So long Fraser, hello Flashman

All good things must come to an end. There will be no more adventures of Flashman. His creator, George MacDonald  Fraser, has died of cancer at the age of 82.

The late, unlamented British empire has lost its funniest chronicler. There can be few more entertaining accounts of the British empire during the reign of Queen Victoria than the adventures of Flashman, the hard-drinking, womanising self-confessed coward who is undeservedly feted as a hero in every military action he is unwillingly thrown into from Africa to America, India to China.

Poltroon, braggart, bully, rogue, he is a more successful version of Falstaff . After retiring from military service as a much decorated hero, Brigadier General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, KCB, KCIE, looks back on his colourful past.The books pretend to be his memoirs. Fraser presents them as the Flashman Papers, releasing them in instalments, each covering one war or another, such as the Opium War and the Indian Revolution of 1857. The wars are covered in detail but the narrative is spiced with sex, scandal and irrevererent pen portraits of historical figures from Queen Victoria to Bismarck.

Flashman’s one redeeming quality is he is admirably free from hypocrisy and it’s amusing to read about his encounter with Tom Brown. In Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the Victorian classic, Flashman is a bully who is expelled from school. The Flashman adventures spoof the earnestness of that novel by presenting Flashman as the hero. In his eyes, the athletic, hymn-singing Tom Brown is a fool, but he takes a more kindly view of Harry “Scud” East, who also appears in the adventures.   

As an Indian living in Singapore, I am especially drawn to the books where Flashman finds himself on the Indian subcontinent (Flashman in the Great Game, Flashman and the Mountain of Light), in Singapore and Southeast Asia (Flashman’s Lady) and farther East.(Flashman and the Dragon.) But I enjoyed the others too, such as Royal Flash, Flash for Freedom (the US before the Civil War) and Flashman at the Charge (the Crimean War.)

Fraser’s other books are entertaining too, for example, The General Danced at Dawn and The Pyrates. But he will be remembered for Flashman. The books may be a little too raunchy, But Fraser has to be admired for his talent to entertain, tell a good story and bring history to life. This excerpt from Flashman and the Mountain of Light on gives his full flavour.


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