Monday, October 19, 2009

Horatio Hornblower and Madame Royale

Awhile ago I read Lord Hornblower by C.S. Forester, found in the library of an old friend. I had no idea that the novel, which comes towards the end of the series about the British maritime hero, deals with the Bourbon Restoration in 1814-15. The Duchesse d'Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, is a character in the novel, whom Horatio assists in spite of her obtuse husband. Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte is described thus:
She was a high-spirited and lovely creature, and running over with excitement at this new adventure. Hornblower watched her curiously. Her infancy had been passed in the most splendid court in Europe; her childhood as a prisoner of the revolutionaries. Her father and mother, the King and Queen, had died under the guillotine; her brother had died in prison. She herslf had been exchanged for a parcel of captive generals, and married to her cousin, had wondered through Europe as wife of the heir to a penniless but haughty Pretender. Her experience had left her human-- or was it that the formalities of shabby, genteel royalty had not succeeded in dehumanising her? She was the only living child of Marie-Antoinette, whose charm and vivacity and indiscretion had been proverbial. That might explain it.
Forester is a first-rate novelist and while his books are often categorized at junior fiction there is enough inner conflict to make them an interesting read for adults. The descriptions are so vivid that one can feel the ship rocking on the waves. Horatio realizes that he is a hero in spite of himself and has survived the Napoleonic Wars by a miracle. He is fascinated with the French and with Catholics, possibly because of Marie de Gracay, the great love of his life, who reappears in Lord Hornblower. Marie's presence throws a wrench into Horatio's already tumultuous relationship with his strong-willed wife, Lady Barbara. Barbara is as cold and ambitious as Marie is warm and self-sacrificing. Horatio is torn, but events happen quickly and choices are made for him.

Forester does not glamorize Napoleon but exposes him for the dictator he was, with an emphasis on the loss of life caused by the wars of conquest. The restoration of the Bourbons is shown as an event to be celebrated, while not minimizing their shortcomings. Forester's research is flawless and his writing is entertaining. I highly recommend his novels. Share

16 comments:

de Brantigny said...

The Hornblower series is one of the greatest leadership manuals ever written.

de Brantigny

elena maria vidal said...

I agree!!

Anonymous said...

we saw the A&E series first and loved it... then we read the books and realized how wonderful the novels were. (isn't that always the case?) cordelia

Elisa said...

I've also seen the A&E movies and the movie "Captain Horatio Hornblower" starring Gregory Peck as Captain Hornblower. They're adventurious viewing!

Robert Grace said...

Years ago I read the gripping, if sentimental, "Pride of Race" by Baroness Orczy (she of Scarlet Pimpernel fame)- if memory serves, that book was about M la Duchesse du/de Berry who had a grim time during the Restoration of the Bourbons.

Another tragic Catholic queen is Mary Beatrice of Modena who married James II of England (and Ireland, Scotland and Wales) - her story is incredibly sad - as told in 'The Queen over the Water, but I forget who wrote it.

Love your site!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Mr Grace, I do know that Baroness Orczy admired the Duchess de Berry very much and wrote a wonderful biography of her entitled "The Turbulent Duchess." The novels you mention sound very interesting! Thank you for visiting!

papabear said...

Someday, I hope to be able to read the Hornblower series plus Aubrey-Maturin... sigh.

elena maria vidal said...

Always so much to read and never enough time!

Gabriel Girl said...

Great! As a confirmed individualist, I find it sad that people idolize great conquerors. The people that used to idolize the "organizing power" of Napoleon were also the ones who thought that Hitler had the right idea in reorganizing the landscape of Europe and, now, wear Che Guevara tee-shirts and quote Mao.

Be suspicious of people that think they know what is best for you!

lara77 said...

Gabriel Girl is so right in her comments; this adulation of people like Napoleon. How many French People continue to sing of his praises! I think more of the human lives, French and European slaughtered in battle because of the ego of this little man! There was King Louis XVI who would never war on his people and Napoleon who did not care how many he slaughtered to achieve his aims. I know for myself who was the greater of the two.

xavier said...

Maria Elena:
I sorta liked the Hornblower series. My gripe at the time was that the Spanish were seen as comic buffons and utterly inept.

Now I realize that the Spanish military really was incompetent and the various guerrillieros and unconventional units saved Spanish integrity.
However, I'll be contrarian: while everyone rightly lambastes Napoleons's conquest lust, I don't regard the major anti-Napoleonic powers Britian, Russia and Austria with great admiration either.
I'm admire much more the various minorities like the Catalans and Belgs, etc.

In fact, one of the greatest conterintuitive ironies of Napoleon was to revive minority language and ethnic group aspirations that had frankly been repressed by the absolute monarchs and their 'prime' ministers. It took a Napoleon to blow away that particular replusive aspect of the ancien regime.

P.S.
Lara well actually Felipe V did use the military to make war on the Catalans during the war of the Spanish succession. And even without a Napoleon, I think the Spanish Bourbons would've eventually sent the military to repress the Catalans as they did throughout the 19th century and the I, II Republics and Franco merely continued that trend.



xavier

lara77 said...

I agree Xavier that Napoleon was a military genius and Felipe V did war on fellow Spaniards BUT King Louis XVI NEVER warred on his fellow Frenchmen; they were his people and his vow at Reims was before God;THAT vow His Majesty never broke.

xavier said...

Lara:
Agreed. That's the one telling virtue of Louis. I've always admired him. A decent man who was a skilled locksmith and would've been an outstanding constitutional monarch.

xavier

Matterhorn said...

As regards the real Marie-Thérèse, do you agree with this description, Elena Maria? The way you portrayed her in MADAME ROYALE seemed more sombre.

elena maria vidal said...

I think she did have her moments although here she is being seen as the daughter of Marie-Antoinette before anything else.

Matterhorn said...

Well, she was certainly M-A's daughter in terms of courage and strength of character! But I wonder if she took more after her father in manner ?