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Joe McWilliams

Patrick O'Brian

What fun Patrick O'Brian is. This is from Master and Commander (thanks to the Aubrey-Maturin Appreciation Society for reminding me of it).

‘Allow me to press you to a trifle of this ragoo’d mutton, sir,’ said Jack.

‘Well, if you insist,’ said Stephen Maturin. ‘It is so very good.’

‘It is one of the things the Crown does well,’ said Jack. ‘Though it is hardly decent in me to say so. Yet I had ordered duck pie, alamode beef and soused hog’s face as well, apart from the kickshaws. No doubt the fellow misunderstood. Heaven knows what is in that dish by you, but it is certainly not hog’s face. I said, visage de porco, many times over; and he nodded like a China mandarin. It is provoking, you know, when one desires them to prepare five dishes, cinco platos, explaining carefully in Spanish, only to find there are but three, and two of those the wrong ones. I am ashamed of having nothing better to offer you, but it was not from want of good will, I do assure you.’

‘I have not eaten so well for many a day, nor’ – with a bow – ‘in such pleasant company, upon my word,’ said Stephen Maturin. ‘Might it not be that the difficulty arose from your own particular care – from your explaining in Spanish, in Castilian Spanish?’

‘Why,’ said Jack, filling their glasses and smiling through his wine at the sun, ‘it seemed to me that in speaking to Spaniards, it was reasonable to use what Spanish I could muster.’

‘You were forgetting, of course, that Catalan is the language they speak in these islands.’

‘What is Catalan?’

‘Why, the language of Catalonia – of the islands, of the whole of the Mediterranean coast down to Alicante and beyond. Of Barcelona. Of Lerida. All the richest part of the peninsula.’

‘You astonish me. I had no notion of it. Another language, sir? But I dare say it is much the same thing – a putain, as they say in France?’

‘Oh no, nothing of the kind – not like at all. A far finer language. More learned, more literary. Much nearer the Latin. And by the by, I believe the word is patois, sir, if you will allow me.’

‘Patois – just so. Yet I swear the other is a word: I learnt it somewhere,’ said Jack.

I'll have to try this. Great fun.
Joe McWilliams

I am so in love with the world of Aubrey and Maturin - have I mentioned that? Here's a bit more, from the third of the series, HMS Surprise.

"Have you ever contemplated upon sex, my dear?" asked Stephen, examining a peacock's tail feathers in the cabin of H.M.S. Surprise, somewhere in the Indian Ocean:
" 'Never,' said Jack. 'Sex has never entered my mind, at any time.'
" 'The burden of sex, I mean. This bird, for example, is very heavily burdened; almost weighed down. He can scarcely fly or pursue his common daily round with any pleasure to himself, encumbered by a yard of tail and all this top-hamper. All these extravagant plumes have but one function -- to induce the hen to yield to his importunities. How the poor cock must glow and burn, if these are, as they must be, an index of his ardour.'
" 'That is a solemn thought.'
" 'Were he a capon, now, his life would be easier by far. These spurs, these fighting spurs, would vanish; his conduct would become peaceable, social, complaisant and mild. Indeed, were I to castrate all the Surprises, Jack, they would grow fat, placid and unaggressive; this ship would no longer be a man-of-war, darting angrily, hastily from place to place; and we should circumnavigate the terraqueous globe with never a harsh word.' "

This is an excerpt, by the way, from a 1993 article by Mark Horowitz in the New York Times.

O'Brian is as fascinated by the destructive force of sex as he is by war (Horowitz writes). In "Post Captain," Stephen and Jack fall in love with the same woman, the formidable Diana Villiers. She is too much for Jack, who by the fourth volume settles into a complacent marriage with her less-threatening cousin, Sophie Williams; but Diana's recklessness is a perfect match for Stephen's self-destructive melancholy, and their painful folie a deux runs the length of the series, a bittersweet counterpoint to the two men's rapport.

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