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
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.


Early life and career[edit]

Stephen Maturin, called by his Catalan family 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] conceding 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 at a musical performance gains him the position of ship's surgeon aboard HMS Sophie, a fictional brig-rigged sloop-of-war whose silhouette and exploits are modeled after those of the HMS Speedy.[citation needed]

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 secret agent to those in a position to know, though he never accepts payment for his services.

As well as his activities as a physician and agent, Maturin is a celebrated natural philosopher in the age of scientific discovery. He is, like Aubrey, a member of the Royal Society. His interests are wide, but he has particular interest in birds and anatomy. He discovers and names the hitherto unknown species of giant tortoise Testudo aubreii on a remote and uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean. An unending frustration for him is to be pulled away from the flora and fauna never before seen by a scientific eye, for the naval mission on which the ship travels. This is most poignant when he and his assistant Martin are promised time to explore and collect samples in the Galapagos Islands, which permission is abruptly rescinded when HMS Surprise must sail immediately on information as to where USS Norfolk can be found, the target of Aubrey's mission in The Far Side of the World.

He is considered an expert in suprapubic cystostomy (spelled "cystotomy", without the "s").[4]

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. 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). A French spy who saw him in Brazil as a prisoner on the USS Constitution, after HMS Java rescued them from the tropical seas, wrote that Maturin was "Five foot six, slight build, black hair, pale eyes, muddy complexion, three nails on the right hand torn out, both hands somewhat crippled: speaks perfect French with a southern accent." (quoted in The Surgeon's Mate Chapter 11) He is untidy or even disreputable in appearance, he spends as little as possible on clothes, and as a physician, he 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 The Reverse of the Medal.

Maturin is an excellent observer of people, a skill useful in his profession of physician and in his work in naval intelligence. He has a wide network of friends, relatives, fellow students, fellow natural philosophers and over time, those who work in intelligence. He is a close friend to Sophia Williams, who marries Aubrey, encouraging her to take action when she knows her own feelings for Aubrey. He was not so confident in himself to accept the same advice from her about his love, Diana Villiers, who is cousin to Sophia, making his a long pursuit before marriage.

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, and continues to perform successful surgeries. The extent of the torture is revealed slowly across the novels following it.

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 until the last completed novel, Blue at the Mizzen. He is, however, excellent at hurling.

In 1802 he meets and falls in love with Diana Villiers. They marry at the end of The Surgeon's Mate in 1813 after she trades her most valuable diamond for his freedom, at the start of the extended 1812 described by author Patrick O'Brian in the introduction to The Far Side of the World. They have a daughter, Brigid. Diana dies in The Hundred Days, when the events of the series again match historical time flow, in 1815 in a coach accident, but there are eleven novels in between their marriage and her death. Throughout their relationship it is heavily implied that Diana repeatedly cuckolds him. He then strikes up a relationship with fellow naturalist Christine Hatherleigh Wood, and proposes marriage. She first turns him down, dissatisfied with marriage due to her first husband. Then she visits Sophia Aubrey and Maturin's daughter Brigid at the Aubrey estate, becoming close with them. In the unfinished last novel, their relationship is unresolved.

In The Reverse of the Medal Maturin uses part of his fortune to buy the recently decommissioned HMS Surprise, giving its command to Jack Aubrey. Aubrey had recently been framed for stock manipulation and temporarily lost his commission, so the Surprise was to be used as a letter of marque and later as His Majesty's Hired Vessel when Aubrey is restored to the Navy List.

Critical response to Maturin[edit]

In reviewing the film made from the series of books, Christopher Hitchens finds "the summa of O'Brian's genius was the invention of Dr. Stephen Maturin. He is the ship's gifted surgeon, but he is also a scientist, an espionage agent for the Admiralty, a man of part Irish and part Catalan birth—and a revolutionary. He joins the British side, having earlier fought against it, because of his hatred for Bonaparte's betrayal of the principles of 1789—principles that are perfectly obscure to bluff Capt. Jack Aubrey. Any cinematic adaptation of O'Brian must stand or fall by its success in representing this figure. On this the film doesn't even fall, let alone stand. It skips the whole project." He finds the film's action scenes more inspirational: "In one respect the action lives up to its fictional and actual inspiration. This was the age of Bligh and Cook and of voyages of discovery as well as conquest, and when HMS Surprise makes landfall in the Galapagos Islands we get a beautifully filmed sequence about how the dawn of scientific enlightenment might have felt."[5]


  1. ^ Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ Brown 2006, p. 242.
  3. ^ King 1995, p. 38.
  4. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1998). The Hundred Days (Aubrey/Maturin Series). New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 47. ISBN 0-393-31979-2. 
  5. ^ Christopher Hitchens (November 14, 2003). "Empire Falls - How Master and Commander gets Patrick O'Brian wrong.". Slate. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 


  • 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.