Ship of the Line (abandoned)

ship of the lineI think it may have been on my third read through Patrick O’Brian’s marvelous, masterful Aubrey-Maturin series of shipgoing adventures that I decided I would try another series as well: C.S. Forester’s series about Horatio Hornblower. The earliest of these books, written between 1937-1967, predate O’Brian’s by several decades. They are so widely read and so influential (everyone from Hemingway to Gene Roddenberry has loved them) that I was sure I would love them, as well.

Instead, I’ve had to force myself to read them. I read the first in 2001, and it’s taken me until 2013 to read seven of them. Part of it is that (for me) they suffer in comparison with Patrick O’Brian’s mysteries, but most of it is simply that I don’t like Hornblower. Forester has created a character we are supposed to see as admirably flawed: a man who is really courageous, far-seeing, and strategic but sees himself as cowardly and embarrassingly prone to seasickness. This is true (at least at first) but he is also insufferably smug in other areas. He’s cruel and condescending (and unfaithful) to his wife, who was his childhood companion and knew him before he’d climbed the social ladder. He makes her do without basic needs so he can have gold stripes on his sleeves. He’s cutting, sarcastic and moody, and seems to feel he’s entitled to it. His perception of himself as cowardly never changes or grows; this isn’t humility, it’s delusion. Essentially, he’s a major jerk, particularly on land but also frequently at sea.

The battle scenes are exciting, and at least Hornblower with all his moods is not a flogging captain. But the delight, the humor, the music, and the powerful friendship that are at the heart of the O’Brian books are totally lacking here. I read 50 pages of this one and decided that not only is life too short to finish this one, I won’t be reading any more.

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7 Responses to Ship of the Line (abandoned)

  1. Lisa says:

    I haven’t read any of the Hornblower novels, though I watched some of the recent TV versions, with Ioan Gruffudd. My dad on the other hand tried one Patrick O’Brian, and refused to read any more, saying they weren’t as good as Hornblower. Maybe it depends which you read first?

    • Jenny says:

      I don’t think so; I’ve hooked at least three or four Hornblower aficionados on O’Brian. I think part of the problem is that you have to prepare people for Master and Commander, which doesn’t get into the full swing of things and about which at first I, too, was hesitant. I make people pinky-swear to read at least two of the books if not three. If they aren’t in love by HMS Surprise, they will never like them.

      The other part of the problem, of course, is that different people like different books. Always an issue!

      • Lisa says:

        I fell hard for Master & Commander almost from the first page, or maybe it was just for Stephen and Jack. It was Post Captain that I really struggled with – where were the ships? – and only on re-reading came to appreciate. But I have to remember in recommending POB that most people do have the opposite reaction. I agree though about HMS Surprise!

  2. vanbraman says:

    I am still hunting for two volumes in a specific edition of the Aubrey-Maturin series and then I will start reading them. I also have a few of the Hornblower books around. Someday I will get around to them. Maybe I should read the Hornblower ones first :-)

  3. Sad! I can overlook a lot of flaws in a character’s regular life if he is good to his loved ones (I know, I’m such a cliche, publishers count on such as me), but characters who bully their wives are just no good to me at all.

  4. Robert Olivier says:

    Hi, referring to the original article, I am your exact opposite. I reread the Hornblower series every 10 years. After 2 Aubrey/Maturins I was done; my brothers ate them up. It’s a matter of which author you like spending time with.

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