Anatomy of a Book: Mr Midshipman Hornblower by C.S.Forester

hornyThe newcomer was dressed in a badly fitting uniform which was soaked right through by the spray; a skinny neck stuck out of the high stock, and above the neck was a white bony face. (p.8)

This is Horatio Hornblower, the central character of the book, and a new man to the late-1700s English navy.

…(The ‘tweendecks) a gloomy recess whose shadows were accentuated rather than lightened by a tallow dip spiked onto a bit of copper plate… (p.10)

The description of navel activity is detailed, sometimes to the exclusion of readers without equal knowledge, and it is questionable if the character of Hornblower or the novelised excitement of navel activity is the success of this particular book.

Pellew was looking up at the sails, back at the fleeting wake, across at the French ship, gauging the strength of the wind, estimating the strain on the rigging, doing everything that a lifetime of experience could suggest to close the gap between the two ships. (p.109)

Hornblower is a character that appears in many Forester books, and is very successful such as the Harry Potter series today. This is a story of Hornblower’s early years and could be best read with consideration to the series and not individually. The book might be considered a classic novel, but like a single Harry Potter book it could fail to impress in isolation. The best tip here is that writing a series with a successful character still requires the classic story elements (and it helps make longevity in writing income).

Changing Status:

Hornblower begins here low in rank and position, but he himself – morally and physically, is given little change in this novel. This limited the appeal to the reader as the character is stilted in development. This is likely because the character develops in greater ways across the series rather than in this episode of his life.

High Stakes:

Initially Hornblower is faced with a need to escape his posting predicament, but bound by a sense of duty and the code of the sea he feels trapped. If this scenario played out for the whole book then the tension and personal attachment and development of Hornblower might have increased.

Page Turner:

There is continual jeopardy, and the battles Hornblower is involved in can feel real if not directly taken from history.

Believable Characters:

There is trueness to the world, as it is well detailed and the items, weather and events feel to impact in believable ways. However there is a halt on some of the believability of the characters, and this maybe because of the focus of the story is on the first element – that of navel accuracy.


There is a good sense gained of some of the hardship that life was like for those who fought on sailing ships against cannons, cutlasses and muskets. I feel historical appeal is the main interest in this book, in terms of both those who know Hornblower and wish to see the character’s start, and for those wishing to learn more of past navel deeds.


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