The Yellow Admiral

by Patrick O'Brian

Paperback, 1997

Call number




W. W. Norton & Company (1997), 261 pages


Life ashore may once again be the undoing of Jack Aubrey in The Yellow Admiral, Patrick O'Brian's best-selling novel and eighteenth volume in the Aubrey/Maturin series. Aubrey, now a considerable though impoverished landowner, has dimmed his prospects at the Admiralty by his erratic voting as a Member of Parliament; he is feuding with his neighbor, a man with strong Navy connections who wants to enclose the common land between their estates; he is on even worse terms with his wife, Sophie, whose mother has ferreted out a most damaging trove of old personal letters. Even Jack's exploits at sea turn sour: in the storm waters off Brest he captures a French privateer laden with gold and ivory, but this at the expense of missing a signal and deserting his post. Worst of all, in the spring of 1814, peace breaks out, and this feeds into Jack's private fears for his career. Fortunately, Jack is not left to his own devices. Stephen Maturin returns from a mission in France with the news that the Chileans, to secure their independence, require a navy, and the service of English officers. Jack is savoring this apparent reprieve for his career, as well as Sophie's forgiveness, when he receives an urgent dispatch ordering him to Gibraltar: Napoleon has escaped from Elba.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member iayork
Anoter 5-Star Effort: The most important aspects of this story takes place on dry land in England. Patrick O'Brien paints the tapestry of 19th century rural life in terms that makes it relevant to the story and breathes life into it that it becomes personalized and completely relevant. It also is
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this time ashore that makes the adventures at sea so much more interesting for Jack and Stephen. It is the complexity of the characters dealing with their successes and trials at home which make the two main characters seem that much more human. Developing characters that are seemingly real is what Patrick O'Brien has mastered like no other and it is what has kept me coming back to his books (18 times so far).

Back ashore in England, Stephen is broke and Jack is once again an impecunious landowner. Jack's fortune is tied up in lawsuits related to his actions off West Africa suppressing the slave trade. To make matters worse (or more interesting), Jack's marriage is on the rocks as a result of Sophie's mother finding evidence of Jack's past infidelity. At the Admiralty, Jack's prospects are dimmed by his actions as a Member of Parliament and his opposition to the enclosure of a commons near his estate. As a side note, Patrick O'Brien clearly understands and has the ability to describe the political and economic aspects of enclosing a commons. He weaves this into the story without technical jargon and in an interesting manner. Even at sea, Jack has trouble. He captures a French privateer laden with gold and ivory, but the Admiralty believes that he ignored signals for personal gain. Troubles mount for Jack and his fear of being `yellowed' seems that it might become a reality.

When all seems lost for Jack, Stephen returns from a mission in France and back to England with forgiveness from Sophie and a reprieve for his career in the form of a possible mission to secure Chilean independence. This is especially important because the war has ended, further dimming prospects for his chance for an Admiral's flag. By the book's end, both Jack and Stephen see their personal fortunes somewhat or completely restored. And just as Jack is looking forward to this reprieve for his career, Jack is ordered to Gibraltar because Napoleon has escaped from Elba.
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LibraryThing member littlegeek
Not much happens in this book, still it's always nice to curl up with old friends.
LibraryThing member Capybara_99
Perhaps the book in the series in which the least happens, at least in terms of naval or intelligence adventures. And yet one of my favorites. There is a lot about the politics of enclosure, the politics of the navy and of married life in early 19th-century Britain, and of life on a blockade at
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sea. Coming at Book 18 in the series, I think any reader would be happy to forgo the adventure to spend time in the world (or else that reader would have abandoned the series long before.)

The description of the plot on the back of my edition evidently feels the lack of action acutely, as its description of the plot is distinctly and humorously misleading.
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LibraryThing member Griff
A great addition to the series despite the fact that much of the story takes place away from ships and the sea. Jack faces many challenges at home, yet lands on his feet. The ending sets the stage for a renewal of Jack's hope to be relevant and recognized as a naval officer. Excellent read.
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I particularly liked all the scenes of Jack & Stephen's families. There are some lovely scenes - Mr. O'Brian has a gift for sketching the essentials in a sentence or two. I especially enjoyed the ending, when the two families were traveling to Madeira. And the scene where Diana tells Stephen that
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she and Clarissa have been working on Sophie - priceless!
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LibraryThing member gbsallery
It's pointless reviewing any more of these books. My opinions are clearly stated elsewhere, and only improve with each successive novel. I only worry what I will do when I come to the end of them - start again at the beginning, I suspect.
LibraryThing member BobVTReader
The story continues and this book is better written and more compelling than the last few books of this series. I really enjoyed the book. The first book of this series is realy the gold standard and this book stands up well in comparison. I do miss a few of the characters that played a dominate
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role in earlier books in the series.
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LibraryThing member paakre
Jack Aubrey has bad luck, a bit brought on by a political squabble on land. The policy of inclosure allows men who own land to lay claim to the scraps of land held in common around it. Commons are farmed by those who don't own land. When it is then inclosed, farmers used to working a small plot for
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themselves must then beg employment of the lords who have in effect stolen land from them in order to make larger more efficient farms with greater yields, and profits for the owners.

Jack is opposed to this threat to a common in his domain, so goes to the hearing about it and objects, effectively stopping the action in its tracks. This makes Jack a hero to the common folk but sets him at odds with the landowner who wanted inclosures for himself, a former navy man whose uncle is the admiral in charge of Jack's squadron. The admiral finds Jack negligent, greedy and other things in the course of his duty to protect the waters around Brest, effectively preventing him from getting his blue flag, an honorable promotion and the next logical step considering Aubrey's illustrious career.

In addition, Jack has suffered because of foolish indiscretions with a woman whose love letters to JA have fallen into the hands of his mother in law, a vindictive old bitty. Sophie speaks words of bitterness to Jack who goes to her seeking forgiveness.

In contrast, Stephen and Diana are experiencing marital bliss. She is as understanding of men's flaws as a feminist can be, urging Sophie to back at Jack by getting some for herself.

The war is winding down, signaling the end of a naval career, the end of a series. There is a melancholy flavor to this book, not unlike the Letter of Marque, when Jack was disgraced and thrown from the service.

Still I eagerly look to the next volume in the series. The characters remain complex, intriguing, and develop with each book. I especially liked learning about advances in medicine, and Stephen's curiosity about the use of maggots to clean wounds.
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LibraryThing member sben
A very good pervasive aura of melancholy. The characters are getting older, in both good and bad ways; every victory seems to lead to a defeat.
LibraryThing member JBD1
Another good installment, albeit with less of the natural history bits I enjoy and more of the politics and naval maneuvering (which are just as good, to be fair). I hate to think I'm getting close to the end of this series I've enjoyed so much ...
LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
The Yellow Admiral, Patrick O’Brian’s eighteenth book in his Aubrey-Maturin series, picks up shortly after the events of The Commodore, with Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin having returned from disrupting the slave trade off the Ivory coast and now taking part in the Brest blockade to
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prevent Napoleon’s naval forces from rallying while Napoleon’s fortunes falter at land. Like many of O’Brian’s novels, the story shows the fickle nature of fortune, with Jack stuck in legal proceedings concerning some of the prizes he took off Africa. He also worries about the possibility of being yellowed. That is, promoted to flag rank but without a squadron. It remains a possibility because of politics and a dispute regarding enclosure with a neighbor, the heir of one of the admirals.

While on the Brest blockade aboard the HMS Bellona, Jack receives worse news that his mother-in-law found papers from an indiscreet affair he had in Canada during book seven, The Surgeon’s Mate. She gave these letters to Sophie, his wife, who is enraged and plans to leave him. Stephen also worries about his fortune, as the Spanish authorities seek to confiscate it for his part in supporting Peruvian independence during The Wine-Dark Sea, which leaves he and his wife, Diana, in dire straits. Fortunately, events begin to change when Diana and Clarissa Oakes intervene with Sophie. Stephen receives word that his fortune is preserved and, though connections with Sir Joseph Blaine, arranges a way for Jack to distinguish himself should peace break out, thereby making it possible for him to advance without being yellowed. As the novel nears its end, Napoleon is defeated and exiled to Elba. The Brest blockade returns to port for paying off and Stephen helps Jack to secure a new position doing hydrographical work while also advancing the cause of independence in Chile. They ready the Surprise, bringing their families for a cruise to Madeira where they will meet the Chilean operatives. While enjoying a brief vacation, Jack receives word that Napoleon has escaped and that he has been reinstated to blockade the Straits of Gibraltar.

At times, The Yellow Admiral feels very much like an interim novel, but it does have some great character development which is one of O’Brian’s strengths, particularly as readers are devoted to these characters by this point. The focus on fortune’s fickle nature is a recurrent theme in the series and works well here, with a midshipman’s death perfectly demonstrating its power for sailors. O’Brian also does a good job capturing the changing times, with enclosure altering the countryside and the commons. Fans who have made it this far will find the material they expect from O’Brian, including some nice puns. This Folio Society edition reprints the original text with insets containing historical portraits and sketches to illustrate some of the scenes and maps on the endpapers to help readers visualize the geography of the Brest coastline.
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LibraryThing member kslade
Another pretty good one in the series. Jack has wife problems and develops a bad reputation in the Navy with officials. Coastal duty off France and one good prize.




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