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The Tea Tray > Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin Series

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Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) At the risk of sounding quite daft, I'd like to put a glimmer in the eye of every self-respecting Janeite looking for something Austen-like to read.

If you loved the references in Austen's Mansfield Park, and even more so in Persuasion, to the world of the Royal Navy; and if you're longing for some wonderfully witty, historically accurate, erudite reading involving men and women during the late-Georgian and Regency Period; well, look no more, as your ship has come in.

I imagine that some of you have read, or at least heard of, Patrick O'Brian's magnificent twenty-volume series featuring Royal Navy Captain Jack Aubrey, and his doctor/surgeon, cum intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin and their battles against Napoleon and his allies. Maybe some of you saw the Peter Weir-directed film with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany titled, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I have to say there is no better way to immerse yourself in Austen's world than through these masterfully crafted novels.

Jane Austen was Patrick O'Brian's favorite author, and her influence is clearly evident to even the most casual reader. He writes in the vernacular; and one would almost swear that Austen sat at his elbow as he drafted his manuscripts word-by-word. While there is adventure and action, much of each novel is taken up with the relationships between the major and minor characters. Great joy, sadness, grief, love, anger, jealousy, and angst abound; though liberally interspersed with some of the wittiest humor to be found in fiction -- very much reminiscent of the wonderful witty humor and dialog of Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

O'Brian's world is the world of Austen's Captains Frederick Wentwork, Bennick and Harville, and Admiral Croft and his wife Sophie; and also that of Jane Austen's brothers who were ultimately promoted up to Captain and Admiral themselves.

Finally, should you choose to sail forth on this wonderful voyage of discovery a couple of thoughts. First, read the novels in order; starting with Master and Commander. O'Brian's twenty-volume series is really a canon of a few arcs. Only the first two or three novels in the series can sort of stand-alone. You can actually consider his canon one long novel (over 6,900 pages), with each novel more like a chapter. Secondly, please consider buying and having handy Dean King's wonderful Aubrey-Maturin lexicon A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O'Brian's Seafaring Tales.

In conclusion, if you love Austen's novels, I can virtually guarantee that you will enjoy these books too. I can tell you that O'Brian's books are some of my most favorite books; right up there with my works by Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, and Gaskell. W.W. Norton publishes them all in paperback. Have a look, and do let me know what you think.

Cheers! Chris


message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 09, 2010 04:23PM) (new)

Christopher wrote: "At the risk of sounding quite daft, I'd like to put a glimmer in the eye of every self-respecting Janeite looking for something Austen-like to read."

My husband is a huge fan of Captain Jack Aubrey! He read all 21 books through twice (back-to-back). The joke at my house is that O'Brian's series is "Jane Austen for guys." I don't know if I could read through all of the nautical details, but I enjoyed the excerpts my husband read aloud to me, and followed Maturin's story gladly (as well as Aubrey's). I particularly enjoyed the story of their first meeting at a concert. :) If the books seem daunting, I most heartily recommend the movie!


message 3: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Christopher wrote: "At the risk of sounding quite daft, I'd like to put a glimmer in the eye of every self-respecting Janeite looking for something Austen-like to read.

If you loved the references in Austen's Mansf..."


Christopher, good to see you as always! It seems we haven't been in the same place at the same time lately -- cyber-wise!

Thank you for your kind recommendation, and we have been talking about novels to follow with after our classic Austens.

Not knowing about 19th c. writers too fully, I just wonder if a series like this of O'Brian's was rare. I know I am most familiar with stand-alone books from that period.

I am definitely interested to check these out. Thanks very much.


message 4: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Oh, and Chris -- daft -- certainly not!


message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 09, 2010 06:14PM) (new)

Hey Sarah, O'Brian was a writer of historical fiction. The books were published in the 1970's and later. Sadly, he died before finishing the 21st Volume and the story.

Master and Commander


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Master and Commander was published in 1969, and the last completed volume Blue at the Mizzen was released in 1999, just a few months before his death in 2000. O'Brian was an anachronism, to be sure, he was quite truly a man of the late-18th and early 19th centuries. Believe it or not, most who read the novels and know not one jot of the sea and sailing find themselves completely and utterly immersed and engrossed in the tales. I merely suggested King's lexicon for those with enquiring minds.

Sarah, lovely to hear from you too! I have been so busy the past couple of months with work and my landscape photography; but I've not given up my reading. I am actually reading O'Brian's canon again straight through for the third time. It had been something like ten years since I last plowed through them. Anyhoo, Cheers! Chris


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Somebody, above, made the comment that O'Brian's canon was considered, and I paraphrase here, "...Jane Austen for men..." Interestingly enough, most of the people I know that have read these novels were women; and I just checked reviewers of the novels here on GR and on Shelfari, and I'd estimate that it is almost two-thirds female reviews. This might imply that women are more diligent about providing reviews, I don't know.

If we were talking about C.S. Forester's Hornblower series, Alexander Kent's Bolitho series, and so forth, it'd clearly be a male-only audience. Two of my favorite female authors, Eudora Welty and A.S. Byatt, considered the Aubrey-Maturin series to be some of the most sublime historical fiction ever written.

A very interesting point to ponder.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Christopher wrote: "Somebody, above, made the comment that O'Brian's canon was considered, and I paraphrase here, "...Jane Austen for men..." Interestingly enough, most of the people I know that have read these novel..."

That would be me. :) It's just an in-home joke. My husband really got into the nautical terms and the battles, but also enjoyed the love stories (ooh, that Diana!!). That's why I termed it JA for guys!


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Jeannette wrote: "Christopher wrote: "Somebody, above, made the comment that O'Brian's canon was considered, and I paraphrase here, "...Jane Austen for men..." Interestingly enough, most of the people I know that h..."

Maybe, in order to have more men read Austen, we should first expose them to O'Brian? Now there's a thought...

I cannot tell you how many male friends of mine dismiss Austen, out-of-hand, as simply "chick-lit." And nothing could be further from the truth, the poor sods.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

My husband has never been dismissive towards Jane. I read Persuasion out loud to the family one cold winter. And, he loves the movies, too. He is really a history and non-fiction reader, so the social manners and mores discussed in Austen don't interest him that much (as some of the ship details don't interest me).

He did comment just now that neither Hornblower nor Bolitho come anywhere close to O'Brian's rich depth of storytelling (oh, I wish I had written down exactly what he said.)


message 11: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Jeannette wrote: "Hey Sarah, O'Brian was a writer of historical fiction. The books were published in the 1970's and later. Sadly, he died before finishing the 21st Volume and the story.

[book:Master and Commander..."


Well that is good too due to my continued search for good hist. fiction!


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Jeannette wrote: "My husband has never been dismissive towards Jane. I read Persuasion out loud to the family one cold winter. And, he loves the movies, too. He is really a history and non-fiction reader, so the ..."

Your husband is spot-on about the quality of just about every other seafaring saga compared to O'Brian's. They just don't stack up at all. Persuasion is one of the most beautiful books written in the English language, IMHO. What a beautiful experience to have read it aloud to your family!


message 13: by VMom (new)

VMom (votermom) | 68 comments What a great rec! You've certainly convinced me to give it a try.
We watched the movie a while back but it seemed so dark (literally -- not good lighting) but I still chuckle over the weevil joke when I remember it.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Mayakda wrote: "What a great rec! You've certainly convinced me to give it a try.
We watched the movie a while back but it seemed so dark (literally -- not good lighting) but I still chuckle over the weevil joke w..."


Crowe and Bettany certainly make the movie! The movie, btw, is kind of a mix several volumes in the series. It is interesting to see the relationship between the doctor and the captain develop over the years. Now I might have to read the books, too!


message 15: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Metz | 112 comments Christopher wrote: "Somebody, above, made the comment that O'Brian's canon was considered, and I paraphrase here, "...Jane Austen for men..." Interestingly enough, most of the people I know that have read these novel..."

I've read Hornblower and I'm not male. I am surrounded by them though. I do admit that I read the books after I saw the movie. It was hard to find them and I ended up searching all over to find the different books in the series.

I looked for books like them my boys would read with me and came up with Midshipman Quinn: Collection. It doesn't compare in difficulty and depth ~ but they were fun nautical reads even for this woman. :o)


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I hope nobody thinks I am putting Austen in the "women-only" shelf and O'Brian in the "men-only" shelf. It is just my joke with my husband, who tends to enjoy more "technical" things and I enjoy more "people" things. It would be a dull world, indeed, if I thought that way! :)


message 17: by Margaret (last edited Mar 10, 2010 01:48PM) (new)

Margaret Metz | 112 comments Jeannette wrote: "I hope nobody thinks I am putting Austen in the "women-only" shelf and O'Brian in the "men-only" shelf. It is just my joke with my husband, who tends to enjoy more "technical" things and I enjoy m..."

I am not one of those people that takes offense to generalities. I think they hold true ~ most of the time. ;o)

I think because I homeschool I already fall out of the norm. Then I work hard to choose books that may interest my boys and because we read together ... I read books other women may not choose to read. I have read all kinds of books I didn't want to read in order to prepare lessons before. The fiction is no great hurdle after pouring over government articles and information or preparing a lesson in science where he dissects something or other.

I prefer a rousing a naval story any day. lol That's not to say I didn't want to skim some of the technical info and get back to the "action."


message 18: by VMom (new)

VMom (votermom) | 68 comments Lee wrote: "I've read Hornblower and I'm not male. I am surrounded by them though."

I love Hornblower. I read them when I was a kid because they were in the house and I was on a reading rampage. (Helps that our tv was permanently broken).


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) Mayakda wrote: "Lee wrote: "I've read Hornblower and I'm not male. I am surrounded by them though."

I love Hornblower. I read them when I was a kid because they were in the house and I was on a reading rampage. (..."


Sometimes I believe that that might be the best kind of TV set to own (i.e., one that is permanently broken!) ;-)


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

We only use our tv to watch movies, and the weather report. Don't miss the rest. :)


message 21: by Lindz (new)

Lindz (miss_bovary00) Ok only just discovered this discussion. Love, love, love O'brian. He does have an Austen feel to it. Which is probably when a friend told me about it I went to my favourite second hand book and bought up everything I could find.

I love the relationship between Aubrey and Maturin, especially when they are having a fight and Maturin tells Aubrey he's too fat and needs to run around the stern a couple of times.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

The relationship between those two is terrific! Those are the best bits that my husband read out loud to me.


message 23: by Joy (new)

Joy (joylnorth) Thanks for the recommendation Chris! I cannot stand Russell Crowe and don't really see any movies that he is in, so I wouldn't have otherwise come across this author. I added it to my 'to read' list, and I think it will be a good summer/beach read with the nautical theme :)


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Joy wrote: "Thanks for the recommendation Chris! I cannot stand Russell Crowe and don't really see any movies that he is in, so I wouldn't have otherwise come across this author. I added it to my 'to read' lis..."

You might even enjoy the movie, in spite of Russell Crowe! :)


message 25: by Joy (new)

Joy (joylnorth) Maybe Jeannette! I will see how much I enjoy the novel before I brave the movie adaptation :)


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

I am not a big fan of Russell Crowe, either, but I do like Paul Bettany. The rest of the cast was very good, with a few well-known faces.


message 27: by Joy (new)

Joy (joylnorth) I do really like Paul Bettany as well. He was adorable in Wimbledon and completely different (but good!) in The Young Victoria.


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

I couldn't get into "Wimbledon", which is too bad because I adore Bernard Hill! Paul Bettany plays Dr. Maturin and is the perfect counterpart to Crowe's Jack Aubrey.

Waiting for Young Victoria to come to dvd (won't come to the theaters here in hickville)


message 29: by Joy (new)

Joy (joylnorth) Well, I'm a sucker for a cheesy romantic comedy, so I enjoyed it :) He's good in Young Vic, although he is in a silly wavy wig: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm150172748...


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

I also enjoyed him in "Inkheart" and "A Knight's Tale". I grew up on cheesy, romantic comedies! :)


message 31: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Metz | 112 comments Jeannette wrote: "I couldn't get into "Wimbledon", which is too bad because I adore Bernard Hill! Paul Bettany plays Dr. Maturin and is the perfect counterpart to Crowe's Jack Aubrey.

Waiting for Young Victoria to..."


I'm waiting for the DVD on Young Victoria too. We do that for most movies actually. A little delayed gratification saves money and we get to see it in the comfort of our own living room. Plus by then we have seen enough reviews to be able to judge if we really want to see it.


message 32: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Metz | 112 comments Jeannette wrote: "I also enjoyed him in "Inkheart" and "A Knight's Tale". I grew up on cheesy, romantic comedies! :)"

My husband is the biggest fan of "A Knight's Tale." He quotes lines from it all time. :o)


message 33: by Joy (new)

Joy (joylnorth) I forgot about that one - it was really fun!


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