Patrick O'Brian Brief Biography - The Master And Commander Trail

By Max Glaskin | 20 November 2003
Shows a photo of a the author Patrick O'Brian sitting down with his head resting on his right hand. He has grey hair and is probably in his seventies.

Photo: Patrick O' Brian, courtesy of Harper Collins.

While his novels and the film are pure escapism for 21st century armchair admirals, O'Brian also tried to escape from his own history.

He was born on December 12, 1914, the youngest of eight children and the son of a doctor. His family name was Russ and his first home was in Buckinghamshire. The Russ’s moved around the country as their fortunes dwindled although Patrick's first novel was published when he was only 15.

He wrote short stories about India as he grew up and moved to London. There he married and the couple had two children; the youngest was born with spina bifida. Patrick left them and their mother in the Spring of 1940 for reasons that are not clear.

Shows book cover of eighth book in the series. There is a picture of a two large naval ships, one in the foreground and one in the background, on choppy seas. The title of the book is in red lettering in the centre of the page and the authors name is at the top in large green print.

Photo: The Ionian Mission is the eighth book in the series. Courtesy of Harper Collins.

During the Second World War he found work as an ambulance driver and then as an employee in the Political Warfare Executive, an intelligence and propaganda organisation within the Foreign Office. It seems likely his work supported resistance operations in France.

When peace broke out, he changed his name from Russ to O'Brian and married Mary Tolstoy, former wife of a prominent divorce lawyer. After several moves, the couple settled in Collioure, on the French Mediterranean coast. He wrote novels, short stories, biographies and translated works from French to English.

Shows the new book cover for Master and Commander inspired by the film. At the top is a picture of a ship in stormy seas. In the middle is a white panel with the book title in black writing. At the bottom is a head and shoulders picture of Russell Crowe in character as Captain Jack Aubrey.

Photo: The new cover for the first book in the series, Master and Commander. Courtesy of Harper Collins.

His first Aubrey-Maturin book was published in 1969 although success was modest until the 1990s when the series became the publishing miracle of the decade. More than three million copies have since been sold.

O'Brian allowed a myth to spread that he was an Irishman and even accepted an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin, where the myth was widely believed. It wasn't until 1999 that his Englishness, his original family name and his past were exposed in a national newspaper.

Patrick O'Brian died on January 2, 2000 in the Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin, having written three chapters of the 21st novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series. He was a brilliant storyteller, in his life and in his novels.



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