Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies (1958), also known as Hornblower in the West Indies, is C. S. Forester’s eleventh and final Hornblower novel by chronology, ninth by publication. It is made up of five mostly unrelated shorter stories, and reads much like Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950). The title is more or less the plot summary, as Horatio Hornblower deals with various relatively minor crises during peace-time.

This novel features some of Forester’s all-time worst storytelling. Both “St. Elizabeth of Hungary” and “The Hurricane” are irritatingly, excruciatingly predictable. It isn’t just that the reader will see the “twists” coming (which they certainly will), but that the reader will be rightfully annoyed with Forester for having resorted to such cheap plot devices and not putting in a decent effort.

In fact, “St. Elizabeth of Hungary” is the worst Hornblower story ever written. Not only is it horrendously predictable, but never has Forester so egregiously thrown one of the ridiculously convenient coincidences that have helped Hornblower become so successful in the face of the reader. Hornblower here bemoans at length the sacrificing of his honor – never mind that he has acted dishonorably quite a few times before. Hornblower has repeatedly demonstrated (to the reader at least) that he is not a man of integrity, and the reader should not be sympathetic to his despair now that he has finally committed a dishonor that will become publicly known.

Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies does have its moments, but it suffers not only from Forester’s lackluster storytelling but also from the fact that Forester still hasn’t figured out how to put a flag-rank Hornblower into situations that are both interesting and believable. From a high and lofty administrative position, Hornblower lacks both the interaction with other characters and the opportunities for split-second decision-making that make the best Hornblower stories so good. It isn’t that Forester ran out of ideas for Hornblower – Lieutenant Hornblower (1952) and Hornblower and the Atropos (1953) were published immediately before and Hornblower and the Hotspur (1962) immediately after this one, and they are the finest novels in the series.

And so with Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies the Hornblower series mercifully fizzles out. Those who have read the series by chronology will note that on the whole, the first half was measurably more interesting than the second, and that the series had been losing steam for quite a while. The series as a whole is recommended, though, on the strength of Forester’s novels of Hornblower’s career pre-Beat to Quarters (1937).


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Lord Hornblower (1946) is C. S. Forester’s tenth Hornblower novel by chronology, fifth by publication. Commodore Horatio Hornblower is sent to the coast of France to deal with a ship of British mutineers who have threatened to take refuge in France. Not content just to handle this problem, Hornblower also gets himself involved in a French occupation and guerilla warfare.

The earliest part of Lord Hornblower, where Hornblower is dealing with the mutinous Flame, is the novel’s best. It features an unpredictable and creative resolution that hearkens to many of Hornblower’s pre-captaincy adventures. When the book moves into France, however, it suffers. Land campaigns are still not Forester’s strong suit, and he skips over lengthy time periods where quite a lot happens in order to fit this story into one novel. One of Commodore Hornblower’s main problems was that Hornblower was well-removed from the action, and never in any real danger. Forester has corrected this here, perhaps to the extreme.

Hornblower, as usual, is wildly successful in his endeavors, although he benefits greatly from several very convenient plot devices and not a little bit of deus ex machina. And as severe and hard on himself as Hornblower is in most areas of his life, and as guilty as he feels when he perceives a failing in himself, it continues to be remarkable that he always drops his pants the first chance he gets, with no regard for anyone but himself. At least he never really has the decency to feel bad about it afterward.

It has become quite clear that the novels of Hornblower’s earlier career are superior – both the stories and the man himself are considerably more interesting and likable.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Commodore Hornblower (1945), also known as The Commodore, is C. S. Forester’s ninth Hornblower novel by chronology, fourth by publication. Horatio Hornblower, now rich and married to Lady Barbara but still pathetic and miserable, is sent with his faithful one-legged minion Bush and a flotilla to the Baltic Sea to engage in some anti-France international diplomacy and action.

There is some character development here that shows either Hornblower’s inconstancy or Forester’s inconsistency. Lady Barbara acts toward Hornblower in much the same way his first wife Maria did – but where Maria’s behavior annoyed him to no end, he enjoys the same treatment from Barbara. Even so, Hornblower escalates his philandering in this novel, and reaps some consequences that will leave the reader unsympathetic.

Commodore Hornblower is one of the longer books in the series, and it’s also one of the hardest to get through. Hornblower has a number of ships to work with here, and he has plenty of opportunities to use them, however none of his escapades are particularly interesting or remarkable, and neither he nor his squadron are ever in any real danger. The novel also suffers from the fact that Hornblower, as a flag officer, is a step removed from many of its most interesting conflicts.

Commodore Hornblower hardly features Forester’s best writing. The whole thing is more muddled than one expects from him, and it seems clear, particularly given the date of publication, that one of his main priorities with this book was to draw parallels to World War II. And land battles are certainly not Forester’s forte. They play a pivotal role here, but are mostly glossed over and rushed through, and so the reader may well be confused about the specifics.

Therefore, Commodore Hornblower is, for a variety of reasons, one of Forester’s weaker entries in the Hornblower series.