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C.S. Forester

Hornblower in the West Indies

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
Hornblower is the hero of many of Forester's historical novels of the navy. In this book he is a rear-admiral, serving as Commander-in-Chief of the British Squadron in the West Indies. He is also now Lord Hornblower and regards himself as an old man, although in fact he is only forty-five. He is glad to have obtained employment, now that Napoleon has been defeated at Waterloo and is confined to St Helena, but he misses his wife, Barbara, at home in England.

There are five stories in all. In most of them Hornblower finds himself facing a moral dilemma about how he should act. In the first, Elizabeth of Hungary, he comes to believe that the commander of a French ship, whom he has met socially while on a visit to New Orleans, is planning to take a party of troops to St Helena to rescue the Emperor and restore him to power. Hornblower has to find a way to prevent this without precipitating an international incident, since Britain and France are officially at peace. He succeeds in this but only at the cost of sacrificing what he feels to be his own honour as an officer and gentleman.

The Star of the South starts with Hornblower's attempt to stop a Spanish slaver, La Estrella del Sur, but she is too fast and reaches the Spanish port of San Juan ahead of him. Hornblower can do nothing while they are in port and the captain of the slaver is confident that, when they both sail next morning, he will be able to escape easily. But Hornblower adopts a ruse that cripples the Spanish ship and allows him to capture it.

In The Bewildered Pirates Hornblower is paying a formal visit to Jamaica when he and his secretary Spendlove are kidnapped by pirates who want him to intercede for them with the Governor to ask for a pardon. They free Hornblower to make the appeal but keep Spendlove as a hostage. The Governor of course refuses the request and Hornblower is in despair, but all ends well for Spendlove though not for the pirates.

The Guns of Carabobo concerns Charles Ramsbotham, a British millionaire (a newly coined word at the time) who is sailing in an armed schooner in the West Indies. Hornblower meets him socially at Admiralty House in Kingston, when Ramsbotham lets drop in the information that his mother is Venezuelan. After he leaves the island it becomes clear that he is gun-running to support Bolivar's rebelliion against Spain. Since Britain and Spain are at peace this would cause a diplomatic incident, and Horblower goes after him to try to sort matters out.

In the final story, The Hurricane, Hornblower's command is coming to an end, which he has mixed feelings about. His wife comes out to join him for the voyage home, but just before she arrives a troubling incident occurs: a young bandsman is to be courtmartialled for refusing to play a B flat note in a particular piece because it would ruin it aesthetically. As he has disobeyed a direct order he is guilty of mutiny and may well be executed or, failing that, will be flogged so severely that the result would almost certainly be fatal. Hornblower, who is in any case tone-deaf, recognises the triviality of the offence but knows that the need to support naval discipline is paramount.

His wife, when she arrives, learns of the situation of the young cornet player and is horrified, though she knows that Hornblower can do nothing to reprieve the man; in any case, his replacement arrives almost immediately so the matter is out of his hands. He and Barbara sail for England. A hurricane arrives and Hornblower brings the ship through single-handed. Barbara then confesses that she has managed to save the young bandsman, though only by contravening innumerable naval laws. She expectes Hornblower to be furious, but of course he isn't and his only concern is that she shouldn't be found out.


%T Hornblower in the West Indies
%A Forester, C.S.
%I Michael Joseph
%C London
%D 1958
%P 283pp
%K fiction

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