Mr. Midshipman Hornblower was written as a prequel to the Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester. These novels received a great deal of praise, with Winston Churchill saying that he found Hornblower admirable and Ernest Hemingway recommending that every literate person read them. They are an account of the adventures of Horatio Hornblower who is in the British navy. Although Hornblower starts out small, as a poor, inexperienced seaman, he displays great bravery and leadership qualities which eventually result in his becoming Admiral of the Fleet. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is about his early years when he first comes on board a British ship and has many adventures in skirmishes with the French and the Spanish.
The book is written in the form of independent episodes which follow each other but each of them is also a self-contained story. Horatio begins inauspiciously, by challenging one of his colleagues to a duel, partly because he is suicidal and wants to put an end to his life. However, this plot is frustrated by the captain of the ship who handles things diplomatically, refusing to rise to the bait even when Hornblower challenges his authority.
In another episode, Hornblower is given the task of going on board the French Papillon, climbing the mast and loosing the main topsail. The operation is interrupted by one of his colleagues having a seizure and Hornblower almost freezes while trying to perform the difficult task assigned to him. However, he conquers his fears and does what he's supposed to, his only regret being the death of his friend.
In one episode, Hornblower is given a chance to display his humane side, rescuing a man who is forced to kill rats with his hands tied behind his back. Hornblower threatens to report the men harassing him and later, when they see some action, he helps this man to escape. He continues to display bravery and successfully brings the Duchess of Wharfedale back to England, after which he is promoted to Lieutenant.
This is an exciting book and it's obvious that the author has done extensive research about life on the seas during Napoleonic times. Hornblower is a believable character because he doesn't act heroically in one and all situations. At times, he's immature and filled with self-loathing, but when push comes to shove, he does the right thing.
C. S. Forester was the pen name of Cecil Louis Troughton Smith who was born in Cairo and went to school in England where he married Kathleen Belcher and had two sons. He is famous for his tales of naval warfare, most especially the Horatio Hornblower series but he has also written a number of other books including a couple of mysteries and children's books. His book, The African Queen, was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. He lived most of his life in England and then moved to the U.S. where he wrote propaganda to try and get the U.S. to join the Allies in the second world war. He ended up marrying a second time, since his first marriage had ended in divorce a couple years before, and settled in Berkeley. He was responsible for encouraging Roald Dahl to write about his experiences in the RAF.
The year is 1793, the eve of the Napoleonic Wars, and Horatio Hornblower, a 17-year-old boy unschooled in seafaring and the ways of seamen, is ordered to board a French merchant ship and take command of crew and cargo for the glory of England. Though not an unqualified success, this first naval adventure teaches the young midshipman enough to launch him on a series of increasingly glorious exploits. This novel - in which young Horatio gets his sea legs, proves his mettle, and shows the makings of the legend he will become - is the first of the 11 swashbuckling Hornblower tales that are today regarded as classic adventure stories of the sea. Download and start listening now!