Thursday, December 20

Finding (C.S.) Forester

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)
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)
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)
The Last Encounter (1848, Hornblower’s estate at Smallbridge)


  1. Excellent review Mr Mooney. I read about 5 of those, in my youth, before venturing on to the Alexander Kent ('Richard Bolitho') series of naval fiction (which I prefer over O' that treason onboard HMS Acasta?). I actually thought you were going to review the stunning 1951 film 'Captain Horatio Hornblower' (Gregory Peck as pictured), and would give us all, a grand chuckle at that production. Obviously, for a couple of generations, the Hornblower novels were the closest link for many to the Royal Navy in the Age of Fighting sail, so many folks formed their imagination about that subject, based on them.

  2. I did not know that the missing short stories were available on Amazon!
    It is my understanding that one of the reasons the O'Brien novels are so rich, is that O'Brien had access to more research, available in part because Forester inspired a lot of people (like Brian Lavery) to study nautical history of the time, and write an publish.

  3. As the edtior of HORNBLOWER - ONE MORE TIME I am glad that the small publication has achieved such a degree of later day success! My search for the stories was done at the Vancouver Public Library in pre-Internet days; the hardest to find was the poem Forester wrote about hsi relaitonship with Hornblower.

    1. May I thank you, for your work? Also, do you think there's any possibility someone might consider publishing the entire canon?

  4. I read the entire series while in High School, and it had a huge impact on my interests in later life. My choice of naval architecture as a career and naval re-enacting as a hobby were doubtlessly affected by my enjoyment of Forester's Hornblower series.