Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Horatio Hornblower

Historical fiction was what first interested me in history.  Authors like Kenneth Roberts and Bruce Lancaster and, more recently, Bernard Cornwell and George MacDonald Fraser, make learning history fun. Of course it is fiction and needs to be leavened by the work of historians, but the best authors of such fictions are careful to present a credible account. One of the first I encountered, probably in the Saturday Evening Post to which my parents subscribed, was C.S. Forester. I still enjoy re-reading his books about Horatio Hornblower and war at sea during the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon.

From the Library of Congress description of Forester's Hornblower series:
In 1927, C.S. Forester purchased three volumes of The Naval Chronicle from 1790 to 1820. For the Chronicle, officers of the Royal Navy wrote articles on strategy, seamanship, gunnery, and other professional topics of interest to their colleagues. The Chronicle for those years covered the wars with Napoleon. Reading these volumes and traveling by freighter from California to Central America allowed the germination of the character Horatio Hornblower as a member of the Royal Navy in the late eighteenth century. By the time Forester's journey brought him home to England, the former medical student-turned-writer had plotted Beat to Quarters, and it was published in 1937. A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours were published soon after, and in 1939 all three appeared as Captain Horatio Hornblower.

Forester's interest in the Romantic period and the political and military maneuvers of the early 1800s continued, and the Hornblower saga was produced. Subsequent volumes in the series were sequels to the original trilogy or filled in its gaps. The episodic quality of the novels is due partly to their having appeared serially in magazines, primarily the Saturday Evening Post.

Most of the books were written around the time of World War II, which influenced Forester to concentrate on strong military leaders and heroic deeds in the earlier world war he described. Hornblower's complexity has endeared him to readers. He is cynical but compassionate, courageous but not without fear. Self-conscious and socially unconfident, his marriage is a mismatch, and he finds himself in love with the Duke of Wellington's sister. Above all he is a consummate seaman, deserving of the loyalty of his men.

The achievement of Forester, who led a quiet, contemplative life and suffered from serious illness, was that in conjuring up person, period, and place—rousing sea battles, eventual shore life, England, France, Central America—he made it easy for readers to believe they were there. ....
The books, arranged not in the order written but chronologically according to Hornblower's experience — the order in which I would read them:

Book Title:

Date Published

Period Covered

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

1950

June, 1794-March, 1798

Lieutenant Hornblower

1952

May, 1800-March, 1803

Hornblower and the Hotspur

1962

April, 1803-July, 1805

Hornblower and the Atropos

1953

October, 1805-January, 1808

Beat to Quarters

1937

June-October, 1808

Ship of the Line

1938

May-October, 1810

Flying Colors

1938

November, 1810-June, 1811

Commodore Hornblower

1945

May-October, 1812

Lord Hornblower

1946

October, 1813-May, 1814

Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies

1958

May, 1821-October, 1823
 
adapted from C.S. Forester, The Hornblower Companion: An Atlas and Personal Commentary on the Writing of the Hornblower Saga, 1964.

Here is a link to Amazon's The Horatio Hornblower Series. The page also has links to the Companion, the Gregory Peck film, and the A&E television series.