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14 May 2004 @ 05:15 pm
Fandoms I Have Loved 5: Master and Commander  
I read the first few Patrick O'Brian novels when I was in college. I had to stop when I developed a hatred of Diana so intense the books simply smoldered in my hands. In 2003 I started over again after promising myself that I wouldn't let Diana get to me. After that vow bit the dust, I made another one: that I wouldn't let that evil, doctor-tormenting creature stand between me and some damn fine reading chock full of slashy goodness. That turned out to be the right attitude.

My greater knowledge of fan fiction also supported me through the most Diana-intensive parts of the series. When Diana was treating Maturin badly (in other words, when she was in the same hemisphere as he was), I could turn to fan fiction and see Aubrey treating him very well indeed. When Maturin was concluding that he couldn't consider himself truly alive without Diana, I could hit a few links and discover a Maturin not just lively but downright springy and bendable. So slash in this canon doesn't just entertain me; it sustains me in the face of the evil that goes by the name Diana Villiers.

And the movie helped, too; the filmmakers wisely excised all mention of Diana and nearly all mention of Sophie from the script, proving they really had a handle on the essence of Master & Commander. Because I think that even Patrick O'Brian couldn't deny that in this world, the women just get in the way.

-The Characters-

JACK AUBREY is a bold, strapping naval officer with a flair for strategy and leadership. When at sea, that is. On land, he's a complete moron who can't keep money in his pocket, a civil tongue in his head, or his prick in his pants. (His various episodes of adultery are tolerable, at least to me, but I absolutely writhed when he gave a power of attorney to a freaking mining prospector just before leaving the country. Hello, debtors' prison. And for Jack, it wouldn't be the first time.)

He begins the series with golden hair and a lovely face that gets progressively more beat up over time, as his skin is variously sliced, burned, shot, scoured, and infected. He plays the violin and has no interest whatsoever in natural history. He is afraid of spiders and snakes and despises Napoleon.

STEPHEN MATURIN is a crabby, drug-addicted, brilliant Irish bastard (literally) with a flair for surgery and medicine when at sea, and for spying and military intelligence when on land. He's a mean hand with a sword or a pistol, but he has a far more vicious tongue, especially before he's had his coffee in the morning or when he's going through withdrawal. In other words, do not prod the surgeon. You will get bit, and unless your name is Jack Aubrey or Diana Villiers, the wound will probably turn septic.

He begins the series with dark hair and a scrunchy face and pretty much remains that way; turns out time is kinder to scrawny, ill-tempered surgeons than to handsome, dashing rogues. He plays the cello and has an obsessive interest in natural history, and he fears nothing except humiliation and the rule of Napoleon. Well, and torture, after a while.

DIANA MATURIN (NEE VILLIERS) is a cast iron bitch who deserves to burn burn burn in the fires of hell. She is by turns a tease, a kept woman, and an unwitting spy and traitor, and those are actually her best qualities. Her main interests include staring lovingly into mirrors, jilting, mocking, and tormenting certain Naval surgeons, and, presumably, kicking babies and destroying priceless works of art. She begins her run in the books by trying to drive a wedge between Maturin and Aubrey; a few books on, she's more focused on driving Maturin crazy. They eventually marry, but only because she's run out of other ways of making his life wretched. Her plan backfires a bit, though, because the marriage is actually relatively good for Maturin; it gets her out of his system somewhat and they live apart.

Please note that some may consider this assessment of her slightly biased or even a wee bit off-base. I don't care. I loathe the woman, and after all, this is my summary. If you want to write a summary that mentions her free and independent spirit, her beauty, her talent with horses and guns, her feelings of imprisonment in the stultifying Regency society, and her facility with languages and cultures, go right ahead. I'll stick to my guns, thanks. And said guns will be pointed right at Diana.

SOPHIE AUBREY (NEE WILLIAMS) is a sweet, dewy-eyed creature who thinks babies are found in cabbage patches and who is much given to sighing and visible displays of patience. And let's be honest here - she's got a lot to be patient about; she should never have married any Navy officer, let alone Jack Aubrey, who is pretty much the archetypal Navy man. Her only good fortune is that he's gone most of the time. The best and the worst that can be said of Sophie is that she's very much a woman of her times. Her main interests are children, housekeeping, social activities, domestic economy, and avoiding her mother (and you'd be interested in that last if you had Sophie's mother, believe me).

-The Plot-

There are ships. There are battles. There are repairs. There is endless use of naval terminology, much of archaic and all of it arcane. There are moments of leadership and musical interludes and historically accurate surgical procedures that make you want to get down on your knees and thank god for anesthetic. Maturin spies and investigates, Aubrey commands and fights, and god help us all if they go anywhere near England.

Really, it's far more compelling than it sounds.

Helpful Information for the M&C Novice

Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep, so beware. In this particular case, you should beware of PO'B fanatics of the gen persuasion; in many cases, they make Trekkies look detached and apathetic toward their canon. You don't know terror until you've encountered a true PO'B fan with a question of trifling naval procedure before him, and you don't know boredom until you've listened to him answer said question. Over the course of 8 hours. With reference to 18 different books, including a number of period works, and many verbatim quotes from memory of certain moving passages from the Aubrey-Maturin works. (Gen fans call the series Aubrey-Maturin or Aubrey/Maturin. Slash fans call it Master & Commander. This is one of the mysteries of the universe.)

-If You Don't Know the Canon-

For the record, when I say canon in this particular fandom I mean the books. To me, the movie is good fan fiction; it will give you a nice feel for the period, yes, but only in the books can you get a real sense of the relationship between Aubrey and Maturin and the nature of their world, their society, and their lives on shore and on land. Still, if you have an allergy to archaic naval terminology or whatever, you can probably fake it with:

A Gunroom Guide to Patrick O'Brian Web Resources. If you cast your eye over this page, you'll see what I mean about obsessive O'Brian fans. This is, essentially, a very very long list of links, covering everything from O'Brian's obituaries and memorials to historical information about the age of fighting sail to pictures of ships, and touching on all points in between. As you scan this, you may find yourself thinking, hell, it'd be easier just to read the books. You would not be wrong.

Maturin's Medicine. I don’t care how many years you've been practicing medicine; if you want to understand what Maturin is doing in sick bay, you'll need this site. Only here can you discover what Aleppo buttons are, or what marthambles was, or what grey powder was used to treat. (Respectively: staphyloccal abcesses, even O'Brian didn't know, and everything.)

The Articles of War, 1749 edition. These are often read by Aubrey in the series and often violated by Aubrey and Maturin in fan fiction. So, hey, might as well read them.

An Aubrey-Maturin Chronology. If you're going to be writing fan fiction, this may help you keep the events of the books straight, especially where they vary from history. (The M&C series is slightly AU, but you'd have to be anal-retentive to notice on a casual reading.)

-Where to Start Reading in M&C-

With small, sweet pieces (of smut, naturally), if for no other reason than that you'll be hard pressed to find a story in this fandom that isn't at least a little sweet. I also recommend – and I'm going way out on a limb here – starting with at least some movie FF. Actually, no. I recommend seeing the movie and then reading some movie FF; it's much easier to get a handle on the movie canon, such as it is, than the book canon. And you'll be able to decide if you like the characters enough to embark on the novels.

If You Want to Get to Know O'Brian's Voice: Influence, by shalott. Book-based. So, I tell you to read movie FF and then I immediately recommend stuff based on the book. Why, yes, I do have conflicting feelings about the whole movie/book thing. But this may be the story to read if you're unfamiliar with the novels; shalott captures O'Brian's voice and Maturin's character remarkably well. Check out the rest of shalott's Aubrey/Maturin, too; it's all really, really good, and she does movie, book, and AU FF with equal skill. (Her Five Things That Never Happened series is amazing; I don't recommend AU stuff for people new to a fandom, but once you've settled in you must read these stories.)

If You Want to Get to Know O'Brian's Characters: Reverie, by Your Cruise Director (cruisedirector). Movie-based. This is one of the approximately 9,400,870 stories set in the tent where Maturin recovers from his gunshot wound in the movies; that tent has some kind of magical sex-inducing power. (The challenge involving it probably didn't hurt, either.) This story is one of the better tentfic pieces, and ideal for newcomers to the fandom: it's solidly in-character smut. "Reverie" is actually a sequel, but it stands on its own, and the earlier story isn't nearly so smutty. Need I explain why I'm recommending this one?

If You Want to Get to Know O'Brian's World: Prizes Over Discovery I and Prizes Over Discovery II, by Keiko, and if anyone has a better link for her, please let me know. Keiko knows her book canon, and this series (if you like I and II, there's three more thus far, all available at her Aubrey/Maturin page) seems to me to integrate movie and book canon so well it's hard to tell just which it is. These stories may have a few weaknesses here and there, but the characters are very well done, and Keiko just really gets the M&C atmosphere. Definitely worth a read.
Domenika Marzionemiss_porcupine on May 14th, 2004 07:35 pm (UTC)
nothing constructive to add, I fear...
... but having just completed Desolation Island (#5)...

1) Thankyee for the starter recs. I'm far enough, I think, to risk fanfiction that isn't purely movie-based. Not to mention the other toys and tricks.

2) Are homicidal urges toward Diana not the norm? I mean, apart and away from anything slash related... Stephen's obviously laudanum-addled, but what's anyone else's excuse?
tried to eat the safe bananathefourthvine on May 14th, 2004 09:09 pm (UTC)
Re: nothing constructive to add, I fear...
You are indeed ready to embrace book-based FF. I suspect that a lot of slash writers haven't finished the series yet, and the events of the later books are apparently less tempting to write about in any case, so you should be able to read 90% of the FF without spoiling the books you haven't read. (There are some great after-the-series stories, though, and that's the major category you might want to avoid.)

I would be right with you on the whole everyone-wants-to-kill-Diana thing, except:

1. During my first round with the books, I mentioned my burgeoning loathing to the person who'd introduced me to the series. He said, "Don't worry, he gets her in the end," which left me speechless with horror. I didn't want him to get her in the end. I wanted her to get the hell out of his life.

2. I once mentioned my Diana Issues on a message board. I got a number of "Yeah, I could stand to see her freeze to death while Maturin stands there holding an extra coat and refusing to share," but some people posted raving defenses of her.

And when I say "some people," I mean "men." Which isn't to say that there weren't male Diana haters, too. It's just that I've never encountered a woman who didn't want to rip Diana right out of the book and then stomp on her. And that gender divide surprises me. I can't figure out why men would like Diana; you'd think they'd be more prone to hating her, since she abuses every man she meets (though of course she reserves her special efforts for Maturin). I mean, yes, she's beautiful, yes, she's got a lovely neck and fantastic posture and gorgeous hair (those seem to be the traits O'Brian mentions most often), but she's not an actual woman. She's a harpy that someone left permanently set on "seek and destroy male egos, hearts, and lives." I fail to see how a graceful walk makes up for that.

In any case, I pretty much summed up what the Diana Defenders said in my post - in particular, they mentioned how trapped she was in her society, how cribbed, crabbed, and confined she was and how miserable it made her. Still doesn't explain why we should forgive her for her apparent determination to make everyone else as miserable as she is, but, hey, everyone's entitled to an opinion, mmm?
Re: nothing constructive to add, I fear... - azarias on May 15th, 2004 01:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: nothing constructive to add, I fear... - thefourthvine on May 15th, 2004 10:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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tried to eat the safe bananathefourthvine on May 15th, 2004 05:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Luffing you is easy cuz you're beautiful...
M&C is your current fandom? Tell me, then, are you getting your fix from an archive or a list or what? 'Cause I've never been able to find as much M&C as I wanted.
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giglet: Mr. Cotton by mandarkkgiglet on May 14th, 2004 08:24 pm (UTC)
I just finished listening to the book-on-tape version of "Master&Commander" (unabridged, narrated by Patrick Tull). It's an easy way into the series for commuters, although some of the scenes (ie, buggering the goat) might be a bit dangerous in heavy traffic.

I was struck by how this Maturin seems less sour, and far more grounded in the events of the rebellion, and there seems to be some setup of a past with the mysterious Kitty, that doesn't (so far as I recall) ever get elaborated.

Thanks for the recs and the character descriptions -- Maturin's especially.
tried to eat the safe bananathefourthvine on May 15th, 2004 10:28 pm (UTC)
Hee. I wouldn't want the goat buggery to come upon me on the 405. Sig alert waiting to happen, there.

Huh. Did you mean less sour than the Maturin of the movie, or less sour than the later Maturin? Because I do think that Maturin gets a bit more sour as time goes on, but then he gets kicked in the metaphorical crotch quite a number of times. There's Diana, there's the whole torture thing (I hope I'm not spoiling that), there's - well, his life gets a lot worse. And he's the total yin to Aubrey's yang (that sounds like an awful double entendre, but it was said with total purity of heart); he just can't bounce back the way Aubrey can. He broods. And boy does he have a lot to brood about.

Which could explain the perception (assuming there is one) that Maturin is more bitter in the movie. That's set down the road a bit, where the bad things have already happened to him. But we never see any of that happen, nor do we see Maturin the spy, so it's hard to understand why he is the way he is. I still don't see why they didn't start with Master and Commander's plot. It would've worked fine as a movie.

Ah, well. Mine not to reason why.
(no subject) - giglet on May 17th, 2004 08:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 19th, 2004 06:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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tried to eat the safe banana: potcpornthefourthvine on May 15th, 2004 10:22 pm (UTC)
Well, that explains why we get along so well, MMWD - we're neighbors in that bitter underworld. I'd invite you over for tea, but hey, torments to suffer, cooling jellies to covet. You know how it is.

*I* will read your Sophie/Clarissa Oakes. And I will even break my current rule and feedback it. With love. 'Cause the world needs that FF, and more rare pairing FF in general; see my reply to shirasade in which we both lament the lack of Pullings slash (come on - doesn't that name tempt anyone to write slash about him?) and I whine about the lack of Dillon/Maturin. This fandom needs you, MMWD. So buckle down on that Master's.

And I do hope to win you over to Aubrey/Maturin slash. 'Cause, see, I was a gen fan in M&C for a while. Until the Diana hatred came upon me, and then I realized that A/M slash heals, heals the scars Diana leaves behind her everywhere she slithers. Now I'm one of those converts who can't shut up about her new beliefs. Watch me blather.
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(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 16th, 2004 02:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
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A Certain Ms Uneslemslempike on May 15th, 2004 01:55 am (UTC)
Yay, I’ve been waiting for this one!

I realised that I would have to go and see the film (the men, the sea, the men) so I started reading the books, as one of my sweet joys in life is pointing out inconsistencies in films of books to unwilling listeners. That didn’t really happen, but at least it wasn’t a waste of my time. I read straight through the entire series with no breaks for other books and then moved onto The Golden Ocean (great) and The Unknown Shore (not so good). I loved the film, although I am sad that the timeline means no Babbington, who is an inexplicable book crush. He’s a whoremonger! He’s stunted! From the STDs! And yet I luff him.

Right. I like Diana. Always have done. I have little or no time for Sophie though. I think that it is the whole trapped-in-culture thingy, plus I liked her interaction with Babbington when he picks her up for the ball. Yeah, she’s pretty nasty to Stephen, but I don’t think it’s necessarily randomly destructive. He doesn’t represent a way out for her; in many ways she’s still seeking to become a part of normal society. She has absorbed what a wife should be, and knows that she can’t do it, even though she might want to be with Stephen. Her execution in the matter of acting on this leaves a lot to be desired. Uh, too early to do proper lit crit. Must resort to “she’s pretty. And she likes sex.” And now I must fight the urge to reread all twenty books to formulate a proper argument with references with the sword of smut. Heh, sword of smut.
tried to eat the safe bananathefourthvine on May 15th, 2004 09:55 pm (UTC)
You realize this means war. Despite our shared love of Babbington and children's lit, there can be no peace in this universe while you and I both live.

In other words: how can you like Diana how how how aiiieeee? (I'm there with you on Sophie; I have no time for her, and that's as much as she deserves.) I liked the way she treated Babbington, too, but I can't forgive her for her treatment of Stephen.

OK, warning: I'm willing to discuss this one. But if you'd, um, rather not, just skip the rest of this comment. I can get pretty vehement during arguments, but I don't mean to be, you know, mean, so - I'm just warning you.

I do think Stephen was her out. She just didn't see it for a while. In the first books, it's pretty clear (to me) that she understands she won't ever fit into society unless she marries, but she's still hoping for something better than Stephen. She has to make several stabs at someone richer, someone cooler, someone she thinks is more worthy of her before she can accept Stephen, and even then it's only 'cause she realizes she's fallen far enough that she's got to take what she can get.

And the whole thing with Stephen and Jack? If there's one rule in the Girl Code, it's that you don't fuck both halves of a friendship.

And let's not even talk about the whole jilting thing. That was serious then, breaking an engagement; it was an incredible slap in the face. And to do it more than once...well, I honestly think she took a certain pleasure in thinking there was someone she could hurt, someone she could make as miserable as she was.

I agree on the "pretty, likes sex" thing. But I hate the way she demonstrates her fondness for sex and uses her beauty. So even that, for me, is a double-edged sword.
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(no subject) - slemslempike on May 17th, 2004 08:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 17th, 2004 09:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 17th, 2004 09:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
astolat: joy by xastolat on May 15th, 2004 06:58 am (UTC)
Yay, M&C!

I can only say in Diana's defense that everything bad and awful she ever does is wholly redeemed by the sex conversation she and Stephen have in Yellow Admiral. :-)
tried to eat the safe bananathefourthvine on May 15th, 2004 09:33 pm (UTC)
I confess I've not yet been able to face the last few books in the series. (I have a serious case of last-book-phobia, possibly caused by exposure to C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle in my impressionable youth. And apparently the phobia extends to the last few books if the series is longer.)

So perhaps I hate Diana because I haven't read that scene yet. So I shall have to face my fears and finish the damn series. Though the spector of that unfinished 21st novel is going to haunt me. I wish they wouldn't release partially finished books.
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(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 16th, 2004 02:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 16th, 2004 07:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - afrai on June 14th, 2004 09:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
Iphiginia Saberhagenfanofall on May 18th, 2004 10:27 am (UTC)
I went out and rented this fricking movie on your say-so. And I completely loved it, don't get me wrong, but I have to ask:

So exactly how long were Aubrey and Maturin involved? And how long has Maturin been a bitch? Because he was v.v. whiny when he didn't get to go to Galapagos. I enjoyed it immensely. :-)
tried to eat the safe bananathefourthvine on May 19th, 2004 02:03 am (UTC)
Well, the movie screws with the book's timeline. But they'd been together 13 years in the book The Far Side of the World.

Maturin is indeed a total bitch; that's why we love him. He's touchy, proud, and as easily irritated as a wolverine. Example: you know how, in the movie, they show him fighting with a sword? In one of the books, he explains that he realized he was never going to make it through college without fighting dozens of duels, because of his supreme touchiness and pride, and so he had to get really, really good with sword and pistol just to survive. That, my friend, is the definitive irritable man.

But the movie doesn't show the other sides of Maturin. I mean, he's a brilliant spy and does a remarkable job at planning intelligence strategy; for every sloth he brings on board and for every life he saves through surgery, he steals two sets of important papers. Also, Maturin behaves differently around Aubrey than around most people. One of the things I love about the books is how they have occasional screaming arguments that everyone on the ship gets to hear - and then the crew has to walk on eggshells, because Aubrey is normally pretty equable, but not when he's on the outs with Maturin.

Seriously, these novels are Homoerotic Subtext City.

And I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. They're a fun pair, aren't they?
(no subject) - fanofall on May 19th, 2004 08:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 19th, 2004 05:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Red Fionaredfiona99 on November 10th, 2007 10:55 pm (UTC)
Sorry for the random comment, but this overview pretty much got me reading the books (I've been good and started with M&C). So thanks. No Diana yet but I await her appearance in future books with much aprehension. Because I don't want to see Maturin hurt. In any way. I'm still in mourning for James Dillon.
Sophonisbasaphanibaal on October 21st, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
passing comment, remarkably late
Happening across this introduction at this late date, I found it useful for beginning to explore the fandom (despite knowing that yes, it's the Internet, and there's at least some online fandom for every significant series, I tend to remain a little bemused when encountering other fans of something I was fannish about before I knew the fandom existed). I am awed by and grateful for the vast amount of handy reference material, and am amused by your quick thumbnail sketches of Jack, Stephen, and Sophie.

Also, my two cents on Diana (and I am female, for what it's worth):

Stephen is antisocial, self-destructive, and prone to imitations of a wounded wolverine, but we get to get into his head, see what's going through it, and slowly discover that inside the barbed wire and forbidding walls of his exterior is an intricate, busy, occasionally sensitive, often keen, and always fascinating puzzle box. (Even the people who don't like him can generally understand why others do.)

Diana, on the other hand, we only really get to see by her effects on the world around her (and the occasional actual conversation, from either a descriptive point-of-view or from that of one of the other characters; but far more often, somebody's thinking about her, or we're hearing about what she did at some remove). For all the knowledge the reader has of her, she could be:

a) an intelligent and sensitive woman with a still-gaping emotional wound that causes her subconsciously, in certain matters, to repeatedly shoot herself in the foot (not that its inadvertence makes it any easier for anyone around her)

b) a middling-competent agent for the intelligence service of one of the various units that made up the British army (given how haphazard and right-hand-with-no-clue-what-the-left-is-doing British overall military organization was at the time, it would probably be believable for Stephen and Sir Joseph to have no clue about her and for Diana to believe Stephen no more than what of himself he's revealed to her)

c) a charismatic woman with a certain cunning that can masquerade as intelligence, a lot of sex appeal, and probably an inferiority complex, whose self-esteem is dependant on making those around her miserable

and the reader is left with only his or her own personal experience to suggest whether a, b, c, or something I haven't enumerated fits better with the book as they're reading it. (And even if it's one of the more palatable explanations, it's still harder to like someone whose point of view you never get; just as it's easier to like someone whose mind the text spends a lot of time in, even when said point-of-view character is a complete sociopath.)

Which, you understand, isn't a particular argument for why anyone else should like her, but does suggest that those who do are filling in her blanks with something more palatable than what they suggest to you.