The Mauritius Command (Aubrey & Maturin, #4) By Patrick O'Brian

3.5 stars

2023 re-read: nothing to add to my original review below, except to note that it’s still a great read and I really enjoyed the look we received into Stephen’s inner turmoil, understated as it was, and I’m continually impressed with how skilled O’Brian is at both developing his characters and creating an immersive and believable version of the early 19th century.

Original review:

As many readers have noted there is a comforting familiarity to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. Once you’ve overcome the hurdle of an overabundance of naval jargon and find that you are at ease with the near total immersion into the mores and language of early 19th century Britain you can start to feel quite at home with Jack and Stephen (we are, of course, on a first-name basis by now). I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say that I have come to enjoy the aforementioned naval jargon which so completely permeates the text (though I definitely *do* enjoy O’Brian’s wonderfully mannered non-naval prose), but I think I may have reached the point at which I am able to at least generally understand what is being conveyed, even if the specific technical details still escape me. More than this, I think that it may have brought home to me very effectively the sheer skill, care, and knowledge required of a captain and his crew in the effective running of a ship in the days of sail (not to mention the heaping quantity of luck they required to simply survive, let alone succeed).

So far there has certainly been a distinguishable pattern to O’Brian’s stories and thus there are a few things I have come to expect: Jack on land will be plagued by penury (or threatened to imminently endure it due to both his relative naiveté when it comes to non-naval matters, and the fact that the Navy itself nearly always screws him over), and will generally be pining for the sea while trying to distract himself with some new scheme, hobby, or project; Stephen will be plagued by his inner demons (especially if the name of Diana Villiers is anywhere in the text, however indirectly) while presenting a façade of cool competence, and will always attempt to help his friend out of the trying situations in which he finds himself. At sea their positions will, to some extent, be reversed: Jack the superlative and decisive captain, able to handle both his ship and his men with aplomb and immediate decision, may be contrasted with a Stephen who, while certainly no less competent in his professional sphere, often comes across as a fish out of water (if you’ll excuse the expression)…excepting of course when he is immersed in his unofficial activities for naval intelligence and for which an appearance of awkwardness can often be a distinct advantage.

So far I haven’t found this familiarity to have made the books fall into mere uniformity, even if the general plot structure has proven to follow a distinct pattern: Aubrey and Maturin on land find themselves (usually in the nick of time in the face of some crisis) sent to sea on a critical mission; during said mission (against the opposition of both man and nature in the forms of rough seas, violent storms, naval actions, and political machinations) Aubrey will generally manage to recoup any current losses by the capture of one or more exceptional prizes as a result of his great daring and seamanship, seconded by Maturin’s keen insight and capable manoeuvring amongst the backroom influences and powers that might have otherwise sunk the capable captain. The seeming opposition of the Navy to Jack Aubrey’s ultimate success nearly always plays a pivotal role in the story: either at the beginning as we see the apparent crowning glory of the previous volume taken away, or at the end with Jack’s initial victory eclipsed by the grasping fingers and petty jealousies of both his superiors and fellow captains. Luckily for Jack Aubrey he can at least count on the devotion and support of his loyal crew, not to mention the staunch friendship of Stephen Maturin. So far O’Brian has been able to introduce something novel into this formula in order to make each story both distinctive and interesting. In this volume this is supplied by the fact that Jack rises to the exalted, though temporary, position of commodore to a small fleet of ships being sent to safeguard the East India Company’s merchant vessels currently being pillaged willy-nilly by the French near Mauritius.

Plot aside, character is probably O’Brian’s strongest element in these stories. Jack and Stephen are, of course, the glue that holds them together and if you don’t like them and their relationship then you likely won’t have any interest in the stories at all. Further interest is added in this volume by the contrasting captains Clonfert and Corbett, one a dandy and sycophantic bragger, the other a hard and brutal disciplinarian, both of whom Aubrey must try and not only control, but form into something like a cohesive team...if he is able. There was also the character of William McAdam, Captain Clonfert’s ship’s doctor and friend who presents a very different picture from the more cerebral Stephen Maturin, and whose ideas and alcoholic outbursts were nothing if not entertaining. Of course rounding out the cast are our favourite bit players: the sailors who have loyally followed Lucky Jack from posting to posting when they are able. Luckily for the reader these include the dashing Lieutenant Thomas Pullings, irascible steward Preserved Killick, cheerful Coxswain Barret Bonden, and ne'er-do-well ladies’ man William Babbington all of whom make an appearance. This was a fun read, though not my favourite in the series, but it was definitely good enough to encourage me to plunge immediately into the next volume, Desolation Island. Paperback [9/10]
Still the best nautical adventure I've read in years, although this volume is slightly diferrent than the first three books. The change comes from a shift in focus from the developing friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, including their romantic entanglements on shore, to a greater portion of the book dedicated to actual naval battles. Until now the plot was basically Jack climbing slowly the ladder of command in the Navy, receiving a new ship, forging a battle-ready crew and engaging in one or two battles with the French or Spanish adversaries. In the Mauritius mission, Jack Aubrey is temporarily advanced to the rank of squadron admiral and sent to take away from the French their bases in the Indian Ocean (the islands of Reunion and Mauritius, used to send raiders to plunder the rich commercial vessels returning from India). So Jack has less time to work on his own crew, and must coordinate the actions of several ships at once, playing to the strengths of each subordinate captain and trying to compensate for their weaknesses. The mission is swinging from early success to almost catastrophic failure due to factors out of Jack Aubrey direct control, offering to the reader more than the usual share of bloody ship to ship broadside carnage. What I found astounding in the lecture is how close the author kept to the historical events of the attack on the islands, as described in a wikipedia article I found. The characterization is excellent, as usual for O'Brian, and I am also getting more accustomed to the cryptic names of ship parts and maneuvres. I thought Stephen Maturin played a more discreet role than usual here, but still my favorite passages in the novel were a couple of extracts from his private journal where he is analyzing the character of his friend and of fellow captains.

I wish I could include some quotes and more details about the sailing, the observations of nature and the secondary characters, but I accidentally erased both the book and my bookmarks from my reader. I hope I will do a better job with he next book in the series. Paperback Quarto splendido episodio, il migliore sinora e questo l’ho pensato anche del secondo e del terzo: ogni romanzo sembra superare il precedente.
La sofisticata raffinatezza con cui O’Brian tratteggia Lord Clonfert - il quale eccelle nella “specialità di toccare la nota falsa” - lascia ammirati; c’è lui al centro emotivo della narrazione: un uomo difficile da inquadrare, di cui non si sa bene cosa pensare. Stephen e Jack hanno opinioni non ben definite, il medico MacAdam ha una sua idea eppure la ciurma lo adora, senza contare che il lettore non può dimenticare lo sgarbo che Jack fa a sua moglie all’inizio del viaggio, cosa che in qualche modo inquina i sentimenti che si provano nei suoi confronti. Un carattere che non dimenticherò.
Ciò detto, mi sento sempre più avvezzo alle cose di mare e posso con una certa soddisfazione chiamare cime quelle che prima avrei definito semplici corde, ma non solo: potrei anche aggiungere che le più piccole sono dette sagole, quelle maggiori gomene o gherlini, per non parlare del fatto che il sartiame è più correttamente composto dalle sole funi che dallo scafo salgono verso gli alberi per sostenerli lateralmente.
Tuttavia, se mi limitassi a questo, la precisazione potrebbe apparire stucchevole, perché non darei il giusto risalto agli schiocchi di stragli, draglie, drizze, ghie, gratili, griselle, matafioni, paterazzi, ritenute, scotte.
Mi si potrebbe obiettare che sono mere questioni terminologiche, ma a mio avviso non è così: trattasi di lingua, non di lessico.
Leggere le avventure di Aubrey & Maturin significa entrare in una dimensione linguistica ai più sconosciuta e se è vero che è la lingua, secondo gli ideali romantici, a fare una nazione, benvenuti nella nazione marinara, che vanta vasti confini e infiniti paesaggi, e i cui cittadini onorari sono ammiragli e commodori, tenenti di vascello e primi ufficiali, nocchieri e mastri d’ascia, mozzi o semplici terrazzani come me.
(E se c’è da spazzare il ponte, sappiate che non è la scopa che dovrete cercare, ma la redazza) Paperback Read this book in 2008, and its the 4th wonderful outing in the Aubrey/Maturin series.

In this tale at the beginning Captain Jack Aubrey is on shore at half pay without a command, when Stephen Maturin arrives with secret orders for Aubrey to take a frigate to the Cape of Good Hope under a commodore's pennant.

With a mighty expedition sailing towards the Indian Ocean, their action will need to be done against the French and their Islands, Mauritius and La Réunion.

But not carrying out his orders correctly are two Captains who are thwarting Aubrey's orders and those men are Lord Clonfert and Captain Corbett.

With two of his ships in turmoil, with a possible mutiny at hand on board these same ships, commodore Aubrey will need all his strength and determination to get those ships into line with all the others while performing their actions to the full satisfaction for the British Monarchy against the Islands from Napoleon's France.

What is to come is another wonderful authentic written tale by this amazing author, in which Aubrey, Maturin and all the others figures come vividly to life within this tale set in the Napoleonic Wars, a war that is fought in this part of the world between Britain and France on the waves of the Indian Ocean.

Highly recommended, for this is another amazing addition to this wonderful series, and that's why I like to call this episode: A Superb Mauritius Command! Paperback I'm bumping my rating of this up to five stars from four after my reread.

Damn this is a fine addition to the Aubrey-Maturin series. There is genuine comfort in reading this book, and I think some of that comfort stems from Patrick O'Brian's comfort with his characters. O'Brian knows his men intimately by this fourth book, and he is able to let them live on their own, confident, it seems to me, that they will take him where they need to go.

In this case, they take him to the Mauritius campaign of 1809-1811. Jack Aubrey stands in for real life Commodore Josias Rowley, captaining HMS Boadicea, while Stephen is busy fomenting unrest on the islands. Apparently The Mauritius Command follows the true campaign faithfully, which makes for a fascinating experience for those who love historical novels, but the real interest for me is -- as always -- the characters. Whether reading (or rereading) about the family of men, Jack's brothers and friends and followers, I've grown to love as they live and work, or reading about the pathetically narcissistic Lord Clonfert and the fatally brutal Captain Corbett (who may have met his maker from (un)friendly fire during a pitched battle with the French), it is a reading experience I am able to fully immerse myself in. O'Brian's is a world I don't ever want to set aside.

I believe in O'Brian's fictional men, which makes me believe that O'Brian's take on the real men that surround them is equally plausible, and I want to be part of that group, eating plum duff and hauling to and boarding the enemy vessel and waiting for news from home. The closest I will ever come is O'Brian's books, but at least I have them. Paperback

Captain Jack Aubrey is ashore on half pay without a command—until Stephen Maturin arrives with secret orders for Aubrey to take a frigate to the Cape of Good Hope under a commodore's pennant, there to mount an expedition against the French-held islands of Mauritius and La Réunion. But the difficulties of carrying out his orders are compounded by two of his own captains—Lord Clonfert, a pleasure-seeking dilettante, and Captain Corbett, whose severity pushes his crew to the verge of mutiny. The Mauritius Command (Aubrey & Maturin, #4)


download The Mauritius Command (Aubrey & Maturin, #4)

A delight as usual to dive into this 4th in the wonderfully addictive series about the British navy during the Napoleanic Wars. I gave myself the treat of coming back to this, which stands out as one of the best in the set of 16 that I read most of the distant past. Half or more of the pleasure comes from partaking in the special friendship between boyish and brave Captain Jack Aubrey and the more intellectual surgeon and spy, Stephen Maturin. The other reward lies in O’Brian’s portrayal of the special community that exists among the sailors aboard these floating extensions of the British empire. Of course, the quest of taking virtuous naval action against the forces of Bonaparte’s tyranny is part of the hedonic equation, a chance to experience a more adult version of the heroic adventure tales of Hornblower that sustained my youth.

Here Aubrey has the mission to take a small squadron to face the marauding French frigates which are devastating the trade of England with India around Cape Horn. The series of engagements covered in this tale involve a wonderful chess match of shifting odds which recapitulate the actual history of how the islands of Mauritius and Reunion off the east African coast were wrested from the French in 1805. Unlike the cat and mouse play between individual ships and commanders in previous books in the series, this one puts Jack in the position of leader of a campaign. As a commodore, his challenge is to harness and inspire his captains, each with a different set of strengths and weaknesses. He also has to coordinate with British army forces and local militia and judiciously risk Stephen to on intelligence gathering trips ashore.

Much of the narrative comes from Stephen’s reflections, which provides a fascinating perspective on the manners and morals of the time, critical views on British imperialism, and much comparing and contrasting of Aubrey with other officers. As usual, he is frustrated in his hunger to satisfy his naturalist avocation in exploring the flora and fauna of this remote geography. Still, we get to share his ecstasies over experiencing his first aardvark and manatee. His ruminations on human nature and medicine provide a satisfying backdrop to the story. And, as usual, the interludes of music and of humorous banter with Jack are icing on the cake. For example, at one point Stephen asks Jack whether he can learn anything useful from distant observation of the French ships:

“Of course,” said Jack a little impatiently. “What a fellow you are, Stephen. Any sailor can tell a great deal from the way another sailor sets his jib, or goes about, or flashes out his stuns’ls, just as you can tell a great deal about a doctor from the way he whipped off a leg.”
“Always this whipping off of a leg. It is my belief that for you people the whole noble art of medicine is summed up in the whipping off of a leg. …”

Paperback My love for these books seems boundless, almost I feel harsh giving any of them anything but a 5 star rating and a kiss on the papery cheek. I'm trying to be objective, to take off my rose-colored glasses and view the work through someone else's eyes, someone who's not a hardcore fanboy, but goodness gracious, it's difficult.

Giving it the old college try, let me begin with the negative then...

The Mauritius Command does not hold the passion of the first three books in Patrick O'Brian 20 volume seafaring series set during the Napoleonic Wars. Love and its numerous forms, many of which appear in O'Brian's writing, is not a theme as strongly attended to as it was in the previous books. Sure, trace whiffs of it linger about in the form of our hero Captain Jack Aubrey's longing for his wife so many thousands of miles away, but love is not a motivating factor as much here. Fear of failure, not living up to the manly expectations of the day, and the burden of command, these are driving forces that move the characters through this well-crafted tale...dang it! I tried to be critical, I really did!

Certainly Jack and his ship's surgeon/intelligence agent friend Stephen Maturin are still solidly ensconced as our main characters, remaining as the heart and soul through out the series, however minor characters and their needs take hold of the narrative with just as firm a grip. Jack's need to succeed in his first chance to lead a squadron of ships is severely tested by his ability to handle personalities. These are not just chess pieces to be moved about and sacrificed with utter disregard. These are people, some quite prickly, and the somewhat ham-fisted Captain Aubrey must get the most out of them with a kind of delicacy that does not come naturally.

This is fiction, but fiction based to such an extreme degree upon actual occurrences that one could almost call it a non-fiction. For me, that's fantastic, because I'm a truth is stranger than fiction kind of person. However, following the facts too closely can have an ill effect upon historical fiction, especially if it takes the wind out of the sails of a ripping good yarn. Be warned, there's a touch of that within The Mauritius Command.

Regardless, this is another brilliant piece in O'Brian's masterful puzzle. As ever, his writing is superb, his characterization flawless, the flashes of action and adventure are fun and exciting. Setting descriptions of places the author has never seen are breathtaking. When I read these books I feel as if I've stepped into these exotic locations with Jack and Stephen, who have become so real to me as to be thought of as old friends.

My review of book three, HMS Surprise

My review of book five, Desolation Island Paperback You cannot blame the bull because the frog burst: the bull has no comprehension of the affair
- Patrick O'Brian, The Mauritius Command

This is my fourth Aubrey/Maturin novel (obviously) and I have yet to read one that I wasn't completely in love with. There is just too much to love about O'Brian's writing: his knowledge, his wit, his humor, his details, his affection for all his characters, his various digressions. Some of my favorites in this book:

- Dr. Maturin's discussion with Mr. Farquhar and Mr. Prote on the poetics of law
- Dr. Maturin and William McAdam's discussions about medicine and mermaids (Manatees and dugongs)
- Commodore Aubrey and Dr. Maturin's discussions about his temporary assignment as Commodore.
- Food
- Dr. Maturin the Naturalist's pursuit of eggs, drawings of aardvarks, etc.
- Dr. Maturin's thoughts on Aubrey's character, surveyed against Captain Corbett, Lord Clonfert, Captain Pym, etc.
- Dr. Maturin's addiction to Laudanum compared with McAdam's issue with alcohol.
- Commodore Aubrey's explanations of figures of speech in the Navy (e.g. the devil)
- the general horror of war, even triumph, shown by Dr. Maturin

Many of the best lines and best observations are made by Dr. Maturin, which is by design. It isn't that Captain/Commodore Aubrey is without wit, intelligence, or even genius, but he is a man of action. The brilliance of the design of these books is with these two you get the action and the observer. It isn't that simple and often O'Brian will reverse the roles or combine the two for perspective, but it still is a useful structure for a long narrative.

This novel came out in 1977 and I'm still convinced that there was some deeply secret relationship between Patrick O'Brian and Gene Roddenberry. It might be the universe delivering a weird twin, but there is something similar in the way these stories seem to fit the mood and temperature of Star Trek. I even get a Captain Kirk vibe from Jack Aubrey and a Leonard Bones McCoy vibe from Stephen Maturin (with a bit of Spock thrown in as well). Since the first M&C book came out in 1969 and Star Trek first came out in 1966, it is a hard sell to say that one really influenced the other, but both were being created over the same time. Anyway, I love thinking there is some secret back and forth between these two pioneers of 20th-Century maritime fiction. Paperback Giunta al quarto libro, inizia a farsi sempre più evidente e sempre più degna di nota la continuità, il mantenimento dell'elevato livello di qualità sotto tutti i punti di vista: fluidità della scrittura, impostazione della trama, costruzione dei personaggi, realismo e disinvoltura dei dialoghi, accortezza nei dettagli, senso della misura per non eccedere mai da una parte né dall'altra, padronanza della Storia, guizzo nel finale, pianificazione di un composito che deve durare venti volumi, insomma, tutto.

Leggere le avventure di Aubrey e Maturin poco dopo aver letto la Tokarczuk, rende il tutto ancor più saporito e il confronto ancor più sfavorevole per la povera Olga.
Quei due vagabondano in lungo e in largo per l'Oceano Indiano senza nemmeno bisogno di filosofeggiare tanto sul significato filosofico del viaggio. Si portano in giro tonnellate di materiali e migliaia di soldati usando solo la forza del vento: fate il paragone con le tonnellate di carburante sprecate dai pesanti aviogetti moderni per portare quattro gatti di là dall'oceano, e poi capirete il perché di certe espressioni corrucciate di Greta Thunberg. Vabbé, poi si assiste ad una vera e propria strage di testuggini, purtroppo sappiamo che è sacrosanta verità storica.

Ma la cosa più gustosa è l'ironia con cui il dottor Maturin cura con semplici medicinali i dolori addominali di un comandante piegato in due dal mal di pancia, e poi si fa sentire dai marinai in conciliabolo con il collega medico McAdam per dirgli che sarebbe felice di assistere alla dissezione del cadavere nel caso di un esito sfavorevole.
O quando il proprietario della taverna, sapendolo appassionato naturalista, gli fa dono di un feto di porcospino, e subito dopo, nella stessa taverna, per delineare il profilo di quel collega medico particolarmente dedito ad alzare il gomito, la voce narrante spiega Là, come aveva previsto, trovò McAdam, seduto davanti a una bottiglia che avrebbe potuto conservare il feto praticamente all'infinito.
O quando Maturin lascia una vertebra - non meglio precisata umana o animale - in custodia ad un ufficiale dell'esercito inglese prima di andare egli stesso a parlamentare con i nemici perché, dice, non rischierebbe che quella finisse nelle mani dei francesi per nulla al mondo.
O quando viene amputato un piede ad un marinaio ferito, dopo la battaglia, e questi chiede cortesemente se può tenersi l'arto per ricordo. Le facezie sono le stesse in entrambi i libri, ma mentre in uno sono alleggerite da un'elegante ironia, nell'altro sono appesantite da una supponenza che non si da' nemmeno la briga di badare all'eleganza.

Decisamente, il miglior pregio di O'Brian è di saper raccontare senza farsene nessun vanto, saper insegnare e spiegare senza suonare scolastico o didascalico, creare dal nulla (o quasi) senza dare l'impressione di essere intento in un'opera di costruzione, come dice bene un tal @max in una delle recensioni: love the way O'Brian uses the texture of his prose to manipulate tension without feeling like he's manipulating tension. Paperback I do enter upon my rereadings of Patrick O'Brian books with an open mind. I am willing to give fewer than five stars to each book before I read it. However, at some point, sweeping down upon the blaggardly French under a great press of sail, foreboding the ruin of a tragically flawed officer, or smiling at Aubrey's sweet simplicity, it becomes impossible not to give it every star at my command.

Mauritius Command is a particularly cohesive volume, more united in purpose than most, comprising as it does one fictionalized campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. An intimidating military and political undertaking, requiring Maturin's cunning, Aubrey's nautical genius, and something in which Aubrey has never been tested: facility for high command.

Note upon rereading: O'Brian's dry humor has some of its purest moments of expression in this volume. Paperback