Hornblower during the Crisis

C. S. Forester

Reviewed by D. Andrew McChesney


          Spring 1805 and Hornblower has been promised his post-captaincy by Admiral William Cornwallis.  He turns over command of Hotspur and takes passage to England in the water hoy Princess.  When menaced by an approaching French brig, Hornblower leads the hoy’s crew and embarked passengers in boarding and capturing it.  On board he finds a pack of official papers and upon landing at Plymouth, spirits them to the Admiralty in London.  Because of the nature of those papers, a plan develops, one that may help lead to Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar later in the year.

          Hornblower during the Crisis is the last Hornblower work written by C. S. Forester.  It is approximately one third finished, the author passing away before completing the story.  A single page, based on the author’s notes, describes how the tale was to have concluded.  Of the portion written, it appears to be work in progress, something that would be refined and polished a bit more had time been available.  Hornblower during the Crisis reads as if the author was writing quickly.  Perhaps he was aware of his upcoming demise and desirous of getting a much of the story on paper as possible.  While lacking in length and other qualities readers expect from Forester and the Hornblower tales, this story does fill in a small gap in Hornblower’s career.  It is definitely a “must read” for those looking to understand Hornblower’s life and career to the fullest.

          Included within the volume are two short stories.  “Hornblower’s Temptation” takes place aboard HMS Renown, prior to the voyage to the West Indies recounted in Lieutenant Hornblower.  “The Last Encounter” takes place at the twilight of Hornblower’s career.  If one is reading in order of life and career, the first story should be read upon completing Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.  The last should be read after completing every other Hornblower book or story, as it is the final tale.  Both short stories present the more polished work that a reader expects from Forester.  Perhaps the quality stands out a bit more when compared to the rougher aspects of the unfinished work printed in the same volume.

          The copy read for this review, ISBN 0-316-28944-2 was published by Back Bay Books of Little, Brown and Company.  It carries a cover price of $13.00 US.