Second installment: Post Captain. This is often considered O'Brian's tribute to Jane Austen. It is there: the romance, the class politics. The lusty Aubrey combats his own swashbuckling ways for the utterly dedicated Sophie, while the mother disapproves on socioeconomic bases. Maturin falls for Diana, someone as intellectual, tempestuous, and essentially unattainable as himself. This is played against a backdrop of fox hunts, balls, and (yes) Naval action.
SPOILER ALERT again.
For Aubrey, this is a tale in which for the most part everything goes wrong. His career is thrown into jeopardy by peace. He and Maturin are in France when Napoleon declares war again; he barely escapes with his life. He finds his prize money has been bamboozled, and he is on the run from the law. He is given command of ship with a deservedly bad reputation and has to endure further abuse from Harte, his jealous oppressor from the first book. He even finds himself at almost deadly odds with Maturin.
For me, the most interesting aspect is that this is really Maturin's story. Although the book is still largely in the third person, there are several insertions of Maturin's own diary, showing his philosophy and doubt. His laudanum-fueled contemplation of love and life--via Aubrey, via Diana, via Sophie, and via himself--form the mood and the core of the book. As his role as an intelligence officer of the Crown also is revealed, Maturin emerges as a dark and complicated character, a loner at war with himself for whom science--and his friendship with Aubrey--are an escape from his personal demons.
I always read books as potential movies (yes, I'm weird). The first book, Master and Commander, is Star Wars: a self-contained plot that is also the introduction to a grand universe. Post Captain would be an interesting novel to adapt into a film, something perhaps with the foreboding mood of Barry Lyndon, picturesque and less concerned with action than the struggle with one's own feelings. This is not, however, The Empire Strikes Back. It does not end as a cliffhanger. It is also still an O'Brian novel. There's plenty nautical, and it ends with a big battle. Yet the adventure here, whether love's labors or the consequences of war, is internal...
|"The Start of the Hunt" by Heywood Hardy|
(1) 1802. Aubrey and Maturin are passengers aboard the frigate Charwell. They are overtaken by a French ship, but as they are about to engage them in battle they learn that peace has been declared. This is not good news for a naval man. Aubrey and Maturin agree to rent a country residence together, Melbury Lodge. In the Downs, they take up their new lifestyle and join a fox hunt. Maturin meets a woman, Diana Villiers…and Aubrey falls off his horse. At nearby Mapes Court, a Mrs. Williams lives with her two daughters, Sophia and Cecilia, and Diana. The women learn about Maturin and Aubrey when Admiral Haddock visits.