Lieutenant Hornblower

Published 08 Dec 2016

Lieutenant Hornblower: A General Look on the Novel’s
Depiction of Historical Events

There are many novelists who viewed history as a form of journey or adventure. Using fictitious or real characters, these novelists often exaggerate famous or infamous events in order to entice the reader to ask for more information (about the event). Exaggeration, for the most, creates an atmosphere of compassion, justice, and at times, moral flexibility on the minds of the readers. This is not to say that all historical novels attempt to exaggerate historical events and characters. There are some novels which, more or less, depict historical events with some degree of accuracy.

In any case, there are drawbacks when an author exaggerates historical events. There is tendency for both the author and the reader to give more credit to inpidual characters than to the historical events to which they are situated. Focus is therefore changed. Second, exaggeration causes misinterpretation on the part of the reader. For the most, the reader may interpret history as the “work of great men” not as the collective actions of inpiduals. History as the “change of period” is replaced as the “epochs of famous men.” Social scientists call this fallacy as “misrepresentation of reality.”

In this paper, the author will analyze the correlation of the novel “Lieutenant Hornblower” to the historical events to which it is located.

Summary of the Novel

During the late 18th century, Napoleon rose to power in France. Eradicating his enemies, he pursued an aggressive war policy against the British Empire. Napoleon forced European nations to cancel trade and economic relations with the British Empire. By doing so, Napoleon hoped that he could destroy British maritime power (since Great Britain would be forced to reduce its naval expenses to cope up with economic difficulties). Before his policy could take effect, he ordered the French and Spanish fleets to attack the English fleet at Trafalgar. The British won a decisive victory. This is the historical period in which the novel was based.

The character, Horatio Hornblower, is a persona modeled after Horatio Nelson, the British admiral who led the British fleet to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Like Lord Nelson, he was strong minded, courageous, and intelligent. He never conceived retreating as an option. Whenever possible, he would search for an opening in the enemy. Utilizing his cleverness, he would take advantage of any situation that might give him a chance for victory (Forester, 134). Often, his conquests in the high seas overshadowed his own personal failures; personal failures that can be rooted from his inability to maintain his composure when reason seemed to contradict his opinion.

To many readers, Horatio Hornblower is a hero of simple origin, yet the embodiment of English values. During his youth, he worked tirelessly in the ports of England (Forester, 26). His career prospered. His first 15 years in the shipyards was truly fascinating. He became a midshipman, then a commodore, and finally an admiral. Because of his victories at sea, he was promoted almost yearly. He, therefore, became a legend.

The Novel’s Misrepresentation of History

A detailed reading of the novel would give the reader a clear glimpse of the historical period to which Hornblower is situated. However, by comparing the novel with historical texts, one is forced to admit that the novel has in many ways misrepresented the said historical period. Here are some:

1) English naval issues during the time of Napoleon were not concentrated on values creation but rather on strategic initiatives. Most of the British naval commanders at that time were not concerned with posture or will power but tactics (Hall et al, 517);

2) The author failed to emphasize the collective effort of inpiduals. By assuming that the leadership of a naval commander is sufficient to acquire victory, the author is impliedly saying that collective action is inferior to the acts of the “great person” (note that during the pseudo mutiny of Lt. Hornblower, he was the one leading the crew against the captain – a form of perpetual focus);

3) On the macro political scale, the author also assumed that Napoleon’s defeat was due to the superior intellect and cunning of its naval commanders (represented by Hornblower). This is not the case. Napoleon’s defeat, for sure, was due to Britain’s leadership of the alliance against Napoleon, but never to the prowess of its naval commanders;

4) And, some of the historical events in the novel were blurred in favor of a general focus on the main character. This was intentional. If the historical events were emphasized, the character then would lose focus. The consequence: the reader would become intoxicated with already known facts (in short, the whole story would be boring).

Whether intentional or not, the author failed to give an accurate account of the historical event Hornblower is located.

Works Cited

  • Forester, C.S. Lieutenant Hornblower London: London Publishing Company, 1952.
  • Hall, C. et al. A History of England and the Empire-Commonwealth. London: Ginn Publishing Company, 1975.
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