Master and Commander
|Master and Commander|
1st edition (US)
|Publication date||1969 (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 a historical naval novel by English author Patrick O'Brian. First published in 1969 (US) (1970 in UK), it is first in the Aubrey-Maturin series of stories of Captain Jack Aubrey and the naval surgeon Stephen Maturin. Closely based on the historical feats of Lord Cochrane, O'Brian's novel is set in the Napoleonic Wars.
Receiving many compliments from historians and literary critics and with a large popular following, Master and Commander has been reprinted a number of times. 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". In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novel."
Plot summary 
The story starts out on April 18, 1800, in Port Mahon, Minorca, a base of the Royal Navy at that time. A shipless lieutenant wasting away in port, Jack Aubrey, meets Stephen Maturin, a poor half-Irish and half-Catalan physician and natural philosopher, at an evening concert at the Governor’s Mansion. The two of them do not quite get along during this first encounter. A duel almost occurs when Jack Aubrey gets elbowed by Maturin to stop beating the time while the string quartet is playing.
Later that evening, on his way back to his living quarters, Jack Aubrey finds out that he has been promoted to the rank of Commander and has been given command of the brig Sophie. His joy overcomes his animosity towards Stephen Maturin and they quickly become good friends in part due to their shared love of music. The ship's surgeon having left with the previous captain, Maturin is asked by Aubrey to sign on in that post. Although Maturin is a physician, not just a mere surgeon, he agrees, since he is currently unemployed.
Also introduced into the story are Master's Mates Thomas Pullings, William Mowett, midshipman William Babbington, and James Dillon, the Sophie's first lieutenant. Dillon and Stephen both have secret backgrounds as members of the United Irishmen.
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. 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.
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.
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 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.
Characters in "Master and Commander" 
- Jack Aubrey – Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and appointed Commander at the start. Captain of HMS Sophie.
- Stephen Maturin – ship's surgeon, friend to Jack and ship's intelligence officer.
- Harte – Captain and station Commandant
- Molly Harte – wife to the station Commandant
- Lord Keith (Thos Walker) – Admiral in the Mediterranean
- 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 midshipman 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
- 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 George Heneage Lawrence Dundas - captain of the sloop Calpe and friend of Aubrey
Ships in "Master and Commander" 
- HMS Audacious - Ship of the line and flagship
- HMS Niobe - frigate
- HMS Pallas - frigate
- HM Brig Sophie - brig sloop
- Burford -
- HMS Généreux - 74 gun Third rate. Captured from France in 1800.
- Tartarus - bomb-ketch
- Dorothe Engelbretsdotter - Norwegian cat in a convoy, Sophie has to protect. She is boarded by Algerian corsairs, but recaptured by Sophie
Also, O'Brian names all of the ships present at the Battle of Algeciras Bay.
Major themes 
|This section requires expansion. (June 2008)|
Allusions and references 
Literary allusions 
Historical allusions 
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 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 
- 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.
Film adaptation 
The film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World 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.
Release details 
- 1969, USA, J.B. Lippincott Co (ISBN 77-85111), Pub Date 1969, Hardback
- 1970, UK, Collins Publishers (ISBN ?), Pub Date ? ? 1970, Hardback
- 1970, USA, Books on Tape (ISBN 5-557-10141-1), Pub date ? January 1970, Audio cassette (unabridged) not sure if the date can be correct
- 1972, UK, Fontana (ISBN 0-00-612913-7), Pub Date 1 May 1972, Paperback
- 1989, UK, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-00-616626-1), Pub date 9 February 1989, Paperback
- 1990, USA, W. W. Norton & Company (ISBN 0-393-30705-0), Pub date ? November 1990, Paperback
- 1992, UK, ISIS Audio Books (ISBN 1-85089-877-4), Pub date ? October 1992, Audio cassette (unabridged)
- 1994, USA, W. W. Norton & Company (ISBN 0-393-03701-0), Pub date ? November 1994, Paperback
- 1995, UK, Bespoke Audio (ISBN 1-86051-003-5), Pub date ? June 1995, Audio cassette (abridged Robert Hardy Narrator)
- 1996, UK, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-00-649915-5), Pub date 7 October 1996, Paperback
- 1998, UK, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-00-221526-8), Pub date 27 January 1998, Hardback
- 1999, USA, Thorndike Press (ISBN 0-7862-1932-7), Pub date ? November 1999, Large print paperback
- 1999, USA, Chivers, Windsor, Paragon & Co (ISBN 0-7540-1334-0), Pub date 1 November 1999, Board book ?
- 2000, USA, Chivers, Windsor, Paragon & Co (ISBN 0-7540-2248-X), Pub date 1 August 2000, Large print paperback
- 2002, UK, Soundings (ISBN 1-84283-310-3), Pub date ? June 2002, Audio Cassette (abridged Christopher Kay Narrator)
- 2003, USA, W. W. Norton & Company (ISBN 0-393-32517-2), Pub date ? October 2003, Paperback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-00-716608-7), Pub date 6 October 2003, Hardback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-00-715786-X), Pub date 6 October 2003, Paperback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-00-105329-9), Pub date 6 October 2003, Audio Cassette (abridged Robert Hardy Narrator)
- 2003, UK, Harper Collins (ISBN 0-00-716085-2), Pub date 6 October 2003, Audio CD (abridged Robert Hardy Narrator)
- 2004, USA, W. W. Norton & Company (ISBN 0-393-32476-1), Pub date 21 January 2004, Paperback (Movie Tie-In)
- 2004, UK, Blackstone Audiobooks (ISBN 0-7861-8713-1), Pub date March 2004, MP3 CD, AUDIO CD (unabridged) Simon Vance (Narrator)
- 2004, USA, Blackstone Audiobooks (ISBN 978-0786186297), Pub date March 2004, MP3 CD, AUDIO CD (unabridged Simon Vance (Narrator)
- 2005, UK, Soundings (ISBN 1-84283-260-3), Pub date ? January 2005, Audio Cassette (abridged Christopher Kay? Narrator)
- 2008, UK, The Folio Society, Pub date September 2008, Hardback
- 2011, USA, W. W. Norton & Company (ISBN 978-0-393-05895-6), Pub date 5 December 2011, e-book
- "BBC - The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
- 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).
- Master and Commander 196 (Norton ed.)
- David Cordingly (2007). Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. New York: Bloomsbury. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-58234-534-5.
- Cunat, Charles (1857). Saint-Malo illustré par ses marins (in French). Imprimerie de F. Péalat. p. 418.
- Master and Commander, 205 (Norton ed.)
- Master and Commander, 206 (Norton ed.)
- Master and Commander, 390 (Norton ed.)
- Master and Commander, 385 (Norton ed.)
- Sunday Mirror review - quoted in "Cunningham"
Note sources 
- Patrick O'Brian (2003). Master and Commander (Norton ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
- 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.