Finding (C.S.) Forester:
sorting through the Hornblower canon.
By Buzz Mooney
Readers of Napoleonic-Era Royal Navy fiction almost universally express a preference for Patrick O’Brian’s brilliant Aubrey-Maturin series over all other works in the genre, but if there is a first-runner-up, it has to be C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. Hornblower is actually a sentimental favorite of mine, because my father recommended it to me, and I finally started reading it when I found his few volumes, after he passed away. I find that I identify with Hornblower’s constant self-doubt, which compels him to pretend to be brave, in an effort to compensate for his misguided sense that he is a coward. The result, of course, is that Hornblower will stand where others will run. He will toil where others will quit, and he will persevere, where others would despair. Hornblower is also the series that sparked my interest in the Royal Navy of this period. It was only after reading all the Hornblower I could find, and I was eager to find more about the subject, that I started reading O’Brian.
Interested readers, however, will find that reading Hornblower is not as easy as reading O’Brian, and not for stylistic reasons. While O’Brian wrote his stories in narrative order, starting with MASTER AND COMMANDER in 1969, and ending with the incomplete novel posthumously published as “21”, in 2004, Forester did not follow any particular order. Forester began with the novel THE HAPPY RETURN, set in 1808, (Published in the US as BEAT TO QUARTERS) and ended with the HORNBLOWER AND THE CRISIS, set in 1805. The rest of the canon stretches from 1793 to 1848. This allowed Forester more flexibility in his time settings, avoiding such narrative quick-fixes as O’Brian’s several-year-long summer and fall of 1813, but resulting in some overlap among his stories; the short story Hornblower’s Charitable Offering occurs aboard the Sutherland, which Hornblower OTHERWISE commands only during the novel A SHIP OF THE LINE. Also, many of the books and stories were published under different titles in the UK and the US.
The biggest difficulty in reading the entire Hornblower canon is simply FINDING all the stories. Some were published as novels, but some of the stories appeared first in magazines. No single publisher has published the entire canon, and it cannot be found in a tidy set, unlike O’Brian. The Hornblower aficionado is almost compelled to seeking out electronic copies of some stories. HORNBLOWER AND THE CRISIS sometimes includes Hornblower and the Big Decision/Hornblower and the Widow McCool, and The Last Encounter, while The Hand of Destiny, Hornblower’s Charitable Offering, and Hornblower and His Majesty were only published in book form in 1976, in HORNBLOWER ONE MORE TIME, which can rarely be found for less than $800. However, those three stories and the two included with Crisis are available on line as THE HORNBLOWER ADDENDUM.
Prospective readers may be somewhat put off by the complications I’ve mentioned, but they only apply for readers who want to read the ENTIRE canon: Most of the books are commonly available at libraries and bookstores. Perhaps, one day, we may even be able to convince a publisher to find a way to publish the entire canon, in a single series. Until then, here is a list of the Hornblower stories in approximate narrative order: Book titles are in bold caps, story titles are italicized. Approximate narrative dates and the ship to which Hornblower is assigned, are included.
MR. MIDSHIPMAN HORNBLOWER (Jan 1793 –Nov 1797): includes the following stories:
Hornblower and the Even Chance (Justinian)
Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice (Indefatigable)
Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure (Indefatigable)
Hornblower and the Man who Felt Queer (indefatigable)
Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God (Indefatigable)
Hornblower, the Frogs, and the Lobsters (Indefatigable)
Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys (Indefatigable)
Hornblower and the Examination for Lieutenant (Indefatigable)
Hornblower and Noah’s Ark (Indefatigable)
Hornblower, the Duchess, and the Devil (Indefatigable)
-end MR MIDSHIPMAN HORNBLOWER-
The Hand of Destiny (1796, Frigate Marguerite)
Hornblower and the Big Decision (aka Hornblower and the Widow McCool and Hornblower’s Temptation) (1799, Renown)
LIEUTENANT HORNBLOWER (Spring 1800- March 1803, Renown)
HORNBLOWER AND THE HOTSPUR (March 1803-April 1805, Hotspur)
HORNBLOWER AND THE CRISIS (HORNBLOWER DURING THE CRISIS) (April 1805-Fall 1805, Hotspur)
HORNBLOWER AND THE ATROPOS (Jan 1808 Atropos)
BEAT TO QUARTERS (aka THE HAPPY RETURN) (June 1808-Summer 1808, Lydia)
SHIP OF THE LINE (aka A SHIP OF THE LINE) (May 1810-Oct 1810, Sutherland)
Hornblower’s Charitable Offering (1810, sometime during the narrative period of SHIP OF THE LINE, Sutherand)
FLYING COLORS (Nov 1810-Fall 1811, escaping captivity, through France)
Hornblower and His Majesty (1812, Royal Yacht Augusta)
COMMODORE HORNBLOWER (April 1812-Dec 1812, Nonsuch)
LORD HORNBLOWER (Oct 1813-June 1815, Porta Coeli)
ADMIRAL HORNBLOWER IN THE WEST INDIES (May 1821-Oct 1823, Crab)
The Last Encounter (1848, Hornblower’s estate at Smallbridge)