-professed feelings toward Maria coupled with the months on end he spends at sea, they make a remarkably fecund couple.

This is Hornblower’s first command, and it is interesting to see him bring his highly self-critical nature to this position. He captains with his usual great diligence and initiative, but he is rarely satisfied with his performance, regardless of the results, and he berates himself over the smallest failings. At times, he takes this frustration out on his men; in all he makes a somewhat mercurial captain. But all this is part of what makes Hornblower such an interesting character – this is a man who, despite numerous successes and fairly rapid promotion, thinks very poorly of himself, and is self-deprecating almost to a career-damaging degree.

As usual, Forester does a solid job of mixing action and drama. Other than a few sections where Hornblower and his crew get bogged down in the minutiae of eighteenth century navigation (which is a challenge and a triumph for Hornblower but isn’t very interesting for modern land-based audiences), the pace is quite good.

Aside from Hornblower, the only other character to receive any significant amount of Forester’s attention is Lieutenant Bush, but Bush does little other than faithfully follow his orders and do his duty, and he comes off as disappointingly flat here, particularly compared to his treatment in the previous Lieutenant Hornblower. Hornblower’s wife, Maria, is a doting caricature in her infrequent appearances.

In all, Hornblower and the Hotspur is a very solid, very entertaining entry in the Hornblower saga, and one that advances his story nicely.