Patrick O'Brian

From Academic Kids

Patrick O'Brian (December 12 1914January 2 2000; original name Richard Patrick Russ) was a novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and centered on the friendship of Captain Jack Aubrey and Irish–Catalan physician, naturalist and spy Stephen Maturin. The 20 novel series is notable for its well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th century life.

In the 1950s O’Brian wrote two books aimed at a younger age-group, The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore which were based on events of the Anson circumnavigation of 1740 – 1743. Although written many years before the Aubrey–Maturin series series, the literary antecedents of Aubrey and Maturin can be clearly seen in the characters of Jack Byron and Tobias Barrow.

As well as his historical novels, O'Brian wrote several mainstream novels and a body of short stories, and was a respected translator, responsible for the translation of Henri Charrière's Papillon into English, as well as many of Simone de Beauvoir's later works.

O'Brian also wrote a detailed biography of Sir Joseph Banks, one of the leading scientific figures of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the man largely responsible for the colonization of Australia.

O'Brian's biography of Pablo Picasso, Pablo Ruiz Picasso: A Biography, is a massive and comprehensive study of the artist. Picasso lived for a time in Collioure, the same French village as O'Brian, and the two came to be acquainted there.

O'Brian published several novels and stories under the name Richard Patrick Russ, notably, Caesar and Hussein: an Entertainment, which were both published before he was 21. Richard Patrick Russ legally changed his name to Richard O'Brian in 1945 which was a bold stroke in many ways, not least because O'Brian necessarily had to abandon the reputation for quality writing he had already built up under the name.

The widely held belief that O'Brian was born in Ireland began to unravel in 1998 when British journalists uncovered that O'Brian was in fact born in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, that he was not a Catholic, and that he was the son of a physician of German descent and an English mother. Dean King's life of O'Brian, Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed, documents the complex personality and life of this enigmatic man of letters.

Peter Weir's 2003 film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is loosely based on the novels from the Aubrey–Maturin series, and draws its plot from several of the novels.

Historian Nikolai Tolstoy is O'Brian's stepson through O'Brians marriage to Tolstoy's mother, Mary Tolstoy, who divorced Count Dmitri Tolstoy and in July 1945 married Patrick O'Brian. In November 2004 Nikolai Tolstoy published Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist (, the first volume in a new biography of O'Brian with the use of material from the Russ and Tolstoy family and sources including O'Brian's personal library, which he came to inherit on O'Brian's death.

In 2003 a previously nondescript species of Costa Rican palm weevil was named Daisya obriani after Patrick O'Brian by Dr Robert S. Anderson of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Biographies of O'Brian

Since his death, there have been two biographies published, though the first was well advanced when he died. The second is the first volume of a planned two volume biography by O'Brian's stepson.


The Aubrey–Maturin series

See the Aubrey–Maturin series article.

Fiction (Non-Serial)



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