I read this book about 7-Jan-2015. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1937. This note was last modified Friday, 09-Jan-2015 15:30:36 PST.
This is book 5 of the "Hornblower" series.
This note contains spoilers for the book.
Fifth by internal chronology, but I believe this was the first written.
Hornblower is a junior captain, and is sent out in the Lydia for a difficult assignment in Central America. Maria and the death of their children exist in his mind, so he apparently had things pretty well planned out even though he wrote them out of order. On the other hand, this is where he meets Barbara Wellesley (which is sort of a trick on us ignorant Americans—one of her brothers is going to be the Duke of Wellington shortly).
He starts by exactly following orders that would have been impossible for most Captains, and sailing to the gulf of Fonseca in Central America without making any prior landfall. This prevents him from learning that the situation has changed until after he has captured the 50-gun Natividad and turned her over to "El Supremo".
So then he has to recapture her, which is expensive, and would be a great feat, except the newspaper readers in England will of course know it was all pointless, and probably won't notice that it resulted from his strict adherance to his orders.
Hornblower is actually aware that he's attracted to Barbara. He was only marginally attracted to Maria, and kind of got himself into a position he couldn't withdraw from. But then he's still in a position he can't withdraw from; procuring a divorce would require an act of Parliament and cost 5000 pounds, a completely inconceivable amount of money for him. Plus the Wellsley family can destroy him with the twitch of a finger should they so wish.
And apparently his dark fantasies extend as far as rape and murder, briefly. That one bit doesn't ring quite right to me, but perhaps I'm insufficiently committed to Freudian views. Hornblower has been bothered by cruelty like that shown by El Supremo to "criminals" and the Spanish to El Supremo, and has never liked the corporal punishment in the Navy.
Looks like they're going to make it back to England by the end of the book (I'm not quite there yet). Huh, he and Barbara actually kiss, and talk some. And she's mad that she made an offer and he refused. Well, they got to St. Helena, and Barbara has moved into a company ship for the remainder of the voyage, and that seems to be that.
Bush is present as his first lieutenante, too; the basics of the series are clearly in place. Also Hornblower's tone-deafness. (The scene in O'Brian where Aubrey meets Maturin at a concert, they both being devoted to music, is among other things something of a declaration of independence from the Hornblower books, I think.)