Lieutenant Hornblower by C. S. Forester

Lieutenant HornblowerInformation

Goodreads: Lieutenant Hornblower
Series: Hornblower #2
Source: Gift
Published: 1952


Horatio Hornblower, an officer of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, faces insane commanders, enemy gunfire, and an official court of enquiry.  Nothing, however, terrifies him so much as the possibility of the war’s end, which will leave him forever a washed-up officer on half-pay.


Lieutenant Hornblower shares many of the characteristics that makes me love its chronological predecessor, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower so much—a naval hero still in his formative years and trying to prove himself, a fascinating historical setting, desperate action on the high seas, and the possibility that, at any moment, everything for which Hornblower has worked will disappear.  This book, however, like all the books in the series, is clearly its own.  New dangers and new adventures arise all the time; life at sea does not mean that Hornblower simply engages in the same types of naval engagements, like the way fight scenes in movies tend to blend all together (at least for me).  Furthermore, Hornblower’s complex characterization always lends a fascinating human dynamic to the story—watching him calculate the odds and risk it all even as he struggles with supreme doubt in his own abilities is one of my favorite aspects of his story.

Hornblower’s characterization proves even more interesting in this, the second book in the series (chronological).  Mr. Midshipman Hornblower presents Hornblower from the perspective of a third-person narrator, but Lieutenant Hornblower introduces Mr. Bush, a rather pragmatic officer through whom readers’ vision of Hornblower is filtered.  This choice adds even more layers to the already complex portrayal of Hornblower.  Mr. Bush is not theoretical.  He knows little of calculated risks and lacks the imagination to form battle plans.  He is a simple man who thinks a good officer runs a ship smoothly and follows orders.  In short, he doesn’t understand Hornblower at all.

Perhaps it will not be a spoiler to say that this is the start of a beautiful friendship.  Mr. Bush doesn’t receive so much attention for nothing.  But his own somewhat stodgy reliability initially stands in the way.  To him, Hornblower comes across as an over-ambitious whippersnapper who occasionally oversteps his bounds and might even lack in physical courage.  Well, how could that not turn into a beautiful friendship?  It is a relationship all the more touching because the two characters involved never directly address it.

Aside from the introduction of Mr. Bush, I love Lieutenant Hornblower for the hardships it forces Hornblower to face.  For most books and most series, I assume that the number of pages left means that why, of course, the hero has to live and, obviously, the hero will receive promotion.  Lieutenant Hornblower?  Please.  Future Admiral Hornblower in the making!  Forester never lets his protagonist off easily, however, and even when rereading, I can never feel sure that Hornblower will make it through any adventure successfully.  He is a hero forged by pain, disappointment, and failure–a hero who is real and perhaps more lovable in defeat than in triumph.  I feel like I know Hornblower and I am fully invested in his story.

All good books, unfortunately, must end and I it is hard not to close the pages of Lieutenant Hornblower without a sense of regret.  Our hero is growing up and one day he will be charged with his first independent command.  In this book, however, I can look fondly upon a Hornblower still learning the ways of the world and muddling through it, like the rest of us, the best that he can.  His younger days hold a special place in my heart and the portrait given here is one that I hold on to as I continue with Hornblower through the rest of his  many adventures.


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