Friday, February 08, 2008

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

My husband handed me Mr. Midshipman Hornblower to read last week. I would never have picked it up on my own, and after 27 years of being married, he still regrets my resistance to reading The Boat who Wouldn't Float by Farley Mowat.

But Hornblower is great. This is, chronologically, the first book of the series, and in this one he's 18 years old, green, seasick, nervous and unsure inside but always aware of the need to act like a leader on the outside. Anyone who's ever been in a position of leadership will recognize the signs.
And it's funny. My favorite chapter has Hornblower manning a ship filled with cattle and grain for 3 weeks, while he and his small crew are quarantined from the rest of the fleet because they were exposed to the plague by the motley crew that sold them the foodstuff. They sail about on their own, keeping an eye out for the Spanish fleet and trailing a cloud of odorous air behind them. And getting the cattle from the barge onto the boat is a great scene of mayhem and silliness: "And the emptier the lighter (the barge the cattle are being transported from land to boat on) became, the more room the cattle had to rush about it; to capture each one so as to put a bellyband on it was a desperate adventure. Nor were those half-wild bullocks soothed by the sight of their companions being successively hauled bellowing into the air over their heads."

And there are women in this sea adventure, though admittedly only two: one a seasick maid and the other a second- tier character actress making her way by posing as an English duchess, although with Cockney accent that surprises Hornblower.

In knitting, I continue to go forward, then a bit back, and then ahead again on the Juliet sweater. I've cast off for the sleeves and now need to decide whether to do a few short rows on the back. The sample in the shop was riding up in the back, and I'm thinking that a few extra garter stitch rows might even that out.

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