Master and Commander
First edition (US)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)|
|Pages||411 pp (Hardback edition) & 352 pp (Paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-393-03701-0 (Hardback edition US)
ISBN 0-00-612913-7 (Paperback edition UK)
|Followed by||Post Captain|
Master and Commander is the first historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1969 in the US and 1970 in UK. The story features Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and the naval surgeon Stephen Maturin, and is set in the Napoleonic Wars.
The novel follows the lives of three men, two who meet at a musical performance in 1800 in Port Mahon, and the third who is first lieutenant of the ship on which they sail, as Britain is at war with Napoleon's France. Ship encounters in this novel draw on the naval feats of Lord Cochrane.
The story starts out on April 1, 1800, in Port Mahon, Minorca, a base of the Royal Navy. A shipless lieutenant wasting away in port, Jack Aubrey, meets Stephen Maturin, a penniless half-Irish and half-Catalan physician and natural philosopher, at an evening concert at the Governor’s Mansion. An offense against honour arises when Jack Aubrey gets elbowed by Maturin to stop beating "a half measure ahead" of the time while the string quartet is playing. Each man is at a low point; they exchange names and locations.
Later that evening, at his living quarters, Jack Aubrey learns that he has been promoted to the rank of commander and has been given command of the brig HMS Sophie. Meeting Maturin on the street the next day, Aubrey's joy overcomes his animosity and invites Maturin to dine. Maturin accepts. They each discover a shared love of music and a similar level of talent in the other: Aubrey plays the violin and Maturin plays the cello. Upon learning that Maturin is a physician Aubrey, somewhat impetuously, asks him to sign on and ship with him, the surgeon for Aubrey's new ship having left with the previous captain. Although Maturin is a physician, with training far beyond the naval designation of 'surgeon', he agrees, as he is currently unemployed.
In Sophie's crew are master's mates Thomas Pullings, William Mowett, midshipman William Babbington, and James Dillon, the first lieutenant. Dillon and Maturin met earlier as members of the United Irishmen, a secret they keep between them. Three men about the same age, Aubrey, Dillon and Maturin, begin an adventure on Sophie.
Aubrey improves Sophie's sailing qualities by adding a longer yard which allows him to spread a larger mainsail. She then is sent to accompany a small convoy of merchant ships. During their journey east, the new captain, Aubrey, takes the opportunity to get to know his sailors and work them into a fighting unit, with the aid of Lieutenant Dillon. As he does this, he and the crew explain many naval matters to Maturin (and to the reader) since the doctor has never served aboard a man-of-war, including the gaining of prize money beyond any fixed rate of pay. Maturin quickly makes friends aboard the ship for his medical skills and his joy in finding rare birds and fish. The crew treat him as a landsman, but without insult.
After the convoy duties, Lord Keith allows Aubrey to cruise independently, looking for French merchants. After a number of prizes are taken, they meet and defeat the Cacafuego, a Spanish xebec-frigate, losing a number of crew, including Dillon, in the bloody action and gaining the respect of other naval officers. However, Captain Harte, the commandant at Mahon, has a grudge against Aubrey, who has been having an affair with his wife. Harte's malevolence ensures that the victory brings Aubrey and his crew no official recognition, promotion, or significant prize money, although Aubrey gains a reputation among members of the British Navy as one of its great, young fighting captains. The loss of Dillon is great to both Aubrey and Maturin, and felt in the ship, especially when his replacement is nowhere near the seaman to match Dillon.
On her following escort duty, Sophie is captured by a squadron of four large French warships after a pursuit and a brave but hopeless resistance. The French Captain Christy Pallière is most courteous to Aubrey; he tells Aubrey of his cousins in Bath, and feeds them well. The Battle of Algeciras begins, and after a short period as prisoners of war, they are exchanged, missing the fighting. Back at Gibraltar, Aubrey must undergo a court-martial over the loss of his ship, but he is cleared of the charges.
- Jack Aubrey - Royal Navy lieutenant newly appointed Master and Commander of Sophie; addressed as "Captain".
- Stephen Maturin - physician and natural philosopher, musician, stranded when his patient dies, taken on as surgeon when Jack Aubrey begins as captain of Sophie
- Harte - captain and station commandant at Port Mahon
- Molly Harte - wife to the station commandant
- Lord Keith - admiral in the Mediterranean, recently married to Queeney
- Queeney - recently wife of Lord Keith, and in earlier days, neighbour and tutor to young Jack Aubrey, and he suspects, the reason for his promotion
- Samuel Allen - erstwhile captain in Sophie, succeeded by Aubrey
- Mr. Baldick - lieutenant in Sophie, ill and replaced
- Mr. Williams - administrator in Mahon for Aubrey's prize-agent
- David Richards - Mr. Williams relative who serves as clerk in Sophie
- William Marshall - master in Sophie
- Tom Pullings - master's mate in Sophie
- William Mowett - master's mate in Sophie
- Isaac Wilson - ordinary seaman in Sophie
- Watt - bosun in Sophie
- Barret Bonden - highly competent, highly valued coxswain and captain of the maintop in Sophie
- Lamb - carpenter
- Ricketts - purser
- George Day - the gunner
- Charles Stephen Ricketts - son to the purser, rated midshipman
- William Babbington - midshipman in Sophie
- James Dillon - first lieutenant in Sophie
- Alfred King - black crew member, also a mute
- Quinn - sergeant of marines
- Lieutenant Dalziel - the man who replaces Lieutenant Dillon, despite a nomination of Pullings for promotion
- Captain Heneage Dundas - captain of the sloop Calpe and friend of Aubrey
- Captain Christy-Pallière - captain of the French ship Desaix who takes Sophie, and all her crew as prisoners. He is a good seaman, and a good host to his prisoners.
- HMS Audacious - ship of the line and flagship
- HMS Niobe - frigate
- HMS Pallas - frigate
- HM Brig Sophie - brig sloop
- HMS Burford
- HMS Généreux - 74-gun third rate. Captured from France in 1800.
- HMS Tartarus - bomb-ketch
- Dorothe Engelbretsdotter - Norwegian cat in a convoy, Sophie has to protect. She is boarded by Algerian corsairs, but recaptured by Sophie
- Desaix – French ship that takes Sophie
Also, O'Brian names all of the ships present at the Battle of Algeciras Bay.
Allusions and references
While in conversation with Dillon, Maturin quotes "non amo te, Sabidi" from the 33rd epigram of Martial: "Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere—quare; Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te."[Note 1]
Maturin and Dillon, both Catholics, are revealed in the book to have been members of the Society of United Irishmen, and these activities now compromise them politically in what is the aftermath of the unsuccessful Irish Rebellion of 1798. Maturin was a close friend and relative of Lord Edward FitzGerald, the Irish peer who was one of the leaders of the movement. Both Maturin and Dillon keep their Catholic beliefs and their old political allegiance quiet for fear of exposure, and the continuing official hunt for conspirators in 1801, the year of the novel's setting, is illustrated when Sophie is ordered by Harte to intercept an American ship carrying two fugitive United Irishmen and capture them by force if necessary.
The novel opens at a musical performance of a quartet by a composer called Pietro Locatelli. The composer existed, wrote and performed many pieces for violin, but he is not known to have written any music for a quartet.
The capture of the Spanish xebec-frigate Cacafuego by the greatly inferior Sophie brings Aubrey and his crew great glory (although no great wealth). This episode is based on the capture of the Spanish frigate El Gamo by Cochrane commanding the sloop HMS Speedy.
The exploit of setting up a decoy of a large ship at night by attaching lights to a small boat was executed by Cochrane and described in his Autobiography of a Seaman. It is reported to have been used by the French privateer Joseph Potier to escape a British frigate.
Aubrey is a childhood friend of Lord Keith's wife Hester Thrale. In the book she is referred to by her nickname "Queeney".
In many of the novels, Maturin is fond of identifying and discussing biological finds. Among those discussed in Master and Commander are:
- M. de Buffon's Jocko, a chimpanzee
- Malpolon monspessulanus, a snake described to be "two fathoms long"
O'Brian in his characteristic detailed precision, makes multiple references to medical practices:
- When stocking his surgeons chest Stephen Maturin makes sure he stocks asafetida and castoreum
- Humorously, when discussing Aubrey's affair with Mrs. Harte, Stephen says "there are times when it seems that nothing short of a radical ablation of the membrum virile would answer, in this case"
The novel begins with the famous line: 'The music-room in the governor's house at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli's C major quartet.' Locatelli's concerti a quattro for strings, such as his Concerto a quattro da chiesa No.7 in C major, Op.2 no. 7, were usually accompanied by a continuo.
Literary significance & criticism
Receiving many compliments from historians and literary critics and with a large popular following, Master and Commander has been reprinted a number of times. In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novel."
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- Martin Levin (1969). "Master and Commander". New York Times Book Review. 14 Dec.
- ? (1969). "Master and Commander". Kirkus Review. 1 Oct.
- David C. Taylor (1969). "Master and Commander". Literary Journal. 15 Dec.
- ? (1970). "Master and Commander". Sunday Mirror. 18 Jan.
- Benedict Nightingale (1970). "Master and Commander". Observer. 18 Jan.
- Tom Pocock (1970). "Master and Commander". Evening Standard. 20 Jan.
- H.J. Poole (1970). "Master and Commander". Irish Press. 21 Jan.
The 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, with actors Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, was made using themes—but not the plots—from the book Master and Commander and other books in the series, including "The Far Side of the World". The film takes part of its title from this novel, as well as some of the themes and several puns. However, very little of the film's plot comes from the novel and is only named so because of a general belief on the part of the movie studio that the series is known as the "Master and Commander" series, as opposed to the "Aubrey-Maturin" series.
- 1969, USA, J. B. Lippincott Co, ISBN 2221161185157, Hardback
- 1970, UK, Collins Publishers, ISBN 0002215268 / 9780002215268 Hardback
- 1972, UK, Fontana, ISBN 0-00-612913-7, 1 May 1972, Paperback
- 1989, UK, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-616626-1, 9 February 1989, Paperback
- 1990, USA, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-30705-0, November 1990, Paperback
- 1991, USA, Borders Recorded Books, Audio CD, ISBN 1402526083 / 9781402526084
- 1992, UK, ISIS Audio Books, ISBN 1-85089-877-4, October 1992, Audio cassette (unabridged)
- 1994, USA, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-03701-0, November 1994, Paperback
- 1995, UK, Bespoke Audio, ISBN 1-86051-003-5, June 1995, Audio cassette (abridged Robert Hardy Narrator)
- 1996, UK, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-649915-5, 7 October 1996, Paperback
- 1998, UK, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-221526-8, 27 January 1998, Hardback
- 1999, USA, Thorndike Press, ISBN 0-7862-1932-7, November 1999, Large print paperback
- 1999, USA, Chivers, Windsor, Paragon & Co, ISBN 0-7540-2248-X, 1 August 2000, Large print paperback
- 2002, UK, Soundings, ISBN 1-84283-310-3, June 2002, Audio Cassette (abridged Christopher Kay Narrator)
- 2003, USA, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-32517-2, October 2003, Paperback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-716608-7, 6 October 2003, Hardback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-715786-X, 6 October 2003, Paperback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-105329-9, 6 October 2003, Audio Cassette (abridged Robert Hardy Narrator)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-00-716085-2, 6 October 2003, Audio CD (abridged Robert Hardy Narrator)
- 2004, USA, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-32476-1, 21 January 2004, Paperback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2004, UK, Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 0-7861-8713-1, March 2004, MP3 CD, Audio CD (unabridged) Simon Vance (Narrator)
- 2004, USA, Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 978-0786186297, March 2004, MP3 CD, Audio CD (unabridged Simon Vance (Narrator)
- 2005, UK, Soundings, ISBN 1-84283-260-3, January 2005, Audio Cassette (abridged Christopher Kay Narrator)
- 2008, UK, The Folio Society, September 2008, Hardback re-issue of 1970 edition with new illustrations
- 2011, USA, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-05895-6, 5 December 2011, e-book
- 2011, UK, Harper Publishers, Kindle Edition, December 2011, ISBN B006FH2W4O
Sixteen paperback editions in the UK and USA have been published, in addition to five hardback editions (excluding the first editions). Twenty-two audio editions are listed for this novel, plus one MP3 version. Two Kindle editions are available as well, Harper in the UK and W.W. Norton in the USA.
- Latin: "I don't like you, Sabidius, and I can't say why; all I can say is I don't like you"
- Patrick O'Brian (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 193. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
- "Pietro Locatelli (Composer)". Bach Cantatas Website. November 26, 2008. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
- David Cordingly (2007). Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. New York: Bloomsbury. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-58234-534-5.
- The British brig-sloop Speedy's defeat of the Spanish xebec-frigate El Gamo on 6 May 1801, generally regarded as one of the most remarkable single-ship actions in naval history, founded the legendary reputation of the Speedy's commander, Lord Cochrane (later Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, GCB).
- Cunat, Charles (1857). Saint-Malo illustré par ses marins (in French). Imprimerie de F. Péalat. p. 418.
- Patrick O'Brian (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 205. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
- Amandine Péquignot & Michel Van Praët. "The collection of the "Cabinet du Roy" (1729-1793), an example of preservation and historical investigations". Retrieved 5 March 2014.
- Patrick O'Brian (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 206. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
- Patrick O'Brian (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 390. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
- Patrick O'Brian (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 385. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
- "BBC - The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
- Sunday Mirror review - quoted in "Cunningham"
- "Master and Commander". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- Richard O'Neill (2003). Patrick O'Brian's Navy: The Illustrated Companion to Jack Aubrey's World. Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-1540-1.
- Dean King (2001). A Sea of Words: Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O'Brian's Seafaring Tales. Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6615-2.
- Dean King (2001). Harbors and High Seas: Map Book and Geographical Guide to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels of Patrick O'Brian. Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6614-4.
- Brian Lavery (2003). Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O'Brian. Conway Maritime. ISBN 0-85177-946-8.
- Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman Thomas (2000). Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which Is a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels. W W Norton & Co Ltd. ISBN 0-393-32094-4.
- David Miller (2003). The World of Jack Aubrey: Twelve-Pounders, Frigates, Cutlasses, and Insignia of His Majesty's Royal Navy. Running Press Book Publishers. ISBN 0-7624-1652-1.
- A. E. Cunningham (Editor) (1994). Patrick O'Brian: A Bibliography and Critical Appreciation. British Library Publishing Division. ISBN 0-7123-1071-1.