Today’s the birthday of English-American author C.S. Forester, born August 27, 1899 in Cairo, died 1966 in Fullerton, California. He spent a lot of time living in Berkeley, not far from where I live.
His Beat to Quarters, published as “The Happy Return” in the UK, came to me at a time when I was kinda been-there, done-that with fiction. On a plane to Michigan, I read Forester’s account of Beat‘s central naval battle off the coast of Central America, and it was and remains one of the most incredible f*ing things I’ve ever read. His character Horatio Hornblower has become shorthand for a confident, good-hearted seafarer and adventurer, without any of the subtleties and ambiguities borne by the actual character.
With Hornblower, best showcased in Beat, Forester doesn’t serve up the usual flawed military hero who’s flawed because he’s arrogant, obnoxious, and musn’t be slowed down by love. Instead, Forester focuses much more on Hornblower’s desperate insecurity and his struggle to maintain control and do his duty. That, and his need to follow to the letter all the social expectations of the time. He’s a thousand times more complex than the average character he’s used as a shorthand for.