Friday, May 1, 2009


Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is a 1950 novel by C. S. Forester. It is, chronologically, the first book in the eleven-book Hornblower series, although Forester wrote it sixth. It reads and flows considerably more like a sequence of short stories than a novel. In 1794, the young Horatio Hornblower enters the Royal Navy as a midshipman. Britain is involved in military action against France and Spain (it is the dawn of the Napoleonic Wars), and Hornblower has adventures in and out of combat.

The gawky, seasick Hornblower is an interesting character. He is intelligent, brave, and clever, but he is also extremely introspective, self-critical, and insecure, which makes him an unnecessarily harsh judge of himself, as he typically focuses on what he perceives as his cowardice and dishonesty. To a large degree, the way Forester handles and develops this character is what keeps things interesting.

Forester’s writing is not for everyone. He is short on the physical details of characters and rather long on the use of two hundred year old naval jargon. This latter gives his writing a profound ring of authenticity, although it may prove somewhat inscrutable at times to most twenty-first century landsmen. Mostly, though, the stories and dialogue flow coherently.

With a collection of entertaining if largely unremarkable stories, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is a solid introduction to the Hornblower series for those desiring to read them chronologically.