The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey is the unfinished twenty-first historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by English author Patrick O'Brian, first published in its incomplete form in 2004. It appeared in the United States of America under the title of 21.

The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
First edition cover
AuthorPatrick O'Brian
Cover artistGeoff Hunt
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesAubrey-Maturin series
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherHarper Collins (UK)
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Compact audio cassette, Compact Disc)
Pages144 first edition, hardback
ISBN0-393-06025-X (first edition, hardback)
823/.914 22
LC ClassPR6029.B55 A135 2004
Preceded byBlue at the Mizzen 

Though this is the early part of an unfinished novel, reviewers examined it. Some took the opportunity to look back at the whole series of completed novels, 6,443 pages by one count. They are pleased to see that Sam Panda, Aubrey's son from his "long-legged youth" and now going by Sam Mputa, his mother's last name, is a papal nuncio, and that Maturin pursues Christine Wood and again sees his daughter Brigid, who is beginning to hold her own with her older cousins, the Aubrey twin girls. The sailors and the families of Maturin and Aubrey get as far as the island of Saint Helena, where Napoleon is firmly exiled, and there the writing stops, with no hint of what might have happened in South Africa, had the squadron arrived there. There is wide acclaim for the Afterword by Richard Snow, included in the book.

Editor's note, foreword and afterword

The published work appears with an "Editor's Note" by Starling Lawrence and an Afterword by Richard Snow, who had written an influential review of the series in the New York Times Book Review many years before.[1] Commentators have credited Snow's review with helping to popularize the series in the United States.[2]

There is a foreword in UK editions by William Waldegrave.

Plot summary

The story begins with Surprise in the Strait of Magellan, caught up in foul weather. Hanson first spots Cape Pilar at the very opening of the Strait, and soon Surprise moors and conducts some trade with the inhospitable locals for meat and vegetables. Having re-provisioned, she and Ringle sail northwards in fine weather until they enter the River Plate and moor close to the island functioning as the main administrative centre. A quarantine officer comes aboard, Dr Quental, and gives the frigate a clean bill of health.

Wantage informs Maturin of a rumpus in the town: a fight between Protestant mariners from a Boston barque clash with the Catholic locals over the right of polygamy. Further signs of local resentment emerge when a large scow dumps the town's filth next to the frigate and the Portuguese sailors shout abuse at the Surprises. Aubrey spots a black Legate and recognises him as his own natural son, Sam. The Most Reverend Doctor Samuel Mputa, the Papal Nuncio to the Republic of Argentina, has recently saved the government from an open rebellion.

The South African squadron, under its Commander-in-Chief Admiral Lord Leyton, makes its appearance and the crew of Surprise bring their ship up to a high state of perfection. Aubrey makes his appearance on board HMS Suffolk and sees his rear-admiral's blue flag hoisted on the flagship. He has an interview with the cantankerous Admiral, who wants two of his officers and a third crew member to sail back to England on Surprise. Aubrey explains that he does not own the Surprise, a private vessel once more, and will need to talk with the owner. Aubrey notes the small crew of the Suffolk and asks if any Surprises want to join her. Over 60 do want to join her, which Aubrey negotiates with Admiral Leyton, in effect giving Maturin no choice but to say yes to carrying the people the Admiral wants away. While the fleet re-provisions, Ringle sails off under the steady and capable Lieutenant Harding, and returns with Sophie Aubrey, Mrs Christine Wood, her brother Edward Heatherleigh and three children (Brigid Maturin and Fanny and Charlotte Aubrey) who will sail with Aubrey and Maturin to South Africa. The final chapters end with an Admiral's dinner before which Stephen and Jack meet Captain Miller, Leyton's nephew and Aubrey's neighbour at Caxley. Miller, who has a reputation as a ladies' man and as an excellent shot. Hair-Trigger Miller has been paying court to Christine Wood. The Admiral asks Aubrey if he can take Miller on board with him to take up a new position in Cape Town. The three girls had not been getting along well, with the Aubrey twins jealous of any attention their mother gives to young Brigid, a concern to both fathers. Brigid is a natural sailor, having been on the Ringle at a very young age for her voyage to Spain and on the packet to return to England. The twins are seasick most of the way to the River Plate, whereas Brigid is at home, friends with the sailors and ready with answers to everything aboard ship. When they meet their father, the twins have shed the jealousy and begin to have a kinder connection with their cousin Brigid.

In the last few handwritten pages that follow the end of the typescript, as the South Africa squadron makes its way to St Helena, Mrs Wood asks Stephen to prevent Randolph Miller's unwanted attentions. In doing so, Stephen also calls Miller out for naming him a liar. Miller demands pistols but Maturin insists on his right, as the aggrieved party, to name the weapons; thus they fight with swords, which puts Miller at a disadvantage. The duel takes place: after three or four thrusts Stephen disarms Miller and demands an apology, which Miller gives him.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey – Rear-Admiral of the Blue Squadron, aboard HMS Suffolk.
  • Stephen Maturin – ship's surgeon, natural philosopher, friend to Jack and an intelligence officer.
  • The Most Reverend Doctor Samuel Mputa – Papal Nuncio to the Republic of Argentina, and Jack's natural son with Sally Mputa.
  • Sophia Aubrey – Wife of Jack and mother of their three children.
  • Charlotte and Fanny Aubrey – twin daughters of Sophia and Jack Aubrey.
  • George Aubrey – their son, who is midshipman on another ship.
  • Brigid Maturin – Stephen's daughter by his late wife, Diana Villiers.
  • Christine Wood – Widow and an expert naturalist and anatomist; she received a marriage proposal from Maturin.
  • Captain Randoph Miller – an Army officer who courts Christine Wood.
  • Admiral Lord Leyton – Commander-in-Chief South African squadron who is also uncle of Captain Miller.
  • Lieutenant Harding – First Lieutenant on the Surprise.
  • Horatio Hanson – Acting master on the Surprise and natural son of the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV.
  • Dr Amos Jacob – Assistant-surgeon and intelligence agent.
  • Dr Quental – quarantine doctor.
  • Awkward Davies – Able seaman who follows Aubrey from ship to ship.
  • Preserved Killick – Jack's steward.
  • Padeen Colman – Irish servant to Maturin who is close to Brigid Maturin.
  • Mr Wells – Young midshipman on the Surprise.
  • Captain Simmons – Captain of HMS Suffolk.
  • Edward Heatherleigh – Christine Wood's brother and a renowned naturalist.
  • Henry Wantage – Masters Mate (Although the character died in Blue at the Mizzen).


  • HMS Suffolk – 74-gun man-of-war
  • Surprise – 28-gun privately owned frigate
  • Ringle – a schooner, privately owned by Jack and used as his tender.

Unfinished manuscript

The book is the posthumous publication of an uncompleted typescript, published as a result of Patrick O'Brian's position as an accomplished author of historical sea fiction. It comprises the partially corrected typescript of the approximately three chapters completed by O'Brian before his death in January 2000, as well as a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript which continues beyond the end of the typescript.

The facsimile of O'Brian's handwritten script includes his doodling of placements for a fictitious on-board dinner party.

In a 1999 interview with Publishers Weekly, "O'Brian observes that he is already three chapters into his 21st. "I don't think I could rest easy unless I had a book on the go, you know," he says."[3]


Joseph O'Connor says this is "... a preparatory exercise, a kind of setting-out; the literary equivalent of the twinkle in the eye. One wonders what a stylist as accomplished as the late Mr O'Brian would have made of the decision to publish such an unready fragment, but reading it sometimes feels like an act of intrusion. You can't help but sense that he might have regarded its appearance as tantamount to arriving at the captain's table clad only in knickers."[4]

Charles McGrath, writing in the New York Times says "It's a keepsake, a souvenir, for those diehards who have already made the whole 6,443-page journey and want one last look at Jack and Stephen as they embark on yet another mission -- sailing around South America this time and on to South Africa." McGrath remarks that "The Aubrey-Maturin novels are to a certain extent a ship-in-the-bottle enterprise: a miniature world, lovingly rendered and hermetically sealed in a dustproof vacuum. That's what keeps them from attaining true greatness, perhaps, but it's another part of the appeal."[5]

Kirkus Reviews praises O'Brian's writing overall, one of the 20th century's finest prose stylists, and W W Norton's decision to publish the partial text as it stood when the author died.

A lovely and welcome oddity: the much-loved author’s final fragment, titled simply by its position in the canon.

Correctly deciding that it would be impossible if not sacrilegious to hire a writer to complete successfully a work no more than a quarter finished, thereby placing one of the 20th-century’s finest prose stylists among the ranks of the undead that populate the thriller and crime shelves in the bookstores, Norton has instead taken the high road and released this tantalizing beginning as O’Brian left it. What his devoted readers will find is a lightly edited printing of the typescript, each page faced by a photocopy of the manuscript page from which it had been transcribed, and then, when the typed pages stopped, the handwritten pages alone. The effect is tantalizing, touching, and powerful. The story takes up with newly minted Admiral Jack Aubrey and his bosom friend and colleague, scholar-spy Dr. Stephen Maturin, rounding Cape Horn on Surprise, headed for the mouth of the River Plate, where Aubrey is to transfer his flag to a new squadron headed for new assignments off the Cape of Good Hope. Days of superbly calm sailing take them to the Argentine republic where, thanks to murderous local political storms, their welcome is cool if not hostile, a situation eased splendidly by the arrival of the Papal Nuncio, a supremely charming African polyglot who is also Aubrey’s illegitimate son, the happy result of an ancient liaison. When the squadron at last arrives under the command of the windbaggy peer Lord Leyton, it brings trouble in the form of Maturin’s old Trinity classmate Randolph Miller, a scoundrel who is also Lord Leyton’s cousin. There is a Confrontation and a duel, and then all sail for Africa by way of St. Helena. And there the story stops, ending in a superb afterword by Richard Snow.

It’s all there. The wonderful language. The leisurely pace. The rich detail. There’s just no end. Readers will be left to their dreams.[6]

Publishers Weekly marks this fragment as a worthy addition to the series, marking the end of an era.

For Aubrey/Maturin addicts, there could be no better gift: a new, albeit incomplete, story with freshly piquant details, wry humor and salty nautical action. Although the official word was that O'Brian had finished the series with 1999's Blue at the Mizzen, he was in fact working on a new installment at the time of his death in 2000. This short volume juxtaposes a facsimile of O'Brian's handwritten manuscript of the untitled novel with a printed version of the text, which corresponds to O'Brian's loosely edited, typed pages. As the tale opens, our heroes are off the coast of South America, trying to find a friendly place to put the Surprise in for victuals and water. Jack Aubrey has received the happy news that he has been given the rank of rear admiral of the Blue, and all is well for the time being. But the Catholic locals are surly at best to the mostly Protestant crew. To fix things, Stephen Maturin does some judicious buttering up and Aubrey reunites with Samuel Mputa, the region's Papal Nuncio and, incidentally, one of his "indiscretions" from his days as "a long-legged youth" serving on the South African station. The typescript of the third chapter ends mid-sentence, but the handwritten manuscript continues on to include a duel between Maturin and a romantic rival, leaving readers begging for more. Alas, this fragmentary but worthy addition to the series is truly the end of a literary era, leaving only readers' imaginations to fill in the rest of the story. FYI: Norton is simultaneously publishing a five-volume boxed set of all the Aubrey/Maturin novels, which together have sold more than six million copies.[7]

Library Journal notes that in this form, the uncompleted novel "provides an interesting look into the workings of one writer's mind. There is also a sweet, elegiac afterword by Richard Snow, the American Heritage magazine editor who was an early champion of O'Brian's work. While useful for literary scholars and O'Brian fans who wish to complete their sets, this volume is meaningless to new readers of the series and therefore of limited value to libraries."[8]

Publication history

Listed at Fantastic Fiction[9]

  • 2004, October HarperCollins; Hardback ISBN 0007194692
  • 2004, October W. W. Norton; Hardback as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 0-393-06025-X
  • 2004 Recorded Books audio cassette as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 1-4193-1278-2 / 978-1-4193-1278-6 (USA edition)
  • 2004, January Recorded Books audio CD as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 1-4193-1280-4 / 978-1-4193-1280-9 (USA edition)
  • 2004, October Recorded Books audio CD as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 1-4193-0893-9 / 978-1-4193-0893-2 (USA edition)
  • 2005, April HarperCollins paperback ISBN 0-00-719470-6 / 978-0-00-719470-4 (UK edition)
  • 2008, June Harper Perennial paperback ISBN 0-00-727564-1 / 978-0-00-727564-9 (UK edition)
  • 2008, September Blackstone Audiobooks audio MP3/CD as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 1-4332-2961-7 / 978-1-4332-2961-9 (USA edition)
  • 2008 September Blackstone Audiobooks Audio CD as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 1-4332-2958-7 / 978-1-4332-2958-9 (USA edition)
  • 2008 September Blackstone Audiobooks Audio cassette as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 1-4332-2957-9 / 978-1-4332-2957-2 (USA edition)
  • 2010, April Harper paperback ISBN 0-00-735843-1 / 978-0-00-735843-4 (UK edition)
  • 2010, April Harper Collins Audio CD ISBN 0-00-735871-7 / 978-0-00-735871-7 (UK edition) followed by Abridged version in May 2010
  • 2010, September W. W. Norton paperback as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 0-393-33933-5 / 978-0-393-33933-8 (USA edition)
  • 2010, September W. W. Norton e-book as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (USA edition)
  • 2011, December Harper e-book (UK and Canada edition)
  • 2012, June Blackstone Audio Audio CD as 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ISBN 1-4332-2960-9 / 978-1-4332-2960-2 (USA edition)

In the Afterword, Richard Snow noted that 5 million copies of the books in the series had been sold to date.[10] In its review of 21, Publishers Weekly says that over 6 million copies have been sold.[7] This represents an additional 3 million sales since Publishers Weekly reported sales as of 1999 in their review of Blue at the Mizzen

On the dust jacket of 21, the back includes an appreciation of O'Brian from Geoff Hunt, who drew covers for the 20 completed books of the series as well as for 21, beneath a monochrome drawing of a sailing ship.


  1. Snow, Richard (6 January 1991). "An Author I'd Walk the Plank For". New York Times. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  2. King, Dean (2001). Patrick O'Brian: A Life. United States: Henry Holt and Co. pp. 308–9. ISBN 0-8050-5977-6.
  3. Dana Goodyear (20 December 1999). "Patrick O'Brian: Sailing Upon Ancient Seas". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  4. O'Connor, Joseph (4 December 2004). "Knickers ahoy". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  5. McGrath, Charles (31 October 2004). "'21': Sailing Away". New York Times Review of Books.
  6. "21 The Unfinished Twenty-First Novel in the Aubrey/Maturin Series" (15 August 2004 ed.). Kirkus Reviews. 20 May 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  7. "21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey". Editorial Reviews. Publishers Weekly. October 2004. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  8. "21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey". Library Journal Editorial Reviews. June 2004. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  9. "The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  10. O'Brian, Patrick; Snow, Richard (2004). "Afterword". 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey. W W Norton. p. 138.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.