Master and Commander
is an historical naval novel by Patrick O'Brian
. First published in 1970, it is first in the Aubrey-Maturin series
of stories of Captain Jack Aubrey
and the naval surgeon Stephen Maturin.
It is April 18, 1800, in Port Mahon, Minorca, at that time a base of the Royal Navy. Jack Aubrey, a lieutenant languishing in port without a ship, and Stephen Maturin, a penniless half-Irish, half-Catalan physician and natural philosopher, meet for the first time at a soirée at the Governor's House. Maturin elbows Aubrey in the side to quiet his humming while they are listening to the quartet and almost provokes a duel.
On his return to his lodgings, Aubrey finds that he has been given a command and promoted to the rank of commander. His joy overcomes his animosity towards Maturin and they become fast friends. As 'Master and Commander', and in charge of the tiny sloop-of-war HMS Sophie, Aubrey has to fill out his crew, including the post of ship's surgeon. He persuades Maturin to serve, at least on a temporary basis, although as a physician, he is overqualified for the job.
Also introduced are Master's Mates Thomas Pullings and William Mowett and midshipman William Babbington, who become long-term fixtures in the series, and James Dillon, Sophie's first lieutenant, whose secret background as a member of the United Irishmen intersects Stephen's own.
Aubrey improves Sophie's sailing qualities by adding a larger spar to her mainmast, enabling him to spread a larger mainsail, and she is dispatched in convoy with twelve merchant vessels. During their journey east, the new captain takes the opportunity to get to know his sailors and to weld them into a fighting unit. As he does, he and the crew explain many naval matters to Maturin, (and thus to the reader) since the doctor is a novice sailor.
An Algerian quarter-galley attacks their rearmost vessel, the Norwegian Dorthe Engelbrechtsdatter, and the Sophie chases her off, giving the crew a taste of combat. They retrieve the Norwegian ship and bring the convoy safely to Cagliari. She subsequently undertakes several other convoy duties and Lord Keith also permits her some solo cruising time, during which a number of prizes are taken and the crew's fighting skills continue to improve. Eventually they capture the Cacafuego, a Spanish xebec-frigate which is considerably larger and better armed, losing a number of crew including Dillon in the bloody action and gaining the respect of naval colleagues. However, Captain Harte, the commandant at Mahon, resents Aubrey, who has been conducting an affair with his wife. His malevolence ensures the victory brings Aubrey and his crew no official recognition, promotion or significant prize money, and on her subsequent 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 exonerated.
Characters in "Master and Commander"
See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series
- 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 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 ships 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
Ships in "Master and Commander"
- HMS Audacious - Ship of the line and flagship
- HMS Niobe - frigate
- HMS Pallas - frigate
- HMS Sophie - Tri-sailed brig (sloop)
- Burford -
- HMS Généreux - 74 gun Third rate. Captured from France in 1800.
- Tartarus - bomb-ketch
- Cacafuego - xebec-type frigate (though named after a ship from the 16th century)
Many incidents and events in the book are directly copied from the real cruises of Lord Cochrane
in his sloop HMS Speedy
. Cochrane described them in detail in his Autobiography of a Seaman
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
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 has been a close friend 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 Thomas 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, which was used by O'Brian as source material for this novel. It was also used by the French privateer Robert Surcouf to successfully escape the British frigate HMS Sybille.
The book ends with Aubrey and Maturin witnessing the Battle of Algeciras, firstly from the deck of the French Desaix, then from the Rock of Gibraltar.
Literary significance & criticism
"Nothing is glamourised. The press gangings, the squalor are all here....The battle scenes are tremendous...This is not secondhand Forester, but a really fine piece of writing."—Sunday Mirror.
- 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, TV or theatrical adaptations
The film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
takes part of its title from this novel and some themes along with several puns, but very little of its plot. In fact, no one book provides the total plot line for the movie. A significant portion comes from The Far Side of the World
, with somewhat less from HMS Surprise
and other books.
- 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-13: 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
- ?, USA, Firebird Distributing (ISBN 0-00-105329-9), Pub date ? ? ?, Paperback ?
- ?, USA, Recorded Books, LLC (ISBN 1-4025-8272-2), Pub date ? ? ?, Audio cassette (unabridged by
Sources, references, external links, quotations
- 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.