‘The hero with a thousand faces’: the literary legacy of Lord Cochrane
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The extraordinary naval career of Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, has generated a corpus of historical biography. However, as several of his biographers have noted, a succession of novelists have also been inspired to adapt his exploits into works of popular fiction. The works of Patrick O'Brian, C.S. Forester and Frederick Marryat all carry imprints of the Cochrane story, and his life was an influence on writers ranging from the Victorian boys' novelist G.A. Henty to the Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda. This article assesses the causes whereby Cochrane translated so readily into fictional adventure and epic poetry, considering the archetypes of sea fiction and historical adventure, the idiosyncrasies of Cochrane's personal story and the nature of his reputation as a frigate captain associated with success in independent commands. It argues that Cochrane's idiosyncratic and controversial character has meanwhile been as much a problem for authors of fiction as it has been for historians. Individual writers tended to disguise, alter or dispense with him as a character and instead allocated his outstanding deeds to more amenable imagined figures. Others exaggerated his traits for dramatic effect or took partisan positions on controversial aspects of his career.