Farewell to Flashman

I was sad to hear that George MacDonald Fraser, creator of the Flashman series and one of the great historical novelists of our time, died a few days ago.

Fraser took a minor character, Flashman the school bully, from the nineteenth-century novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and elaborated on his later career. Flashman is one of the great literary anti-heroes–quivering in fear, lying and cheating his way out of trouble, and behaving in a thoroughly despicable way (particularly where women are concerned), he manages to become embroiled in just about every military crisis of the nineteenth century. He’s a survivor of the Indian mutiny, the battle of Little Bighorn and the charge of the Light Brigade; and he managed to fight on both sides of the American Civil War. Despite his egregious behavior he manages to emerge from each adventure a revered and adored hero.

His many decorations include the Victoria Cross, US Medal of Honor, and San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth, 4th class, and in addition to his military dishonors Flashy was director of the British Opium Co., honorary president of the Mission for Reclamation of Reduced Females, and author of such works as Twixt Cossack and Cannon and The Case Against Army Reform.

Fraser presents his books as Flashy’s memoirs, based on original documents discovered in an attic, with Fraser’s meticulous footnotes and comments–hilarious stuff and totally devoid of political correctness. Fraser was particularly proud of the fact that in the US, over one third of the reviewers of the first Flashman book thought they were reading genuine memoirs and not meticulously researched and written fiction.

Have you read the Flashman books? What are your favorite moments? One of mine is when Flashy (and I can’t remember whether it’s shortly before or after he’s shot in the backside), meets a young lawyer called Abraham Lincoln and tells him you can’t fool all of the people all of the time… And then there’s the wagon train going west, that includes an entire New Orleans whorehouse on the move and a wagon of invalids, battling the plains for their health…

Great stuff, all twelve volumes, and I’m sorry Fraser didn’t live long enough to finish all the disgraceful episodes of Flashy’s long and eventful life.

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