Master and Commander
© 1969 Patrick O’Brian
This morning, in a quiet courtyard, I finished Master and Commander, the first book in Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic naval stories. These have been recommended to me ever since I finished Horatio Hornblower, though O’Brian devotes far more space to technical seafaring matters. He’s aware of this, too, having a sailor explain the workings of the good ship Sophie’s riggings to the newly-arrived surgeon. The series is reliably referred to as the Aubrey-Maturin series for centering on the friendship between Commander Jack Aubrey and his surgeon, Stephen Maturin. There are other interesting relationships, like the Mysterious Past between Maturin and the lieutenant of the Sophie, Jack Dillon. Both seem to have a connection to the failed and bloodily-repulse Irish Uprising in 1798. The book follows Aubrey’s brief stint on the Sophie, which largely involves him chasing potential prizes, almost to the ruin of his ship. One character comments that Aubrey would have been a better fit as a pirate a century prior. Despite his winning audacity, Aubrey’s relationship with his immediate superiors is testy, to say the least. When O’Brian is not attempting to trip or entangle readers in the ropes and riggings of 19th century naval equipment, he has a lovely hand for description, and I would not be surprised if I sailed with the good captain again. The main attraction for the books other to the naval action is the presence of a natural philosopher, a man fascinated by the world around him.