Clarissa Oakes (aka The Truelove)
July 31, 2018 11:09 PM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

In the fifteenth book of the Aubrey-Maturin series, the Surprise ships no wives, except for when she does, and Mrs. Clarissa Oakes (née Harlow Harvill) has all the Surprises' flesh a-creep, and they're horny on mains'l. The Surprise, leaving far astern the disgusting British Empire's continent-defiling penal colony (the southern one) is obliged to extend the Empire's tendrils just a little bit more into Polynesia, where awaits her most shocking humiliation yet. Beetles will be boxed, wads will be cheese, peasecods will be gathered, and as the Surprises have reaped, so shall they sow.

Jack smiled – he was very deeply attached to his friend – but after a couple of bars he said ‘Why Stephen should be so pleased with a baby I cannot tell. He was born to be a bachelor – no notion of domestic comforts, family life – quite unsuited for marriage, above all for marriage with Diana, a dashing brilliant creature to be sure, a fine horse-woman and a capital hand at billiards and whist, but given to high play and something of a rake – quite often shows her wine – in any case quite improper for Stephen – has nothing to say to books – much more concerned with breeding horses. Yet between them they have produced this baby; and a girl at that.’ The wake stretched away, as true as a taut line now, and after a while he said ‘He longed for a daughter, I know, and it is very well that he should have one; but I wish she may not prove a platypus to him.’
• Jo Walton's tor dot com reread.
• A 1993 NYT article published between this book that profiles PO'B a little bit, if one feels the need to go lifting rocks.
• Randomly learned about HMS Diamond Rock which I'm surprised I never heard of it in these books or elsewhere.

Unorganized Notes:
- Jack's hair is not grey, it is a very becoming buttercup-yellow.
- Martin, offered a choice of plums, gets them all.
- There's "particular" friends, then there's "casual mid-conversation enema" friends.
- Phillips and Owen competing in their sea-tales is hilarious.
- You'll never convince me that Pullings didn't kick the rat on Clarissa on purpose.
- Stephen thinks the two ugliest vegetables are the Norfolk pine and the monkey puzzle tree.
- "Jack Nastyface" is apparently the name for the office of assistant cook.
- Martin starts to show disregard towards Stephen and Stephen, in a very roundabout way via deconstructing a joking quote of Hobbes at Jack, is like, "I now understand the urge to fucking murder someone over a trifle."
- Martin seeing Clarissa in boy's clothes makes him understand pederasts. Martin, no.
- Jack's kids getting lessons in Latin, horsemanship, history, geography, French, dancing, drawing, and deportment.
- wtf is up with Diana.
- Jack sees naval wives as sacred -- except when they hint otherwise.
- Similarly Stephen pointing out to Clarissa that all of Jack's wounds are courageously on his front, except for those that are on his back.
- Stephen and Jack have exchanges like, "Jack, you're fat." "Fuck Catholics, oops did I say that."
- Martin has a little cat: a "stupid, persecuting animal".
- Sarah and Emily cheer for Guy Fawkes.
- Dark cloaks and spycraft belowdecks yes.
- General kind of continued English racism where tall/pale/fine is aristo/cultured/good and swarthy/short/hairy is barbaric/brutish/bad. PO'B feels compelled to tell us how brown the native nobility is. "No darker than an Italian," lol.
- Moahu is fake but Annamooka is real but that's not really it.
- In the last two books owls are theorized to be universal. Martin mocks Stephen's theory.
- Awkward Davies horrific visage peering in on the swordfish dinner.
- Plaice did no wrong in the shame.
- Bonden's beak broken by boxing, and Davies gets slammed.
- Pullings trying to communicate with Jack:
    ‘Well sir…some of the officers are sweet on Mrs Oakes.’
    ‘I dare say they are – a very amiable young woman.’
    ‘No, sir. I mean serious – bloody serious – cut-your-throat serious – fucking serious…’
    ‘Oh.’ Jack Aubrey was taken aback entirely. ‘But you surely do not mean that last word literally?’
    ‘No, sir. It is just my coarse way of speaking: I beg pardon. But so serious that if she were there at the table day after day…’
    After a silence Jack said, ‘The husband is always the last to know, they say. I am talking of myself, as being married to the barky, you understand. The sods.’
This confused me at first because there IS fucking going on, but I guess Jack thinks for a second Pullings means the officers are fucking each other and "The sods" is the punchline. (Don't think Pullings is being circumspect.)
- Jack's vicious burn by telling Reade he must take care, "we do not have so very many seamen aboard."
- Sequence where Stephen writes his letters is very good dream-like focus.
- William Hoskins, armourer's mate in Polychrest. "They cut capers over us something cruel, and spoke sarcastic."
- Boats' crew casually scragging the French coxswain.
- Clarissa, to flying squid: "Fly off, sir."
- Bone through nose, ear in soup.
- I don't think Clarissa literally threw a baby down a well? But I guess some people do. I don't remember what future books might say.

Clarissa explains: Children
'I was talking about children that have not been properly house-trained. Left to their own impulses and indulged by doting or careless parents almost all children are yahoos. Loud, selfish, cruel, unaffectionate, jealous, perpetually striving for attention, empty-headed, for ever prating or if words fail them simply bawling, their voices grown huge from daily practice: the very worst company in the world. But what I dislike even more than the natural child is the affected child, the hulking oaf of seven or eight that skips heavily about with her hands dangling in front of her – a little squirrel or a little bunny-rabbit – and prattling away in a baby’s voice. All the children I saw in New South Wales were yahoos.’
Reverend Martin's Adventures:
'While we were taking a short cut over a tumble of black rocks, Dr Falconer fell, twisted his ankle and broke his spy-glass. We could not go on, neither could we go back until the extreme pain had diminished, so we sat there on the rocks in the sun, talking about volcanoes; for this formation, it seems, was of recent igneous origin. Presently we decided to eat and above all to drink; but it was found that although we had collecting-bags, nets and specimen-cases in plenty, the knapsack and the bottles had been left behind. He desired me to go to some palms right down by the shore and bring back some coconuts; and when at last I came back empty-handed in spite of my most earnest endeavours to climb even the most oblique of the little grove, he was surprisingly impatient.’
posted by fleacircus (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Every time I think this will be a short post, and then when I go through the highlights all the little things come flooding back and it's hard to leave things out, like the drama with the butcher and the pigs and Sarah and Emily. Or Killick being totty from his swink.

There is not really much to say about Davidge or the noseless West since they are seen so second-hand. Davidge basically kills himself. We get to see more of a shift of Martin's character. Some of it is due to Clarissa, but some of it is due to his security and independence.

I skimmed some of the old gunroom mailing list and I think some people just hate Diana so much that they want to believe Clarissa is like a Better Diana. But Stephen is meeting Clarissa in weird circumstances. Ultimately even he seems to want to possess her too by doing way too much for her; the endless letters and loans he gives her seem like too much.
posted by fleacircus at 11:33 PM on July 31, 2018

Hm, I definitely did read that as Clarissa had killed a kid she was supposed to be governess-ing in Australia but I assumed she was exaggerating the incident from neglect to outright murder? Idk what in particular prompted me to make this fairly specific assumption though; maybe it was in retrospect considering how well she handles Bridget in the later books.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:42 AM on August 1, 2018

I read it as an absurd example. I was really surprised when people on the gunroom mailing list thought she meant she literally threw a baby down a well and was confessing it to Stephen and Stephen was like, "No problem", which doesn't seem likely to me. I really don't remember anything from later books to triangulate with at all though.
posted by fleacircus at 10:35 AM on August 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

horny on mains'l


My local library doesn't have this one on the shelf; putting a hold in.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:17 AM on August 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

This book tends to get a bad rap from readers, but it's one of my favorites of the series for the way that it focuses on the way that Jack's status as Captain, which gives him nearly unlimited power over the crew, also serves to keep him in the dark to the point that he's the last one on board to know just about everything that happens.
posted by Zonker at 12:33 PM on August 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes and he also comes to a new appreciation for Stephen as he's reminded of the isolation of command. He probably had forgotten it a bit on a more democratic privateer ship.

It's pretty satisfying when he goes into angry mode.
posted by fleacircus at 7:25 PM on August 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

casual mid-conversation enema

In which Stephen speaks "from this position of great moral authority".

He also comes to a new appreciation for Stephen as he's reminded of the isolation of command. He probably had forgotten it a bit on a more democratic privateer ship.

Stephen also notes that the Surprise, as a ship hired by the Navy, is in kind of a weird in-between-ey place, discipline-wise; not a privateer any more, but not yet -- in the eyes of the crew, at least -- a full Navy vessel. He has to rather delicately explain that if Jack puts Oakes and Clarissa off the ship, the crew will probably mutiny.

It took me a while to realize that the very public business of sending Bonden off to see if they can make a landing was about Jack managing that, in a "well, I tried, but I guess they'll just have to stay for now" way. And Martin almost gives the ruse away before realizing what's going on -- "he could take a hint as well as the next man" and scuttling off to one of the tops to watch birds and keep his mouth shut.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:50 AM on August 6, 2018

I think my favorite Martin line from the book is when the Annamooka IIRC people came aboard with some dead birds that made Martin "stiffen like a setter".
posted by fleacircus at 5:26 PM on August 6, 2018

I'm not a fic writer but I was having fun imagining something like a reboot of Next Generation, but adapted from Aubrey-Maturin. Just trying to think of M&C as a TV show, it seemed like it would expand to fill a whole season, but Clarissa Oakes definitely feels like a two-parter.

(And yeah TOS is the more obvious target but TNG seemed like more fun to smash up, because I was thinking about how A-M's shifting around missions and ships, and having characters come and go, or never be cared about much, is so unlike the fixity of Star Trek, or so many other fandom bait shows where it's always about getting that family of ~6 characters together and smooshing them against each other for eternity).

The intervention on Moahu is practically a Star Trek situation already. The conflict is isolated and easily grasped with idealized geography. (We're a long way from the narrative inconvenience of The Mauritius Command.) There's a desire not to interfere, which crumbles very quickly, because hey it's to cancel out the OTHER guys who are interfering more. The good side is more clearly good, though Aubrey does not manage to kill any gods or dismantle their entire society.
posted by fleacircus at 4:46 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Its continuing mission, indeed.

Reade as Wesley. Guinan as Sir Joseph Blaine. Q as Wray.

Killick as Barclay.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:14 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Riker is Pullings + Babbington
posted by fleacircus at 4:56 PM on August 7, 2018

Martin certainly does whine quite often about how he thinks Jack doesn't like him; and Jack certainly does have to say often enough that he likes Martin well enough, but...

They're all three of them carefully tiptoeing around the truth: Jack only has room in his heart for one special doctoring-and-botanizin' buddy and Martin, pal, it ain't you.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:45 PM on August 8, 2018

Incidentally, P.O'B's use of "Jack Nastyface" might well be a nod towards this contemporary account of Navy life.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:49 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think Jack is fairly up front about how he feels nervous and reserved around parsons, and so he can never really like one personally. The question is how much would Jack like a non-parson Martin? Who still couldn't play a viola very well...

With Jack I think Martin would have to share some sin or indulgence. If Martin loved the fuck out of riding and horses and hunting I think there could be some love triangle action.
posted by fleacircus at 12:29 PM on August 9, 2018

I started the series just over a month ago, and by cracking on like smoke and oakum I'm excited to say that I've nearly caught up with these threads. Finished this one last night and started The Wine Dark Sea on the train this morning.

I find Clarissa perhaps the most fascinating character in the series (barring Aubrey and Maturin themselves). Despite being the focus of an entire book, everything we know about her is fragmentary and gnomic; suggestive rather than dispositive, and always through the eyes of one unreliable narrator or another.

We know she's capable of awful violence, but her specific acts are always hidden by a veil of uncertainty. Did she drown a baby in NSW? Did she throw Martin's cat overboard? Who was it she killed to get herself transported? Was it her husband who beat her, and what were the circumstances?

She's simultaneously sexualized and desexualized. The object of the lust of most of the gunroom, but the only physically intimate scenes we see with her are Maturin's entirely professional medical examinations, or her own accounts of how sex leaves her completely untouched by emotion or desire.

As with so much in these books, we're never directly shown the crux of the action, but usually when O'Brien cuts away from some central piece of action, he has his characters discuss it afterwards, or shows its unmistakable effects (a prize captured, a French agents' body disposed of, etc.) Here, no one wants to talk about what Clarissa gets up to out of the public eye, least of all Clarissa herself. And the effects of her actions are stark, but still leave the exact nature of those actions nebulous. (It's appropriate that when she finally unburdens herself, it's to Maturin, who has spent so much of his own life in the shadows). Maybe I'll learn more about her character in later books, but she's such an interesting cipher here, both for the other characters and the reader to project their expectations onto.
posted by firechicago at 7:42 AM on August 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

some people just hate Diana so much that they want to believe Clarissa is like a Better Diana

I'm not saying Clarissa is a Better Diana, only that Diana is so awful that yes, an affable, well-mannered sociopath is a far more appealing character.

Hate Diana sooo much
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:11 PM on December 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like Stephen and Clarissa get as much of each other as they want, I think. There is probably too much understanding between them to do something as silly as get married.
posted by fleacircus at 11:10 PM on December 10, 2018

Clarissa’s such an interesting character and POB has developed a lot as a writer over the course of this series. Her unburdening to Stephen is staged so well — we even get Jack observing earlier how Stephen tends to listen, to allow his interlocutor all the time in the world, so when she speaks for a page or three it feels perfectly natural.

Love the pigs, love the midshipgirls, enjoyed the reasonably fairly drawn Hawaiians.

I almost missed Jack’s hookup, it happens in a single short paragraph. It’s left carefully ambiguous whether it was Puolani, the queen... just imagining Sam visiting Ashford Downs, hanging out with the fam, and in walks some Hawaiian half-brother...
posted by sixswitch at 12:02 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

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