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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 899

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HMS Lydia

HMS Lydia. Three-masted, thirty-six-gun frigate of the British Royal Navy commanded by post captain Horatio Hornblower on a secret mission to the Pacific. Hornblower is the unquestioned authority over about 380 men and officers, and his ship is so far from higher naval authority that Hornblower has vastly more independent authority than typical naval captains. Operating off the coasts of hostile Spanish colonial territories, the Lydia represents the only connection Hornblower and his crew have to their homeland.

*Central America

*Central America. Apart from the Lydia’s long voyage to and from this region, all the action in Beat to Quarters takes place along Central America’s Pacific coast, which the novel depicts as being at the extreme edge of European civilization. Its coastline is volcanic with a chain of slate-pink peaks and vivid green forests on the lower slopes fringing the sea. Forester got his inspiration to write his first Hornblower novel when he sailed down this coast in the early 1930’s and thought about how difficult it would have been for Imperial Spain to enforce its authority over a rebel faction in that wild region.

*Gulf of Fonseca

*Gulf of Fonseca. Bay on the Pacific coast of what is now Guatemala. The gulf can be recognized by the active volcanoes flanking its entrance. Hornblower makes a perfect landfall after four months at sea out of sight of land. His mission is to make contact with the region’s rebel commander, El Supremo. The squalid disorder and repressive political situation ashore contrast sharply with the cleanliness and order aboard Hornblower’s ship.

HMS Sutherland

HMS Sutherland. Seventy-four-gun ship of the line on which Hornblower commands about 450 men in Ship of the Line. Like most large British naval vessels of its era, the Sutherland is part of a squadron commanded by an admiral; however, through much of this novel, it is on detached missions similar to those that Hornblower commands in most of Forester’s eleven novels about his exploits. A Dutch-built ship captured from the enemy, the Sutherland has a shallower draught and more rounded prow than typical British-built ships, thus allowing Hornblower to fool the enemy into thinking it is French. After the French capture the ship in a desperate battle at Rosas, Napoleon Bonaparte uses Hornblower’s ruse as an excuse to charge him with piracy and have him taken to Paris to be executed.


*Rosas. French-held Spanish port near France’s Mediterranean coast. Here Hornblower surrenders the Sutherland to the French after the most intense naval battle in his entire career. His ship is ruined, but it inflicts enough damage on enemy ships to enable the rest of the British squadron to come in and complete their destruction at the beginning of Flying Colours. Captain Hornblower, First Lieutenant William Bush, and coxswain Brown are then put in a coach that will take them overland to Paris.

*Loire Valley

*Loire Valley (leh-wahr). Valley in central France that is the main setting of Flying Colours. En route to Paris, Hornblower and the others escape their captors and flee down the Loire River on a stolen boat in the black of a frigid winter night. After their boat overturns, they have the good fortune to find succor in the home of a French nobleman. As they rest and recuperate, Bush and Brown build a boat on which the three fugitives continue their flight during the following spring. Their boat trip follows the same river route taken by Forester himself several years before he wrote this novel. In contrast to the sailors’ frightening middle-of-the-night escape on the river from French soldiers at the beginning of the novel, their journey to the Atlantic coast at its end is leisurely and almost idyllic.

Château de Graçey

Château de Graçey (sha-TOH duh gray-SAY). Home of Comte de Graçay, who shelters the sailors through the winter and equips them for their spring voyage down the river. Standing on a bank of the Loire River, the château is about nine miles south of Nevers. During the months that Hornblower stays there, he experiences a genteel and luxurious lifestyle opposite that of the naval life with which he is familiar, and he has an affair with the count’s widowed daughter-in-law, Marie. His commitment to his military responsibilities eventually pulls him away, however. The château is a major setting again in Lord Hornblower (1946), in which Hornblower visits the Graçays after Napoleon’s first abdication.


*Nantes (nahnt). French port at the mouth of the Loire River on the Bay of Biscay. The British naval blockade has left Nantes a dying town, and many of its warehouses alongside the river are deserted. As the point of entry into the open sea, which represents true freedom, Nantes is the goal of the sailors’ boat trip, although they are uncertain what they will do after they arrive there.

HMS Witch of Endor

HMS Witch of Endor. Ten-gun British naval cutter on which Hornblower and his men complete their escape from France. Captured a year earlier by the French, the small ship is resting idly in Nantes when the sailors arrive there. Wearing uniforms of Dutch officers tailored by de Graçay’s servants, the sailors hijack a work crew of prisoners of war, who help them take the Endor out to sea, where they meet a British squadron.


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Forester, C. S. The Hornblower Companion. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964. The fullest account Forester left of the creative processes that led to the inception of the Hornblower series. In two parts, the first a useful atlas of thirty annotated maps depicting events in the Hornblower saga, and the second the essay “Some Personal Notes,” in which Forester explains how he came to write each novel.

Forester, C. S. Long Before Forty. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968. Posthumously published autobiography that Forester completed before he began the Hornblower saga. An appendix contains “Some Personal Notes,” the memoir he wrote for The Hornblower Companion.

Parkinson, C. Northcote. The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower. London: Joseph, 1970. A pseudobiography of Forester’s fictional character by a trained naval historian. Parkinson’s creative solutions to gaps in the Hornblower saga have little to do with Forester; however, his knowledge of British naval history helps place Hornblower’s fictional adventures in a broader historical context.

Sternlicht, Sanford. C. S. Forester. Boston: Twayne, 1981. The only scholarly work on C. S. Forester, a lucidly written book that devotes a long chapter to the Hornblower saga. Using Forester’s “Some Personal Notes” as his starting point, Sternlicht examines Hornblower as Forester’s most fully realized “man alone.” He suggests that the historical British naval hero Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860) may have served as a model for Hornblower, and he discusses the significance of the Hornblower stories in bolstering British morale during World War II, when the “Captain” books first appeared.


Critical Essays