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FRASER, GEORGE MACDONALD – FLASHMAN. (THE FLASHMAN PAPERS #1 1839-42) 1969 Harper Collins.

 

Harry Flashman was the school bully at Rugby in a book by another author, Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1916). That book ends with Flashman expelled for drunken behaviour.  Fraser speculates on what happened to the cad next. In doing so, he created one of literature’s finest anti-heroes. Flashman finds himself cast into military life. Despite his efforts to get a quiet life at some discreet officer training college, he is powerless to prevent himself being sent into action in Afghanistan at the limits of the British Empire.  Flashman is quite happy to bully anyone weaker than himself, He is terribly beastly to his valet, and he womanises and takes prostitutes at any opportunity, though he is deeply misogynistic towards women. Flashman is also a consummate coward. His own memoirs (of which this book is volume one) testify to that, though his efforts to desert and save his own skin get mistaken frequently for heroism. Unfortunately, that means that he gets sent on even more dangerous assignments.  The book could easily degenerate into farce, and spectacle, except for one thing, Fraser makes Flashman utterly believable and sets his exploits against a very real historic background. Flashman has a quite healthy passion for life, so he is incredulous in the presence of real heroes and men who would throw their lives away for a cause he does not believe in. He witnesses many massacres and notes what he sees with genuine sorrow.  His cowardice in itself gives him a paradoxical air of conviction.  There’re times when the book moves to James Bond get out of that if you can daring do, as in Flashman’s duel with a man over a deep pit. Here, an enemy Flashman has made for himself pulls on a rope tied to Flashman’s waist   in dramatic tug of war. By sheer will for survival, Flashman drops the enemy into the pit before he can fall in himself. Hughes and Rugby would no doubt be both appalled and impressed by what became of their disgraced student, who went on to many more adventures, mostly against his will. The Empire thinks he is a hero.  Only after his death are his own memoirs going to reveal the truth about him. This is a hugely influential book that probably inspired the later Bernard Cornwell Napoleonic period set Sharpe novels. http://www.harryflashman.org/

 

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