Monday, September 28, 2009

Stephen Maturin's literary side

'I have written a good deal at sea,' said Stephen, 'but unless the weather is tolerably steady, so that the ink may be relied upon to stay in its well, I usually wait until I am ashore for any long, considered treatise or paper--for the peace and calm of a country retreat, as you say. Yet on the other hand I do not find that the turmoil of a ship prevents me reading: with a good clear candle in my lantern and balls of wax in my ears, I read with the utmost delight. The confinement of my cabin, the motion of my hanging cot, the distantly-heard orders and replies, the working of the ship--all these enhance my enjoyment.'

'Sir,' said Stephen, 'I read novels with the utmost pertinacity. I look upon them -- I look upon good novels -- as a very valuable part of literature, conveying more exact and finely-distinguished knowledge of the human heart and mind than almost any other, with greater breadth and depth and fewer constraints. Had I not read Madame de La Layette, the Abbe Prevost, and the man who wrote Clarissa, that extraordinary feat, I should be very much poorer than I am; and a moment's reflection would add many more.'


'As for an end,' said Martin, 'are endings really so very important? Sterne did quite well without one; and often an unfinished picture is all the more interesting for the bare canvas. I remember Bourville's definition of a novel as a work in which life flows in abundance, swirling without a pause: or as you might say without an end, an organized end. And there is at least one Mozart quartet that stops without the slightest ceremony: most satisfying when you get used to it.'

Stephen said 'There is another Frenchman whose name escapes me but who is even more to the point: La betise c'est vouloir conclure. The conventional ending, with virtue rewarded and loose ends tied up is often sadly chilling; and its platitude and falsity tend to infect what has gone before, however excellent. Many books would be far better without their last chapter: or at least with no more than a brief, cool, unemotional statement of the outcome.'

--Patrick O'Brian, The Nutmeg of Consolation


  1. What an interesting post--I didn't get past book 4 myself, but intend to read the entire set...someday. I always liked Maturin, and it was interesting reading his thoughts on novels, particularly the part about the endings. That's rich coming from an author who kept on writing books in a series rather than ending one and moving on to another! Maturin might be right--so often a botched ending ruins a book for me. Better to stop before the ending is reached and the reader can finish it in his/her head.

    Like I said, thought-provoking post.

  2. Since a lot of people consider the series just one long novel and O'Brian died before he finished the 21st, I guess a case could be made that he ultimately shared the same opinion of endings as Stephen did! But this discussion late in the book did lead me to expect a conclusion to Nutmeg that was atypical to the series so far. . . and that didn't happen.

    Maturin is my literary crush. No doubt he'd be impossible in real life, but on the page he's my kind of fella. :)

  3. Amen, amen -- Maturin is the one literary character I feel sure I will meet one day, possibly in heaven. :)


A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...