Lieutenant Harry Gaunt, a Guernseyman bred to the sea who speaks perfect French, clashes repeatedly with his nemesis, the odious Captain Giron. Gaunt also strives to win over the beautiful Irene and her disapproving father. There is plenty of action - some of it quite cleverly worked out - as Gaunt uses brains and determination to overcome several reverses. We are also treated to a fine description of the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. Irene's "Uncle Insects," a man of learning and a Candide-like naïf, provides some comic relief while serving as a kind of Greek chorus to keep us from viewing war as simply an opportunity for adventure and glory.
When I picked up The Commander of the Hirondelle, I thought I'd have to "re-tune" my reading ear for prosy Victorian writing. Instead, I found relatively straightforward language that is quite accessible to modern readers. There is a bit of the "aw shucks" piety of Edwardian boys' tales, but not enough to be annoying. Fitchett doesn't go in for a lot of technical seamanship, but he does a fine job of capturing the stirring sight of a single ship or a fleet under sail. No lover of Historic Naval Fiction should miss this gem. It is possible to read it online, but real cloth-and-paper copies (even first editions) can be had for a few dollars. This book would be an excellent candidate for one of those publishers who re-release works which have lapsed into the public domain.
Description of: The Commander of the Hirondelle
Author: William Henry Fitchett