Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin Novels

Extollager

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I've begun the first book, Master and Commander, and will leave some comments here that might prompt discussion as the "project" officially (?!) begins next month.

1.I'm making no serious effort to understand the nautical terminology, finding that a general sense of the purport of the scenes when Aubrey is assessing the crew of the Sophie and sizing up the vessel seems to be sufficient. I'm guessing that O'Brian will find ways to ensure that readers without such knowledge are never at a loss when it comes to crucial elements of plot, character, or theme.

2.It seems to me that O'Brian manages to make his characters interesting and often appealing while avoiding the problem in some authors' books of having what are "really" just 20th-21st century people dressed in period costume. This helps to make the stories interesting but also helps the reader to begin to feel that his or her own time is just an historical period, too; it is not the "normal time" over against which every other "period" deservedly seems quaint, horrible, etc.

3.You feel that O'Brian is introducing interesting threads that can be followed later, e.g. the background of Stephen Maturin.
 
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Land Under Wave

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Would this be like a book study? I've read the first three books, and am in the middle of The Mauritius Command, but I'm perfectly willing to use this as an excuse to start over and read them all again. ;)
 

Extollager

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Just people talking about the books, I suppose — you’d be welcome!
 

The Judge

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I'm making no serious effort to understand the nautical terminology, finding that a general sense of the purport of the scenes when Aubrey is assessing the crew of the Sophie and sizing up the vessel seems to be sufficient. I'm guessing that O'Brian will find ways to ensure that readers without such knowledge are never at a loss when it comes to crucial elements of plot, character, or theme.
I found it helpful to refer to the diagrams of the ships which appeared in the paperbacks I had, which labelled eg main mast and topsail, so I had an idea where people were (though I had general knowledge of the levels of decks and things such as holy-stoning which made life easier). The fact Maturin is a complete ignoramus when it comes to ships does allow for some explanation as well as humour.

It seems to me that O'Brian manages to make his characters interesting and often appealing while avoiding the problem in some authors' books of having what are "really" just 20th-21st century people dressed in period costume.
This becomes very evident later on with Aubrey and his attitudes to things such as press gangs and punishment, while Maturin's views, as a man of liberal education, are usually much nearer our own time which act as a kind of bridge between then and now eg as to the punishment for bestiality for one sailor (I can't recall the exact wording but something like "Could we not put the man and the goat ashore on an island? On different islands if you insist?")

I'm tempted to get hold of some of the books again for a nostalgic read.
 

Land Under Wave

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Thank you! Count me in. I have all the books but for the last one--they're on my long 'To-read' shelf. (The 'To-Read' stack was beginning to look lethal.... :rolleyes:)

As for what @Extollager brought up a few posts back regarding nautical terminology, I've found--so far--that Patrick O'Brian does a wonderful job of allowing us laymen to pretend we know the exact difference between a mizzenmast and a topgallant, or a ship and a sloop!

Making Stephen carry the weight of nautical ignorance was definitely a good choice, too. We don't need to know what all the ropes are, but we can really empathize when he climbs to the lookout's platform and nearly chucks his dinner....
 

hitmouse

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Just put in an ebay bid for a job lot of these. I borrowed most of the series from a neighbour back in the day, so do not actually own the books at present.
 

Vince W

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Part of what makes the Aubrey/Martin series so interesting are the many mundane aspects that O'Brian inserts into the stories. It gives the characters flesh and makes them more real.
 

Vertigo

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I'm still in the process of reading these at a rate of maybe three or four a year and I just recently finished No. 10 The Far Side of the World which was very good. They are, on the whole fairly consistent and they are mostly, for me, 3 or 4 star reads with occasional 5s (HMS Surprise and The Mauritious Command). There are also a couple that get a little maudlin with lots of self pity and doubt that I found less appealing for what are essentially adventure stories. I agree with an earlier comment that the early ones are a bit too much of a Jane Austin wannabe for my tastes but that mostly disappears as soon as they set sail.

1.I'm making no serious effort to understand the nautical terminology, finding that a general sense of the purport of the scenes when Aubrey is assessing the crew of the Sophie and sizing up the vessel seems to be sufficient. I'm guessing that O'Brian will find ways to ensure that readers without such knowledge are never at a loss when it comes to crucial elements of plot, character, or theme.
I actually think a little knowledge of the nautical terms and issues is useful. I went on two cruises crewing a square rig tall ship largely because of my enjoyment of these and the Hornblower books and that certainly gives me a much more visceral appreciation of them (though unfortunately I didn't suffer any significant weather/storms!). However I accept that that is just a little over the top for most people's tastes! But I would recommend having a copy of this book close to hand whilst reading: Patrick O'Brian's Navy. I picked up a copy in perfect condition for a very reasonable price at abebooks. It not only covers the ships, their rigging and sailing but also the intricate hierarchies within the crews of the Royal Navel ships of the time.

2.It seems to me that O'Brian manages to make his characters interesting and often appealing while avoiding the problem in some authors' books of having what are "really" just 20th-21st century people dressed in period costume. This helps to make the stories interesting but also helps the reader to begin to feel that his or her own time is just an historical period, too; it is not the "normal time" over against which every other "period" deservedly seems quaint, horrible, etc.
I think this is true in that he gives a probably realistic feel for the attitudes and prejudices of the time though I do sometimes suspect Maturin's humanity might have been a little ahead of it's time. However as a ships surgeon maybe that is fair enough.

3.You feel that O'Brian is introducing interesting threads that can be followed later, e.g. the background of Stephen Maturin.
This is very true and precisely why I think reading in order is important as the continual development of the main characters undoubtedly brings additional depth to the stories. It is worth noting that I believe when he wrote the first book it was intended to be a stand alone and it only developed into a series on the back of its success. From my reading I would think that this is likely as there are some anomalies between the characters as originally described and how they developed later. But not enough to detract from the enjoyment.

As I am still reading these books and am now well into them it's unlike I'll join in this project. At least not until you catch up with me which is highly likely! But then you'll quickly get ahead of me anyway!
 

JNG01

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These are some of my all-time favorite novels. As others have mentioned, the wealth of mundane detail spread over the novels gives the characters a unique depth and roundness. Aubrey and Maturin are defined by their flaws almost as much as their virtues. This, to me, is part of what makes these stories compelling. The protagonists are so flawed--both so prideful; Aubrey so naieve and ham-handed in affairs outside of naval warfare; Maturin so driven by a deep emotional nature he can't admit to himself that he has--that it always seems more likely than not that they will lose and it's always a genuine pleasure to read when they win.

There's little bad to say about these books. The only knock I would give them is that the plots take on a touch of soap opera / melodrama in the last handful of novels.
 

Bugg

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But I would recommend having a copy of this book close to hand whilst reading: Patrick O'Brian's Navy.
That is an excellent book, I have it as well.

I think, with the nautical terminology, you end up learning it almost by osmosis, so I just went with the flow. I did learn a lot of new words whilst reading these books, though. Oh, and Jack's never-ending ability to mangle well known sayings is priceless ("I am afraid I have been like a bear in a whore's bed these last few days" :LOL: ).

One of the aspects I loved most is that he never once breaks the sense of time and place. I actually really liked the Jane Austen comparison (see Why Patrick O’Brian is Jane Austen at sea ) because it felt like the books could actually have been written during that period. I always thought that Jack was a man totally at home when at sea whilst being totally at sea when at home.

Jo Walton's re-read on Tor is worth a look, too, although I haven't read it recently so there may be spoilers: Re-reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series – Tor.com

Just remember, there is not a moment to be lost. Unless there's toasted cheese involved, of course. Killick. I love Killick :giggle:
 

soulsinging

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I might jump in on this for a book or two. Not sure I'm up to 20 novels about sea battles, but I have always been curious about this one. I'm also on a binge of reading a lot of classic African-American fiction, so the sun setting on 19th-century Western imperialism might make for an interesting contrast.

Of course, we're expecting our second child the first week of August, so if I disappear don't be offended... I'll resurface once the older one is big enough to do childcare!
 

hitmouse

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That is an excellent book, I have it as well.

I think, with the nautical terminology, you end up learning it almost by osmosis, so I just went with the flow. I did learn a lot of new words whilst reading these books, though. Oh, and Jack's never-ending ability to mangle well known sayings is priceless ("I am afraid I have been like a bear in a whore's bed these last few days" :LOL: ).

One of the aspects I loved most is that he never once breaks the sense of time and place. I actually really liked the Jane Austen comparison (see Why Patrick O’Brian is Jane Austen at sea ) because it felt like the books could actually have been written during that period. I always thought that Jack was a man totally at home when at sea whilst being totally at sea when at home.

Jo Walton's re-read on Tor is worth a look, too, although I haven't read it recently so there may be spoilers: Re-reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series – Tor.com

Just remember, there is not a moment to be lost. Unless there's toasted cheese involved, of course. Killick. I love Killick :giggle:
Lobscouse is still a type of stew around these parts. It is also the origin of the standard term of endearment for people from Liverpool.
 

Extollager

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Of course, we're expecting our second child the first week of August, so if I disappear don't be offended... I'll resurface once the older one is big enough to do childcare!
Yeah, kids are more important than reading and discussing books. Barely, but yeah.
 

Land Under Wave

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...the origin of the standard term of endearment for people from Liverpool....
Which term of endearment? Sounds fascinating--could you give an example of how you'd use it in a sentence, please?

Also, I don't have Patrick O'Brian's Navy (I'll probably look into it, though), but I do have A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian, by Dean King--so if anyone has any questions, I can go consult it and share passages, if necessary. It's got a lot of definitions and historical background stuff. Anyone else have it, too?

 

Vertigo

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Which term of endearment? Sounds fascinating--could you give an example of how you'd use it in a sentence, please?

Also, I don't have Patrick O'Brian's Navy (I'll probably look into it, though), but I do have A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian, by Dean King--so if anyone has any questions, I can go consult it and share passages, if necessary. It's got a lot of definitions and historical background stuff. Anyone else have it, too?

I think, though may be wrong, that there is actually a third book knocking around like this and the one I mentioned, which I guess says something about the popularity of these books that two or three background reference works have been written directed specifically at this series!
 
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