Patrick O'Brian

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Patrick O'Brian, CBE (12 December 1914 – 2 January 2000), born Richard Patrick Russ, was an English novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and centred on the friendship of English Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician Stephen Maturin. The 20-novel series is known for its well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th century life, as well as its authentic and evocative language. A partially-finished twenty-first novel in the series was published posthumously containing facing pages of handwriting and typescript.

Contents

Biography

Childhood, early career and first marriage

O'Brian was born Richard Patrick Russ, in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire and was the son of a physician of German descent and an English mother of Irish descent. The eighth of nine children, he lost his mother at the age of three, and his biographers describe a fairly isolated childhood, with sporadic schooling and long intervals at home with his father and stepmother, during which time his literary career began (see below). In 1934 he underwent a brief period of pilot training with the Royal Air Force but this was not successful, and by 1935 he was living in London, where he married his first wife, Elizabeth, in 1936. They had two children; the second, a daughter, suffered from spina bifida and died in 1942 aged three, by which time Patrick had left the family in their remote country cottage and returned to London, where he worked throughout the war. Commentators including biographer Dean King have claimed that O'Brian was actively involved in intelligence work and perhaps special operations overseas during the war[1] and that these experiences informed those of his character Stephen Maturin, an intelligence agent. However, O'Brian's stepson Nikolai Tolstoy disputes this,[2] although he confirms that O'Brian worked as a volunteer ambulance driver during the Blitz, where he met Mary, the separated wife of Russian-born nobleman and lawyer Count Dimitri Tolstoy. They lived together through the latter part of the war, and after both were divorced from their previous spouses they married in July 1945. The following month he changed his name by deed poll to Patrick O'Brian.

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