O'Brian, Patrick

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

O'Brian, Patrick

Patrick O'Brian, 1914–2000, British novelist, b. near London as Richard Patrick Russ. He changed his name in 1945 and after World War II settled in France. O'Brian's first novel, Caesar (1930), written when he was a teenager, was followed during the 1950s and 60s by several rather well-received novels, e.g., Testimonies (1952), and a book of short stories. In 1969 he published Master and Commander, the first novel of the celebrated Aubrey-Maturin series. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, these tales of the sea and men at war ultimately included 20 novels, ending with Blue at the Mizzen (1999). They follow the Royal Navy's Capt. Jack Aubrey and his Irish-Catalan friend Stephen Maturin, a doctor, naturalist, and spy, in their daily lives and adventures in Lord Nelson's navy. These stirring, fast-paced, witty, allusive, and psychologically insightful works are meticulous in their treatment of military matters, nautical lore, natural history, and other details. By the 1980s O'Brian was a British literary cult figure, sometimes compared to England's greatest novelists. Not published in the United States until the 1990s, his books soon achieved a huge readership there. O'Brian also wrote such nonfiction works as a study of life in the early 19th-century English navy (1974) and biographies of Picasso (1976) and Joseph Banks (1986) and was a talented translator. Two of O'Brian's novels formed the basis of a film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), directed by Peter Weir.

See biography by D. Kean (2000); studies by A. E. Cunningham, ed. (1994), D. Kean (1995 and 1996), A. G. Brown (1999), and B. Lavery (2003).

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