The Wine-Dark Sea
August 8, 2018 10:58 AM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

This is the sixteenth book of the Aubrey-Maturin series. His Majesty's hired vessel Surprise is full of Shelmerstonian Sethians, sure, but also Traskites, Brownists, Arminians, Muggletonians, and Knipperdollings, some of whom might be sympathetic to the fully-manual subsistence-level presumably-heteronormative Pacific-island proto-Communism NOW dreams of the Franklin's Monsieur Turd Dutourd who is "neither flesh nor fowl nor good red herring but partook of each; the Sphinx," according to Jno. Aubrey, and by Dr. Maturin's lights, a good man led astray by the mumping villain Rousseau. The Surprise's five-book ongoing mission for the disgusting British Empire to stab her ally Spain in the back promote abolition and independence culminates in boat-, body-, and barky-wrecking trials of water, fire, air, ice, lightning, poison, earth – all the JRPG elements – plus the deadly accurate spit of anti-colonialist llamas, but you will never mind a face full of llama spit, my dear.

    ‘The gentleman was asking what you thought of democracy, sir,’ said Vidal, smiling.
    ‘Alas I cannot tell you, sir,’ said Stephen, returning the smile. ‘For although it would not be proper to call this barque or vessel a King’s ship except in the largest sense, we nevertheless adhere strictly to the naval tradition which forbids the discussion of religion, women, or politics in our mess. It has been objected that this rule makes for insipidity, which may be so; yet on the other hand it has its uses, since in this case for example it prevents any member from wounding any other gentleman present by saying that he did not think the policy that put Socrates to death and that left Athens prostrate was the highest expression of human wisdom, or by quoting Aristotle’s definition of democracy as mob-rule, the depraved version of a commonwealth.’
    ‘Can you suggest a better system?’ asked Dutourd.
    ‘Sir,’ said Stephen, ‘my words were those of some hypothetical person: where my own views are concerned, tradition seals my mouth. As I have told you, we do not discuss politics at this table.’
    ‘Quite right too,’ called out the merchant on Adams’ left. ‘If there is one thing I hate more than topics it is politics. Damn all talk of Whigs, Tories and Radicals, say I: and damn all topics too, like the state of the poor and slavery and reform. Let us talk about the enclosing of commons, annuities and South Sea stock, like this gentleman here, and how to make two groats where only one grew before, ha, ha!’ He clapped Martin on the shoulder and repeated ‘Two groats where only one grew before.’
• Jo Walton's Tor dot com reread post. This book is one of her favorites. I think she swaps Chile and Peru though. (I link these for plot summaries btw not to pick nits, just noting my confusion.)
• There's a lot of Aubreyisms in this one.
• Gunroom mailing list chatter 1 2.
Maturin's medicine link again. Corrosive sublimate = mercury chloride.
• For other links see previous posts.

Disorganized Notes:
- Dumb-chalders are back and this time it's personal.
- From a post on the gunroom mailing list, yeah! there's a theme here of last minute ruin/salvation: the delicious guanaco throwing itself off a cliff, the near-abandonments of Stephen and Jack on boats, the prizes by Cape Horn then the peril of the two (unnamed) American ships of war and the iceberg and the lightning and Dundas's rescue, the near-success of the Peruvian plot itself. Lots of near things no matter how hard one tries. It's as one's fate hangs from a dumb-chalder. Rudders are lies.
- Franklin's captain tries the ol' lights-on-a-raft trick but Aubrey is so havingnoneofthatshit that it's not even worth narrating.
- Mr. Reade is fourteen.
- Mr. West's former "mild, good-humored, rather stupid face" has acquired malignity through noselessness "strengthed by a number of sombre reflections, recently acquired."
- West gets volcano-smacked and dies, and maybe Stephen put off the surgery too long, maybe not. He wonders; Martin backs him up. The wish becomes father to the thought: that just because a wish has become father to a thought, that doesn't prove the thought is false.
- West was kind of an nob topping-it-the type anyway.

- THE FALL OF REVEREND NATHANIEL MARTIN
- Martin wrecks himself so bad with guilt and mercury Stephen's like WELP BYE. Exit stage who-gives-a-shit.
- HOWEVER, Stephen is ironically incredibly strung out yearning for coca leaves through all this, and IMHO is imagining offenses from Martin, projecting disagreeableness onto him. Like, Martin takes a reasonable stand against "persistent indulgence" of drugs and Stephen is like, OMG the unforgivable insult that asshole Martin has just dealt me, poor Nathaniel Martin what sickness has burned in his mind to change him into a completely different person who is not the man I knew. Ah yes changing identity, a thing to ponder after Martin's ugly outburst. "Self-hatred usually seems more likely to generate hatred of others (or at least surliness and a sense of grievance) than mansuetude," Stephen writes to Diana, definitely talking about Martin.
- But Martin losing interest in birds and nature and becoming interested in adulting is some heart breaking YA end of majick stuff. ("velveteen rabbi": About 26,500 results.)
- Dutourd's attempts to increase access to Jack first go through Martin, but fail because Jack doesn't like Martin and his distance from Stephen is increasing. Probably would have failed anyway because they're never going to like Dutourd, but Martin does get used a bit.

- Jack notices Stephen moving, for the first time, like an old man, but somehow does not immediately tell Stephen he's an old crippled piece of shit who should get a cane.
- Knipperdollings are not true Knipperdollings but old Levellers, now social justice sailors.
- To be honest I completely lost track of where the Alastor, Franklin, and Surprise are and who's captaining which.
- Always reflections on superstition. Jinxing is the universal religion.
- Jack Aubrey weighs seventeen stone, acknowledges sixteen of them. Stephen has nine. They share sixes of toasted cheese in that proportion (4-2).
- Stephen has some memories of the French Revolution studying medicine in Paris, "when every disinterested, generous idea of freedom seemed on the point of realization, the dawn of an infinitely finer age." (What a book that would be...) Jack meanwhile is like, "Hooray for war." After this moment they have a good music session, overheard by Martin and Dutourd in a little scene of manners that's very good. Good use of the skylight in this book, see also midshipman smashing through it.
- Amalthea the goat.
- More of Jack's reflections on how "passing for officer" has also grown to mean "passing for gentleman" which is a bunch of mega classist bullshit that's probably bad for the RN.
- Retrospective passion about slavery.
- Spiteful decapod, being dissected arms held apart; Sarah and Emily not to say Monsieur Turd, or arse. Emily betrays: "She is always saying Monsieur Turd." Counting suckers. Pieces go straight to the cook.
- weevil-frass
- coin collector shoutouts maybe, w/ Dutourd's money.
- Nasty bloody battle for pirate-ish Alastor. Awkward Davies foams at the mouth. Aubrey gets pistoled point-blank, blasting his hat off, scalp wound from bullet and wadding in eye. Piked on the upper thigh. Rescue some slaves and "a few wretched little scented and rouged young boys", all put to work throwing bodies overboard.
- Slave trade was abolished in 1807 but Stephen can't remember when that was from within the time anomaly.
- Bonden takes a great cutlass slash, his ribs and breastbone exposed to public view.
- William Grimshaw makes shitty coffee.
- M. Audubon spurned new surgeon's assistant Fabien's watercolors.
- Slavery added to the already sufficient amount of Boney's evil, or perhaps sorted to the top. Proof of an evil system.
- The Inquisition though 🤔 Of a Marrano/ex-Jew: "one alleged dislike of pork – one seven-branched candlestick found in his house – no matter who put it there – and the familiars come for him." And Dutourd is denounced.
- Gregory's Liquid, Harris' Guaranteed Unguent, Carey's Warranted Arrowroot.
- whoreson pinchfart
- Jack enjoying imagining Stephen asking him to explain nautical terms like 'dish'.
- Joe Plaice is in his late 50s and a master casting net fisherman.
- Sam's dinner with prating Jack.
- In Stephen's ride up into the Peruvian highlands, the weird encounter passing a man on the road in a cloak, his horse having thrown a shoe, but taking the horse far enough off the road that no one will talk to him. Really effective at arousing worry/suspicion for the whole trip, but it's pretty safe.
- Eduardo maybe sounding Stephen for support of native uprising. Stephen sees this as doomed madness.
- Some Whiggish civilian decided days start at midnight but not in the RN by God.
- Vidal gets the boot for helping Dutourd escape.
- Bulkeley the facetious bosun (who flogged the shit out of his mate in the previous book) is put off the ship for too much cappabarre, including the ships (anachronistic) Snow Harris lightning conductor.
- Fun little ice mountain sea battle.
- Philip doing well on Dundas' Brerenice.
- Apparently Clarissa Oakes is already a widow now. Cheers!
    ‘Never despond, dear Stephen: remember that Bligh sailed four thousand miles in an open boat, with not a thousandth part of our stores. You will never despond, Stephen,’ said Jack with a very slight emphasis. ‘And I am sure you will never find any of the seamen do so, either.’
    ‘No,’ said Stephen, stifling his recollections of the terrible following seas during the frequent storms in these latitudes, the perpetual danger of being pooped, of broaching to, and of being lost with all hands in a turmoil of foam. ‘No. I shall not despond.’
    ‘And Stephen, may I beg you not to be facetious when speaking of the barky? The people are surprisingly susceptible, if you know what I mean, about her appearance. And if ever you intend to be complimentary, you might well be advised just to throw up your hands and cry “Oh”, or “Superb”, or “I have never seen anything better”, without being particular.
* * *

‘THE DOCTOR HAS been choked off for being a satyr,’ said Killick to Grimble.
    ‘What’s a satyr?’
    ‘What an ignorant cove you are to be sure, Art Grimble: just ignorant, is all. A satyr is a party that talks sarcastic. Choked off something cruel, he was; and his duff taken away and eaten before his eyes.’
posted by fleacircus (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
HIS DUFF TAKEN AWAY AND EATEN BEFORE HIS EYES a phrase that has permanently embedded itself into my speech in various and more modern forms, but also in deed, as i have twice in life most satisfyingly snatched someone's dessert away to cruelly devour it in front of them as a moral judgment upon their badness.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:34 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


also where is the llama who DIES for stephen in the snowstorm, this is llama erasure
posted by poffin boffin at 11:35 AM on August 8


Bumped by whoreson pinchfart.

Or, the llama died for Eduardo; probably it was trying to die spitting on Stephen.

No I should have mentioned it. Also I should have mentioned Stephen loses some toes as well, but not the crucial bit toe and pinky toe. Stephen addresses that to Reade at dinner, I think acknowledging that Reade's loss is much greater of course.

The donkey Stephen rode up to the monastery on deserved mention as well.
posted by fleacircus at 11:58 AM on August 8


As usual I'm a book behind, but:

Jack notices Stephen moving, for the first time, like an old man

Not quite the first time. He notes midway through Clarissa Oakes that Stephen has started groaning and sighing when he lies down to sleep. I can't remember if this is an inner thought or part of his ongoing letter home; I don't have the book to hand here. But it did feel like a "huh, Stephen's getting older" moment that mirrored his own surprise at being shown his grey hairs at the start of the book.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:55 PM on August 8


I read the whole post and I still don't know what it's about.
posted by runcibleshaw at 1:24 PM on August 8


I thought everyone else had zoomed ahead. Yeah Jack's gold-y locks going gray is a big thing. Maybe you can stay being the perfect just-right happy median captain for years but you can't stay the perfect age for years.

I read the whole post and I still don't know what it's about.

Birds mostly.
posted by fleacircus at 1:37 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


(just popping in to say I have never read these books but these synopsis are so compelling and amusing that I kinda want to now. kudos to fleacircus for making me inadvertently snort with laughter whilst reading them)
posted by Kitteh at 5:03 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Give 'em a shot!

The books are not as silly as my posts, but there's lots of dry humor and absurdity in them, salted with cynicism and realism. Also the action is good. And it teaches stuff about ships. Most of all they are not stodgy patriotic romantic militaristic stuff, which is what I usually expect whenever I see a tall ship on a book cover.

I guess because the books are epic journeys and road movies, they are full of random things and events and little episodes, so a summary can be just a silly list.
posted by fleacircus at 7:31 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


The Surprise's five-book ongoing mission for the disgusting British Empire to stab her ally Spain in the back promote abolition and independence culminates in boat-, body-, and barky-wrecking trials of water, fire, air, ice, lightning, poison, earth – all the JRPG elements – plus the deadly accurate spit of anti-colonialist llamas, but you will never mind a face full of llama spit, my dear.

This sentence is a masterpiece.

I blew through all the books in less than two months and so I now forget what happened where, so I've been commenting less, but I really enjoyed them all the way through.

BTW, while I was reading these and gushing about them to people, I discovered that 1. practically nobody has ever heard of "the Aubrey/Maturin books" but 2. practically everybody has a vague memory of the movie Master and Commander. In fact, I was describing the books to someone and they said "oh that sounds fun, sort of like that Russel Crowe movie," with no idea the movie was based on anything. So I just started saying I was reading "the Master and Commander books" and it was much less confusing.

In this one (I think it was this one), I got a bit lost in the weeds re: the political plot and just started glossing over it. At the end of the day I'm just here for the Nautical Odd Couple shenanigans.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:24 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


:D Yeah I had to slow down a bit there but even at one book a week I don't think I was keeping up with you or poffin boffin. I will probably finish the rest at one a week. I don't think I will post 21. I don't know if it's worth reading.

This book sort of skims through the politics too. Besides the snowy peril and dead llama, nothing quite happens, and Stephen is kind of just going forward blindly and doing a lot of ruminating. Someone in the mailing list who has seen O'Brians notes claims the notes for this one were very disorganized and hinted that there was some pressure from the publisher to just get it finished already.

I think Stephen just wants to get home. He does have have a dream about Diana in this one, Diana being at court wearing a shift and the distracted judge making a noose out of ship's rope (Stephen thinks of the rope in nautical terms IIRC), and she's looking to him and he can't do anything for her.
posted by fleacircus at 12:19 PM on August 9


fleacircus, I don't comment on these much but I can't tell you how much I adore your write ups. They're wonderful.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:09 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


hmph i was done with the series when we were on book 10 and finished the entire sharpe series by bernard cornwell in between football matches last month, why isn't everyone else here a retired layabout
posted by poffin boffin at 4:14 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Stephen [...] IMHO is imagining offenses from Martin, projecting disagreeableness onto him

I'm about halfway through and yeah, a lot of this; Stephen grumbling in his letters about how Martin's changed since he became wealthy. Dude.

There's kind of a general atmosphere of antipathy throughout the first half: Stephen and Martin becoming distant, Jack still doesn't like Martin, Dutourd doggedly plugging away at promulgating socialism although Jack and Stephen and half the crew clearly don't like him. Even Jack and Stephen get a bit snippy with each other at times. You get the feeling that it's only a combination of naval discipline and strongly-observed social customs that hold the crew together; that without them they're rats crammed into a box.

Speaking of which: Stephen can be a real asshole sometimes:
‘The gentleman was asking what you thought of democracy, sir,’ said Vidal, smiling. ‘Alas I cannot tell you, sir,’ said Stephen, returning the smile. ‘For although it would not be proper to call this barque or vessel a King’s ship except in the largest sense, we nevertheless adhere strictly to the naval tradition which forbids the discussion of religion, women, or politics in our mess. It has been objected that this rule makes for insipidity, which may be so; yet on the other hand it has its uses, since in this case for example it prevents any member from wounding any other gentleman present by saying that he did not think the policy that put Socrates to death and that left Athens prostrate was the highest expression of human wisdom, or by quoting Aristotle’s definition of democracy as mob-rule, the depraved version of a commonwealth.’

‘Can you suggest a better system?’ asked Dutourd. ‘Sir,’ said Stephen, ‘my words were those of some hypothetical person: where my own views are concerned, tradition seals my mouth. As I have told you, we do not discuss politics at this table.’
Martin wrecks himself so bad with guilt and mercury Stephen's like WELP BYE.

And OH FOR GOD'S SAKE MARTIN. He's been a surgeon's assistant to seamen for years, he's been reading all the texts they carry, but he's still all "I heard you can catch it from a toilet seat isthatrite?"

In retrospect too there's a lot of foreshadowing of the salt sores: much grumbing about the lack of fresh water for laundry; Stephen naming a salt-stiffened shirt a cilice; an aside to Stephen (from Vidal, I think?) that salty undergarments are "awful hard on the parts."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:18 PM on August 20


This book sort of skims through the politics too. Besides the snowy peril and dead llama, nothing quite happens

I just read through Stephen's journey through the Andes and yeah: the politics plot feels like wheel-spinning to get Stephen and Jack into various exciting situations.

I think this has been true for a couple of books now: ever since we entered the "oops, I'm running out of Napoleonic War to set stories in" time-bubble. Stephen's actions here can't have significant political consequences because O'Brian presumably wanted to keep the end-of-war timeline reasonably historically accurate. And so they're either minor inventions without much consequence -- Moahu! -- or both Stephen and the French are stymied to maintain the status quo.

I do feel also that O'Brian is at this point maybe feeling some pressure to constantly one-up himself on providing spectacle? This one has both a volcanic eruption and an avalanche; Jack and his boat-crew almost perish at sea; and more excitement yet to come at the end of the book. The succession of perils is a little exhausting; it makes me appreciate the languid doldrums in previous books more.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:51 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


Bonden takes a great cutlass slash, his ribs and breastbone exposed to public view.

And is bound up in a tight multi-layered sailcloth corset by his helpful shipmates.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:52 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


Yes so well-meaning, the sailors!

I liked when, a few books ago now, a horse got loose from a carriage and the sailors appear to have lashed it to the shaft nice and secure.
posted by fleacircus at 8:11 PM on August 21


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