Thursday, April 21, 2011

The final Flashman?

Good historical fiction [historical fiction that doesn't mess with events] is surely one of the most pleasurable ways to learn history and George MacDonald Fraser was one of the best at it. The BBC described his Flashman books in its 2008 obituary for the author:
The inspiration for Sir Harry Flashman came from the 19th century novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, where the character features as the cowardly bully who torments the hero, Tom.

George MacDonald Fraser wrote 11 Flashman novels

MacDonald Fraser based his tales on the idea that Flashman's "memoirs" had been unearthed in an old trunk in a Leicestershire auction room.

Despite being a vain, cowardly rogue, as well as a racist and a sexist, the character managed to play a pivotal role in many of the 19th Century's most significant events, always emerging covered in glory. ....
The books are fun [often laugh-out-loud fun] but also carefully imagined in historical terms, each including introductory material, appendices and notes referencing actual historical documentation—and noting when Flashman's account may not be entirely accurate. The following is from Lars Walker's review of Flashman On the March:
This must perforce be the last Flashman book by George MacDonald Fraser, as the author died in 2009. ....

When we join Sir Harry Paget Flashman at the beginning of Flashman On the March, he's desperately attempting to get out of Trieste, where he recently arrived as a refugee following a stint as an officer of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (poor Maximilian!). He runs into an old acquaintance, a British diplomat who is trying to find someone to protect a shipment of silver to Suez, for delivery to Gen. Robert Napier. Napier is buying support from various African tribes against King Theodore of Abyssinia (today known as Ethiopia). Theodore, who Flashman will come to describe as the maddest monarch he ever met—which is saying a great deal—has kidnapped a number of Europeans, and Napier is leading a relief force.

Flashman's best-laid plan is to deliver the silver, collect whatever reward he can get, and rush home to his wife in England. Needless to say, it doesn't work out that way. ....

If you're a Flashman fan, you have a pretty good idea what comes after that. Flashman will have carnal knowledge of his guide, and he will be captured and threatened with torture and death, and he will do appalling things to save his own life at the expense of others, and he will survive each crisis, perhaps a little damaged but alive, and in the end everyone will think him a hero (“judging me by himself,” as Flashman says of Napier). And almost unnoticeably, a considerable amount of historical information, and some reasonable perspective on the British Empire, will be dispensed to the reader. [emphasis added] .... [more]
Brandywine Books: Flashman On the March, by George MacDonald Fraser