Patrick O'Brian

From WikiPOBia

Revision as of 12:54, 5 July 2007 by Oliver Mundy (Talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search
Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian, English novelist, short-story writer, translator and biographer, was born (as Richard Patrick Russ) at 'Walden', Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, England on 12th December 1914 and died at The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin, Ireland on 2nd January 2000.

The life of Patrick O'Brian

Note While the author adopted the name of O'Brian only in August 1945 and was generally known as Patrick Russ until then, he will be referred to throughout this article, for convenience, as Patrick O'Brian or POB.

Early years

Patrick O'Brian was the eighth child and youngest son of Charles and Jessie Russ; Charles was a physician with a particular interest in bacteriology and the treatment of venereal diseases. The boy's childhood was clouded by a series of misfortunes: he was subject to serious bouts of a bronchial disease, his mother died when he was three, his father's practice declined after the war, and during the 1920s the initially genial doctor changed in character, becoming morose and oppressive. In 1921 Dr. Russ banished all the remaining children except Patrick to boarding-schools or foster-parents. In December 1922 Dr. Russ took a second wife, Zoe Center, a widow (her husband had been a naval surgeon) with some property of her own. She took kindly to Patrick, who spent some time with her at a handsome old house near Worcester which she owned; its name, Melbury Lodge, reappears in Post Captain. Here the boy discovered a cache of 19th-century issues of the Gentleman's Magazine - his first encounter with the attitudes and idioms of a past era. In 1925, however, Dr. Russ was made bankrupt; Melbury Lodge was sold and Zoe and Patrick rejoined him in London. Patrick's meagre formal education now began with a year at Marylebone Grammar School; in the following year Mrs. Russ took him and his young sister Joan (his closest and almost his only companion in childhood) to Lewes, Sussex, where he attended the local grammar-school for three years. An attempt in 1927 to gain entrance to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, came to nothing.

While Patrick clearly enjoyed some aspects of the Lewes period (thinly-disguised references in Richard Temple, and a few personal comments from later years, leave no doubt of this), we know nothing of his achievements at school. It is clear, however, that he had discovered the joy of language and creativity on his own account, for in about 1927 he began to write a book, Caesar. Dr. Russ, who by then had the boy with him as a kind of laboratory assistant, looked with unusual kindness on this endeavour and arranged for its publication in 1930. A short story, Skogula, followed in 1931, and throughout the decade Patrick continued to produce stories (usually with animals as the central characters, like both those mentioned) for boys' periodicals and annuals. An anthology of these, Beasts Royal, appeared in 1934.

In the early 1930s Patrick studied languages and history in evening classes at Birkbeck College, London University. He was less successful in an attempt to enter the Royal Air Force as a pilot officer and was dismissed from his training course after a few weeks. At about this time Dr. Russ abandoned the remains of his practice and moved to Crowborough in Sussex. Soon afterwards Patrick returned to London and began life on his own account.

(To be continued)

To see a complete listing of the works of Patrick O'Brian, please see the Complete works article.

Personal tools