The History Book Club discussion

NAPOLEONIC WARS > 9. HF - MASTER AND COMMANDER - CHAPTER 9 (309- 335) (06/28/10 - 07/04/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

Welcome to the historical fiction discussion of Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian.

This is the reading assignment for week nine - (June 28th, 2010 to July 4th, 2010)

Chapter Nine - pages 309 - 335

This is the second historical fiction group selected book.

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers if you are catching up.

This book was kicked off on May 3rd.

This discussion is being led by assisting moderator of historical fiction - Elizabeth S.

We always enjoy the participation of all group members. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, or on your Kindle.

This thread opens up Monday, June 28th for discussion. This is a non spoiler thread.




Master and Commander (Aubrey/Maturin Book 1) by Patrick O'Brian Patrick O'Brian Patrick O'Brian

message 2: by Elizabeth S (last edited Jul 05, 2010 07:26AM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Chapter 9 begins with some of Stephen's descriptions of the Sophie's journey across the Mediterranean. Stephen and Jack discuss the various merits of becoming a post-captain, which is Jack's goal. While only 250 miles away from the return to Port Mahon, a ship is seen chasing them. A heavy French frigate, the Dedaigneuse. Knowing they would be outgunned, Jack sails his Sophie as fast as he can, with the frigate in chase. And then Henry Ellis falls overboard and Jack stops to send the jolly-boat to retrieve him. Unfortunately, Ellis is recovered dead. Stephen manages to revive Ellis. The chase continues, with much less distance between the ships, and soon shots are fired by the frigate. As night falls, Jack sets up a raft with lights similar to the only lights that had been showing on the Sophie. The raft is cut loose, and after a bit they hear the frigate fiercely firing, then silence as the lights on the raft go out. In the morning, the Sophie is way off course. It takes them a long time to return to Port Mahon.

In port, Jack has much to annoy him. Reporting to the Ellis' on how their son is doing, things he ordered not coming in, his father planning to remarry, and Mrs. Harte gone away. Dillon is still not happy and always on edge. Stephen wishes he could do something to restore good relations between Dillon and Jack. The purser, disliking Jack's methods, is planning to transfer to another ship. Jack spirits rise with a plan to visit Mrs. Harte, but something goes wrong because he returns too quickly and quite dispirited.

message 3: by Elizabeth S (last edited Jun 29, 2010 07:30PM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments One of the things to discuss this week is something of a continuation of a discussion began near the end of last week. Is Jack a fit candidate for post captain? In last week's chapter, Jack was told he was too insubordinate for the promotion. Jack's one redeeming quality is his good luck. This week, we see some of Jack's reaction to that criticism. On page 311 Jack wants to "persuade Lord Keith of his undeviating attention to duty, his reliability."

A couple of you last week said you thought, overall, Jack was a good captain. I agree for the most part. I am amazed at Jack's attention to detail while at sea, his unrelenting drilling of his crew to improve abilities and efficiency, his knack for playing a part with the whole ship, and his ability to get into another commander's mind and second-guess other ships.

But those are all qualities that are most useful when Jack is in sole command of one ship, without the need to connecting or coordinating with other allies. I think Lord Keith has a point that Jack needs to be able to reliably take orders. If he is going to operate as part of a fleet, a group of ships together in battle, the other commanders need to know he'll play his assigned part and not go off to do his own thing.

I imagine this is similar for any military position. Yes, you want your men to have some ability to think on their own. But you need men who can and will take orders. We saw this a lot when discussing The Killer Angels. Sometimes your part in the battle plan isn't really glorious, isn't what seems important from your perspective. But someone has to do it, or the battle is lost.

So the question is, can Jack learn this? Is he the kind of commander/captain who can do it? He has so little respect for the man above him, I'm not sure.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara by Michael Shaara

message 4: by 'Aussie Rick' (last edited Jun 28, 2010 05:50PM) (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Elizabeth,
Some interesting and very good points you have raised. I think that Jack, who knows both the good and bad points of Navy discipline having come up through the ranks will become the commander required however only time will tell :)

He fully understands that rigid but fair & just discipline is required on a fighting ship but I also think he is aware that sometimes a commander must bend the rules to obtain the result required and that is where his luck comes into play. Men need to be lead by a commander who inspires their trust. He must show good judgement and be seen to take an interest in his men’s welfare fully knowing that at time he will be placing them in harms way. You cannot always fight a battle by going by the’ book’ and the military understands this, allowing leaders to use their initiative and discretion.

If he bends the rules and does not obtain the result then he is open to the full brunt of naval discipline and will be court martialled however if he gets away with it then the Commodore will turn a blind eye to his transgression:

“The phrase to turn a blind eye is attributed to an incident in the life of Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Nelson was blinded in one eye early in his Royal Navy career. In 1801, during the Battle of Copenhagen cautious Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, in overall command of the British forces, sent a signal to Nelsons forces giving him discretion to withdraw. Naval orders were transmitted via a system of signal flags at that time. When this order was given to the more aggressive Nelson's attention, he lifted his telescope up to his blind eye, said "I really do not see the signal", and his forces continued to press home the attack.
It is a popular misconception that he disobeyed orders, but as the signal simply gave him discretion to withdraw he was not doing so. Even at the time, some people who were on his ship with him may have been under the impression that he was disobeying orders, since they were not aware of the exact content of the signal.” - Wikipedia

message 5: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Again I am drawn to the humour in this book, the following exchange and the image it produced in my mind between Stephen and Jack had me laughing out loud:

“….....'Yes, I had taken your point, and am much obliged to you for your attention in –'

A dark form drifted from the sombre cliff-face on the starboard beam – an enormous pointed wingspan: as ominous as fate. Stephen gave a swinish grunt, snatched the telescope from under jack’s arm, elbowed him out of the way and squatted at the rail, resting the glass on it and focusing with great intensity.
‘A bearded vulture! It is a bearded vulture!’ he cried. ‘A young beared vulture.’

‘Well’, said Jack instantly – not a second’s hesitation – ‘I dare say he forgot to shave this morning.’ His red face crinkled up, his eyes diminishing to a bright blue slit and he slapped his thigh, bending in such a paroxysm of silent mirth, enjoyment and relish that for all the Sophie’s strict discipline the man at the wheel could not withstand the infection and burst out in a strangled ‘Hoo, hoo, hoo’, instantly suppresed by the quartermaster at the con.”

The image of Stephen grabbing Jack’s telescope and then pushing him out of the way to look at a bird was priceless :)

message 6: by Rodney (new)

Rodney | 83 comments I think Elizabeth makes an outstanding point. Jack is very solid Captain, but it appears he maybe a bit of a glory hound. It has been a while since I read "Killer Angles" but I remember it somewhat, and that need for action and excitement on the first day of the fighting sat the stage for the South's defeat.

I think the key concept here is discipline. Can Jack develop the personal discipline to play a roll at times, or does he always desire be get into the fight.

As a private vessel who is only out for their own interests, Jack is extremely effective. If he wants to be a Post Captain, he will need to learn to play his role in the overall Navel policy. I'm interested to see if he can do that.

message 7: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Aussie Rick, that was interesting stuff about the blind eye. I never thought to connect that with Nelson before, but it makes sense. And I also thought the bearded vulture quip was great. Just the kind of guffaw my family would pull.

message 8: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I like how you sum it up, Rodney. Knowing the series has many books in it, I wonder if we'll even get much of an answer in this book. Hmmm. We'll find out in the coming weeks.

message 9: by Elizabeth S (last edited Jul 01, 2010 12:06PM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This would be a good time to discuss more about post-captains. It was mentioned once or twice in the beginning weeks of our discussion, but there is more we could talk about here. What is a post-captain? And what does it mean to a man like Jack?

Wikipedia has some good stuff about what a post-captain was:

Basically, a ship that was too large or important to be run by a mere commander (which is what Jack is now in the book) was run by a post-captain. For example, frigates and ships of the line were usually commanded by post-captains. Once one made post-captain the next step was admiral. Admirals were made strictly from the most senior on the post-captain list. Hence Jack says on page 312, "From then onwards all you have to do is to remain alive to be an admiral in time."

More than that, what does such an accomplishment mean to a man in the Royal Navy of the time? Jack tries to explain it to Stephen. It isn't just that one is officially a captain, or that one can shift one's epaulette to the other should. It is the height of ambition. Jack sums it up by saying, "you are there!"

Does Stephen understand Jack's ambition? Does it make sense to you? Do we have positions like this today, whether in the navy or elsewhere, where once you make a certain point you no longer need to worry about your performance?

message 10: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I also like the effect on Jack of Lord Keith's criticism. I think for a person to advance, and to deserve advancement, a certain amount of humility or teach-able-ness is required. People who can take criticism and learn from it are able to go further, I think. On page 311 is obviously taking Lord Keith's comments to heart and doing what he can do to prove himself. Is he really learning enough?

message 11: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen | 184 comments I'll try hard to confine my comments to what I know from this one book to this point! I think Jack has much more than "luck" on his side. He has a terrific feel for how a ship runs -- not just the mechanics, but also, for example, exactly how much this little sloop will bear. He is inventive and intuitive; he quickly gets a feel for the performance of the enemy's ship. He can see a battle playing out in his mind the way (this is a weird analogy: be prepared!) a composer can hear all the instruments, with their various timbres and tones, playing his composition in his head...

Jack certainly values having a good reputation "in the service," even beyond its use for promotion. And, having known want, he is definitely fond of prize-money. But he also, I think, takes an almost childish delight in doing well what he does well, and what he does very well, is direct a ship.

Agreed, that what he does less well, is take direction, operate within boundaries set by someone else, and suffer the petty injustices inflicted by those of senior rank. I think he has been doing a good job of leading, developing a good esprit de corps on his ship (until confounded by Dillon's funk ober the United Irishmen padre). But he is not a great follower.

message 12: by Rodney (new)

Rodney | 83 comments I've been wondering if some of Jack's sensitivity is rooted in how he became a Captain. Clearly, he was not anyones first choice. Therefore, he feels both the need to prove himself and daily has the frustration that's being criticized by the brass when he feels he has been successful.

Jack is in a difficult spot. He is reprimanded for doing what another Captain did to him regarding the treatment of prisoners, yet he's the only one who has to stand responsible. He has no one higher up trumpeting his abilities. It appears that Jack feels he's out there on his own and his career plans are fading.

message 13: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) I tend to agree with your theory Mary Ellen about how Jack has a 'feel' for his ship, what she can do in each and every circumstance and how he runs through his mind the likely points of each action and plans one-step-ahead with full knowledge of what the 'Sophie' and her crew can accomplish.

message 14: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I really like your summary of Jack's strengths and weaknesses, Mary Ellen. He really understands the typical seaman and how to inspire/work his men into peak performance. Of course there are a few out-of-the-box types (like Dillon) that are so foreign to Jack that he just can't figure it out, but he tries.

And he can read his ship, and the other ship, so well. And that taking orders thing. In many ways I can sympathize with it. Don't we all find it hard to take unfair orders?

message 15: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Rodney, that is a good point. After Jack found out he became captain mostly because of Queeney being Lord Keith's wife, he seems to have a greater need to prove himself. Now he knows he isn't really a commander because of his abilities.

message 16: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments Elizabeth S wrote: "Rodney, that is a good point. After Jack found out he became captain mostly because of Queeney being Lord Keith's wife, he seems to have a greater need to prove himself. Now he knows he isn't rea..."

Jack also expected promotion because he was the surviving senior Lieutenant of a distinguished ship at the Battle of the Nile. It was a custom to promote the senior Lt after a ship had distinguished itself in battle. The fact that he had started as the 4th Lt and the three seniors had died in the battle did not diminish his expectation that he should have been promoted.

message 17: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Good points, Patricrk. That is good to know the customs of the time. Mary Ellen said Jack has "an almost childish delight in doing well what he does well." I think he also has boyish optimism. Which is part of where his "good luck" comes from. When you expect good luck, sometimes you are more likely to get it.

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