Stephen Maturin

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Stephen Maturin
First appearance Master and Commander
Last appearance The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
Created by Patrick O'Brian
Portrayed by Paul Bettany
Information
Aliases Don Esteban Maturin y Domanova, Etienne Domanova
Gender Male
Occupation Doctor/ Ship's surgeon/ Intelligence agent/Naturalist
Title Doctor
Spouse(s) Diana Villiers
Children Brigid Maturin
Relatives Several

Stephen Maturin, FRS, /ˈmæʊərɪn/ is a fictional character in the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. The series portrays his career as a physician, naturalist and spy in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and the long pursuit of his beloved Diana Villiers.

Maturin was played by Paul Bettany in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World[1] and by Richard Dillane in the BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the O'Brian novels.

Biography[edit]

Early life and career[edit]

Stephen Maturin (Esteban Maturin y Domanova), a Roman Catholic, is the illegitimate son of an Irish officer serving in the Spanish Army and a Catalan lady. He is cousin to the historical Lord Edward FitzGerald. As a boy he lived in Ireland, fostered by a family of pig-herders in Cahirciveen and County Clare, and spent his teenage years in Catalonia – most notably with his grandmother in Lleida, his uncle in Barcelona and his godfather in Ullastret. He received a largely Benedictine education, focussing on the Classics (he speaks Ancient Greek and Latin fluently, and can recite The Aeneid). He returned to Ireland in his adolescence, and performed premedical studies at Trinity College, Dublin, and received further training in Paris,[2] claiming to have "dissected with Dupuytren"[3] while there.

He was in Paris during the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, of which he was at first an ardent supporter. Returning to Ireland he was a member of the United Irishmen. While in Ireland he became engaged to a woman called Mona, who died in unspecified circumstances. He had become disabused of political enthusiasms and was against the 1798 rebellion, in which he refused to take part.

The Aubrey-Maturin Series[edit]

In 1800 he travelled to Minorca with a patient who died there, leaving him penniless and stranded at the start of the series. A chance meeting with Jack Aubrey gains him the position of ship's surgeon aboard HMS Sophie, a fictional brig-rigged sloop-of-war whose silhouette & exploits are modeled after those of the HMS Speedy.

As a measured advocate of Catalan independence, and a resolute opponent of Bonaparte's tyranny, Maturin had become involved in intelligence gathering, and eventually becomes a renowned (to those in a position to know) secret agent, though he never accepts payment for his services.

As well as his activities as a physician and agent, Maturin is a celebrated naturalist (a member of the Royal Society) with a particular interest in birds, and the discoverer, on a remote and uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean, of the hitherto unknown species of giant tortoise Testudo aubreii.

He experiments with drugs, becoming an addict of laudanum (in The Letter of Marque he states his own "moderate dose" is "a thousand drops", when twenty-five drops is a usual dose for a man in pain; in Desolation Island it is implied that he daily takes eighteen thousand drops). After overcoming his opium addiction he switches to coca leaves, as well as khat and tobacco. He can play the piano and the flute in addition to his preferred instrument, the cello.

He is described as short, slight, and dark-haired, with "curious" pale blue eyes and very pale skin, though he does become fairly dark-skinned when he travels to tropical climes (a result of his Hiberno-Spanish heritage and predilection for naked sun-bathing). He weighs "barely 9 stone" (126 pounds, 56 kg). Untidy or even disreputable in appearance, he spends as little as possible on clothes, and when encouraged by his particular friend Jack Aubrey wears a periwig over his sparse close-cropped hair. These habits persist despite a considerable share of prize money earned over the years, and a fortune inherited from his Catalan godfather in 1812.

He is renowned for his ability to nearly drown, and his frequent falls from every manner of ship are a bit of a running joke in the series. While fairly sure-footed on land, he manages to get into mortal peril in even the calmest water – allowing Jack Aubrey to demonstrate his proficiency at diving rescues – and is prone to plunging down hatches and companionways on board ship. His clumsiness may (in part) be due to his torture by the French at Mahon, where he was subjected to the rack (among other implements), tearing his sinews. Despite this, he is a crack shot with both pistol and rifle, and is an expert swordsman and veteran duellist.

Maturin is fluent in Catalan, English, French, Irish, Latin and Spanish, and has a working knowledge of Greek, Malay, Arabic and Urdu. Sadly, he rarely seems to understand naval jargon, a narrative ploy providing the reader with the opportunity to be instructed too, nor has much idea of cricket. He is, however, excellent at hurling.

In 1802 he meets and falls in love with Diana Villiers, whom he eventually marries after many vicissitudes in 1813 or 1814. They have a daughter, Brigid, before Diana's death in 1815 in a coach accident. He then strikes up a relationship with fellow naturalist Christine Hatherleigh Wood, and proposes marriage, though this is unresolved by the end of the series.

In The Reverse of the Medal Stephen uses part of his fortune to buy the recently decommissioned HMS Surprise, giving its command to Jack Aubrey (who had recently been framed for stock manipulation and temporarily lost his commission) to be used as a letter of marque.

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Brown, Anthony Gary (2006). The Patrick O'Brian Muster Book: Persons, Animals, Ships and Cannon in the Aubrey-Maturin Sea Novels (2nd ed.). McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2482-6.