The Commodore

The 17th book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series finds Stephen and Jack back in England, ready to reunited with their families after years away.

Stephen is particularly anxious to meet his daughter, Brigid, but when he arrives home he finds that Diana has left, apparently out of distress that Brigid has some sort of developmental delay that has left her unable to interact with others much. This development was, of course, a sad one for Stephen, who had been longing for a joyful reunion with his wife and affection from his daughter, but he takes Brigid’s state in stride and begins making plans to get help for her.

It’s tempting, I think, to condemn Diana for her actions, but I ended up feeling sad for her, too. Diana has never shown signs of being particularly maternal, and having a child who cannot return whatever affection she can give would no doubt make the transition to motherhood even more difficult. Plus, she’s on her own, without Stephen, and surrounded mostly by people who expect her to immediately live up to the standards of the day. And she did right to leave Brigid with Clarissa Oakes, a woman who does seem to accept her as she is, instead of giving her over to her closest blood relative, Her aunt. Mrs. Williams, is also Sophie’s mother (Jack’s mother-in-law), and she seems determined to scold the child into speaking. By leaving Brigid with Clarissa, Diana doesn’t do the best thing possible, but she does ensure that the child is well cared for.

Meanwhile, Jack’s marriage is showing some strain as Sophie has gotten reacquainted with a sweetheart from her youth. Jack’s insecurity about his relationship shows up in his poor spirits when he is sent back out to sea, this time as a commodore, leading multiple ships on a mission to disrupt the slave trade. Attacking slave ships and freeing the enslaved people on board! For me, this mission was especially exciting because it meant something more than just taking prizes and gaining money.  Sometimes, the sea battles in this series seem mostly like a game, where opponents exchange ships instead of playing pieces.

As usual, the battles and maneuvers are significant for moving the story along, but most of the pleasure in the book is in the small moments. Stephen having a fit over the state of the medical quarters in Jack’s new ship. A breakneck race to London in a speedy clipper. Brigid bonding with Padeen. Stephen catching yellow fever after forbidding the men aboard to go ashore — lest they catch the fever. A mix-up between Clarissa and Sophie over matching dresses. And Stephen’s search for an African potto, which he immediately becomes attached to when he finds it. Because how could you not?

This is one of the more enjoyable books in the series. And now I have only four books left! I’m hoping to finish the series this year, so we’ll see how it all ends!

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10 Responses to The Commodore

  1. Joan Kyler says:

    I read a few of these books years ago. It’s a series that really should be read in order, isn’t it?

  2. readerlane says:

    Your review makes me want to reread this. The small moments in the series are so good. You’re kinder to Diane than I was when I read it. As you say, her feelings/reaction are very human, but there are so many times in the series where she dashes off for one reason or another that I started to think she would only be as brave as Stephen likes to think if she stayed instead.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree that it would have been braver for her to stay. But I still feel sympathy for her, even though I’d like her to do better.

      • readerlane says:

        Your review inspired me to reread The Commodore and the following book, The Yellow Admiral. One thing I really enjoyed about the Yellow Admiral (and which might make it unique in the series) is that we really get to see Diana enjoying life as a character instead of being a keystone of the plot.

      • Teresa says:

        Ooh, that gives me something to look forward to when I get to the Yellow Admiral, which I hope to do in a couple of months.

  3. Lisa says:

    I love Brigid and Padeen together, sometimes I go back just to read those sections. And I do feel for Diana, in these later books. Stephen never gives up on her!

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a potto before, so thank you. When I first read these books, it was before I had a computer at home, and I never stopped to look anything up. Now it’s such a richer reading experience!

    • Teresa says:

      It was lovely to see Stephen and Diana reunite at the end of this book. I’m glad that he’s so understanding and accepts her for who she is.

      I’d never heard of pottos before reading this, so I had to look it up!

  4. I’ve never read these books but they do sound so entertaining! And I’ve never heard of a potto – cute!

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