The Yellow Admiral
September 27, 2018 11:58 PM - by Patrick O'Brian - Subscribe

This is the eighteenth book in the Aubrey-Maturin series. Jack Aubrey still has the seventy-four Bellona, but no cruise, merely a station blockading Brest; Jack's got a jobbing captain Jenkins, is opening his mouth in Parliament, and is resisting enclosure – that universal good! – to make an enemy of his superior, Admiral Lord Stanraer; Jack's Preventative prize money is entangled, and heartbroken Mrs. Williams has destroyed his marriage with proof of Jack's Haligonian dalliance from book six. Peace looms for the disgusting British Empire, and Jack faces a career endgame of empty rank without command or respect: neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring: an admiral of an imaginary yellow squadron, the kind of person Lord and Lady Keith would not acknowledge on the street. Meanwhile, Stephen fires the elegant fowling piece of the world; Bonden's ten-year tail is caught in the mill; quicksilver, hog's lard, and mutton suet make blue ointment; Mrs. Williams is buying chintz and swearing affidavits; the Chileans want to give it a go; Killick is called honest; Sir Joseph Blaine is a coca-gnawer too; a bear makes an arrest; and Diana conspires to get Sophie's groove back for the first time.

      ‘Perhaps I should have put on my apron,’ said Stephen, dabbing at the blood with his napkin. ‘But there is no possibility whatsoever of finding a new coat until my sea-chest is unpacked.’
      In the natural course of events Killick heard all this, and before Stephen had fully answered Jack’s enquiries after Evan Lloyd, cook’s mate, whose foot had been crushed by the bear – a conversation very much at cross-purposes until at last it became apparent that Stephen had never yet gathered that a bear, at sea, was only a holystone writ large – Preserved Killick was standing there with a prim expression on his face and a respectable blue uniform coat (virtually unworn) over his arm. ‘Which it was almost on top,’ he said. ‘And you will have to get out of those there old breeches. The Bellona don’t want no more of them there London cries. Monmouth Street cries, for shame.’
      Stephen hung his head, keeping himself in countenance to some slight degree by pouring coffee. Not long before this, when the Bellona’s yawl had been taking him ashore in Bantry Bay, dressed it must be admitted in a way that did neither himself nor the service much credit, one of the Royal Oak’s cutters, with a ribald crew commanded by a drunken midshipman, called out ‘What ho, Bellona! Any old clo’? Any old rags, bottles, bones, rabbit skins?’ in the manner of the London street traders; and to the infinite grief of the ship the cry had become popular in West Cork.
Jo Walton's reread. She likes the ending and indeed it's great.
• Some mailing list chatter 1, 2. Release time has caught up to internet time, so now there are posts like "OMG WHEN IS THE YELLOW ADMIRAL COMING OUT". Mailing lists were/are bad. Previously there was talk of "impending rot" but this book is great? One listnerd says that O'Brian's notes included the idea that Art Grimble, Killick's mate, might secretly be a woman, however that person might be a lying asshole.
Aubreyisms. There's a lot of them.
• Jack says "Not a fit night out for man or beast, as the Centaur observed". IDGI.

Half-baked notes:
- Unusual beginning with Sir Joseph Blaine's as main character.
- Stephen isn't sure Padeen really wants to retire to a farm and a wife in County Clare which could be true. Stephen knows two men who have committed suicide on their wedding day. He hopes Padeen isn't in love with Clarissa, though he thinks that's not too much different than him falling in love with Diana.
- It's supposed (oddly by an invisible narrator POV?!) that mathematical and musical abilities are often found in people who can't string words together for shit (i.e. Jack).
- Rut roh, there's another pretty ship's boy, Geoghegan, with "a smile that would have been enchanting if he had been a girl. ‘He is too pretty for his own good, too pretty by far,’ Jack reflected. ‘He would be an odious little beast was he aware of it. Fortunately he ain’t.’" He's got a sea-daddy, a perfectly normal thing that has existed all along btw. Geogehegan blows a mean oboe and there's a beautiful quartet, and oh he's fallen from the maintopmast onto a carronade, sorry, forget about him.
- The Bellona is confusingly spacious and Stephen worries he will never shit a seaman's turd.
- Jack has added some quarter-davits to the Bellona, which smacks of innovation.
- I like Jack reading Sophie's letters out of order.
- Mrs. Williams is SO eager to hang Mr. Briggs then live with Mrs. Morris happily ever after, which I assume is the next best thing to poisoning Jack and keeping Sophie trapped in a glass sphere for a thousand years.
- Stephen thinks Charlotte and Fanny look "stupid and awkward" compared to Brigid.
- Stephen's Eton experience is getting mugged by a gang of clownishly dressed students.
- Clarissa Oakes is everywhere doing everything; does she have any goals, desires, interests of her own that might take her away from family service? No.
- When Jack and Stephen get back they just hang out at Black's having fun in London no thought of going home or sending word home la la la. Playing some billiards, Stephen sucks, Jack delights in the winning hazard (whereas Diana delighted in the losing hazard in The Ionian Mission).

- Bess the hunting dog whom Jack beats??? :s
- Lalla the affectionate and intelligent horse of the world.
- Ahab the Woolcombe mule.
- The dead weevils who scorned the shriveled peas.
- Mythical snowy owl.
- Giant Patagonian sloth, unseen by literate man.
- There's birbs.

From the Imagine-Stephen's-Face-During-This-Whole-Conversation Files:
‘...The only thing to do, if you knew your lover or husband or whatever was being unfaithful, was to pay him back in his own coin, not out of wantonness or revenge but to avoid worse: to avoid self-righteousness. For having done that you could never be a martyr again or put on a martyr’s horrid face. She cried shame on us for saying such dreadful things: we were really quite immoral and she was ashamed for us. But she did not sound very convincing – she did not hurry away, either – and presently she said, yes, that was very well, but what about babies? People really could not keep having babies right and left. Of course not, we said: did she really think that babies were inevitable? Yes, said she: that was what she had always understood. So we told her, and I must say Clarissa was amazingly well-informed; though she did say that trusting to the moon – to the calendar – alone was not absolutely safe.’
      ‘Dear Clarissa. I believe I saw her riding this morning, a great way off.’
posted by fleacircus (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not exactly knocking them out once a week like I said, but the end approaches..

I liked this one, even if it's so much on shore and doesn't have a satisfying ship action. I was crying reading the ending and it really could have been the end of the whole series.
posted by fleacircus at 12:07 AM on September 28, 2018

The narrative completely glosses over how Geoghegan fell from the rigging right after dining with the Captain, where the young lad was plied with copious amounts of wine. Sure, Jack is sad that the pretty young boy is dead, but he doesn’t seem to feel any responsibility for it.
posted by cardboard at 3:11 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really appreciate this book for exploring the whole manor system as it existed at that point in English history. After watching/reading Austen and others over the years, there were gentry and there were commoners, but their exact relationship was never spelled out. O'Brien through Jack's explanation for Stephen really helped me get a grasp on the subject.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2018

It seems like something Stephen might have commented on, because he hates all the drinking on the ship and the injuries they cause, though that's more about the ration of rum than gentlemanly dinner drinking. Though now that he has Brigid, all the other children in the world can die as far as he's concerned lol.

Looks like the temperance movement is just around the corner in the 1820s.
posted by fleacircus at 10:45 PM on September 28, 2018

i will forever cherish the vision of stephen being mocked with rag-picker's cries from neighboring ships.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:20 AM on September 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

‘He is too pretty for his own good, too pretty by far,’ Jack reflected.

I just got to this point and yeah, there is a lot of remarking on Geoghegan's prettiness. Too pretty to live, indeed.

I think we've maybe had sea-daddies mentioned occasionally in previous books? although I may be mixing them up with tie-mates.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:53 AM on October 9, 2018

Once so far, as far as I can tell: in The Far Side of the World William Blakeney has a sea-daddy; "the lady of the gun-room, a bearded hand."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Good catch. My juvenile mind was probably distracted by "lady of the gunroom" a couple lines previous.
posted by fleacircus at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2018

O'Brian's really fond of the we're-poor / we're-rich-again shuffle. Both Jack and Stephen go through lost-our-fortune / got-it-back in this book. And really, could the resolution of Stephen's financial problems be any less dramatic? "Yeah, turned out they didn't need the receipt anyway."

Diana seems particularly sparkling in this book; all expert coach-driving and come-into-my-bed sexing-up with Stephen. Maybe it's just that we get more of her than normal? but I think there's also a fair bit of POB getting us to like her again in preparation for what happens next book.

But anyway: we get this glorious line from her:
“And then again, I have it on the best authority that Jack is no artist in these matters. He can board and carry an enemy frigate with guns roaring and drums beating in a couple of minutes; but that is no way to give a girl much pleasure.”
Never mind maneuvers; always go straight at 'em.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:13 PM on October 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's easy to imagine Stephen going green in the gills there; best authority, yes.
posted by fleacircus at 10:21 PM on October 16, 2018

Sophie get only a brief respite from being written as an acquiescent doormat. She stands up to Jack -- "not with my good will"; he calls her a shrew and huffs off; she humbly begs forgiveness; there do not appear to be any lasting consequences for either of them. It's annoying and frustrating that her role throughout the series is to stand loyally by Jack no matter what; she has so little agency for herself.

I do like though that O'Brian leaves it ambiguously unspecified as to whether Sophie did get herself some side-piece action; at the end of the conversation above Diana is all "you don't suppose she actually did it, do you? but never mind he'll be deployed soon anyway."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:28 PM on October 17, 2018

i like to think that she did, and her deep satisfaction from that enjoyable pastime is what led to her generous forgiveness of jack.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:40 AM on October 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I hope she did, though with Sophie maybe a sip of the idea of it was enough.
posted by fleacircus at 3:14 PM on October 23, 2018

a bear makes an arrest

That interlude felt like I'd stumbled into a Scooby-Doo episode. Stephen and Sir Joseph watching from behind the spying mirrors; Diego's false beard falling off; he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling coke-heads.

Sir Joseph's "my usual boiled fowl" streak remains unbroken; Stephen opts for the steak-and-kidney pie, which at Blacks comes with bonus genuine larks.

Also, in the opening scene: Stephen invites him to come and visit the girls; Sir Joseph evades it with the clumsiest possible "oh, I forgot I had an appointment for dinner" lie. Smooth.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:38 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Relevant tweet.

I am almost done with The 100 Days. I recognize that I am dragging my feet to delay the time when I will have finished and should read other books that I said I would read..
posted by fleacircus at 2:42 PM on November 4, 2018

I was thumping the books in a friend's face talking about the books with someone recently and I reread part of the bit about enclosures and I hit this part.. I wonder what people think of it, if anyone is still has this thread in recent history.

It's where Jack is showing Stephen around his lands and talking about enclosure/inclosure. Stephen ask if peasants get compensation for loss of their rights:
‘In theory they do,’ said Jack, ‘and where the commissioners have any bowels of compassion they do in fact get something – almost invariably if they can produce legal proof of their claim. In that case they are given an allotment in freehold. With a fair-sized common like this a man with two shares might get as much as say three quarters of an acre by his cottage. Yet three quarters of an acre will not keep a cow, half a dozen sheep and a small flock of geese, whereas the free range of a common will. But an allotment as good as that is rare; quite often the land is in several pieces, sometimes far apart, and there may well be a provision in the act that each piece must be inclosed and sometimes drained. A poor man cannot afford it, so he sells his holding for five pounds or so, and then for the whole of his living he has to rely on wages, if he can get them – he is in the farmer’s hands.’

By the smell it was clear that the goat had joined them. ‘May I break off for a moment and tell you an anecdote of an Austrian medical man I knew in Catalonia?’

‘I should be happy to hear it,’ said Jack.

‘There was an English soldier, a Captain Smith, with me, and we were walking to the village to drink horchata when we met Dr von Liebig. I asked him to join us. Ordinarily he and I spoke Latin, his English being as indifferent as my German, but now Liebig had to use Smith’s language, and as he drank his horchata he told us that coming down the hill he met a ghost, a ghost with a beard. “A ghost in broad daylight?” cried Smith. “Yes. He was quite pale in the sun. A man was leading him with a string.” I wish I could convey something of the very beautiful contrast between Smith’s amazed solemnity, merging into deep suspicion, and Liebig’s cheerful face, casual tone and evident pleasure in his ice-cold drink.’

‘Ghost. Pale, bearded ghost: it must have been very rich indeed,’ said Jack with relish. ‘Did your soldier smoke it, in time?’

‘Never. Not until I told him, afterwards; and then he was angry. Jack, I beg pardon. This is the end of my parenthesis. Pray go back to your inclosure; a sad subject, I am afraid.’
What is the point of Stephen's digression? What do other people think? Is this A) meaningless and irrelevant beyond spicing up a one-sided conversation, or B) a meaningful three-way juxtaposition implying the peasant is turned into both a goat (property) and a ghost (unliving remnant), or C) other (specify).
posted by fleacircus at 6:37 PM on October 17, 2021

if anyone is still has this thread in recent history

Ha, that'd be me; my vote is (A) with a touch of (C) it's a gift from Stephen to Jack; he knows how much Jack loves puns and the appearance of the goat reminds him of a story that Jack would enjoy.

I like the idea of (B) but that metaphor would sail right over Jack's head so why would Stephen try to float it? ISTR he's usually fairly direct, blunt even, with Jack about social issues.

(I always liked that Jack was so appalled by enclosure; he's fairly squarely landlord class himself, but enclosure really offends his sense of fair play.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:03 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh idk, I don't think Stephen's so exacting in his speech that he wouldn't share something that Jack wouldn't fully grasp, and dropping little meaning-bombs is his style in general I think.

But yeah enclosure is one of the rare issues where Jack is solidly on the proper side.
posted by fleacircus at 4:50 PM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

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