Friday, November 7, 2014
Review of Flashman by George Macdonald Fraser (HarperCollins, 1969)
Flashman was published in 1969, purporting to be the first instalment of the recently discovered reminisces of Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE. The story starts with setting the record straight on his expulsion from Rugby School, as recounted in Tom Brown’s School Days published in 1857 by Thomas Hughes, and then follows his exploits from the time he entered the British Army as teenager to when he returns to Britain two years later having taken part in Kabul retreat. Flashman is an interesting character. Six foot two and handsome, he’s a self-acknowledged scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, bully, coward, and toady. Openly misogynist and racist, he claims only three natural talents: horsemanship, an ear for languages, and fornication. To that should be added luck and cunning. He has a habit of getting himself moved into harm’s way, but always somehow manages to survive, usually through someone else’s bravery and then claiming credit and glory. He would be an easy character to dislike except that he is also self-deprecating, brutally honest, something of an anti-hero, his wife has the measure of him, and his account has a nice dose of wit. The story is undoubtedly politically incorrect, but knowingly so, and also true to attitudes of the time, and it is full of adventure and scrapes. It is also chocked full of well researched historical detail, Fraser using Flashman to tell the story of the disastrous retreat from Kabul and the First Anglo-Afghan war. It’s one of those tales that that anyone familiar with political correctness feels they shouldn’t really like, but it’s telling means that one can’t help but doing so.