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Hornblower : Beat to Quarters (1937)

af C. S. Forester

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Serier: Horatio Hornblower (6)

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1,756267,257 (4.12)35
A still young Hornblower is captain of the 36-gun frigate Lydia. He sets his course for Spain and Nicaragua in his ongoing quest to cut Napoleon's lines wherever he crosses them.
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Engelsk (24)  Tysk (1)  Spansk (1)  Alle sprog (26)
Viser 1-5 af 26 (næste | vis alle)
The Happy Return (or Beat to Quarters, in the American version I read) is an Age of Sail historical adventure novel staring Horatio Hornblower as the Captain of the frigate HMS Lydia. The Horatio Hornblower series generally seems to be considered one of the classic naval adventure collections, which I became tangentially aware of due to their influence on David Weber’s science-fiction works decades later (i.e. Honor Harrington and to a lesser extent the Safehold series). If you liked The Hunt for Red October but wished it was in the Napoleonic Era, this is your book.


The most obvious thing that jumps out at you is that this book is fairly technical. It focuses on the operation of the Lydia, a 36-gun frigate, and C.S. Forester has quite obviously done his research. Take this random paragraph:

Something had been done to give her a jury rig. A stumpy topmast had been erected where her foremast had stood, raked far back in clumsy fashion; her main topmast had been replaced by a slight spar—a royal mast, presumably—and on this jury rig she carried a queer collection of jibs and foresails and spritsails all badly set—“Like old Mother Brown’s washing on the line,” said Bush—to enable her to keep away from the wind with main course and mizzen-topsail and driver set.

I literally have no idea how someone would even go about obtaining half the details put into the book. It’s great for really getting into granular detail about how these kinds of ships worked, but occasionally my eyes glossed over as I read the umpteenth paragraph about sail arrangements, regardless of how important they were to the plot. But even if I didn’t always understand all the details (I’d have killed for someone to annotate the text with descriptive footnotes) I enjoyed them all the same. It definitely helps if you have an understanding of the geometric maneuvering naval combat of the era demanded (I do not) and a familiarity with nautical vocabulary (which I also do not), but you can always get the gist of the plot without either.

The protagonist, Captain Hornblower, is also a very interesting character. The book was written before the term “impostor syndrome” was coined, but Hornblower displays it in spades, constantly doubting his command abilities, diminishing his own achievements, distrustful of praise. He’s also written as someone who is extraordinarily aware of his own public image, and is constantly trying to shape it, concealing his thoughts and feeling to deceive his crewmen into thinking he is perfectly in control always. It’s all portrayed plausibly and humanly, a combination of personal vanity and the demands of a traditional authority figure. Hornblower also has period-appropriate discomfort around women, particularly women who deviate from his conservative definition of feminine behavior. Seeing how these beliefs interface with the novel’s one proper female character, Lady Barbara Wellesley, makes for excellent psychodrama.

Technically, I quite enjoyed Forester’s writing, particularly for something written in 1937. Sentences flow naturally, the descriptive text is all very elegant, and you never really get bogged down in any scene for too long. The obvious warning flag, though, if that the book is written by a man in the 1930s describing the sentiments of someone in the 1800s, so ethnic slurs and mostly-in-universe racial stereotyping abounds.

The specific version I read was slightly-corrected with a glossary at the end, found here: https://fadedpage.com/books/20170713/html.php ( )
  pvoberstein | Dec 14, 2020 |
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. If I didn't know Forester had later been a propaganda writer during WWII, if I hadn't already taken to Patrick O'Brian, and if I knew nothing about Forester's personal history, I would have enjoyed this much more. I do think an author ought to consider more in their audience than a blank slate though. And they should definitely sort out beforehand whether or not they want to a) write their feelings unashamedly on their sleeve and/or b) manipulate political feeling in their audience. This puts a huge drag on the story. Hornblower is as overburdened with authorial baggage as he is with his duty.

First, the good. The descriptions of sailing, of the details of this wooden world, are excellent. It doesn't reach the point where you think Forester might have actually lived during the Napoleonic Wars, but it is colorful and immersive. The battles, in particular the brutal slog with the
  • Natividad
  • , are thrilling. A bit melodramatic, but that's more Hornblower's gloss on them (we'll get to that). The story is also satisfying despite an abrupt ending. It has enough adventure that it could sit comfortably next to Treasure Island without batting an eye. Lastly, I felt there was a lot of enjoyable and interesting dialogue between genuinely crafted characters (whenever you start talking to them, you know the author has done a good job).

    Now for what I didn't enjoy.

    I'm not sure anyone could honestly be a fan of Hornblower as a person. He's not a pleasant fellow. And not in the gruff-but-actually-a-teddy-bear way. He's just downright repellent as a main antagonist. And I'm fairly certain that was Forester's intention. But the fact that I don't know for sure makes me uneasy about Forester's reasons for writing. There is much of autobiography in the first Hornblower outing. Forester originally wanted to write a fact-based Hollywood screenplay with high-seas adventure. But
  • Captain Blood
  • beat him and Hornblow/Busch & co. to the idea. Meanwhile a fading opera star was threatening a paternity suit, so he fled to Britain, meeting a lovely photographer in the voyage. Clearly Hornblower (at least in this book) is meant to be Forester as Forester wanted to be.

    But is cathartic autobiography all there is to Hornblower's unpleasantness? A subtle thread throughout the story is Forester's proto-propaganda mind at work. The book seems to be saying Hornblower is an unpleasant person, but only because duty drives him there. He's racked with personal detriment, but also very obviously a talented and brave individual. There's a subtext message there about the hard life of a commanding officer, and how underlings should always obey because poor Captain Hornblower just can't feel good about himself or anyone. That message is aimed particularly at male citizens, Barbara's renaissance-lady attitude notwithstanding. She's summarily put in her "proper" place after the bloody fight with the
  • Natividad
  • , and falls for Hornblower (alas, Hornblower is already in an unhappy marriage--woe for duty!). Furthermore, the uneasy allies at the beginning of the story become the enemies by the end, clearly a message that those at war can only rely upon themselves to conquer and win the day. The whole book is riddled with this kind of thought, and I can't chalk it up to historical point of view either. These are very obviously Forester's thoughts, and not his attempt to varnish with historical accuracy.

    I'll keep reading Hornblower, but it's so overburdened by Forester himself that it's not a terribly enjoyable experience. Perhaps as the character grows into their own more, he'll distance from Forester's personal drama. I don't foresee doom-and-gloom Hornblower drying up on the propaganda though. If anything, that will probably increase as the character's (and the author's) experience of war continues. ( )
      yorga2020 | Aug 30, 2020 |
    Enter Lady Barbara Wellesley! The pointless mission involving El Supremo was frustrating, but it's all okay now that Horatio has something other than Maria and duty to think about. ( )
      beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
    This was the first book written in the series and it is a little odd to read it in the order of republication since Hornblower's personality and his relationship with Bush are altered as the series expanded on either side of the events of this volume. ( )
      ritaer | Jul 22, 2020 |
    Beat to Quarters was an interesting read, and I quite enjoyed it. It contains plenty of action and high-seas adventure and a cast of colorful and entertaining characters. There were a number of places where I wished I had a reference of nautical terminology (I am still uncertain as to the exact state of a ship that is hove-to, for instance), but this did not dramatically affect my enjoyment of the text.

    I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the romance element between Horatio Hornblower and Lady Barbara. It seemed almost an afterthought in some respects, and it also seemed somewhat rushed. Plus, sailor or not, Hornblower is married. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in later installments of the series. ( )
      shadrachanki | Jun 8, 2018 |
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    Rodska, ChristianFortællermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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    It was not long after dawn that Captain Hornblower came up on the quarterdeck of the Lydia.
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    Original (UK) title: The Happy Return.
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    A still young Hornblower is captain of the 36-gun frigate Lydia. He sets his course for Spain and Nicaragua in his ongoing quest to cut Napoleon's lines wherever he crosses them.

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