The Surgeon's Mate
May 6, 2018 12:11 PM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

In the seventh book of the series Aubrey, Maturin, and Diana Villiers flee Halifax a little too late aboard the private packet Diligence. Their enemies are well paid, well informed, and desperate to get their hands around Diana's neck and the titanic jewel thereupon. Stephen waves a raven penis in Paris and attempts to rescue a Godfather near Gdańsk, with help from the hermaphrodite Humbug. Jack faces the ruin of his heart, the shipwreck of his fortune, as well as literal shipwreck of the Ariel. The infinitely perilous lee-shore beckons, and the weather is all ahoo in the northern waters of the disgusting British Empire. Also featuring guest PC Jagiello, first level Bard.

    'There is no smoke without a fire. Besides, the glass is dropping yet; and even if it were not, a Friday is always a Friday.’
    ‘Maybe, maybe; but a good many of these omens are all cry and no wolf.’
    ‘Is it not wool, sir?’
    ‘Come, come, Mr Pellworm,’ said Jack, laughing aloud. ‘Who would cry wool too often? What would be the point of crying wool? There is no danger in wool, you know; indeed, London Bridge is founded on it, and you cannot say fairer than that, I believe. No, no: your omens keep threatening disaster – they did so before Grimsholm, and you see what happened: all cry with no wolf at the end of it. I have done with omens,’ he said, grasping a belaying-pin.
Link roundup: Aubrey Family Newsletter: Charlotte and Fanny no longer "turnip-faced sparse-haired stumpy little creatures" but long-legged and with ringlets. Charlotte the slightly taller leader. George a small fat boy. Still swearing like sailors. Voting for their bloody Tory grandfather over and over. Sophie has forgiven Diana. Sophie financial stress level: high. Sophie sex drive update: low. Regulator status: disabled by pregnant dormouse.

Bonden Bulletin: Hangs out at Ashgrove cottage a lot. Is bad with horses. Released from the promised Acasta when it is taken from Aubrey. Nevertheless, the Ariel mission arises too quickly for Killick or him to come aboard.

Babbington's Doings: Commanding the cartel Oedipus ("that family was not really quite the thing, you know. There were some very odd capers, and it ended unhappy."). Apparently was made commander in captured Sylphide and Jack has been boosting his career with letters. Crucial piece in the surgeon's mate.

Which It's Killick: Wife update: ‘Oh,’ said Jack, laughing, ‘she went off again with her first husband within a few days of our sailing – it appears they make quite a practice of it, going from market to market along the coast – and when Sophie’s mother searched her box she found all poor Killick’s property, as well as a couple of our silver plates. I should never have allowed the rummaging if I had been at home, but I am just as pleased now: I value those plates.’
‘Mark my words, sir, mark my words: it will come into the west yet, whatever Mr Grimmond may say; and when it does come, it will blow all the harder for the waiting.’ He moved three steps down the ladder and paused, his eyes just over the rail. ‘Sick Earth convulsive groans from shore to shore, And Nature shuddering feels the horrid roar,’ he said: his eyes took on a particularly knowing and significant look for a moment, and then vanished.
posted by fleacircus (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
"That family was not really quite the thing, you know. There were some very odd capers, and it ended unhappy."

In the 21st century-set remake, Stephen has a YouTube channel that's just him prodding Jack to review cinematic versions of classic tragedies. It's a hit, and they win some minor awards, but Jack doesn't understand why they're all in the Comedy category.

Thanks also for linking the Guide for the Perplexed; it's amazing to think how necessary that might have been in 1996.
posted by pykrete jungle at 5:40 PM on May 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's still useful now! Though I also direct linked to what would have been a nested frame :x

Looking at maps was not too useful this time. Grimsholm doesn't appear to be much of a real place at all, and looking at maps of the it was hard to really get a sense of the location of Ariel or where the Thatcher rock my might.

I was a little annoyed that Diana apparently had to swear on her honor that she didn't do anything to cause an abortion. I was hoping for the reading that accoucheur provided Stephen with a self-deniable way to let Diana do what she wanted to do and I will probably prefer to think that's what happened.
posted by fleacircus at 9:53 PM on May 6, 2018


-It felt odd to me that the first chunk of this book wasn't placed at the end of Fortune of War. After that book ended, I was expecting to pick up back in England again with this one. On reflection, I actually wonder if that was the original plan, and then O'Brian came up with the idea of Miss Smith and decided we needed to spend more time in America.

-The passage where we learn all about Stephen's godfather was so very over-the-top. With that be-caped drama queen in his life, no wonder Stephen wound up caught up in revolutionary politics.

-Jagiello was not at all the type of character I was expecting him to be. As these books go on, I'm noticing more attention being paid to taking one or two side characters per book and giving them a really thorough characterization hung on a few major traits (in this case "cheerful and oblivious lady magnet").
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:11 AM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


It felt odd to me that the first chunk of this book wasn't placed at the end of Fortune of War. After that book ended, I was expecting to pick up back in England again with this one.

Yeahhh. Like instead of a repeating structure of: _/^\ | _/^\ | _/^\

they turn into: \_/^ | \_/^ | \_/^ | \_/^

IIRC the Temeraire books got very much like that too. I don't mind it.

Obviously helps sell the next one. It's probably easier to write if the author doesn't intend on throwing the entire world away with each \. I actually like a dovetailing transitional \_/ where issues die down and emerge continuously. Serial TV with arcs like Wiseguy or 24 have entire episodes like that. Shows with overlapping disjoint arcs will like The Wire will have some characters going through \_/ situations at any given time.

In todays "prestige TV", I feel like it devolves into: _/^ | _/^ | _/^ | _/^ with the promise of \'s in the season finale, which is often bloated into two parts because of all the dangling \'s, or with some \'s pushed into random earlier episodes like... is that it? But of course, seasons themselves are serialized too, so they turn into big _/^'s as well, and now we have to wait for series finales for all the \'s. Then the series finale (LOST, BSG) is like that Sesame Street chef walking down stairs with ten chocolate layer cakes.

Fortunately (?) there isn't any seasonal structure in the Aubrey-Maturin book series. I guess it's more like a procedural show in that way. Wait, here's the correct casting for Aubrey and Maturin *runs away*.
posted by fleacircus at 3:07 PM on May 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


Wait, here's the correct casting for Aubrey and Maturin *runs away*

On that subject, I saw Master and Commander in the theater many years before I ever read the books, and I thought it was fantastic - and I remember particularly liking Maturin. I watched it again a couple of weeks ago because I wanted to be able to picture the ships more clearly, and now I can definitely see how 'wrong' the casting of Maturin is, but I have too much leftover good will toward the movie to really feel strongly about it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:39 PM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wait, here's the correct casting for Aubrey and Maturin *runs away*.

we shall beat to quarters
posted by poffin boffin at 5:18 PM on May 7, 2018 [5 favorites]


There are a couple descriptions of Jack and Stephen in this book.
He was handsome, that is to say, in the eyes of those who did not look for the bloom or the slenderness of youth, who admired a big broad-shouldered man with a high complexion, bright blue eyes and yellow hair, and who did not object to a face that had the mark of a cutlass-slash from one ear right across the cheek-bone and another scar, this one from a splinter, along the line of the jaw to the other ear.
--
‘Then how do you explain the fact that the description of the surgeon fits you exactly, even to the marks on your hands?’ asked the major, taking a paper from his file. ‘Five foot six, slight build, black hair, pale eyes, muddy complexion, three nails on the right hand torn out, both hands somewhat crippled: speaks perfect French with a southern accent.’
Plus that Stephen is wearing tinted glasses (that Diana hates); I don't think that detail has appeared before.
posted by fleacircus at 10:37 PM on May 7, 2018


yeah i guess i picture jack aubrey a big bluff and hearty amalgamation of all hemsworths aged up about 10-15 years. i think not-charlie-day scientist guy from pacific rim could be a credible stephen maybe?
posted by poffin boffin at 8:38 AM on May 8, 2018


He's right in every way but the piercing gaze. I sometimes think of Cillian Murphy for Stephen and Eva Green for Diane but they are kind of aging out. I feel like Diana and Stephen are a little easier to cast than Jack because "raven-haired stunner" and "ugly British guy" are in high supply. I bet Domhnall Gleeson would dye his hair and get the Stephen role no matter how many times he was kicked out of the building.
posted by fleacircus at 4:51 PM on May 8, 2018


thousands of miles away domhnall gleeson awakens with the inexplicable urge to don a woolen unitard
posted by poffin boffin at 8:53 AM on May 9, 2018 [7 favorites]


On that subject, I saw Master and Commander in the theater many years before I ever read the books, and I thought it was fantastic - and I remember particularly liking Maturin.

Well maybe maybe the chemistry is the most important thing anyway.

I hate Bettany the way many people hate Benedict Cumberbatch. (I also hate Benedict Cumberbatch that way.) It was probably A Knight's Tale it just set in and never went away. It's not rational. OTOH Heath Ledger might have been a good Aubrey.
posted by fleacircus at 2:17 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well maybe maybe the chemistry is the most important thing anyway.

Omg amazing

I have been wondering, actually: as frequently as homosexuality is brought up in these books, it's surprising to me that aside from one or two offhand comments by unimportant characters, no character seems to suspect Jack and Stephen of being More Than Particular Friends, despite the fact that they are absolutely attached at the hip and spend a ton of time all alone together.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:02 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Jack's famous and frequent hetero horndogging probably helps a lot, assuming bisexuality is no more visible then than it is now.

Stephen is less obviously sexual to the point of being blank. Sometimes I have wondered how much of Diana's presence in the book is so that O'Brian can assure the reader Maturin likes the ladies. I guess in this book, French intelligence agents at the Institut decide Stephen is a pederast.
posted by fleacircus at 5:54 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


They mention Stephen's hetero-ness early on. One of the intelligence committee says something about Maturin being "so chaste that at one time we were concerned but then he had a love affair with a young women which relieved our minds on that score. It ended badly, of course."
posted by small_ruminant at 12:40 PM on May 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I was a little annoyed that Diana apparently had to swear on her honor that she didn't do anything to cause an abortion. I was hoping for the reading that accoucheur provided Stephen with a self-deniable way to let Diana do what she wanted to do and I will probably prefer to think that's what happened.

Yeah, I don't think the text really admits such a reading; unless it's very subtle.

But yes: Stephen's morality does veer from "my whole function is to preserve life" when Diana mentions abortion at the start of the book to "just as well; there are far, far too many children as it is" when it seems likely that she'll miscarry. Very convenient for him.

Again O'Brian sets up a daring escape caper -- we'll break through the privy! we'll rappel down the wall! we'll find a safe-house -- and undercuts it with a more prosaic resolution.

Jagiello feels a little thinly drawn to me; he's mostly a comic-relief character, both through his unwitting sexual magnetism, and by being possibly even more inept aboard than Stephen is -- maybe a necessary invention, as clumsy though Stephen is, he's been at sea long enough that he should know his way around a boat by now. (And on that: Stephen falling off the jetty when he arrives at Grisholm felt like it was maybe a deliberate ploy on his part?)

It's interesting reading the early books how O'Brian gradually allows them to be less self-contained, to set plots in motion that will take several -- maybe many -- books to resolve. Jack's ongoing misadventures on land; the continued rise of Andrew Wray.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:10 PM on May 12, 2018


Yeah, as the series continues, you can see O’Brien gradually come to terms with the fact that he’ll be writing these books for the rest of his life.
posted by chrchr at 5:36 PM on May 12, 2018


fleacircus, your summaries are absolute works of art and I treasure them.

It's interesting reading the early books how O'Brian gradually allows them to be less self-contained, to set plots in motion that will take several -- maybe many -- books to resolve. Jack's ongoing misadventures on land; the continued rise of Andrew Wray.

And then he dies in the middle of 21, leaving so many threads hanging.
posted by Orlop at 7:30 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


thousands of miles away domhnall gleeson awakens with the inexplicable urge to don a woolen unitard


And run into the street crying out, "Jack! I am a urinator!"
posted by Orlop at 7:32 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


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