Are you getting bored with Patrick O’Brian yet? Because I have to warn you, I’m not. I’ve got Lee Child’s new novel on my Kindle, but what’s in my purse when I leave the house? Yes — that would be the South Seas. (I think. I’m not one of those readers who keeps the atlas handy. In my experience those tend to be men.) Sloshing around with my phone and my wallet, I’ve got the Boadicea and all who sail with her. In The Mauritius Command, Jack Aubrey is commodore of a squadron, so O’Brian can show Jack shouldering wider duties and commanding other captains, some of whom we come to know well. This becomes one of the great strengths of the series; time and again we’ll meet substantial secondary characters who are fully rounded, puzzling, charming, exasperating, admirable, infuriating, or all of these at once. Lord Clonfert is that character in this novel, and one of the most indelible; a vain, dashing Irish peer who causes Jack no end of trouble in the scheme to capture the islands of Mauritius and La Réunion from the French. Stephen, as so often, is more perceptive about the subtleties of the man, who is very popular with his sailors. In his journal (an invaluable writerly device) Stephen writes about this attachment,
“…a continued affection over a long period must be based on the recognition of real qualities in the man, for a ship at sea,… is an enclosed village, and whoever heard of the long-matured judgment of a village being wrong? … And the qualities valued by a community of men are commonly good nature, generosity and courage.”
Wisdom, don’t you think?