Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two

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Number 8

BoingBoing (a daily joy) linked to 10 rules for the Immaculate Heart Art Department

Some of them were pretty straightforward, and others quite obscure. I also note that there are no rules about coffee or rum (much less sodomy or the lash..) , so you know, I can't get entirely behind them. But number 8 cilcked for me right away - I've caught myself writing and even while i write, trying to think about how it fits in. Which is splitting my attention.

8. Don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They’re different processes.

In a perhaps unrelated or maybe related note - I finished the very last page of Patrick O'Brian's books last night. Previously I had read "21" - the fragment of the last book that he died while writing. Some of it is typeset, some of it is hand-written. Mr. O'Brian's hand-writing is a bit hard to read, so I couldn't make out every word, but what I did was a pleasure. Finally, reading the afterword, I learned that Mr. O'Brian died at 85, not long after his wife died. This adds particular poignancy to Maturin's being widowered when Villiers dies. And perhaps that literary event coincided with the author's wife's death - or perhaps the character of Christine Woods is a tribute to his wife because she, like O'Brian, was such a passionate birder. I don't know, but the series, for all its triumphs, gentle humor and loving details, is suffused with careful sadness, too. And particularly so, knowing the author's context.

I must have got something in my eye once I was done - I misted up a little. It felt like a leave-taking of two dear friends who I knew I'd never see again. Sure there are others, but they don't compare. First, O'Brian has both Maturin and Aubrey - not just a naval officer, but a naturalist and doctor. But Aubrey is far more real than any of his literary peers. Pope's Ramage is wooden, and so honorable it's almost ludicrous - a caricature of an upright British noblemen. Ramage's travails are all from external, dastardly forces, dishonorable blackguards that want to drag him down. Forester's Hornblower, probably the most famous of all the naval captain characters, is more nuanced than Ramage, but still suffers from being too perfect. He is omni-competent, honorable to the point of self-sacrifice. Hornblower never fails to do the right thing - in fact, he never fails. If ever he is in danger, it's because doing the right thing put him in danger.

Aubrey, on the other hand, is quite fallible. When it comes to seamanship, dash and martial competence, true - he is larger than life. But he's infinitely fallible too - he never saw a pretty face he could say no to, even at considrable cost to his career, marriage, and friendships. By land he's if not a fool, then terribly gullible - something that costs him several fortunes won back in prize-money and lost again. Aubrey is an ideal captain, but not an ideal human being, and it takes Maturin's cool intellect (when he's not being all Irish and passionate) to balance him out. The two men are completed by their friendship, the saturnine and sanguine complementing each other.

And frankly, Pope and Forester (and Cornwell, a similar writer) are just not the literary equals of O'Brian - not in terms of subtle, dry wit, of perfect description, or sublime choice of words. An example - in the last fragment, the hands are prettying their ship for the visit of an Admiral. They beg slush from the galley cook, which they use to impart a pleasing sheen to the cannonballs, stacked in garlands by the guns. That's a ridiculously precise detail, but it draws in so many aspect of ship-board life; the cook and his perqusites, the cannons, the shot-garlands, and the meticulous work of the hands, their pride in their ship. Perfect - never equalled by Pope or Forester.

Good-bye, Jack and Stephen. I'll miss you.

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