Master and Commander
March 26, 2018 4:55 PM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

Jack Aubrey, R.N. (extreme jock prep) befriends Stephen Maturin, F.R.S. (extreme goth nerd) on the same day he is given his first command, an aging 14 gun sloop – the poor old heavy slow dirty-bottomed Sophie. Her orders: prowl the Mediterranean, and carry out the piratical affairs of the disgusting British Empire. No stern window escapes unappreciated in this first book of the twenty book series.

Side material:
posted by fleacircus (44 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ooh. Time to hit up the library. Looks like there's one on the shelf.

I liked this in the AV Club article:
I found myself pleased early on with how naturally they fell into lockstep; what initially struck me as a clumsy false start seems in retrospect the clever authorial deployment of an incident that lifelong friends or old married couples tell as the story of how they first got off on the wrong foot.
Yes! It's almost a rom-com meet-cute.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:57 PM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the other AV Club Book Club articles on M&C; their site is infuriating to navigate now:
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:03 PM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I do love their meeting. They hate each other and agree to duel the next day. They're both failures who ; they're both in bad places, they've both faced disappointment, failure, and the cold realization that their lives and careers are not going to be what they had hoped. They are both careening for self destruction.

But then Aubrey gets his command, and he's so happy about it, so carried up in this huge dose of life and hope that has come from out of nowhere that he completely forgets about the duel. He bumps into Maturin on the street..
As the door closed behind him Jack saw the man in the black coat on the other side of the road, near the coffee-house. The evening flooded back into his mind and he hurried across, calling out, ‘Mr – Mr Maturin. Why, there you are, sir. I owe you a thousand apologies, I am afraid. I must have been a sad bore to you last night, and I hope you will forgive me. We sailors hear so little music – are so little used to genteel company – that we grow carried away. I beg your pardon.’

‘My dear sir,’ cried the man in the black coat, with an odd flush rising in his dead-white face, ‘you had every reason to be carried away. I have never heard a better quartetto in my life – such unity, such fire. May I propose a cup of chocolate, or coffee? It would give me great pleasure.’
To Jack at the moment it's probably an 'odd flush' because he has no conception of his effect on people. To Stephen it's an instant and complete turnaround from, "Here comes that asshole I'm going to kill *brood* *self-loathe*," to, "I love my new sailor bro!!"
posted by fleacircus at 4:50 AM on March 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I often think about movie casting for whatever I'm reading. I hated the casting for Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. Russel Crowe was okay, but not inspired. Bettany was shit.

However, I've never been able to think of the perfect Jack Aubrey until I was typing that last comment. Now I realize that Channing Tatum is the one. This is objectively correct. (Also starring Elijah Wood as Stephen Maturin.)
posted by fleacircus at 5:13 AM on March 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I like this book a lot, although in hindsight I do wish--as I seem to remember reading that O'Brian later did too--that he had been able to start earlier in Aubrey's career. It would have given us more time to have on-the-front-line first-hand adventures and see more of Aubrey struggling upward.

But then, without him having his own command, he wouldn't have been able to invite his new and bestest bff to sail with him, so I'm not sure how Stephen would have come into things. Or maybe--and more likely to work--it would have been best if PO'B had spent more time with Jack as a scrappy Commander, instead of hoisting him to Post Captain in the very next book. But of course, he didn't know how long the series would go on.
posted by theatro at 6:21 AM on March 27, 2018


Thoughts on Stephen:

This book establishes Stephen's depressive nature from the get-go, even before we ever get addiction involved (which makes sense, I suppose, since he ends up using the laudanum to self-medicate).

For instance: Stephen Maturin was not afraid of any vulgar betrayal, nor was he afraid for his skin, because he did not value it

Or: when he's first on the quarterdeck with Jack, and they are walking up and down "as though they were alone", the Captain's aura and the crew's deference leaving Jack his space, privacy even in a crowd. And:

...it gave [Stephen] a not altogether disagreeable sensation of waking death: either the absorbed, attentive men on the other side of the glass wall were dead, mere phantasmata, or he was--though in that case it was a strange little death, for although he was used to this sense of isolation, of being a colourless shade in a silent private underworld, he now had a companion, an audible companion. (emphasis added)

Overall, it's clear that it was the luckiest day in Stephen's life that he ever met Jack. I'm not entirely sure how long Stephen would have stayed alive, really.

A friend of mine pointed out a nice pair of mirrored scenes to that effect: toward the beginning, Stephen wakes up from painful dreams alone in a ruined church above Mahon, and toward the end he falls asleep smiling with Jack by the restored tower above Gibraltar. And in the latter sequence, he and Jack even carry up ham in their pockets--but this time, it's not secret food snuck away by a starving man, but abundance carried by both friends so they can be comfortable all night.
posted by theatro at 6:33 AM on March 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I hated the casting for Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. Russel Crowe was okay, but not inspired. Bettany was shit.

Huh, interesting; I was quite the opposite, and thought it was perfectly cast. I liked that Bettany played Maturin as slightly weaselly: he really conveyed the feeling that although Stephen loves Jack, he's not always entirely honest with him.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:52 AM on March 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I tried for a while to get into the books and kept bouncing off of them, but after watching and loving the movie I finally broke through and fell into the series. I still can't quite casually pick them up - I have to decide that this is what I'm reading right now - but the books are a neverending stream of delight. This may be the one I've read the most.

(I think the movie was pretty well cast, too.)
posted by PussKillian at 12:09 PM on March 27, 2018


It might go without saying that this thread is relevant to my interests. As a matter of fact, it has been quite a while since I read the series, though I'm inspired now to dig into it again. I distinctly remember the opening scene, as it set the tone so well.

As for the film, I didn't mind it at the time, though rewatching it now might make me wince. I always did harbor the hope it would turn into an ongoing franchise like the Bond films; there are enough books for it, certainly.

Was the "dog watch" joke trotted out in this one?
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Was the "dog watch" joke trotted out in this one?

Not yet! I believe that's the next book.

And, I find the movie extremely rewatchable! Loved the casting, and the production design and the sound. I remember confidently predicting that it was going to win the Sound Editing Oscar, which it did. I did not foresee the Cinematography Oscar, but it was also well-deserved.

My only problem with the movie, in fact, is Billy Boyd as Bonden. I can (obviously!) work with physical differences between book and movie characters, but when it comes to Boyd's acting in this film, I just cannot quite get past it. His dialogue often sounds like it's in a whole different movie; he doesn't match the tone and approach of everyone else the way he should. Like, when he's ordered to turn sou-souwest, and he's all "AYE SIRRRR. SOU. SOU. WEST." in that heavy thudding fashion while making a face, I suppose to make sure we all get that this is a meaningful moment, I am all /o\ . None of the other actors were doing that kind of Overdone Signifying, and I think his slice of ham sits alone as the only ham in the picture. Not sure if he realized what movie he was in. Luckily, he's a minor character and I gladly overlook him for the many other pleasures the movie always offers me.
posted by theatro at 12:59 PM on March 27, 2018


Early example of Jack making a foreign-language malapropism: Stephen has just explained to him that Catalan is a different language to Spanish:
    ‘You astonish me. I had no notion of it. Another language, sir? But I dare say it is much the same thing — a putain, as they say in France?’
    ‘Oh no, nothing of the kind — not like that at all. A far finer language. More learned, more literary. Much nearer the Latin. And by the by, the word is patois, sir, if you will allow me.’
    ‘Patois — just so. Yet I swear the other is a word: I learnt it somewhere.’
"Putain" is vulgar French for "whore".
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:49 PM on March 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


For those of you who find 20 books (plus an unfinished book-chunk) daunting, I highly recommend the Blackstone Audio audiobooks, with Simon Vance. He makes a unique voice for each character (his Preserved Killick is fantastic), which makes the ensemble cast reasonably easy to follow.

It's also fun hearing how impenetrable nautical slang like foc's'le sounds like coming out of a human mouth.

also it's been a while since I've seen the movie, so I'll probably be back later with fresh reactions
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 3:50 PM on March 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you are a food nerd, might I recommend Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels co-authored by my late friend Lisa with her mother? Good stuff.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:50 PM on March 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


I read these once a year at least- they're my comfort go-to.

I also hated the movie casting for the main actors, though I though Preserved Killick was about right. I didn't hate Russell Crow but I did hate Paul Bettany. Maturin's character as decribed was one step up from Piotr from What We Do in the Shadows. Bettany was too tall and healthy looking- even good looking I'd go so far as to say.

As an aside, a British navy friend told me that a killick was a kind of small anchor, which is great- he did serve as an anchor and in one of the books they talk about how Killick counterbalanced Jack's moods- cheery when Jack was down, and glum when Jack was "in spirits."
posted by small_ruminant at 6:34 PM on March 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Despite my dislike of the movie's casting, I still own a copy of it. The soundscaping blew me away and the visuals were good. Despite having read the books a zillion times, watching 4 foot "splinters" of wood when a canon ball hit brought the idiocy of sea battles (in relatively small wooden boats!!) home in a way the books never managed.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:39 PM on March 27, 2018


toward the beginning, Stephen wakes up from painful dreams alone in a ruined church above Mahon

That scene really hammers home how desperate Stephen is at this point; much more than his confession to Jack that "I had not eaten so well for a great while". He's homeless, sleeping in a ruin; he's pocketed food from yesterday's dinner; and this is so, so bleak:
    He had been exceedingly attached; and she was so bound up with that time ...
    He had been quite unprepared for this particular blow, striking under every conceivable form of armour, and for some minutes he could hardly bear the pain, but sat there blinking in the sun.
    ‘Christ,’ he said at last. ‘Another day.’
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:11 PM on March 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I live in Montana, and most of my relatives are in Minnesota. So from time to time I'm driving through some very flat nothing land to go visit, and I've started checking out books on disc from the library. Especially helpful as there's stretches with literally no radio stations at all.

One recent book I "read" that way was Redshirts, which I really enjoyed but am a bit embarrassed that the most memorable part was hearing Wil Wheaton pronounce every single letter of things like "XXXXXXXX@XXXXXXXX.XXX".

And this last Christmas it was Master and Commander. I was very glad I already had some familiarity with tallship nautical jargon because otherwise that'd be a heck of a book to follow along with. All the times someone explained a bit of shipboard technique or tradition to Maturin certainly helped (the writer's intent I suppose). And I think it must have been the Simon Vance narration that The demon that lives in the air mentioned above because I remember being very impressed with the narrator's command of accents and dialects among the characters. Including his pronunciation of fo'c'sle which I'd always said like "folks'll" but then he was saying it more like "fox'll".

I will say the writing often painted the action so vividly in my mind's eye it was a good thing I was driving through very empty countryside.
posted by traveler_ at 8:47 PM on March 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


And this last Christmas it was Master and Commander. I was very glad I already had some familiarity with tallship nautical jargon because otherwise that'd be a heck of a book to follow along with.

You're not kidding. I remember reading these pre-internet, when you couldn't just look up a picture or layout of a ship. I had no idea what was going on. But they're so immersive, I didn't get all the way through but probably read 10 or 12. I may pick up the audiobooks, that sounds fun.

After these I was going to try the Sharpe books, but only read the first one.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:56 PM on March 27, 2018


He's a fantastic writer of action, and not just the physical smashy smashy stuff but the whole cat and mouse. O'Brian can make it exciting to have Aubrey looking at a smudge on the horizon that might be a sail and carry that excitement from there, all the way up to a boarder blasting Jack's ear off with a pistol.

I definitely forgot how dense these books are. They're not long, but it feels like so much happens. I started to do a summary for this post but I was halfway through the next book and already things like the encounter with the plague ship on high seas seemed like a distant dream.
posted by fleacircus at 5:09 AM on March 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Regarding audio books, Simon Vance is a great reader. Even so, I prefer Patrick Tull. YMMV.

One thing I love about the series is how funny some of the scenes are. Once the characters are familiar, O'Brian's deadpan humor really shines.

And every now and then at work I ask whoever's drawing on the whiteboard to pitch their explanation to the meanest understanding.
posted by kingless at 12:18 PM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


"And this, Sir, is where we live," said Mowett, advancing his lantern into the midshipmen's berth. "Pray, mind the beam. I must beg your indulgence for the smell: it is probably young Babbington here."
posted by small_ruminant at 12:41 PM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


theatro: "Like, when he's ordered to turn sou-souwest, and he's all "AYE SIRRRR. SOU. SOU. WEST." in that heavy thudding fashion while making a face, I suppose to make sure we all get that this is a meaningful moment, I am all /o\ . "

Oh god, me too. That's the only really bum note dialogue-wise in the whole thing. But boy is it a humdinger.

ActingTheGoat: "You're not kidding. I remember reading these pre-internet, when you couldn't just look up a picture or layout of a ship. I had no idea what was going on."

I have Wikipedia's Glossary of nautical terms bookmarked and handy on my phone for just such eventualities.

My dad has this whole series, which I ignored for years on trips up to the attic to look for something new to read. I thought they just looked like kind of fusty old history books.

After I saw the film, I bought the first one and devoured it, then borrowed the rest from my dad, one by one. They are wonderful books. My dad just retired recently and said one of the things he's really looking forward to is having the time to re-read them all at a reasonable clip. I noticed when I was reading them this way, one after the other, that they often go straight from one book into another with very little preamble and setup. It makes me think they'd make an amazing long-running TV series.

I think this first book works especially well if you revisit it after having read the whole series. There are so many little things, (especially Jack and Stephen's relationship) that grew into much larger themes later in the series.

For me though, it's the language. Although O'Brien is a little fond of some phraseology (I'm fairly sure he repeated the passage about sailing in fine conditions as being taken out of time and existing in a different state of endless blue sea and sky every other book), I've read very few other writers who so consistently create an incredible sense of place and time with such grace and style and economy of description.

Are we going to do all the books? oh please oh please oh please.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:49 PM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I remember reading these pre-internet, when you couldn't just look up a picture or layout of a ship. I had no idea what was going on.

I've only read M&C and it's not quite my thing but I got through the Super Nautical Bits by just mentally summarizing "They're doing stuff to... the sails... to try to... go faster..*flips ahead* but it didn't work"
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:52 PM on March 28, 2018 [5 favorites]


Contractually obligated to boast about the best thriftshop find/early self-birthday present ever.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:36 PM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I found these books sometime in 2001, I think, and just tore through them. I missed lots of the humor in trying to get myself through the plot as fast as possible, and missed other details by pulling all-nighters to get through them.

I had just moved to New England, where I knew almost nobody, for a low-paying job, but was scooping up the books in sequence as I progressed and as they appeared on the shelf of the nearest Barnes and Noble. As I went further down the rabbit hole, I visited the USS Constitution for the first time (I just about squealed later when Jack and Stephen were held hostage aboard it), and began trying to experiment on the weekends on whether or not I could function doing chores around my shabby little apartment on a Royal Navy rum ration (result: yes, but not well).

I think it was on one of those experimental days that I decided to try out the simplest recipe I could find in Lobscouse and Spotted Dog (shit water excepted), and thus came to make hardtack. It sucks as much as you'd think, but was fascinating to hand out to friends.

And it was probably a year or so later, spending a summer internship in DC, that I serendipitously found a used copy of Blue at the Mizzen just after I'd finished The Hundred Days--and was so excited that I was reading it as I walked down M street in Georgetown, stumbling on cobblestones, very narrowly avoiding walking straight into people, with a canal and a riverfront somewhere off to my right.

I don't know that I have a larger point to this rambling, other than that these books filled a spot in my life when I was very alone, and oddly enough, so few of my friends today have read these books that at least nudged my life and personal bearing in a particular direction. I'm just thrilled whenever I see an appreciation of them, so thanks for posting this.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:42 PM on March 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


Are we going to do all the books?

I mean to. I'll be posting as I read them. I really want to write bullet-point summaries of each book to include in each post; I think that will become more and more important as events pile up, though it goes against my nature as a lazy person. If I crap out then hopefully someone else can take over.

People should join the Aubrey-Maturin Fanfare club. I think that will help people get alerted of new posts.
posted by fleacircus at 5:34 AM on March 29, 2018


Oooh! There's a nice bit of business early in the series where Aubrey and Maturin are hunting on Aubrey's land. They're talking about something else entirely, and every so often they shoot at something. Aubrey keeps missing, but Maturin hits Every Single Time.

Birds on the wing. With a smoothbore flintlock.

"Oh yeah" I said to myself "He's a spy."
posted by Mogur at 5:51 AM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


It makes me think they'd make an amazing long-running TV series

I agree. I have a vague memory of reading an article to that effect, within the last few years... a TV writer, maybe for AV Club or similar? Anyway, they were arguing strongly in favor of this kind of thing, like on HBO &c. And hell, now that Black Sails is over, there are tech crews ready to be hired who are excellent at filming sea- and ship-centered drama, including chases and fights and storms and interiors and so forth.
posted by theatro at 6:20 AM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


A big part of this book is the character of James Dillon, and Stephen's relationship with/observations of him. I saw someone on the tor.com re-read linked above, who talked about how much they worried about Dillon, how fond and protective they were of him.

And I can see what they mean--but I admit, as for me, I find that Dillon frustrates and angers me. I can pity him, for his deadly secrets, and how he keeps trying to walk the tightrope of having the life/career he wants while he has this background and political persuasion that won't allow for it without him becoming a good and habitual liar.

But on the other hand, the book provides examples of other characters with their own secrets, who manage to take responsibility for keeping and managing those secrets, without turning their distress outward onto innocent people. Not so Dillon.

Stephen observes to himself that Dillon hates having to "play Iscariot", and "concentrates all this hatred upon poor JA, which is a remarkable instance of the human process; for, in fact, JD does not dislike JA at all--far from it." Dillon is constantly throwing his own shame and sense of dishonor over onto Jack and then acting like Jack is the problem, which is rank self-righteous hypocrisy. Without being spoilery, it does put me a little in mind of Lord Clonfert, from a later book--characters who use poor unaware Jack, who is doing his best and never harmed them, as a slate to project their own self-loathing upon one way or another.

But worse than Dillon trying to endure his self-hatred by instead hating/blaming/projecting dishonor upon Jack, is the way Dillon treats Marshall. Marshall is gay and everyone but Jack knows it; that's as big a secret as Dillon has. It could potentially ruin him or kill him. And yet Marshall doesn't resent everyone else for making him keep his secret and tiptoe among regulations; he doesn't take it out on other people. Instead he lets himself love Jack, and shows his love by excelling at his job in order to make his beloved's life and work easier.

I see Marshall in fact as a bit of a mirror-image to Dillon. Like, Jack has things Dillon wants (his courage, his rank, his ship, his honor), and Dillon complains to Stephen about him and resents him for it. Whereas Stephen has something that Marshall well might covet (Jack's close and intimate friendship, with Jack all demonstrative over him), yet Marshall doesn't blame or resent Stephen for it, and he and Stephen get along very well.

Marshall knows how to carry his secrets on his own shoulders. And it makes me madder at Dillon for purposely inflicting such fear onto Marshall to try to suppress his own secrets. Dillon actively blackmails him, in as hypocritical a move as I can imagine. Like, Dillon suffers terribly from his own secrets, and then makes sure to dominate/use/threaten his brother-in-secrecy in order to serve his own ends? Oh, so it's okay to punish other people for having secrets, just not for you yourself to be punished? And thus he inflicts on Marshall these lonely night watches full of dread that he'll be outed--and not just to the Captain of the ship, but worse, to JACK, whom Marshall loves, and before whom disgrace would be many times worse. Ugh. Dillon, go get bent.
posted by theatro at 6:50 AM on March 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


Yeah I think the portrayal of Dillon is sympathetic, but not redeeming. Dillon is the main illustration of the idea that people tear themselves apart through conflicting laws and loyalties. (Starring Tommy Wiseau as Lt. Dillon). Dillon can't withdraw and abstract like Stephen. He can't 'bear it' and renew himself like Jack. Dillon's kind of a horror show.

Marshall is gay and everyone but Jack knows it

Jack knows, he just wants everyone to firmly ignore it and is leading by example.
posted by fleacircus at 5:51 AM on March 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


I got through the Super Nautical Bits by just mentally summarizing "They're doing stuff to... the sails... to try to... go faster..*flips ahead* but it didn't work"

Which actually I think is a perfectly OK way to read it. O'Brian's meticulous research and accuracy means you can follow along on a diagram of the ship if you choose to; but it doesn't require it.

The naming of things give it a rich texture and a feeling of place and realism, but I find that I usally don't really need to know exactly what -- for example -- a futtock-shroud is; it's sufficient to know that it's part of the rigging. And so for the rest too: usually it's sufficient to know that this is part of one of the masts; that's a sail; this location is on-deck; that location is below-deck.

The early chapter in which Stephen is escorted to the maintop and given a verbal tour of the masts and rigging feels like serves both kinds of readers. Those that are into it can take it slow and delight in the "and this connects to that" topology of it all; those that aren't can skim it and still come away with at least a vague sense of what kind of thing a shroud is.

(And I think also O'Brian himself is aware that the terminology can become overwhelming. There's a moment early on in which Jack mentally enumerates the many different types of blocks that the ship carries. It's very much a Basil Exposition-ey wink to the reader that "hey, Jack needs to know all this stuff, and I need you to know that he knows all this stuff, but you don't need to know all this stuff, so I suggest you don't worry about it.")
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:08 PM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


We had a deal, Kyle:
He had been exceedingly attached; and she was so bound up with that time ...
He had been quite unprepared for this particular blow, striking under every conceivable form of armour, and for some minutes he could hardly bear the pain, but sat there blinking in the sun.
‘Christ,’ he said at last. ‘Another day.’
Such a perfect evocation of bone deep depression. Hits me every time I start these books anew. I think, as mentioned above, that you're meant to conclude that Stephen is pretty much finished at this point - had Aubrey not turned up serendipitously at just this moment he would have died alone on that island. Aubrey saves him & brings meaning back into his life by the force of his personality more than anything else - a great gift that Stephen spends the rest of the series returning in kind.
posted by pharm at 7:40 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've always loved the way O'Brian will happily spend pages carefully setting up a joke & then let the punchline pass almost without comment or ceremony. Skip read for plot & you'll miss the best parts - these books repay careful reading and attention to detail tenfold over, especially as the author is quite happy to drop entire extended travails that a lesser author might have sweated over on the metaphorical cutting room floor. The books themselves move on just as the ships they describe - leaving the past in their wake without a backwards glance.
posted by pharm at 7:46 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Another thing about M&C that I adore is that it's only book one, and already we have Jack Fretting Over Stephen, which remains one of my favorite repeated patterns throughout the series.

When Stephen is ashore on his mysterious errand, Jack is so worried! And not just acutely or in one scene, but chronically, the entire time he's gone. He has long intimate conversations with an imaginary-Stephen. He tells himself so casually that "I shall speak to him, when we pick him up. I shall speak in the most general way, of the comfort it is to a man to have a confidential friend aboard". (I MEAN I'LL BE ALL CASUAL ABOUT IT AND STUFF, I'LL JUST MENTION, YOU KNOW, HOW NICE IT IS FOR...SOMEONE...TO HAVE SOMEONE HE LIKES SO MUCH...) The crew says "Goldilocks is in a rare old taking about the Doctor."

And after this extended period of worry rising and rising, and his increasing awareness of just how much Stephen's safety matters to him, Stephen returns safely. Some characters would have then performed a punchline of sorts--now that the readers know he's been consumed with worry this whole time, the character might go, "Oh hey, you're back...yeah I wasn't worried *cough*", for a narrative joke.

But Jack being Jack, he is openly and obviously relieved and delighted, practically leaping on Stephen like a labrador. And this part I find perhaps the endearing-cherry atop the entire endearing spectacle:

"I am very well, I thank you," said Stephen, who indeed looked somewhat less cadaverous, flushed as he was with pleasure at the open friendliness of his welcome.

AWWWWWWW. ♥_____♥ Stephen doesn't pretend he isn't delighted too. This is a man who really needed a labrador.
posted by theatro at 1:27 PM on April 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


LISTEN OKAY i am sorry but barret bonden is a large affable lunkhead and should have been cast as a lesser hemsworth or similar, thank you and good day.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:18 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also let me mention Stephen's excellent reply to Dillon complaining that he (Dillon) rilly is not a rich man because the rents on all the land he owns "would only be a few hundred a year--barely a thousand". (Shades of these people in the NYT Style Section who feel they should be pitied because they have barely just a million dollars to their names boo hoo so sad.) And he's saying this to a man who not so long ago was sleeping on the ground and eating leftovers he cadged from a free meal!

Anyway, Stephen responds to that:

"My heart bleeds for you. I have never yet known a man admit that he was either rich or asleep: perhaps the poor man and the wakeful man have some great moral advantage."
posted by theatro at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Book 2: Post Captain.
posted by fleacircus at 8:35 PM on April 3, 2018


When Stephen is ashore on his mysterious errand, Jack is so worried! And not just acutely or in one scene, but chronically, the entire time he's gone.

He is! And his worries about Stephen keep interrupting his inner monologue.

Stephen's interlude on land is informally setting up his later secondary role as a spy; he gathers useful information and passes it to Jack. Although he sets a clear moral boundary in that conversation: that reporting on Spanish naval operations is okay, but reporting on Spanish merchant ships -- the juicy prizes that Jack so craves -- most decidedly isn't.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:46 PM on April 4, 2018


Good point, about that moral boundary... Stephen's intelligence work, when it's eventually spelled out, is shown to rise straight from a powerful single-minded hatred of Bonaparte and all his works, without any self-interest--e.g., not accepting pay from the Navy. So it makes sense that nor would he be inclined to feed any of Jack's self-interest either, as much as he cares for Jack's morale, advancement, finances, etc.
posted by theatro at 5:21 PM on April 4, 2018


i loved their initial meeting so intensely, and the later context (of stephen's rather dire straits, of jack's stalled career) only enhanced that.

both sides felt so familiar. i know SO WELL that feeling of "well things have been rather shit of late but at least i have this pleasant pastime to console me somewhat" and then this, this tremendous buffoon, this foolish boor, this unbearable dilettante who cannot even wave his idiot fist in time with the music has now become my ultimate Bitch Eating Crackers.

and equally well familiar is that feeling of "i am enjoying this simple pleasure with the whole of my being" and having that shat upon by some snarling little grouchy goblin bent upon inexplicably judging and ruining my happiness such that i am briefly lost in the momentary and thrilling vision of smashing a chair over their head.

and THEN they're both like, you know what? this is ridiculous. we're going to have a lovely lunch instead of murdering one another, so there.

ugh i love them so much
posted by poffin boffin at 1:31 PM on April 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


A few random observations:

How carefully Stephen states his position when they're making their and-if-you-care-to-duel introductions:
"My name is Aubrey, sir: I am staying at the Crown."
"Mine, sir, is Maturin. I am to be found any morning at Joselito's coffee-house."
...because of course Stephen isn't actually staying anywhere at that time.

The skull-fracture surgery on Mr. Day the gunner: we're not shown it directly (unlike the movie, which does, I think?) but rather we skip directly from Stephen planning to do it to it having already taken place. We hear it told and retold by various of the men, as if it were legend.

On humor: Dillon observes to Stephen that Jack "derives a greater pleasure from a smaller stream of wit than any man I have ever known." Stephen, when he does joke, does it deadpan: "all that clysters is not gold."

Jack's boorish and drunken behavior at Molly Harte's party is an early illustration of him being his own worst enemy on land. Molly tells Stephen to remove him not because he's ruining the party, but because he risks ruining his career.

The pacing falls apart a bit at the end. Most of the book is the Sophie's cruise and is fairly meandering, but then in the last hundred pages O'Brian crams in: the Sophie taking the Cacafuego; the consequences of Jack's cuckolding of Harte; the Sophie being taken by the Desaix; exchanged as prisoners; watching the battle from land; the court-martial; the abrupt end of the book. It's like he had more plot left than room to tell it; I think stopping at either the Cacafuego, with Jack riding high, or the Desaix, with Jack brought low, would have been a stronger ending.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:45 PM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's like he had more plot left than room to tell it; I think stopping at either the Cacafuego, with Jack riding high, or the Desaix, with Jack brought

This is my only quibble with the books - at times the scaffolding holding it all up is a little too evident.

On the other hand his evocation of the feeling of being on the water, for weeks, of coming to land and of meeting other boats are remarkable. Also, of course, the very human and relatable description of the characters. (Thanks fleacircus for putting this together!)
posted by From Bklyn at 1:44 AM on April 22, 2018


One more while I remember it: Jack's fanboy-ey "he spoke to me twice!" memories of Nelson, one of which is him asking Jack to pass the salt.

This and Jack's various other allusions to his badly-behaved earlier days -- turned before the mast, etc -- makes me wish a little bit that O'Brian had turned his attention, if only once, towards a prequel: Midshipman, maybe.

(Although it sounds like his earlier books The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore are kind of this in spirit, if not in name?)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:04 PM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


Finally finished the audiobook of this a few days ago. On re-listen, I have concluded that perhaps O'Brian doesn't dislike just women but everybody! He's just pretty harsh, at times. On the other hand, although I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like Jack Aubrey in RL, I like him a lot as a book character, which seems to mean that O'Brian must have a real affection for him.
posted by bq at 1:41 PM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


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