ODID is absolutely right, and I squirm to admit it. (Nobody’s father should be right.) To be sure, Stephen Maturin is a more than sufficiently interesting character in the earliest books, but I do think it took O’Brian a bit of time to start identifying personally with Maturin. Once he did–and in particular when he began writing about Maturin’s obsession with Diana, the love of his life–the focus of the series shifted.
Incidentally, here’s a story I’ve always wanted to tell in public. In my New York Times Book Review piece about O’Brien’s The Yellow Admiral, I made the following comment:
If Evelyn Waugh or Anthony Powell (or Anthony Trollope, for that matter) had been writing these books, the curve balls would have started flying several volumes back; Diana, for example, might have been killed off, and Stephen’s resulting grief used to deepen our understanding of his personality. But Mr. O’Brian coddles and cossets his darlings instead of murdering them, a sure sign of loss of nerve: there are by now at least a dozen untouchable continuing characters in the series, all of whom must be tended, watered and trotted out for their annual star turns.
And do you know what? Somebody really important died in the very next volume, The Hundred Days. (I won’t say who, since you’re clearly teetering on the verge of Aubrey-Maturin addiction.)
Anthony Trollope wrote in his Autobiography about how he went to his club one day, overheard a pair of clergymen complaining about one of his recurring characters, then went straight home and killed her off in the book he was writing, The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire. Ever since The Hundred Days was published, I’ve always wondered whether I might have similarly contributed to the demise of…well, never mind.