O'Pinions & O'Bservations O' O'Bscure O'Briania

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Testimonies (Three Bear Witness)

From: Rich Westerman (Music_Addict@msn.com)
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 95 02:19:14 UT

I recently purchased the maestro's collection of short stories, TESTIMONIES, and each week it rises closer to the top of my reading que.

Has anyone on the list read this collection? I'd appreciate any reactions or commentaries.

BTW, I've read all the A/M books at least twice and am gleefully 'listening' my way through the canon on recorded tape.

your servant,


From: Gordian Knot Services (0003664920@mcimail.com)
Date: Sun, 10 Dec 95 22:36 EST

Aside from remarking that TESTIMONIES is not a collection of short stories but a novel, a very closely- and beautifully- written novel having nothing whatever to do with the Aubrey/Maturin books, their period, or their subject matter, there isn't much else I _can_ say but this: you might as well move it to the top of your reading queue at once. It needn't stay there long. I devoured it in a couple of hours, then wished I'd rationed myself - unlike the A/M series, when you reach the end of this one it's really over. Sigh.


From: Dave Wilson (dwilson@sedl.org)
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 1996 13:41:46 -0600


(with addendum, below)
I have just finished reading POB's first novel, Testimonies (1952). Beautiful book. Which I have a question. The whole story is somewhat mysterious, but not really a mystery (especially since the preface to the Norton edition includes a complete plot synopsis). The story is constructed as a series of interleaved testimonies by three key characters from the plot (but not the only key characters), one of whom is known to be deceased. The question: Who is the "magistrate" taking the testimonies?

My interpretation: All three characters have passed beyond the pale (one in the story, the other two following) and the hearing is in a Higher Court, with St. Peter or even possibly Himself acting as magistrate. The question under investigation regards the sin of suicide. How does this seem to others who have read the book. Also, do you suppose the book could have had a very positive reception in Wales?

Addendum to analysis:

I just went back for another look, and realized that Pugh has likely died at the very end of the book as well -- of his illness exacerbated by forced exhaustion. Not real obvious, but very logical and complete. Perhaps even to be judged a double suicide. I presume Lloyd was present for testimony simply because he was older and perhaps also defeated by events. Eh?

Dave Wilson
30* 16' N 97* 58' W

From: Don Goyette (goyette@ix.netcom.com)
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 14:10:37 -0800

I am in the process of reading the Aubrey-Maturin series for the second time and recently decided to take a detour and check out PO'B's other ficton. I picked up a copy of _Testimonies_, sat down the other day to start it and found I could hardly put it down until I finished it.

_Testimonies_, if you have not read it, is an off-beat love story of sorts set in Wales (where I believe Patrick and Mary lived for a while before relocating to France). I think it takes place just after WW2, although it could be post-WW1. Well worth reading.

At first, it amazed me that the same author created such seemingly dissimilar works. On reflection, however, the character development in _Testimonies_ is clearly a harbinger of the wonderfully realized characters we enjoy in the A-M series.

Anyway, I am wondering if other lis'ns have read the book and what their reactions were.

I apologize in advance if this subject has been beaten to death before I signed up for the Gunroom.

Don Goyette
La Jolla, CA

From: Kettering, Kenneth C. (kck@rssm.com)
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 1997 12:52:01 -0400

I read POB's first novel, *Testimonies*, a few days ago. What an exquisite book it is. I thought it much superior to his later non-canonical novel, *The Unknown Shore*, which I took some potshots at a couple of weeks ago. Some thoughts (all spoilers, naturally):

1. The device of having the story told entirely though first person narratives by the principal actors suits POB particularly well, as he is so strongly drawn to this format in the canon (Stephen's diary, Jack's letters to Sophie). As in the canon, POB is skillful at leaving some important points unexplained (e.g., the identity of the auditor -- St. Peter?; the exact nature of the sexual perversion to which Emyr submits Bronwen).

It is a nice subtle touch that Bronwen's tale is extracted entirely through cross-examination, while Pugh needs only a little prodding at the beginning by his auditor: it shows Bronwen as being less articulate, or at least less used to composing a narrative, and also somewhat more reserved than Pugh.

Do any instances come to mind of books written wholly in the form of a cross-examination?

2. It's interesting to compare minor themes repeated in a different key in the canon.

I noted a couple of months ago that POB in the canon is unable or unwilling to show a normal, desirable parent-child relationship. The same is illustrated by the upbringing of Emyr's and Bronwen's son (I've forgotten his name) in *Testimonies*.

POB also has a rather low opinion of the clergy, or at least the Anglican clergy -- see the flogging parson of Botany Bay in the canon and the hateful preacher in *Testimonies*. Martin is a mixed character at best, and he is only rarely shown in his clerical capacity -- and the most extensive portrayal of him in that capacity shows him boring Stephen about which of the livings in Jack's gift will be most comfortable. (I don't count Sam Panda, who is not portrayed in his clerical capacity at all. But it is interesting to compare the very favorable portrayal of Sam, and of his superiors in the Catholic church, in other contexts -- e.g., their anti-slavery and revolutionary activities in Peru -- with the rather negative portrayal of the Anglican clergy.)

3. Name recycling appears with a vengeance in *Testimonies*. The protagonist's full name is Joseph *Aubrey* Pugh, and at one point he alludes to an old friend named Maturin. Any speculation as to why these names are significant to POB?

Alternatively, one might have fun constructing a family tree showing the descent from our heroes. There is little in *Testimonies* to date the tale (one of its attractions), but Pugh does at one point seem to allude to the atomic bomb, which seems to date it at the time of its writing (it was published in 1952).

4. A minor note: I suggested once that POB didn't know much about chess, based on implausible or impossible depiction's of chess games in the canon. I now attribute those to mere slips. *Testimonies* contains a knowledgeable description of one character's opening preferences (it is to the effect that he favors a queen's pawn opening leading to a closed center and much maneuvering on the flanks in the midgame). Anyway, POB surely wouldn't mention chess so consistently if he weren't interested in it. So I think we can safely place POB on the list of writers and artists who are reasonably proficient, or better, at the game.

Ken Kettering

No woman can look either handsome or dignified with her mouth wide open and her tongue protruding, and there appeared to be a slight struggle in Mrs Wogan's bosom; but Stephen had all the authority of a physician, and the tongue appeared. "Well," he admitted, "'tis a laudable tongue. I dare say you took a good hearty vomit. They may cry out against the seasickness as ever they please, but as an evacuation of the gross humours and crudities, it has no rival."

"To tell you the truth, sir," said Mrs Wogan, "I was not sick at all; only a little indisposed. I have made several voyages to America, and I do not find the motion very troublesome."

"Then perhaps we should contemplate a purge. Please to inform me of the state of your bowels."

-- Stephen's bedside manner, from *Desolation Island*, at 91-92

From: Don Goyette (goyette@ix.netcom.com)
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 1997 15:45:05 -0700

I second your opinion of Testimonies. I read it several months ago, after finishing the canon for the 1st time & before starting the second. It is an exquisite example of POB's skills in developing complex characters.

Don Goyette

From: Shelton Lankford (maturin@erols.com)
Date: Tue, 29 Apr 1997 19:07:34 -0400

Kettering, Kenneth C. wrote:

I read POB's first novel, *Testimonies*, a few days ago. What an exquisite book it is. I thought it much superior to his later non-canonical novel, *The Unknown Shore*, which I took some potshots at a couple of weeks ago. ...

Your look at *Testimonies* is an insightful treatment, to be sure. I picked up Testimonies to see how Himself did something "different". While I confess I found it not nearly as compelling as almost any of the canon, it was skillfully done, and I felt better for having read it. I can say I am extremely glad that his later writing took a somewhat different form. I now urge all of my friends to take up the series. I have become a POBslytizer, I fear.


"Which at least he doesn't wear a suit an ride a bicycle to do it"

From: Sterling T. Hada (lil-lamb@SLIP.NET)
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 13:32:40 +0000

I don't know if this has been mentioned or discussed on this list before. Apologies if it has.

I've just recently started Patrick O'Brian's 1952 masterpiece, "Testimonies," a romantic tragedy set in Wales. I was immediately struck by the name of the main protagonist, Joseph Aubrey Pugh. Further along, we find, in passing, that one of Pugh's childhood friends was a parson by the name of Maturin (Pg. 77).

The story's characters, predating as they do the Aubrey/Maturin series by almost two decades, seem in many ways an amalgam of the qualities I've come to recognize in the major players of the AM series.

All of the O'Brian hallmarks are there: the clarity of language, the fine attention to detail and the subtle manner in calling attention to something by NOT calling attention to it.

I'm curious, in light of the names used, the characters' similar demeanor to other POB characters found in the AM series, just how far back POB started planning to write "Master and Commander."


From: Ruth A Abrams (ruthie@WORLD.STD.COM)
Date: Mon Jul 30 2001 - 14:31:11 EDT

My husband is a generous man. He bought be a used copy of POB's novel Testimonies. This in spite of his tendency to make whooshing wave noises (with faint cries of "Ahoy, Matey!") if he sees me re-reading books from the canon. Also in spite of my recent increase in reading voracity. I saw from the archives that it's been a few years since Testimonies got more than a passing mention (by Charlezzzz usually--I have decided to read things Charlezzzz likes, he is very reliable) on the list.

In some ways Testimonies is a very hard-headed book. But not in some matters. To whom is Bronwen testifying? Also the exchange about civilization is not written with anything like the facility that characters express such opinions in the later books.

The preface to the book is from a review by Delmore Schwartz, part of a review in which POB's book is characterized as being better than the Old Man and the Sea. My husband said that I should be wary of that because a lot of the modernist writers, especially those influenced by Gertrude Stein, resented Hemingway. (Ben is doing doctoral work on Stein.) Still I think Testimonies is definitely a better book.

Was POB's first wife Welsh? Does that have anything at all to do with setting this book in Wales? I am inclined to think the Welsh setting is more about uncovering more languages with more speech ticks in English. ("isn't it?") My impression is that POB is drawn to languages and to the ways they make people speak English as a second language.

Ruth A.

From: Gerry Strey (gestrey@MAIL.SHSW.WISC.EDU)
Date: Tue Jul 31 2001 - 14:59:17 EDT

I don't recall if POB's firt wife was Welsh, but after he married his second wife, they lived in Wales for a while.

Gerry Strey
Madison, Wisconsin

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