Sunday, February 22, 2015

cold weather chronicles

What is a reasonably sensible person to do when a great armada of snowstorms parade through one's city making long outdoor excursions difficult, if not intolerably unpleasant? Sensible or not, this particular person has ensconced herself with the twenty and one half novels about Captain Jack Aubrey, RN and his close friend Dr. Stephen Maturin that take place during the Napoleonic Wars.

Aubrey is a career naval officer much respected for his talents as a tactician and leader at sea but somewhat prone to misadventure on land. Maturin is a talented physician and accompanies Aubrey on many of his voyages as ship's surgeon. In contrast to Aubrey, he is classically educated and a respected naturalist who also serves, unbeknownst to his comrades, as a volunteer agent for Britain's naval intelligence service.

If Patrick O'Brian's tales were nothing more than well-told, highly accurate accounts of life at sea and historical naval actions of a certain time, that alone might be enough to recommend them. But his novels go much further by exploring the emotional and situational aspects of friendship, romance, family, war, politics, and career in a way that's both compelling and relevant. O'Brian's main characters of both sexes, while undeniably heroic in their own ways, always remain essentially human. Their particular foibles and frailties, from Aubrey's ingenuous trust of land-borne sharks of all types to Maturin's hopeless addiction to opium, form an essential part of the novels.

Here's a hint - or it may be a reminder if you've read them yourself:

“The weather had freshened almost to coldness, for the wind was coming more easterly, from the chilly currents between Tristan and the Cape; the sloth was amazed by the change; it shunned the deck and spent its time below. Jack was in his cabin, pricking the chart with less satisfaction than he could have wished: progress, slow, serious trouble with the mainmast-- unaccountable headwinds by night-- and sipping a glass of grog; Stephen was in the mizentop, teaching Bonden to write and scanning the sea for his first albatross. The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. 'Try a piece of this, old cock,' he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proffering the sop. 'It might put a little heart into you.' The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece, and sighed again.

Some minutes later he felt a touch upon his knee: the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog: growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying toward the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bowl, and it would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink (its tongue was too short to lap). Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness.

'In this bucket,' said Stephen, walking into the cabin, 'in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London, and Paris combined: these animalculae-- what is the matter with the sloth?' It was curled on Jack's knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack's glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable bleary face, shook it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.

Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, 'Jack, you have debauched my sloth.”

I have nothing more to say about our winter weather than this:


marja-leena said...

Reading good books is the best escape, isn't it? I'm not familiar with Patrick O'Brian's novels but the excerpt is a humorous one with a drunk sloth... and the video too! You do find such treasures, even the Wm Turner seascape.

Enjoy the cosy comforts of home while the storms rage outside. Soon will come spring... yes, it will.

Ol'Buzzard said...

I don't know if this comment will get out above the snow banks....
I have lost count but we no longer measure it in inches - but in feet.
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

Yes, Marja-Leena, reading is certainly a favorite of mine and always has been. I feel bad for kids who may learn to read but never take delight in doing so. I'm delighted you enjoyed the brief excerpt of what is turning out to be a 7000 page novel!

I love William Turner - his paintings at the Tate Gallery completely took my breath away so it was a problem choosing just one for here. WC Fields speaks for himself :)

Yes, they say spring will come but it's hard to believe it just now.

susan said...

Ah well, OB, it did make it over the snowbanks and slid into here after a trip down our icy sidewalk. Whatta winter, eh?

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

The Ice Age is upon you. Spring will never come. White is all there is now, until the endless black...

Andrew of Gloom (the inaccurate soothsayer)

susan said...

As my eyes glaze over in frost rimed ruin I shall think of you..

Should Fish More said...

I'll drink to that.

Gary said...

Nice to have a visit... and sorry you're busy being shaped by winter when our daffodils have poked up about a month early. All the best!

susan said...


susan said...

All the best to you too, Gary.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
A delightful tale no doubt, from an author I gather was prolific in writing a long series of continuing novels covering that period of history. You may not be are of the French connection about that time in Australia, where the English and French captains exchanged pleasantries.see
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Currently I'm on number 13 and still haven't become bored. O'Brian's depth of knowledge about the era is truly astonishing and the ocean voyages, never mind chases and battles, are extraordinary. I'd never read much about the southern ocean and its ferocious winds until these books. During the course of reading the novels it's also been very apparent that a significant number of French people were no fans of Napoleon.
I know it's a big commitment, but I think you'd really like these books too.
Best wishes