The Mauritius Command
April 15, 2018 1:33 AM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

In the fourth book of the series, Captain Aubrey flees Ashgrove Cottage to Capetown, to hoist a pennant on the Boadicea. Made a temporary Commodore, three captains are his to manage and command: stalwart Pym of the Sirius, the flogging Captain Corbett of Néréide, and the dashing Captain Scroggs Lord Clonfert of the Otter. The mission: seize Mauritius and Réunion from the French to preserve the disgusting British Empire's flow of treasure. Meanwhile Doctor Maturin distributes subversive literature whilst enduring the barbed insights of Dr. McAdams and the cruel forks of Governor-designate Farquhar.

• The double dog leg channel and Île de la Passe show up nicely on Google maps.
• A map of Rodrigues from 1701 by a Huguenot castaway who ate many a solitaire.
• Jo Walton's 2010 reread. (Though tetsudo aubreii was the previous book.)
• More links in the Post Captain post.

Bonden Bulletin: Takes fifty lashes aboard Néréide, transfers to be Aubreys cox'n once again. Babysits Maturin on his many missions and boardings. Corrects Stephen's account ("'Poop,' muttered Bonden."). Takes part in boarding of the Wenus, saved Jack from getting bayonetted when he "caught the muzzle, wrenched the musket free, flogged three men flat with the butt and broke the line."

Pullings Tracker: Captain of the transport Groper (not to be confused with the Grappler). Winds up in the Emma when the Groper is broken to bits trying to shelter a troop landing. The first to wish Aubrey joy of his son, while bringing Admiral Bertie's orders too quickly.

Babbington's Doings: Not present.

Which It's Killick: Came with Bonden. Had sent a shark's backbone walking stick present for the twins girls. Also two pieces of coral for them to gnaw on. Remembers Ashgrove's pathetic cabbages in an ecstasy of nostalgia. Tongue described as a flannelly object of inordinate length. Unwillingly serves pot of rat shit coffee.

Maturin on: Babies
    ‘No, no. I am not doggedly, mechanically set against them, though I freely admit I find most babies superfluous, and unnecessary.’
    ‘Without there were babies, we should have no next generation.’
    ‘So much the better, when you consider the state to which we have reduced the world they must live in, the bloody-minded wolfish stock from which they spring, and the wicked, inhuman society that will form them. Yet I do admit of exceptions: the replication of such a creature as Sophie, and even I may say of yourself, can be seen as a good.’
posted by fleacircus (15 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's been a while since I read the earlier books in the series, but may I say, fleacircus, these posts are wonderful. Thank you for putting such effort and series-appropriate style into them.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:17 PM on April 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks! I want to keep doing the Bonden/Killick etc summaries. It helps me order the memories and I hope it jogs others' memories. "This is the book where [this shit] happens!" seems necessary when there's so many of them.

I was going to start listing ships and their fates, but this book has about thirty ships in it.

I remember when I read these books the first time, McAdam and Clonfert reminded me strongly of two friends (or 'friends') of my stupid early 20s. It all came back this time too, especially Clonfert. I feel like I knew exactly that person, especially from lines like, "Truth is what he can persuade others to believe," or treating conversation companions as audience; the habitual looking in a mirror when they were talking; the obvious lies and shit that didn't happen.. A surprisingly high-functioning person who is also so self-captivated and full of bullshit you can't believe it. Maybe that's a more common type other places though...

Pym and Corbett aren't nearly so well studied in this book. It's interesting though how all three of them fail. Pym is not daring enough. Corbett's crew don't learn how fight and frag him. Clonfert is sort of unlucky... maybe if the flag hadn't caught fire and blown up the tower on the Île de la Passe things would have gone brilliantly. O'Brian seems to place blame on Clonfert for lack of preparation. It appears IRL all the captains were "cleared and praised" in their courts-martial.
posted by fleacircus at 7:58 PM on April 15, 2018

what no why am i reading desolation island, who did the thing
posted by poffin boffin at 10:22 PM on April 15, 2018

This is one of the less satisfactory volumes in the series, because O’Brian sticks so closely to its historical template that he fails to make the naval plot dovetail with the psychological and personal plot. Jack is reduced to an onlooker for large parts of the novel—yes, a realistic portrayal of the historical situation of Commodore Josias Rowley, but not one that’s dramatically compelling.

However, this is a rare occasion on which O’Brian looks at the issue of corporal punishment. Jack’s opposition to flogging is, I suppose, a necessary concession to modern sensibilities, but to some extent it whitewashes the casual brutality of the institutions of the period. There’s nothing in the Aubrey–Maturin series that conveys the strain of being subject to arbitrary punishment in the manner of, say, Lieutenant Hornblower. But in this book there’s a glimpse:
… from the mute, weary sullenness of her crew and the anxious, jaded, harassed look of her officers, every man jack aboard had been hard at it, gilding the lily for this occasion. Jack liked a taut ship, and of course a clean ship, but the total perfection of the Néréide’s vast expanse of brass alone oppressed him
One of O’Brian’s distinctive techniques is to use animals to reflect and comment on the human characters. In Post Captain the characters of Diana and Sophie are introduced partly through the behaviour of their horses during the fox-hunt. Here in The Mauritius Command we have commentary on Jack and Sophie’s marriage displaced to their livestock:
“Well, the fact of the matter, Stephen,” said Jack, staring at the cow, “the fact of the matter is that she refuses the bull. He is game enough, oh Lord, yes; but she will have nothing to say to him. Then he flies into a hellfire passion, bellowing and tearing up the ground; and we go without milk.”
posted by cyanistes at 5:49 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

anyway remember when i said that i loved all the books equally? i lied. this is possibly my least favourite, and it's hard to put a finger on why. i think i should pin the blame on clonfert, whose sad, grasping nature always left me feeling vaguely soiled. the description of jack's pity for him as his tales grew more and more outlandish is satisfying but clonfert's every scene is unpleasant to read.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:51 AM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

He is all cringe.

I did like how Stephen decided, "This guy is all pathetic and fucked up about his background... maybe he is really Irish after all."
posted by fleacircus at 3:03 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I liked how Clonfert and his doctor were like a warped, pathetic mirror universe version of Jack and Stephen.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:52 PM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, there was a lot of Clonfert in this book; and it did feel very telegraphed that he would eventually meet a Tragic End.

Jack is visibly nervous about the responsibility of commanding as a commodore; of having to delegate command of each ship to captains with whom he does not necessarily agree -- and it does feel like O'Brian carefully presents a mixture of character types in the captains. There's a nice moment in which when leaving one of the ships he desperately wants to offer advice on some specific item of rigging and has to quash it because that's the captain's purview.

Which It's Killick: Unwillingly serves pot of rat shit coffee.

Which Jack and Stephen drink anyway; right down to the unpleasant dregs. Every now and then there's a reminder like this that although the officers dine very well compared to the men, they're still in an environment where spoilage is a fact of life. Another example (maybe from the previous book?) the bargeman swimming in the parson's soup; and Jack reflecting on the relative flavors of bargemen ("strangely cold") versus weevils.

It struck me somewhat in this book just how much of Killick's life revolves around the procurement and preparation of coffee: he is seemingly forever either serving up pots of coffee to Jack and Stephen, or when there isn't coffee, being sent around the squadron to scrounge up beans.

I liked how Clonfert and his doctor were like a warped, pathetic mirror universe version of Jack and Stephen.

This exchange:
Stephen was fairly sure that McAdam did not know he was a Catholic, but even so his irritation, increased by the heat, the din, the smell, and his present inability to smoke, rose to such a pitch that against all his principles he said, 'It is the pity of the world, Dr McAdam, to see a man of your parts obnubilate his mind with the juice of the grape.'
    McAdam instantly collected his faculties and replied, 'It is the pity of the world, Dr Maturin, to see a man of your parts obnubilate his mind with the juice of the poppy.'
I don't think we've seen much of Stephen's laudanum habit yet? but it will become more significant, and this is O'Brian moveing it more into the foreground. Stephen writes about this exchange in his journal, and is full of denial: "I detect no diminution of activity"; "I rarely take a thousand drops"; "I can refrain whenever I choose."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:55 AM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I apologize for the late bump, but with regards to this:

Jack’s opposition to flogging is, I suppose, a necessary concession to modern sensibilities, but to some extent it whitewashes the casual brutality of the institutions of the period.

Yes and no? In the back of my edition of this book there is a wonderful essay on corporal punishment, "passing for a gentleman" and the changing nature of society and the Navy in particular during this period that discusses Aubrey's attitude towards flogging and discipline as being slightly old-fashioned for the time, but not particularly rare. I have forgotten who wrote it, but it's a chapter from a collection of essays on social class in the Royal Navy, iirc. It goes into interesting depth, including particular case studies, into the nature of discipline and intimacy between classes in the Navy, and how the changing nature of class in England at that time affected the relationship between officers and crew. Fascinating stuff. Corbett turns out to have been a real man with a reputation for being one of the most horrifically cruel captains afloat, and he was not much respected by his peers.
posted by Fish Sauce at 12:59 PM on May 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Don't worry about bumping, there's no timeout to FanFare posts or anything. Please comment all you like!
posted by fleacircus at 2:40 PM on May 31, 2018

I have not really been reading these books in any particular order, alas, but I was just re-reading this one recently and was struck by the contrast between McAdam and Stephen. THere's a bit in the diary where Stephen suggests that McAdam and his psychology are the equivalent of using a pickaxe to repair a chronometer, drunkenly at that. I thought that was a wonderful metaphor. In truth, I really enjoy Stephen's occasional diary entries throughout the series, as they are full of his admittedly biting whit and analysis.
posted by Alensin at 10:11 AM on August 7, 2018

Oh yes McAdams is horrifying, the idea of those ignorant assholes using forceful measures on people to affect their minds ... I don't think I could take it if it was more prevalent. OTOH being chained to a table and having one's leg or arm sawn off is also a bit horrifying as well.
posted by fleacircus at 4:55 PM on August 7, 2018

After Clonfort’s death, Stephen references the frog and the ox.
posted by bq at 9:37 AM on October 24, 2018

Is this an anachronism, or are OB and Carroll both referencing something?

'There you are, Stephen,' he cried. 'How happy I am to see you. What have you there?'
'An unborn porcupine.'
'Well, there's glory for you.'

'. . . and that shows you that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents–'
'Certainly,' said Alice.
'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you.'

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, Ch. 6
posted by bq at 9:44 AM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

There was a listserv theory about Alice references in TMC that you have independently noticed! [zelda secret noise] I didn't think to check the old mailing lists posts until later in the series.
posted by fleacircus at 4:44 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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