Post Captain (1972)
If it is by now become something of a cliche to refer to Patrick O'Brian as the Jane Austen of the the British Navy, it is certainly Post Captain that deserves most of the credit/blame for the original observation. For the action of this entry in the deservedly revered series takes place as much on land as at sea and concerns the tortured loves, courtships and spouse-seekings of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin to no less an extent than Jack's quest for the promotion of the book's title. Indeed, in setting them off against each other and then playing the two themes in tandem and apart, Mr. O'Brian brought attention, whether willfully or no, to the similarity between the struggles for career advancement in the excessively political and patronage-based hierarchy of the Admiralty and the to-ing and fro-ing of settling on a good romantic match. The loss of a chance for advancement breaks an officer's heart just as surely as any belle ever had hers shattered by a beau gone astray.
Meanwhile, it is here too that Mr. O'Brian demonstrated his gifts as a comic novelist, though we aren't likely to think first of his books as humorous tales. He does slapstick--with Jack disguised as a dancing bear and sneaking out of France after war is resumed suddenly; with Stephen bringing a beehive onboard ship; and with Stephen coming aboard dressed in a woolen bodystocking, with a narwhal norn in one hand and a green umbrella in the other. He does buffoonery--in the form of what passes for witticism between Jack and the other officers. He does sarcasm, irony, etc., etc., etc. And, all the while, in a series where the author writes as if it is still 1805 and he need make no concession to the necessary ignorance of the nuances of naval matters and the manners of the day, there is a certain quality to the books of a joke played on the reader. Jane Austen, of course, had little choice but to write for the audience of her time. What are we to make of a cotemporary author who seems to be writing for them too?
All this barely begins to scrape the surface of a book that also sees more naval engagements than we're sometimes used to in the series, Jack losing a fortune and becoming a target of the debt collectors, a near duel between Stephen and Jack, and much else besides. The whole proceeds at Mr. O'Brian's usual leisurely pace, with many philosophical, metaphysical and historical asides, but we have a bit better idea where things must be headed than is sometimes the case, given the dramas that are set up and seem likely to be settled. In a series that never has a particular narrative drive, we might say this one charts a clearer course than some others.
A final word: having read the book some years ago, this time I listened to the audio version, read by Simon Vance. It's a splendid way to experience the books, not least because it prevents your getting bogged down in archaic phrases and naval lingo. Highly recommended.
-OBIT: Patrick O'Brian: Prolific novelist whose voyage into privacy meshed with the odyssey of his sea-going characters (January 8, 2000, The Guardian )
-ESSAY: Full Nelson: Outmanned and outgunned, the British flummoxed the French. (PATRICK O'BRIAN, 4/18/99, NY Times Magazine)
-ESSAY: Cast away Three years after his death, his acclaimed seafaring novels are still bestsellers and have just been made into a blockbuster movie. But recent revelations about how Patrick O'Brian abandoned his family have cast a shadow over his work. (Richard Russ, November 28, 2003, The Guardian)
-IN MEMORIAM: PATRICK O'BRIAN: Senior Correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth is in San Francisco, remembering a man who wrote about the sea. (Online Newshour, January 10, 2000)
-OBIT: Patrick O'Brian: Prolific novelist whose voyage into privacy meshed with the odyssey of his sea-going characters (Guardian, January 8, 2000)
-FEATURED AUTHOR: Patrick O'Brian: With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times
-ESSAY: An Author I'd Walk the Plank For (Richard Snow, January 6, 1991, NY Times Book Review)
-ESSAY: The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius (David Mamet, 1/17/00, NY Times)
-ESSAY: A Master and the World He Commands: Pondering Patrick O'Brian and his nautical novels, before Russell Crowe takes over. (MAX HASTINGS, November 7, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
-OBIT: Patrick O'Brian, Whose 20 Sea Stories Won Him International Fame, Dies at 85 (FRANK J. PRIAL, 1/07/00, NY Times)
-OBIT: Gone Aloft (Derek Brown, 1/07/00, The Guardian)
-Featured Author: Patrick O'Brian: With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times
-ESSAY: Full Nelson: Outmanned and outgunned, the British flummoxed the French. (PATRICK O'BRIAN, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: Conversations/Patrick O'Brian; In the Glare of the Short-Toed Eagle, Or What You Read Is All You'll Get (FRANCIS X. CLINES, November 14, 1993, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: The Seas of Adventure Still Beckon a Storyteller; At 83, Patrick O'Brian Journeys Into History (FRANK J. PRIAL, October 19, 1998, NY Times)
-PROFILE: Patrick O'Brian: The author of the wildly popular 18th century seagoing saga created, out of his own life, a fiction nearly as elaborate. (IAN WILLIAMS, 1/13/00, Salon)
-APPRECIATION: The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius (DAVID MAMET, 1/17/00, NY Times)
-ESSAY: The real master and commander: The swashbuckling novels of Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester owe much of their inspiration to one man: Lord Cochrane, a seafaring scot whose life was marked by adventure, adulation and scandal. David Cordingly reports (David Cordingly, 02 Sep 2007, The Telegraph)
-REMEMBRANCE: Master and Deceiver: Patrick O'Brian, the celebrated author behind the new film "Master and Commander", has been branded a callous, deceitful and arrogant bully. His stepson, Nikolai Tolstoy, says the truth is much more complex (Nikolai Tolstoy, 11/30/03, Times of London)
-ESSAY: Nautical novelist 'couldn't even sail' (James Landale, 8/16/04, BBC News)
-ESSAY: Cruising with Patrick O'Brian - The Man and the Myth (Tom Perkins, Latitude 38)
-FAN SITE: The Gun Room: @HMSSurprise.org: which it's the Patrick O'Brian list of the world!
-APPRECIATION: An Author I'd Walk the Plank For (Richard Snow, January 06, 1991, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: The HistoryAccess.com Interview: Geoff Hunt (Bob Frost, 1993)
-ESSAY: Science at sea: What the novels of Patrick O'Brian can teach us (Stephen Curry 6 April 2008, LabLit)
-REVIEW: of Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian (Jan Morris, The Observer)
-REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (Joseph O'Connor, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: the Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (John Lanchester, The Telegraph)
-REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (Rachel Cooke, The Observer)
-REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (Max Hastings, The Telegraph)
-REVIEW: of The Aubrey/Maturin books: Master and Commander & The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian ( Danny Yee, dannyreviews.com)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Aubrey Maturin series (Ex Libris Reviews)
-ARCHIVES: Patrick O'Brian (NY Times)
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