Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester

Mr. Midshipman HornblowerInformation

Goodreads: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
Series: Hornblower #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1950


Seventeen-year-old Horatio Hornblower embarks on his first naval adventure as England anticipates war with France.  Though he longs to prove himself, however, life on the high seas is not all blood and glory.  Interspersed with land invasions and naval engagements are confrontations with unruly sailors, tricky diplomatic negotiations, and the upcoming examination for lieutenant.


C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series seems to have it all. Action and adventure set on the high seas during a fascinating historical moment, the Napoleonic Wars. A compelling hero who possesses an intellect as remarkable as his physical courage. One of my favorite male friendships, forged by shared hardships. Even a star-crossed romance. But, of all the books, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower holds a special place in my heart.

C. S. Forester did not write the Hornblower series in chronological order, but that is the way I chose to read it and thus Mr. Midshipman Hornblower was my introduction to one of the most intriguing characters I know in literature. Hornblower, while possessing remarkable bravery and even a certain cold-bloodedness that allows him to perform his duties and protect his own interests in terms of advancement through the service, is also a keen intellectual with a tender heart. He is a mess of uncertainties and contradictions, a man sometimes trying to be a machine. No matter how many victories he wins and how many accolades he receives, Hornblower always feels that he still needs to prove himself and it is that vulnerability that allows, I think, a naval hero to prove so relatable and so enduringly popular.

In Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, readers have the opportunity to meet Hornblower when he is young and overconfident. It is a rare glimpse into the formative years of a man who will become a legend and it will, perhaps, prove familiar to those who remember their own stupid and reckless days or heartening to those still experiencing them. I myself have a soft spot for young and reckless heroes and it is this version of Hornblower that makes the first two books my favorite. In later books, Hornblower typically knows what he is doing, though he always plays the odds and he will not always win. In Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, our hero only thinks he knows what he is doing and he copies what seems to him brave or seaman-like behavior in a bid to be one of the rare men from his social class who advance through the ranks. He has not yet learned to recognize calculated risks from rashness, bravery from foolishness. He tries too hard and he is sometimes wrong, but his earnestness and his tendency to take himself too seriously are endearing.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is a fantastic introduction to a fantastic series—a breathtaking naval saga that immerses readers in the life of an English naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. Nothing about this series is ever trite or expected. Real hardships exist and real dangers, and the extreme uncertainty of Hornblower’s life and his future career are, to me, the hallmarks of a great writer. While reading Forester’s works, I can never be sure that Hornblower will come out of a fight unscathed or that he will receive promotion or official recognition for his services. Every book is a new adventure that keeps me on the edge of my seat as I cheer on one of my favorite heroes.

3 thoughts on “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester

  1. DoingDewey says:

    I like that the author manages to keep you nervous about how things will work out. While I dislike authors who actually kill of main characters, as a general rule, it’s nice not to be too confident that everything will work out since that can ruin the suspense.


    • Krysta says:

      I can’t think of many authors bold enough to kill off main characters, actually. I do like, however, that while the titles of the books in the series give you a sense of the trajectory of Hornblower’s career, you can never truly be sure that he will be promoted or that he will win a naval engagement. So, yes, Admiral Hornblower is coming, but maybe not just yet and never in the way you would expect. 🙂


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