Much good stuff in The New Criterion this month. Of that, a couple articles are online to which I would particularly like to draw your attention.
First is the article by Robert Messenger on the event of the publication of a boxed set of all 20 (and the fragment of the unfinished 21st) Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian. (I will also note that some of the criticisms of this set by one of the reviewers at Amazon has caused me to think that it would be best to try and purchase the books individually, though it might cost almost twice as much, because of severe problems with the copy-editing in the text of the box set.) Mr Messenger does a good job of conveying why these books bring so much pleasure. Not only are they ripping yarns of iron men in wooden ships, but the main characters are drawn well so that one comes to care about them and be interested in their lives and actions even away from the sea. O’Brian also had a deft touch with dialogue and description and rarely struck a false note when concocting plots. Many of the adventures were taken almost directly from the real life experiences of various Royal Navy officers, but with O’Brian’s addition of “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude” that succeeds wonderfully, they are much more than dry historical texts. If you haven’t read these books yet, you should.
The other article to which I shall direct you is by the ever-depressing Theodore Dalrymple. (It really is true, Brits are always looking at the gloomy side of things. John Derbyshire does that a lot as well.) It’s an interesting reflection on the ability of some writers to place themselves in the shoes of others and write cogently and convincingly about experiences they have never actually had, but merely witnessed. The peg for this is the tale of Reverend Toby Forward, vicar of the Church of England, who wrote under the pseudonym Rahila Khan. His intent was never to satirise women authors, or Asian authors, but that he found the stories he wrote were more readily accepted under such a pseudonym.