Clarissa Oakes

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Clarissa Oakes
Clarissa Oakes cover.jpg
1st edition
Author Patrick O'Brian
Cover artist Geoff Hunt
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Aubrey-Maturin series
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Harper Collins (UK)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)
Pages pages (first edition, hardback) & pages 256 (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-393-03109-8, (first edition, hardback) & ISBN 0-393-31016-7 (paperback edition UK)
OCLC 25051419
823/.914 20
LC Class PR6029.B55 C57 1992
Preceded by The Nutmeg of Consolation
Followed by The Wine-Dark Sea

Clarissa Oakes (titled The Truelove in the U.S.A.) is the fifteenth historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by British author Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1993. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars.


Clarissa Oakes opens with the Surprise on her way back to England from Port Jackson in New South Wales. Jack Aubrey is in an ill-humour as a result of the frigate's visit to the penal settlement - firstly, because Stephen Maturin fought a duel with an army officer, consequently antagonizing the local administration, and secondly because Padeen Colman, Stephen's servant and an absconder, was secreted aboard the ship against Jack's express wishes. Jack also observes a certain ribaldry amongst his crew and remains puzzled until he and Captain Pullings stumble across a young female convict, Clarissa Harvill, during a ship's inspection. Jack learns that she was smuggled aboard the frigate in Sydney by Midshipman Oakes and is at first determined to leave them both on Norfolk Island but has a change of heart after being dosed with laudanum by Maturin and allows the couple to stay aboard until they can be put off at a hospitable port.

As the Surprise leaves, they spot a cutter, the Eclair. Believing her Captain to be after stowaways, Clarissa and Oakes are hastily married by Martin, the ship's assistant surgeon and a clergyman, and Jack orders Bonden to hide Padeen Colman. It turns out, however, that the cutter is simply bearing Sydney dispatches and mail for Aubrey, the former instructing him to settle a local dispute on Moahu, a British island to the south of the Sandwich group.[1] A gun room feast, hosted by Tom Pullings, is held in honour of the newlyweds. Despite the delicious food (a swordfish caught by Davies earlier), it proves to be a dismal affair given the level of animosity existing amongst some of the gun room members, particularly West and Davidge. The cause is jealousy over Clarissa, who (it turns out later) has had sexual liaisons with several of the ship's officers. This ill-will spreads to the crew, who divide in pro-and anti-Clarissa factions.

The ship spots a whaler and lands on the South Sea island of Annamooka. Wainright, the Daisy's captain, comes aboard and fills Jack in on the situation on Moahu - there is a war between Kalahua in the north and Puolani in the south, with the northern chief being supported by a French-owned twenty-two gun privateer, the Franklin, sailing under the American flag. The privateer has also captured the Truelove, a Whitby-built British whaler. While the Surprise reprovisions, Clarissa, who has received a black eye from Oakes, also confesses to Maturin on their botanizing walk together about her being sexually abused as a young girl and later working as a bookkeeper and occasional prostitute at a brothel in Picadilly. These experiences formed her sexual outlook, a combination of indifference and complete nonchalance. When she mentions that an aristocratic acquaintance of Ledward's and Wray's had visited the brothel, Stephen realises that this is the highly placed traitor they are seeking.

Aubrey drives his frigate's crew hard on the trip to Moahu to quell the dissension aboard. On reaching land, they pick up the Truelove, a Nootka fur-trader, and a column is sent to intercept the fleeing French - the skirmish is won but Davidge is killed. The Surprise then sails to the south of the island to defend Queen Puolani against the main body of French and Kalahua's tribesmen. Aubrey sets up carronades in a cleft and there is a terrific slaughter of the enemy the following day. The Truelove departs, commanded by Oakes and with Clarissa on board bearing Stephen's coded letter to intelligence official Sir Joseph Blaine, describing the highly placed informant. The Franklin puts her nose in but sails away immediately, with the Surprise giving chase.

Clarissa Oakes was published in the U.S. as The Truelove, which is the name of a ship in the novel.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey - Captain of the Surprise
  • Stephen Maturin - Ship's Surgeon, particular friend of Jack and an intelligence officer
  • William Oakes - Midshipman on the Surprise
  • Clarissa Harvill/Oakes - fugitive prisoner and stowaway then wife of William Oakes
  • Captain Tom Pullings - 1st Lieutenant on the Surprise
  • Mr Nathaniel Martin - Surgeon's Assistant on the Surprise
  • Barret Bonden - Captain's Coxswain on the Surprise
  • Preserved Killick - Captain's Steward on the Surprise
  • Awkward Davies - Able Seaman on the Surprise
  • Mr Reade - Midshipman on the Surprise
  • Sarah and Emily Sweeting - Melanesian orphans; rated ship's boys on the Surprise
  • West and Davidge - 2nd and 3rd Lieutenants on the Surprise
  • Weightman - Butcher on the Surprise
  • Jemmy Ducks - Poultry Keeper on the Surprise
  • Adams - Captain's Clerk (nominally Purser) on the Surprise
  • Puolani - Queen of the Polynesian island of Moahu
  • Wainright - Captain of the Daisy
  • Dr Falconer - Daisy's surgeon and a naturalist
  • Jean Dutourd - Franklin's commander
  • Pakeea - Annamooka Chieftain
  • Tereo - Annamooka Senior Chieftain


  • British
  • South Seas whalers
    • The Daisy
    • The Heartsease
  • Other
    • Franklin (twenty-two gun privateer, French-owned but American colours)

Series chronology[edit]

This novel references actual events as any historical novel ought. In respect to the internal chronology of the series, it is the ninth of eleven novels that might take five or six years to happen but are all pegged to an extended 1812, or as Patrick O'Brian says it, 1812a and 1812b (introduction to Far Side of the World, the tenth novel in this series). The events of Yellow Admiral again match up with the historical years of the Napoleonic wars in sequence, as the first six novels did.



  1. ^ Mary Virginia Brackett; Victoria Gaydosik (2006). The Facts on File Companion to the British Novel: Beginnings through the 19th century. Infobase Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-8160-5133-5. Retrieved 17 June 2012.