Melissa Rudder's Reviews > Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester
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Jan 01, 10

bookshelves: teach-it
Read in November, 2009

I was against Mr. Midshipman Hornblower from the first moment I said its title in front of a classroom of high school seniors. However, in spite of everything going against it--its episodic structure, its nautical details, and its protagonist's unfortunate name--I ended up enjoying C. S. Forester's tale of a young boy's gradual acclimation to and growing success in the British navy during the late eighteenth century. It's unlikely that I will end up reading the rest of the books in the Horatio Hornblower series, but I can tell my giggling seniors, with a straight face, that the novel is "good": full of suspenseful action, entertaining, and boasting an extremely likable protagonist.

Even though I usually lose interest with episodic stories--Arthurian Romances and Don Quixote come to mind--Mr. Midshipman Hornblower kept my interest. Each adventure was unique, yet credible, and always centered on Horatio's growing understanding of his role in the navy. I have to say that if, in the future, I were in a seafaring mood, I would choose Forester over Stevenson any day (and this is coming from a lover of nineteenth century texts), for more action, vivid details, greater suspense and surprises, and stronger character development. In spite of the language barrier (the nautical lexicon was sometimes overbearing), Forester had me feeling like I was in the middle of the action.

The main element that kept my sustained interest in the various adventures of Horatio was the protagonist himself. Watching the development of a seasick, shy, and suicidal boy into a noble and capable officer was engaging. Even more so was the portrayal of Horatio's deliberate self-construction. As an intelligent schoolboy masquerading as a man of the king's navy, Horatio understood the show of confidence, assertiveness, and dignity that was expected of him. Forester's narration, which allowed the reader to watch Horatio's show with an awareness of his inner conflict and insecurities made Horatio endearing and the story compelling.

Each chapter of Mr. Midshipman Hornblower presents an exciting adventure and a surprising new side of its admirable protagonist. It was fun to read.
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