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The Happy Return

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The Happy Return is a nautical novel by C.S. Forester set in 1809. It is the first book Forester wrote about Horatio Hornblower, a fictional officer in the Royal Navy. It is not first in the chronology of Hornblower's career, but follows Hornblower and the Atropos, another book in which he and his ship are given a diplomatically sensitive mission. In this book, he meets Lady Barbara Wellesley, who will become the great love of his life.

To the area of operations

Most of the novel takes place in the Pacific, off the coast of Central and South America, in 1809. Hornblower has been sent on a secret mission to aid a rich landowner to rise up against the Spanish forces in Central America. When he is sent on the mission Spain is allied to Napoleonic France, Britain's enemy. But, unknown to him, during his long voyage around Cape Horn, Spain has switched sides.

By the time Hornblower learns that Spain is now an ally he has already captured the only large Spanish ship on West coast of America, and handed it over to the rich landowner. So he has to capture her, or sink her, a second time.

Hornblower finds that his contact, the rich landowner, has gone mad, is a dangerous megalomaniac. Nevertheless he fulfills his orders, and launches a surprise attack on the large Spanish vessel that patrols the region.

Only after he has captured the large Spanish vessel, and handed it over to his mad ally, does he encounter a smaller Spanish vessel that has been sent on the urgent mission to carry a message to him. Spain has switched sides, and he has new orders. He is not to aid the rich landowner.

What to do with a well-armed madman?

Enter Lady Barbara

His career continues

With the tension established with Lady Barbara, the backstory begins to be established for the next book, Ship of the Line, in which he will return to operating within a fleet — with his squadron commander being the man he considers her unworthy new husband. The Royal Navy continues to recognize his ability there, promoting him to a larger and more powerful ship.