Persuasion and Post Captain: same story, different genders

I just finished Persuasion, and it made me want to re-read Post Captain, by Patrick O’Brian. Post Captain is a great companion for Persuasion: same setting, and the first few chapters of it read like an Austen novel told from the man’s point of view. Which is fun – it’s like chick lit, with all the interpersonal drama + drinking and fighting.

The two books have the same plot setup: It’s 1802 and peace has been temporarily declared between Napoleon & England, so all the officers in the royal navy are on extended shore leave looking for entertainment, and all the ladies are excited to have eligible young men move into the neighborhood. In Persuasion the story of the young ladies trying to hook up with the various officers is told from a respectable young virgin’s point of view.

Louisa … burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.

Persuasion, Chapter 11.

In Post Captain, the men are onshore looking for fun and trying to get laid, and the male author and modern sensibility make the young women less prim and more entertaining than they are in Austen’s story of the situation. Only the first few chapters of Post Captain are about flirtation, balls, and hunting. After a while war breaks out again and the men spend the rest of the book sailing around Europe fighting the French and blowing things up. There’s also an interlude with a bear costume that borders on the surreal.

‘When one sea-officer is to be roasted, there is always another at hand to turn the spit,’ said the bear. ‘It is an old service proverb. I hope to God I have that fornicating young sod under my command one day. I’ll make him dance a hornpipe – oh, such a hornpipe.’

Post Captain, Chapter 4.

Even if you don’t usually enjoy reading about the early 19th century or naval adventures, Patrick O’Brian is tremendously entertaining. Go read some.

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