Saturday 29 November 2014

Patrick O'Brian as Jane Austen? Almost?

Patrick O'Brian signs books at L.J. Harri Nautical Booksellers in Boston while owner Catherine Degnon looks on. (Photo credit: Vernon Doucette).

In today's Guardian Lucy Eyre urges women to celebrate the maritime author's centenary.See
She writes: 'There are two types of people in the world: Patrick O’Brian fans, and people who haven’t read him yet. This second category includes many women who are put off by the seemingly excessive focus on ships. This worried me, too. I thought it would be all battles and no women: perhaps even (shudder) a seafaring Lord of the Rings.'


But Lucy Eyre's a convert (like me):
'There is vastly more to [Captain] Jack [Aubrey] than fair winds and rigging. For one thing, there is Stephen [Maturin], the brilliant, bold, enigmatic Irish-Catalan naturalist-surgeon-spy.
'Although Jack doesn’t write up his physical charms, I’ve got a huge crush on Stephen: he is obsessional and secretive, but also fiercely intelligent, moral and passionate. For book after book, I willed the gloriously lithe Diana Villiers to succumb to his pursuit.
'The detail of the world of the ship is wonderful... O’Brian skewers the pompous in their own words. It’s Jane Austen at sea.
'And yet, somehow, I’ve so far failed to convince my mother – Sue Birtwistle, Austen admirer and producer of the TV serial Pride and Prejudice – to dip her toe in the water.
'The centenary of O’Brian’s birth will be 12 December.'


I myself would have liked O'Brian to give more space to women - including those disguised as boys (how else could a gel get a job at sea?).
After all, Austen's very great strength was that in a sea (sorry) of male authors she was a woman writing very fully about women.
Her brother was in the Navy, and she writes so well about it. See the website:
At least a woman was visible focus in O'Brian's Clarissa Oakes. But the point is, of course, that the sea was indeed a very separate and male space, although exceptions were many.Far more than many writers credit.

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