January 03, 2023

#08-272: Horatio Hornblower

An early 19th century Royal Navy captain (Wikipedia)

Note: The novels about Horatio Hornblower start in mid-career and through prequels and sequels cover his entire life's work in the Royal Navy.

Get Ready: Would the career of a gentleman officer in the military be as interesting today as it was in the time of C. S. Forster?

In 1937, the English novelist C. S. Forster, then known for his 1935 novel The African Queen (made into a classic film in 1951), introduced one of his most popular characters: Horatio Hornblower, R.N. (Royal Navy), who, in that first novel, was in mid-career during the Napoleonic Wars. It is the sixth of eleven novels chronologically (one unfinished); with five short stories, the books trace Hornblower's career from its earliest days to his retirement. At the peak of his popularity, the character was featured in numerous screen and radio adaptations.

That first novel was called The Happy Return. In it, Hornblower was in command of a ship, the "Lydia," which was commissioned to take supplies to a landowner on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, in support of his revolt against the Spanish. During that adventure, Hornblower met Lady Barbara Wellesley, fictional sister of the future Duke of Wellington; Hornblower will marry her after his first wife dies in childbirth.

The first novel chronologically, however, is the prequel Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, in which "Horny" (as he is sometimes called) begins his career, in 1793, as an officer at the lowest rank. The book is made up of ten discrete episodes which portray Hornblower as something of a bumbler, but one who shows promise.

At the other end of his career, Hornblower is seen in retirement at age 72 in the short story The Last Encounter. Living with Lady Barbara on his country estate, and holding the honorary rank of Admiral of the Fleet, he is visited on a stormy night by a well-dressed Frenchman who claims to be Napoleon himself!

The visitor has been stranded by a rail accident and seeks Hornblower's aid in getting to Paris. As it turns out, he was not "the Napoleon" but "a Napoleon," nephew of the great man. Despite the visitor's seeming insanity, Hornblower helps him reach home, where he is elected President of France. For his assistance, Hornblower receives a military honor from the new president, and Lady Barbara--who had championed the man's cause--receives a sapphire.

As you can see, the books are fun to read and filled with historical adventure and intrigue.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. bumbler
  2. championed
  3. chronologically
  4. discrete
  5. honorary
  6. in childbirth
  7. intrigue
  8. peak
  9. sapphire
  10. stranded

  1. symbolic; given as a reward
  2. in time order
  3. as a baby is being born
  4. supported; advocated for
  5. separate; not connected
  6. held up; unable to continue one's journey
  7. secret plots and activities
  8. a foolish person
  9. the high point
  10. a (usually) blue jewel

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 3, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. d; 3. b; 4. e; 5. a; 6. c; 7. g; 8. i; 9. j; 10. f