Adventures in Bookland: Hornblower and the Hotspur by CS Forester
Hornblower and the Hotspur is the third book in the series by character age, but the last novel for Forester himself. It was published in 1962 and the author would only live four more years – long enough to start another Hornblower but not to finish it. So, his creation has outlived him by nearly 50 years and looks set to continue on for a while yet.
This is no necessary outcome – a visit to any second-hand bookshop or a trawl through old best-seller lists will reveal shelves of books, famous in their day, and now as forgotten as the mouldering men and women who wrote them. So, why has Hornblower endured? One reason, sad to say, is fortune itself – as the screenwriter William Goldman says about the film industry but which could be as well applied to publishing, ‘Nobody knows anything…Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.’ So, for the public, Hornblower worked – and continues to work. In large part that must be because of Hornblower himself: a character of sufficient quirks to make him interesting, but with enough heroism to make him an admirable hero through a series of novels. But another reason must surely be Forester’s command of tension and release. Throughout Hornblower and the Hotspur, situations personal and naval are brought to crisis point and resolved, within the overall arc of Hornblower’s ascent from Commander to Captain to, at the book’s closing, Post Captain, and the security of assured command. Maybe it was Forester’s work in the film industry that tutored him in writing in subsidiary climaxes through the course of his work, maybe it evolved naturally in his writing, but it is quite masterly in its execution. I shall be following Hornblower as he ascends the ranks to admiral!