The Ionian Mission
May 14, 2018 8:19 PM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

In the eighth book of the series, Captain Aubrey's prospects are limited to the Worcester, seventy-four, the wall-sided mouldy rotten old floating coffin pride of the British shipyards. She is ordered to join the blockade at Toulon, back in the Mediterranean where Jack and Stephen first met. Blockade work is hell – Sisyphean tacks – and despite Handel and Hamlet, Aubrey's spirits sink as low as London Bach's old man can take them, for Maturin is often away. (Maturin himself is overmatched by Professor Graham, the unnatural philosopher, who will have none of Stephens' triced gumbril puddings, by and/or large, and will not use a coaster on Diana's gleaming object). Furthermore Jack is under the eyes of his old nemesis, Admiral Harte who will end Jack's career for good and all if Jack bungles the Mediterranean machinations of the disgusting British Empire. All told there are too many rhinoceroses, parsons, Lesbians, Beys, and double-bottomed defecators for Jack's comfort. Spouse-breach is in the air, while on the water lurks the Torgud, firing thirty-six pound marble balls from the monstrous Portuguese cannons in her waist.

    ‘My dear, I am sorry that my face should look at all like an informer’s,’ said Stephen. ‘But tell me now, how can I best confound Professor Graham?’
    ‘Why, as to that,’ said Jack, blowing on his coffee-cup and staring out of the stern-window at the harbour, ‘as to that . . . if you do not choose to call him a pragmatical clinchpoop and kick his breech, which you might think ungenteel, perhaps you could tell him to judge the pudding by its fruit.’
    ‘You mean, prove the tree by its eating.’
    ‘No, no, Stephen, you are quite out: eating a tree would prove nothing. And then you might ask him, had he ever seen many poltroons in the Navy?’
    ‘I am not quite sure what you mean by poltroons.’
    ‘You might describe them as something that cannot be attempted to be tolerated in the Navy – like wombats,’ he added, with a sudden recollection of the creatures Stephen had brought aboard an earlier command. ‘Mean-spirited worthless wretches: cowards, to put it in a word.’
    ‘You are unjust to wombats, Jack; and you were unjust to my three-toed sloth – such illiberal reflections. But leaving wombats to one side, and confining ourselves to your poltroons, Graham might reply that he had seen a good many bullies in the Navy; and for him, perhaps, the two are much the same.’
• Jo Walton's Tor dot com reread.
William Falconer's Universal Dictionary of the Marine pub. 1780., with illustration plates.
Harbors and High Seas, an atlas and geographical companion, though many of the ports in this novel are fictional.
• For more links see the bullet points in the previous post.

There's a relative lot of Pullings, Bonden, etc. in this book, and a few more old names and faces like Davis and Joseph Plaice from Post Captain. I knew I should have started a complete list of every named character...

Sophie Newsletter: Furious that Jack will not have the Blackwater and a North American station. Stays with Jack aboard the Worcester awhile. The quartermaster holds George over the leeward rail to do his business. Mrs. Williams quite taken with Jagiello as "the handsomest man she'd ever beheld, and so beautifully rich."

The Style Section: Diana is the most happy and handsome Stephen has known her to be, living and entertaining in a modern house on Half Moon Street while Stephen stays at the Grapes. She owns a billiards table and plays it well, delighting in the losing hazard. Not happy with Stephen's secrecy, but growing used to the quartering of badgers and dissection of whole orphans when in season. Independently concludes that Andrew Wray is a scrub. Hangs out with Jagiello a lot. Has a pregnancy scare (in Stephen's mind, at least). Doesn't want a second, Catholic, wedding.

Bonden Bulletin: brings the very late Maturin to the Worcester, is a capital smallcraft sailor, babysits Mr. Willet in Port Mahon as Jack looks for Stephen (and finds Mercedes), remember's Stephen's rain cloak for his spying; rescues Stephen after his "swim"; does not recognize Ezekiel Edwards aboard the Torgud behind all them whiskers, remarks "Marble balls my arse," has the last words.

Pullings' Progress: his dreams of "Tom Pullings a commander at last!" die over the course of this book; he anticipates Stephen's watch will take a ducking and require sweet oil, surprises Stephen with truffles (and Mowett's welcoming poem), interviews a trifler, wears himself ragged on the Worcester's skeleton crew, disappointed by Jack's misjudging of the Jemmapes, helps deal with reckless impudent Lt. Somers, revealed to have been turned away by Captain Rowlands for saying bálcony instead of balcóny, is called The Maiden by the Kutaliotes for his mild face and gentle manners, comes to know a certain Annie a mere young person Tom has very small cups of coffee with only sometimes, trips on a ring bolt and falls in melée causing Jack to go HAM.

Babbington Bugle: captains the slab-sided Dutch tub Dryad, is revealed to have an indiscriminate ardor both for the fair those the men of the Royal Navy do not consider "fair" including angular maidens of forty and Admiral Harte's daughter Fanny (who is to be wed to Jack's other nemesis, Alexander Wray); conspires to have as many women aboard as possible despite the disapproving telescopic eye of Jack Aubrey.

Which It's Killick: "a coarse, plain, ugly seaman, still quite unpolished in spite of his years of office, but a very old shipmate and therefore entitled to be familiar in an empty wardroom," revealed to have magic ability to clean his face early in the morning, not a fan of Jack and Stephen's tweedly-deedly tweedly-deedly, causes Jack to reflect on moral superiority, his triumphant fifth egg is tossed privately down the quarter-gallery scuttle, whines angrily at Jack dipping his sleeve in foreign mess, is unhappy to be back aboard the cramped Surprise with her acres of fucking brass and no light to sew by.
Now when the fiddle sang at all it sang alone: but since Stephen’s departure he had rarely been in a mood for music and in any case the partita that he was now engaged upon, one of the manuscript works that he had bought in London, grew more and more strange the deeper he went into it. The opening movements were full of technical difficulties and he doubted he would ever be able to do them anything like justice, but it was the great chaconne which followed that really disturbed him. On the face of it the statements made in the beginning were clear enough: their closely-argued variations, though complex, could certainly be followed with full acceptation, and they were not particularly hard to play; yet at one point, after a curiously insistent repetition of the second theme, the rhythm changed and with it the whole logic of the discourse. There was something dangerous about what followed, something not unlike the edge of madness or at least of a nightmare; and although Jack recognized that the whole sonata and particularly the chaconne was a most impressive composition he felt that if he were to go on playing it with all his heart it might lead him to very strange regions indeed.
posted by fleacircus (4 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tag yourself I'm pragmatical clinchpoop.
posted by fleacircus at 8:30 PM on May 14

this book features my favourite description of any person in any scene in all the series: "How I wish you had seen Bonden's face, just like a maiden aunt made to hold a lighted squib"
posted by poffin boffin at 10:05 PM on May 14

This book has a lot of great moments. It was hard to stop stuffing things into the post. I didn't even get around to the firework gunpowder or the mumps castration scare.

Or how the Handel singers are right in the middle of the chorus at the same moment the French finally come out of Toulon, and the bosun and his mate who have fucking loathed Handel all this time apparently get to set about them shouting and starting them.
posted by fleacircus at 12:05 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

fleacircus, your summaries are a joy to read. Thank you.
posted by idb at 12:48 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]

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