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September 02

(Soon to be a major motion picture)
Alex Grant

Between the ages of 54 and 84 the late virtuoso historical novelist Patrick O’Brian – something of a rogue who adopted an ‘Oirish’ persona and led a dubious life as a husband – who was born in 19l4 and died in 2000,wrote 20 books about The Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, known as his "roman fleuve" or river of fiction.

The first volume was MASTER AND COMMANDER [ 1969]. The final instalment was BLUE AT THE MIZZEN [1999], set after "The 100 Days", Napoleon’s final gasp/grasp at an imperial triumph,so the AUBREY/MATURIN series as they are known covered the last decade of the C18 and the first of the C19,up until 1820.

Since June 17th the visionary Australian film director Peter Weir, 58 has been in Mexico filming MASTER AND COMMANDER, with Aussie-New Zealander Russell Crowe as Captain ‘Lucky Jack’ Aubrey.Weir’s project has had a chequered history. The filmmaker spent much of his personal fortune paying for the building of the books HMS SURPRISE, a square-rigged , 28-gun frigate man’o’war,only to have the Disney financing evaporate at the 11th hour. Then Twentieth-Century-Fox stepped in with the $120,000,000 funding.

‘Lucky Jack’ is a bluff,hearty natural-born sailor and leader of men, an extrovert known for his adulterous ways. Aubrey has a black son who dogs his steps, a Right Reverend. Dr. Stepehn Maturin, played in MASTER AND COMMANDER by Paul Bettany, of well-deserved GANGSTER #1 fame – he was the young Malcolm McDowell- is a Catalan-Spanish patriot and nationalist and a seasoned secret agent for the British. Married but alienated from an aristocratic wife who’s a brilliant equestrienne, Maturin is a melancholy introvert and shipboard surgeon of brilliance, pining for his daughter and a seadog who has never gained his ‘sea-legs’, remaining clumsy, seasick and a clown to his shipmates.

O’Brian’s 17th book in the series THE COMMODORE became an international best seller in 1995 when he was 81. Director Weir has co-written the script based largely upon the 10th episode in the series THE FAR CSIDE OF THE WORLD but displacing the events to 1806 from 1812 to aviud the anti-American implications of ther tenth episode’s storyline.

All twenty novels bring to vivid almost palpable life the drudgery and the glory of existence upon a man of war vessel: the scrupulous obsessive hygiene demanded by a large crew living in one another’s pockets, the constant peril from wholly unpredictable weather and enemy onslaught.
O’Brien who in 1987 penned a biography of the great zoologist Sir Joseph Banks is a master at describing the exotic flora and fauna that Maturin loves in a child-like manner, his passion being Natural History.O’Brian also introduces Joseph Banks as the ‘fictional’ mentor and moral compass for the ethical perplexities of Dr.Maturin’s role as spy.

My own personal favourite volumes in the Aubrey-Maturin series are DESOLATION ISLAND [1978], THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD [1984] ,which offers the most rascally derring-do, and THE NUTMEG OF CONSOLATION [1991] which has the most exotic and menacing of locales.
Just for the record there are wenty-one novels in this series: the 15th volume CLARISSA OAKES was published in Britain under the title THE TRUELOVE in 1992.

© Alex Grant October 2002

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