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.
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