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The Horatio Hornblower Series by C.S. Forester

Content last modified December 2014


In 1927, C.S. Forester purchased three volumes of The Naval Chronicle from 1790 to 1820. For the Chronicle, officers of the Royal Navy wrote articles on strategy, seamanship, gunnery, and other professional topics of interest to their colleagues. The Chronicle for those years covered the wars with Napoleon. Reading these volumes and traveling by freighter from California to Central America allowed the germination of the character Horatio Hornblower as a member of the Royal Navy in the late eighteenth century. By the time Forester's journey brought him home to England, the former medical student-turned-writer had plotted Beat to Quarters, and it was published in 1937. A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours were published soon after, and in 1939 all three appeared as Captain Horatio Hornblower.

Forester's interest in the Romantic period and the political and military maneuvers of the early 1800s continued, and the Hornblower saga was produced. Subsequent volumes in the series were sequels to the original trilogy or filled in its gaps. The episodic quality of the novels is due partly to their having appeared serially in magazines, primarily the Saturday Evening Post.

Most of the books were written around the time of World War II, which influenced Forester to concentrate on strong military leaders and heroic deeds in the earlier world war he described. Hornblower's complexity has endeared him to readers. He is cynical but compassionate, courageous but not without fear. Self-conscious and socially unconfident, his marriage is a mismatch, and he finds himself in love with the Duke of Wellington's sister. Above all he is a consummate seaman, deserving of the loyalty of his men.

The achievement of Forester, who led a quiet, contemplative life and suffered from serious illness, was that in conjuring up person, period, and place--rousing sea battles, eventual shore life, England, France, Central America--he made it easy for readers to believe they were there. In England, Beat to Quarters was published as The Happy Return. Captain Horatio Hornblower appeared as a motion picture in 1951.

Following are the books of the Horatio Hornblower series in the order in which they should be read according to the Fiction Catalog, Twelfth Edition, 1991. Dates are the original dates of publication. All of the books listed are available from NLS network library collections.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

The early career of Horatio Hornblower of the British Royal Navy is traced in a series of adventurous episodes. They illustrate the quick thinking, brilliant intuition, and decisiveness characteristic of our hero and leave him with the rank of lieutenant. 1950

DB 26915

BR 11552

Lieutenant Hornblower

Hornblower emerges from his apprenticeship as midshipman to assume the responsibilities forced upon him by the war between Napoleon and Spain, and his career on board the HMS Renown up to his promotion to commodore is followed. Peace with France prevents his obtaining a command, and he is forced to earn a living playing whist in a club. 1952

DB 14756

BR 11553

Hornblower and the Hotspur

Commander Hornblower marries Maria in England and soon afterward sails for duty off the French coast. War breaks out with France, involving Hornblower in a land raid and in several sea battles. 1962

DB 46118

BRA 10413

Hornblower during the Crisis, and Two Stories: "Hornblower's Temptation" and "The Last Encounter"

Hornblower receives a promotion to captain and is relieved of his command of the Hotspur in this last-to-be-written and incomplete novel. When the new captain is court-martialed, Horatio is asked to testify. In "Hornblower's Temptation," which takes place before the events in Lieutenant Hornblower, an Irishman condemned to die wants Hornblower to undertake an apparently innocuous assignment. "The Last Encounter," truly the end of the saga, concerns a meeting with Napoleon in 1848. 1967

DB 41649

BR 8573

Hornblower and the Atropos

The captain's adventures include organizing the water part of Admiral Nelson's funeral procession, the recovery of treasure from a sunken ship, and two sea battles. 1953

DB 46119

BR 7081

Beat to Quarters

Hornblower commands a frigate and is sent to Nicaragua to assist an uprising against the Spanish. He works first with and then against the mad El Supremo and warily agrees to give Lady Barbara transport to England. 1937

DB 46120

BR 11155

A Ship of the Line

Captain Hornblower and HMS Sutherland join forces blockading the Spanish coast in the Napoleonic conflict. In a battle with the French, the Sutherland is severely damaged, and Hornblower is taken captive. 1938

DB 12856

BR 12856

Flying Colours

Napoleon charges Hornblower with piracy, and the prisoner, his first mate, and his servant are escorted toward Paris. Brilliant escapes, shelter by a French royalist, and a recapture of a British ship allow them to reach England, where Hornblower learns of the death of his wife. 1939

DB 12856

BR 12856

Commodore Hornblower

Hornblower is now married to Lady Barbara. The commodore is entrusted with a delicate mission to Russia and works with Colonel von Clausewitz in the Baltic. 1945

DB 26916

BR 11558

Lord Hornblower

Hornblower quells a mutiny, becomes governor of a French seaport, and helps defeat Napoleon. He becomes a peer of the realm, but declines to go to the Council of Vienna with his wife and his brother-in-law, the Duke of Wellington. 1946

DB 46123

BR 11559

Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies

It is peacetime, but Hornblower works to prevent Bonapartists from rescuing Napoleon from St. Helena, suffers capture by pirates, and observes the triumph of Simon Bolivar. Returning home to England with Lady Barbara, Hornblower saves her and the crew from death in a hurricane. 1958

DB 26918

BR 11560

Compiled by Joan B. Bregger
Revised by Joyce Y. Carter

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Posted on 2015-05-01