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    Re: Patrick O'Brian series
    From: Don Seltzer
    Date: 2014 Jan 13, 18:07 -0800

    Peter Smith wrote:
    There is a detailed but enigmatic passage in _HMS Surprise_ that was discussed on this list a few years back:
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    HMS Surprise; Norton 1991 (paperback); pp. 361-362

    The instruments stood on a carefully leveled patch of sand, and as the great moment approached the tension could be felt even from the tree. A deadly hush fell over the group, broken only by Jack's voice reading off figures to his clerk.

    'Two seven four,' he said, straightening his back at last. 'Mr Storton, what do you find?'

    'Two seven four, sir, exactly.'

    'The most satisfactory observation I have ever made,' said Jack. He clapped the eyepiece to and cast an affectionate glance at Venus, sailing away up there, distinct in the perfect blue once one knew where to look. 'Now we can stow all this gear and go back aboard.'

    He strolled up the beach. 'Such a charming observation, Stephen,' he called out as he came near the tree. 'I am sorry to have kept you so long, but it was worth it. All our calculations tally, and the chronometers were out by twenty-seven mile [sic]. We have laid down the island as exactly...

    -----
    I am sorry I was not around for the long and detailed discussion, in June 2011. There was one post, by Wolfgang K. that I believe was spot on.

    This has been a lively discussion - but leading nowhere. Does anyone really believe that Patrick O'Brian had any realistic notion of astronomical navigation - leaving aside the finer points of lunars etc.? What would be the basis of such a belief? Could one show from his books that he had a solid grasp of these matters? He was a gifted writer as far as the actual workings of a ship is concerned; and he was as - a writer - at liberty to shift the actual time (and place) of events if they fitted the tale - and he really did so as he confessed in some forewords. So I wouldn't try to match his writings with actual events.

    Wolfgang
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    My take on this passage:
    The real purpose of the scene has little to do with navigation. It is actually a brilliant metaphor for a turning point in Jack Aubrey's life. He has previously been torn between two women, the seductress Diana, and the fair Sophie waiting for him back in England. Recent events have made it clear that Sophie is the one he should choose. In mythology, Diana is the moon goddess, and Venus represents love. So up there in the perfect sky is Venus sailing above the moon,

    'He clapped the eyepiece to and cast an affectionate glance at Venus, sailing away up there, distinct in the perfect blue once one knew where to look. '

    Don Seltzer
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