"Master and Commander," Aubrey-Maturin Series #1


Book: Master and Commander, Aubrey-Maturin Series #1

Author: Patrick O’Brian

Publisher: W. W. Norton and Company Inc., reprinted in 2003

ISBN-13: 9780393325171

ISBN-10: 0393325172

Language level: 5 (obscenity and vulgarity)

Reading level: Adults only!

Rating: 0 stars (NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

O’Brian, Patrick. Master and Commander, Aubrey-Maturin Series #1 (published in 1970 in England by William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., and in the United States by W. W. Norton and Co. Inc., 500 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10110). A homeschooling friend of ours recommended this as good historical fiction. The publisher says, “This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey R.N. [Royal Navy], and Stephen Maturin, ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent, against a thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Details of life aboard a man-of-war are faultlessly rendered: the conversational idiom of the officers in the ward room and the men on the lower deck, the food, the floggings, the mysteries of the wind and the rigging, and the roar of the broadsides as the great ships close in battle. It is the dawn of the nineteenth century; Britain is at war with Napoleon’s France. When Jack Aubrey, a young lieutenant in Nelson’s navy, is promoted to captain, he inherits command of HMS Sophie, an old, slow brig unlikely to make his fortune. But Captain Aubrey is a brave and gifted seaman, his thirst for adventure and victory immense. With the aid of his friend Stephen Maturin, ship’s surgeon and secret intelligence agent, Aubrey and his crew engage in one thrilling battle after another, their journey culminating in a stunning clash with a mighty Spanish frigate against whose guns and manpower the tiny Sophie is hopelessly outmatched.” Our friend said that her daughter complained of some “bad language,” but when she herself looked at, all she noticed off hand were only a few British euphemisms like “blimey.”

Therefore, knowing my penchant for historical fiction, this friend of mine loaned me this book. It sat on my desk for quite a while. Coincidentally, the day after I finally picked it up and read the introductory author’s note in preparation for beginning the book, my brother-in-law came in for a visit and brought a new movie for us to watch. You guessed it. It was Master and Commander, based on the Patrick O’Brian books, starring Russell Crowe. I usually prefer to read a book before seeing the movie, but in this instance the process was reversed. The movie was not too bad. The book is well written and interesting, although the plot does plod along a bit slowly at times. But if I was a little disappointed in the film’s language, I was even more shocked with the book’s. One might hope against hope than an author writing about sailors might not feel the need to use stereotypical “sailors’ language,” but O’Brian did not resist the urge. There are plenty of instances of cursing (the “d” and “h” words appear frequently) and taking the Lord’s name in vain. But worse, there is much vulgarity too—an obscene British term for the rear end, as in “kiss my ar**”; a slang term for the male sex organ; and even the “f” word. There are references to “buggery,” sodomy, and pederasts. It is emphasized that the hero, Jack Aubrey, enjoyed looking at women’s bosoms.

The Los Angeles Times said, “O’Brian is a novelist, pure and simple, one of the best we have.” If he is the best, we are in BAD trouble. The New York Times said, “The best historical novels ever written.” Of course, this is not surprising coming from a couple of newspapers which probably never met a book with “dirty words” that they did not like. Personally, I think that the historical novels of G. A. Henty are MUCH better. Time Magazine said, “If Jane Austin had written rousing sea yarns, she would have produced something very close to the prose of Patrick O’Brian.” However, I seriously doubt that her prose would have been anywhere near as purple. Master and Commander, set at the dawn of the nineteenth century when England was at war with Napoleon’s France, is the first in a series of twenty Aubrey-Maturin adventure novels, which includes Post Captain, H.M.S. Surprise, The Mauritius Command, and The Far Side of the World. These chronicle the lives of Jack Aubrey, a British naval lieutenant who is advanced to captain of the H.M.S. Sophie, and his good friend and ship’s physician, Dr. Stephen Maturin. Based on what I have read, I could not in good conscience even suggest these books to a teenager under any circumstances. In fact, I would feel uncomfortable suggesting them even to an adult. I suppose that if a mature, discerning individual who was really into the Napoleonic Wars decided to read these books, I could not say that it was wrong, but I myself chose not to finish this one (especially after I came across the “f” word—yet I understand that it is often recommended in high school literature classes!). I figured it wasn’t worth sifting through all the garbage to find anything useful.

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0 Responses to "Master and Commander," Aubrey-Maturin Series #1

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this book review.

    I was trying to find out whether or not this series was a clean, good quality naval adventure, worthwhile picking up for my husband. Pity about the garbage, but I’m glad to know. I’ll have to check out the other series you mentioned.


  2. Anonymous says:

    If you find yourself offended by the ‘h’ and ‘d’ words I daresay you’d find yourself one offended Christian gentleman on most ships of the line in most of histories Navies.
    If you don’t believe a man can be an outstanding novelist while using language YOU disapprove of I suggest you grow up or stick to Dr. Seuss books…of course those are probably devil worshiping, right?

    • Wayne says:

      Remember that this is a book review blog that comes from a Biblical worldview. “You shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). Thank you for leaving your comment and expressing your opinion. I hope that your criticism of my review makes you feel good. Oh, by the way, I have known of Christian gentlemen who were sailors and they refused to use that kind of language.

      • LOL says:

        Taking the name of the Lord in vain doesn’t mean what you think it does. First of all, it should be mentioned that it was very common belief in the Ancient Near East that the names of gods were, themselves, very powerful, so using the name of any God was not something to be taken lightly.

        So what is taking the Lord’s name in vain? Let’s say I stole my neighbor’s goat. He’s not happy about it, and accuses me of theft. We both go in front of our leader and tell him what happened. Before I speak, I swear by the (true) name of the Lord that I’m going to tell the truth. If I lie after swearing by the name of God that I’m telling the truth, THAT’S taking the name of the Lord in vain. By knowingly lying after swearing by his name, I have dishonored the Lord’s name grievously.

        The closest modern equivalent would be lying under oath. That’s known as perjury and it’s what got Scooter Libby and Bernie Madoff sent to prison (well, that among other things.)

      • Wayne says:

        May God spare us from arm-chair and shade-tree theologians. I noticed that this post gives no scripture as a basis for its claims. Yes, what the poster said is one example of taking the Lord’s name in vain, but it is not the only form. Any time one uses the name of the Lord in a flippant, common way, it is taking it in vain.

      • LOL says:

        What I wrote comes from commentary on the Scriptures and scholarship about the cultures of the Ancient Near East, not the Bible itself. So no, I didn’t cite anything from scripture. Of course, the scripture doesn’t really ever explain any of this, because when it was written, its writers probably assumed that everyone would understand. It’s why modern-day novelists don’t spend their time explaining why men take their hats off while indoors. They assume that their readers know why and move on.

        I guess I could get into how God is not God’s name, but since you’ll probably just reply with more sanctimonious drivel, I won’t bother.

        Although since “Master and Commander” obviously wasn’t your cup of tea, maybe you should try “Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition” next.

      • Wayne says:

        I’ll take Scripture over commentary on the scripture and supposed scholarship about the cultures of rhe Ancient Near East. I guess any time some people disagree with or don’t like something they feel that they have to dismiss it with name calling such as “sanctimonious drivel.” And I guess it makes them feel better to make comments about someone else’s needing to read “Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    A ridiculous and childish assessment of the novel.

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