Post Captain (novel)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)|
|Pages||414 pages (first edition, hardback) & 416 - 496 pages (depending on paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-00-221657-4, (first edition, hardback) & ISBN 0-00-613666-4 (paperback edition UK)|
|LC Classification||PZ3.O1285 Po PR6029.B55|
|Preceded by||Master and Commander|
|Followed by||HMS Surprise|
Post Captain (1972) is a historical novel by Patrick O'Brian. It is second in the Aubrey–Maturin series of naval stories set in the early-nineteenth century, concerning the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin. It has been described as Patrick O'Brian's tribute to Jane Austen with part of it set in the domestic English countryside of Sussex and the interaction of upper-class county families. There are many brief moments of high comedy.
The novel starts during the Peace of Amiens. Jack Aubrey sets up a bachelor household in a country district within reach of London and the ports of Dover and Deal, becoming friendly with the neighbouring household of the manipulative Mrs Williams and her marriageable daughters. When he falls into financial difficulty, he leaves England with his friend Stephen Maturin. When the Peace is ended, they escape from France and return to England. Aubrey pleads for any ship. After many tribulations and disagreements with Maturin and others, he is eventually successful in his career.
In 1802 with the sudden conclusion of the French Revolutionary Wars and the start of the Peace of Amiens, Commander Jack Aubrey returns to England to take up the life of a country squire. He meets the Williams family, and their cousin Diana Villiers. Aubrey courts Sophie Williams (the eldest daughter), but is also attracted to the heartless and dashing Diana, with whom he commences an affair.
Aubrey plans to marry Sophie Williams, but his fortune soon disappears when his prize-agent absconds with his funds and he is forced to repay the prize money for a merchant ship which has been deemed an unlawful capture. Aubrey flees the country to avoid going to debtors' prison.
While in the port of Toulon, war with England breaks out again, and French authorities begin rounding up all English subjects. Tipped off by the affable and hospitable Jean-Anne Christy de la Pallière, the French captain who had captured Aubrey's first command "Sophie" in Master and Commander, they escape over the Pyrenees to Catalonia with Maturin disguised as an itinerant trainer and his dancing bear (Aubrey in a bear suit: Aubrey, who is very English, very large and with flowing golden hair is hopelessly unable to pass off any other disguise). After reaching Catalonia they make their way to Gibraltar where Jack and Stephen take passage aboard a British East India Company ship. The ship is captured by the privateer Bellone, but a British squadron overtakes them and rescues Jack and Stephen.
Returning to England, Jack is offered a letter of marque by Mr. Canning, an enormously rich Jewish merchant. Jack turns Canning down and is soon given command of HMS Polychrest, an odd ship that was designed to launch an unnamed secret weapon, apparently a torpedo. The purpose-built ship is structurally unsound and sails poorly, and its first lieutenant is very free with punishment. Placed under the command of Admiral Harte, with whose wife Jack had an affair, Jack is given a free hand in the hope that his lucky streak of capturing prizes will continue. Jack's luck does not prevail, only managing to drive the privateer Bellone aground outside a Spanish port, but with no other prizes. Disappointing Admiral Harte, Jack is assigned to escort convoys up and down the English Channel. During this time, he gets a reputation for lingering in port as he carries on a furtive affair with Diana.
Meanwhile, Stephen is sent on an intelligence gathering mission in Spain. Upon returning, Stephen is advised by Heneage Dundas, a close friend of Jack's, to warn him about visiting Diana. When Stephen does so, Jack is angry and accuses Stephen of lying to him as to where he had been during his absence. Soon they challenge each other to a duel. While in port, Jack calls on Diana, but finds her with Canning. Prior to the date of the duel, Jack is ordered to raid the French port of Chaulieu to sink the assembled French troopships and gunboats and to destroy the corvette Fanciulla. On the way, the crew plans to mutiny because of the harsh treatment they receive from Lieutenant Parker. Stephen overhears their plans and goes to Jack - the first time they have spoken since the challenge. Forewarned, Jack quashes the mutiny by separating the instigators and some loyal crew in a ship's boat.
During the engagement in Chaulieu, the Polychrest runs aground on treacherous sands. Jack leads three of the ship's boats to board the corvette Fanciulla. The successful Polychrests capture it and refloat the Polychrest, which, after hours of pounding by the shore batteries, founders soon after leaving Chaulieu, as the crew transfer to the prize Fanciulla. After the battle, their duel is forgotten by both Stephen and Jack. Jack returns to England in the Fanciulla and is promoted to Post-captain. Jack is offered a ship that is currently being built but will not be ready to sail for six months. Afraid of being seized ashore by his creditors, he declines the wait and asks for any command. He is temporarily assigned to HMS Lively whose Captain, Hamond, has taken leave to exercise his seat in Parliament.
Stephen is again sent to Spain to gather more intelligence. This time, he returns with news that the Spanish will declare war as soon as four ships full of bullion from Montevideo are safely in port. While Stephen is gone, Sophie, at Stephen's urging, asks Jack to transport her and Cecilia to the Downs. While on board, Sophie and Jack come to an agreement not to marry anyone else; Jack is currently too poor to propose a satisfactory marriage settlement to Mrs Williams. Stephen, while attending an opera, also becomes aware that Diana's is being kept by Mr. Canning.
Fearing that a change in parliamentary leadership will leave Jack without a command, Stephen uses his influence with naval intelligence and the Admirality to see that the Lively be included in the squadron sent to intercept the Spanish. The Admiralty grants this request, assigns Stephen the temporary title of captain pro tem, so he will receive a generous share of the prize money, and tasks him to negotiate the treasure fleet's surrender. Because of Stephen's temporary rank and his now-obvious connection to the Admiralty, Jack realizes that Stephen has long been involved in intelligence work for Britain, which highlights Stephens previous travel and apparent unwillingness to explain himself.
The Spanish convoy refuses to surrender and a quick battle breaks out. One Spanish frigate explodes and the other three surrender.
- Jack Aubrey - Commander of the Polychrest and later appointed Captain of HMS Lively.
- Stephen Maturin - ship's surgeon, friend to Jack and intelligence officer.
- Sophie Williams - Jack's love interest
- Mrs. Williams - Sophie's scheming mother
- Diana Villiers - Stephen's love interest, and one of Jack's mistresses
- Lt. Parker - 1st Lieutenant of the Polychrest
- Lt. Pullings - 2nd Lieutenant of the Polychrest
- William Babbington – midshipman in Polychrest
- The British
- HMS Lively - frigate
- HMS Polychrest - sloop
- HMS Medusa - frigate
- HMS Indefatigable - frigate
- HMS Amphion - frigate
- HMS Amethyst - frigate
- Lord Nelson - East Indiaman
- The French
- Bellone (Privateer)
- The Spanish
- Medea - frigate
- Fama - frigate
- Clara - frigate
- Mercedes - frigate
In a conversation with MacDonald, Stephen argues about the various qualities of the gaelic poet Ossian's writing and authenticity. This references similar controversy which had arisen during the period about the true authorship of James Macpherson's translation of his epic cycle, and continues to be questioned today in literary circles. In this same conversation, MacDonald references the Roman legal principle "falsum in unam, falsum in omnibus," which translates to "false in one thing, false in all things."
Literary significance and criticism
- "One of the finest seafaring novels of the Napoleonic wars." — R. W., Taranaki Herald (New Zealand), on Post Captain
- "Master and Commander raised almost dangerously high expectations, Post Captain triumphantly surpasses them. Mr. O'Brian is a master of his period, in which his characters are finely placed, while remaining three-dimensional, thoroughly human beings. This book sets him at the very top of his genre; he does not just have the chief qualifications of a first-class historical novelist, he has them all. The action scenes are superb; towards the end, far from being aware that one is reading what is, physically, a fairly long book, one notes with dismay that there is not much more to come....A brilliant book." — Mary Renault, on Post Captain
- 1972, UK, Collins Publishers ISBN 0-00-221657-4, Pub Date ? ? 1970, hardback (First edition)
- 1972, USA, Lippincott ISBN 0-00-612913-7, Pub Date ? ? 1972, hardback
- 1975, UK, Fontana ISBN 0-00-613666-4, Pub date 1 April 1975, paperback
- 1990, USA, W. W. Norton ISBN 0-393-30706-9, Pub date ? November 1990, paperback
- 1994, USA, W. W. Norton ISBN 0-393-03702-9, Pub date ? ? 1994, hardback
- 2000, USA, Chivers, Windsor, Paragon ISBN 0-7540-1423-1, Pub date 1 December 2000, hardback (large print)
- 2001, USA, Chivers, Windsor, Paragon ISBN 0-7540-2320-6, Pub date 1 September 2001, paperback (large print)
- 1996, UK, HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-649916-3, Pub date 7 October 1996, paperback
- 1997, UK, HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-105330-2, Pub date 21 April 1997, Audio book cassette (narrated by Robert Hardy)
- 1998, UK, HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-221657-4, Pub Date 27 January 1998, hardback
- 2001, USA, Recorded Books ISBN 1-4025-0221-4, Pub date ? September 2001, Audio book cassette (narrated by Patrick Tull)
- 2002, UK, Soundings ISBN 1-84283-261-1, Pub date ? September 2002, Audio book CD (narrated by Stephen Thorne)
- 2004, UK, Blackstone ISBN 0-7861-8703-4, Pub date ? January 2004, Audio book MP3 cassette (narrated by Robert Whitfield)
- 2011, USA, W. W. Norton & Company (ISBN 978-0-393-05993-9), Pub date 5 December 2011, e-book
- 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.
- Pagination of Various Aubrey-Maturin Novel Editions
- Post Captain 234 (Norton ed.)
- Post Captain 268 (Norton ed.)
- Taranaki, R. W. "Post Captain reviews". W W Norton Patrick O'Brian. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- Renault, Mary. "Post Captain reviews". W W Norton Patrick O'Brian. Retrieved 2007-02-15.