Aubrey/Maturin Novels

Right after seeing Master and Commander for the third time, I started reading the Patrick O’Brian’s twenty-book series. I began checking them out from the library as they became available, but this forced me to begin toward the ending of the series (The Nutmeg of Consolation). The reading was a little tough, not for all nautical terms, but because the narrative lurches in fits and starts. A great deal of attention is given to a small detail of conversation and then a huge plot point is wrapped up in an off-hand sentence. Only coming from the movie to the books, made it possible to empathize with the characters at this stage of the series to get through the plot.

One of the great things O’Brian has done is to create two strong main characters. Jack Aubrey is the man of action, a sensing type who lives in the moment, feeling both joy and pain deeply, but not dwelling in it. Stephen Maturin is the intuitive, intellectual observer, sometimes brooding, other times almost coldly unfeeling. Opposites attract; but because they are both very good at what they do, respect holds their relationship together. Seeing the same events through both their eyes brings history into three-dimensional reality. The movie did not do justice to their relationship. The movie focused on Jack and Stephen comes off as a self-interested malcontent. In the books, however, the reader spends more time in Stephen’s head, since as the non-naval person he is the one constantly questioning naval jargon and customs.

I dreaded finishing up the series, because long before I read the last six books I’d come to love hanging out with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. It doesn’t matter much what they’re doing, it’s just fun to tag along. As it turned out, though, knowing the ending made starting at the beginning that much more enjoyable, because the context lent poignancy to meetings and conversations that you know will figure later, even though the characters themselves are unaware.

  • Master and Commander. Jack receives command of the Sophie and invites Stephen to be its surgeon. Dillon is torn between loyalties. Jack faces court-martial.
  • Post Captain.
  • H.M.S. Surprise.(I like this one particularly.) Jack’s debt stalls his marriage to Sophie. They ship Lively. Stephen is rescued from his tortures. To India. Dil. Duel, wound, and self-surgery. Sophie attained; Diana lost.
  • The Mauritius Command. Stephen saves Jack from maddening domesticity. The Boadicia to the Cape. Jack becomes Commodore of a squadron lead by Pym, Corbett, and Lord Clonfert. Reunited with Bonden and Killick. A successful attack.
  • Desolation Island.
  • The Surgeon’s Mate. Escape from the Americans. Conception and misconception. Captured by the French. Imprisoned with the gorgeous Swede, Jagiello. A ransom paid. Vows taken.
  • The Ionian Mission.
  • Treason’s Harbor.
  • The Far Side of the World.This is my least favorite book and I often wonder why they chose to make the movie from it.
  • The Reverse of the Medal. Jack meets Sam. A court martial. A fruitless chase at sea. Home again. From rigging the stock market to the stocks. Stephen buys the Surprise.
  • The Letter of Marque. The Surprise sails as a privateer. Fortunes are reversed. Padeen falls under the spell. Cutting out at St. Martin’s. Jack becomes a Member. Stephen returns the Blue Peter. Everyone lives happily ever after…for now
  • The Thirteen Gun Salute.
  • The Nutmeg of Consolation. Shipwrecked.
  • The Truelove./Clarissa
  • The Wine Dark Sea. A volcano erupts; an island is formed. Snowbound and frostbitten.
  • The Commodore. Stopping the slave trade.
  • The Yellow Admiral. Home again.
  • The Hundred Days. An unexpected death. Gilbraltor. Another unexpected death.
  • Blue at the Mizzen. Back to South America. Raising a flag.

Master and Commander

“The identity I am thinking of is something that hovers between a man and the rest of the world: a mid-point between his view of himself and theirs of him — for each, of course, affects the other continually. A recipricol fluxion, sir. There is nothing absolute about this identity of mine.” — Master and Commander. p. 249

“He would very much have liked to ask Stephen Maturin the reasons for this failure; he would very much have liked to talk to him on indifferent subjects and to have played a little music; but he knew that an invitation to the captain’s cabin was very like an order, if only because the refusing of it was so extraordinary — that had been borne in upon him very strongly the other morning, when he had been so amazed by Dillon’s refusal. Where there was no equality there was no companionship: when a man was obliged to say ‘Yes, sir,’ his agreement was of no worth even if it happened to be true. He had known these things all his service life; they were perfectly evident; buth he had never thought they would apply so fully, and to him.” — Master and Commander. p. 257

“‘There are times,’ said James quietly, ‘when I understand your partiality for your friend. He derives a greater pleasure from a smaller stream of wit than any man I have ever known’.” — Master and Commander. p. 297

“But it seems to me that emotion and its expression are almost the same thing…(if) she cannot express her emotions fully…will she feel them fully? She will feel them to be sure, since we have suppressed only the grossest manifestations; but will she feel them fully?” — Master and Commander. p. 380

H.M.S. Surprise

“But he cannot read or write, and that is why I ply my grammar, in the hope of fixing the colloquial: do you not find that a spoken language wafts in and out of your mind, leaving little trace unless you anchor it with print?” H.M.S. Surprise. p. 126

“‘Will you tell me what you were musing upon, now?’ said Stephen. ‘It must have been rarely pleasant.’
‘I was thinking about marriage,’ said Jack, ‘and the garden that goes with it.’
‘Must you have a garden when you are married?’ cried Stephen. ‘I was not aware.’
‘Certainly,’ said Jack. ‘I had provided myself with a prize, and my cabbages were already springing up in rank and file. I don’t know how I shall bear to cut the first.”– H.M.S. Surprise. p. 246

“‘You look wholly pale yourself, sir’ said Bonden. ‘Will you take a dram?’
‘You will have to change your coat, your honour,’ said Killick. ‘And your breeches, too.’
‘Christ, Bonden,’ said Jack, ‘he opened himself slowly, with his own hands, right to the heart. I saw it beating there.’
‘Ah, sir, there’s surgery for you,’ said Bonden, passing the glass. ‘It would not surprise any old Sophie, however; such a learned article. You remember the gunner, sir? Never let it put you off you dinner. He will be as right as a trivet, never you fret sir.'” — H.M.S. Surprise. p. 354

The Maurtius Command

“After a while Stephen said, ‘So if you were ordered to sea, brother, I collect you would not rage and curse, as being snatched away from domestic felicity–the felicity, I mean, of a parent guiding daughters’ first interesting steps?’
‘I should kiss the messenger,’ said Jack.” — The Mauritius Command. p. 32

The Commodore

“‘Calligraphy,’ said Plato, ‘is the physical manifestation of an architecture of the soul.’ That being so, mine must be a turf-and-wattle kind of soul, since my handwriting would be disowned by a backward cat; whereas yours, particularly on your charts, has a most elegant flow and clarity, the outward form of a soul that might have conceived the Parthenon.” — Stephen to Jack. The Commodore. p. 161

Blue at the Mizzen

“The sea, if it teaches nothing else, does at least compel a submission to the inevitable which resembles patience.” — Blue at the Mizzen. p. 178

One Response to “Aubrey/Maturin Novels”

  1. Irish Responds:

    I have now read seven of the books and really like them. I am researching how the cannons fired, how the rigging was set up, naval tactics in the age of sail. I find this totally fascinating. Since I am reading the books back to back Aubrey and Maturin are now part of my daily life. I found the movie to be much more understandable after I had read more. Of course I have the Cd’s with the music of the books. I am now looking for a framable map of the voyages of Aubry from first to last.

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