Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin Novels

Extollager

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There was a sputter of discussion on O'Brian and these books at Chrons --

Patrick O'Brian

It seems appropriate to have a place here for the discussion of these books.

I'm reading my fourth of them, The Fortune of War -- I haven't been trying to read them in sequence. This attracted me as one dealing with the War of 1812, which I read about recently in early pages of Paul Johnson's very readable The Birth of the Modern: World Society, 1815-1830.

For those who have read several of the Aubrey - Maturin books: What's your favorite? Is there any book in the series that disappointed you?
 

2DaveWixon

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There was a sputter of discussion on O'Brian and these books at Chrons --

Patrick O'Brian

It seems appropriate to have a place here for the discussion of these books.

I'm reading my fourth of them, The Fortune of War -- I haven't been trying to read them in sequence. This attracted me as one dealing with the War of 1812, which I read about recently in early pages of Paul Johnson's very readable The Birth of the Modern: World Society, 1815-1830.

For those who have read several of the Aubrey - Maturin books: What's your favorite? Is there any book in the series that disappointed you?
Not really fair to ask me those questions when I haven't read any of them (save one) in the last 20 years. But that one -- H.M.S. Surprise -- is my favorite, certainly. Master and Commander is very good, too.
In fact, I first read it (Surprise), oh, perhaps 30 years ago, before I knew there were others in the series. And I think I've re-read it three times, since then.
I can't really name a least favorite, at this point -- not off the top of my head, anyway; but if there is one, it's likely one of the later ones...I say that because it seemed to me that the series was petering out as it went along; and in fact, I don't think I ever got around to reading the last two or three...

That said, I strongly recommend that if you are to read them at all, you should try to do so in their chronological order -- similar to the Hornblower books, that gives you perspective as the chronology moves along.

(I will add, and take it as you will, that Gordy Dickson loved this series. He was always looking for good fiction that fit within certain criteria, and I spent a lot of time trying to find things he would like (that included much more than sea stories)... At one point, knowing that he had loved Hornblower and other sea warfare stories, I remembered having read H.M.S. Surprise, and I lent him my copy. He loved it, and he was the one who found out that there were more. They were not then very available in the U.S., but there came a time when the Dorsai Thing was held in Toronto; I put him on the plane and then drove -- a good thing, because I spent a lot of time in Canadian bookstores, and I drove home with about 80 paperbacks (all UK publications not easily found in the US) in my trunk -- including some O'Brien.)(When O'Brien began to be popular in the U.S. we were able to get them in hardcover editions, which GRD insisted on having because he loved them so much.)

(My trunk full of paperbacks really bemused U.S. Customs when I crossed back into the States on my way home...I had the books in two large black plastic garbage bags, and I think that when the agent opened the trunk and saw those two bags, he really thought he'd made a pinch!)
 

The Judge

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It's been a while since I read the books now, and I gave them all away some years ago, so I'm unlikely to read them again, so I'm also not able to recall which is my favourite, though I do remember having a soft spot for the little Nutmeg and her stories.

For my taste the last few books lacked something, and I was less engaged with them, perhaps because some writing energy was missing, or perhaps simply because not even O'Brian could spin the Napoleonic War out forever, so he had to bring in other conflicts which I knew little or nothing about and which interested me less -- the South American one in particular I never bothered to read again. The casual way he killed off one of the more important of the crew without any repercussion or even any kind of grieving while perhaps realistic for the time, really irritated me as a reader, since I was fond of that character. So that rather put a kibosh on my enjoyment of what came after, too.

I'd also urge you to read them in chronological order, which I think is (or is largely) the same as publication order (unlike the Sharpe books for instance), though from memory I think he's actually a bit cavalier with dates, and he tends to have more than 12 months' worth of action in any one calendar year.


EDIT: By the way, there are also discussions of PO'B and the books here Patrick O'Brian and here Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian and some digressions in reviews by Vertigo of at least one Hornblower book.


And I'll quote from a post I made several years ago about serendipity in reading as it might be of interest:

After reading some good reviews, I bought Claire Harman's biography Fanny Burney. Very well written and I enjoyed it a good deal. But as I was reading about Burney's friendship with Hester Thrale and her family I kept getting odd brain-nudges of the 'I've read this somewhere before' type. I'd heard of Thrale's friendship with Samuel Johnson, but I hadn't read any Johnson biogs, or any other contemporary work which dealt with them, so it was a real puzzle. Thrale's daughter, also called Hester but usually known as Queeney, was particularly bugging me -- her nickname, the fact of her great learning, her estrangement from her mother when she (mother) took up with the Catholic Gabriel Piozzi and then married him, Queeney becoming Viscountess Keith...

Then I clicked. Patrick O'Brian's Master & Commander - Queeney is Jack Aubrey's one-time maths tutor and now wife of Admiral Keith whose influence gets Jack his command.

I knew that O'Brian had been meticulous in his research of the period, and I knew that all the political and naval figures would be real, but -- stupidly perhaps -- this was a real revelation that he had used a relatively obscure historical figure in this way. Oddly enough, finding the connection like this actually enhanced my pleasure in both books, not just the O'Brian - almost as if I kept expecting Jack to wander into the biography at some point. Though I suppose the 'I was clever enough to get the in-joke' was part of it, too!
 
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Extollager

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Dave Wixon, I love your anecdote about the trunkful of books. It reminds me of my Philadelphia friend who, every few months, sends me a big box of books to give away to students (and I always keep some, too).

Colporteurs of the fantastic, that's us, as I said to him.
 

Extollager

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Judge and Dave Wixon, I guess I will follow your advice and, once I finish The Fortune of War, carry on with the books in publication order as I continue reading. Thank 'ee!
 

2DaveWixon

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Judge and Dave Wixon, I guess I will follow your advice and, once I finish The Fortune of War, carry on with the books in publication order as I continue reading. Thank 'ee!
You're making me yearn to pull out those books again...

P.S. No need to put in my last name when it's only us three here, right? "Dave," "2Dave," or "Hey, you!" will all catch my attention...
 

hitmouse

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They are all worth reading, preferably in order. Some are a bit better than others but all of a high standard. On or two of the early ones seem to narrowly avoid becoming Jane Austinesque comedies of manners.
 

Vince W

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I'm going to start reading these again shortly. I've read the first two only and I want to continue now that my latest reading project is coming to a close.

My biggest problem is one of edition. I need to buy the editions from 97-99 or thereabouts to go with the ones I already have. I know most people wouldn't care, but my shelf will look wrong if I don't.
 

hitmouse

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I would be surprised if you have top much problem sourcing these on ebay.
 

Extollager

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I was happy in my friends -- a correspondent in Philadelphia had picked up a bunch of these books at freebie sites/library discards or the like and, a couple or so years ago, sent the batch to me for the cost of postage (with some other books)! What a pal!
 

Bugg

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That said, I strongly recommend that if you are to read them at all, you should try to do so in their chronological order -- similar to the Hornblower books, that gives you perspective as the chronology moves along.
Definitely. As the series goes along it pretty much becomes one long, continuous story with lots of recurring characters and pay-offs to set-ups from previous books, so reading them in the wrong order might be problematic, especially in the second half of the series.
 

Bick

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I read the first three or four of these. I didn't stop for any reason that reflects on the books - I loved them - it's just been a case of too many books/authors, too little time. I daresay I'll get back to them, as they were extremely enjoyable.
 

Extollager

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Is anyone interested in starting at the beginning and reading this series, perhaps one book every two months?

We could proceed thus:

1.July-Aug. 2020: Master and Commander
2.Sept.-Oct.: Post Captain
3.Nov.-Dec.: HMS Surprise

and so on. Would it be good, though, to let latecomers feel welcome to start at the beginning and to post comments on the earlier book they're reading, if they wished, even if the schedule had moved on?
 

Vince W

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Is anyone interested in starting at the beginning and reading this series, perhaps one book every two months?

We could proceed thus:

1.July-Aug. 2020: Master and Commander
2.Sept.-Oct.: Post Captain
3.Nov.-Dec.: HMS Surprise

and so on. Would it be good, though, to let latecomers feel welcome to start at the beginning and to post comments on the earlier book they're reading, if they wished, even if the schedule had moved on?
I would and the schedule seems reasonable to me.
 

hitmouse

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I am up for that. I haven’t read these for 20 years.
I bought the first in the series in a bookshop in Hobart in 2000.
 

2DaveWixon

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Is anyone interested in starting at the beginning and reading this series, perhaps one book every two months?

We could proceed thus:

1.July-Aug. 2020: Master and Commander
2.Sept.-Oct.: Post Captain
3.Nov.-Dec.: HMS Surprise

and so on. Would it be good, though, to let latecomers feel welcome to start at the beginning and to post comments on the earlier book they're reading, if they wished, even if the schedule had moved on?
I was going to comment that I might have a time problem, trying to get three of those books in within a month...and then I realized I had misinterpreted Extollager's proposal -- and I'm reasonably sure I can handle one book every two months...
But then, am I going to be expected to comment on each? and that entertainingly? I'm being set up for a fall, am I?
OK, count me in -- I'll go get some, if they're still in the trunk of my car... (NOTE: In-joke)
Re: being good to latecomers: it's fine by me to encourage participation and the import of new blood, etc.
 

Extollager

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Vince, Hitmouse, Dave, thanks for your interest. Let's go ahead and see how it goes with a bimonthly schedule. I don't suppose there's any obligation to comment, but I thought if there was a venue for ongoing discussion it would be more likely that a project like this would be completed -- 21 books! Three and a half years! But perhaps there'll be a desire sometime in there to take a break for an extra month or something of the sort. No one's obligated to stay with the project for the whole time, of course.
 

2DaveWixon

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I have not failed to notice that some of those who have commented in this thread have implied that they had not read the books in sequence -- so might it be a good idea to make an "official" list, in order? If only to keep me from looking stupid when I read one out of order...
 

Extollager

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Dave --

This is the list as published on 21 June 2020 on Wikipedia:

Master and Commander (1969) +

Post Captain (1972)

HMS Surprise (1973) +

The Mauritius Command (1977) +

Desolation Island (1978)

The Fortune of War (1979) +

The Surgeon's Mate (1980) +

The Ionian Mission (1981) +

Treason's Harbour (1983) +

The Far Side of the World (1984) +

The Reverse of the Medal (1986)

The Letter of Marque (1988)

The Thirteen-Gun Salute (1989) +

The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991) +

Clarissa Oakes (1992) – (The Truelove in the US) +

The Wine-Dark Sea (1993) +

The Commodore (1995)

The Yellow Admiral (1996)

The Hundred Days (1998)

Blue at the Mizzen (1999)

The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (2004) – (21 in the US)



My understanding is that the publication order is pretty much chronological too. By the way, the 12 titles marked above with a + sign are the ones I owned on 21 June 2020 -- that's something I noted for my own reference. We'll see if I stick with this project and get the others as personal copies or from the library.
 

Bugg

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That order is spot on. There are many recurring characters, references to events both small and large from previous books and, from The Far Side of the World onward, they must be read in that order for various reasons that I won't spoil.

I may join in as well, if I'm able to. I love this series so much, and I've been keen to re-read them ever since I finished them the first time. I hope you all enjoy them as much as I did.
 
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