Friday, January 11, 2008


Experts say this year will be the best ever!
It is important to start the new year on a positive note. That out of the way, we can proceed with recent author deaths. First on my list is George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels, who departed this mortal coil on January 2 at the age of 82.

Lovers of the Flashman books form a bit of a cult - a love that dare not speak its name these days as the Flashman novels are over the top in their political incorrectness. But their unPCness is the point, as they are satire - brilliant parodies of the Victorian-era Boys' Own Adventure tales of derring-do by the British Empire's worthies (including the ones "who so gallantly gave their lives to keep China British" as the mighty Python so aptly put it).

Fraser plucked Harry Flashman, the bully from Thomas Hughes's Victorian morality tale, Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), and dropped him
like a Zelig or a Forrest Gump into real 19th century historical events in a series of bestselling novels, starting with Flashman (1969).

D. J. Taylor in the UK newspaper, The Independent, sums up Fraser's genius in Flashman:

"The distinguishing mark of the Flashman series ... is its historical detail. Harry Paget Flashman, its motivating force, may in the end be only an inspired invention, but the world in which he moves is sharply and accurately laid out. As well as offering readers the comparatively rare spectacle of an unreal person at large in a real world, Fraser added a further refinement. Unlike the conventional heroes of historical fiction, Flashman is a coward, a bully and a satyromaniacal philanderer. The fistfuls of honours and decorations with which he is routinely showered ... are invariably the result of grotesque accidents."
[I had to use the above quote just for "satyromaniacal philanderer" alone!]

Fraser himself seemed to harden in his opinions as years went on, especially in recent decades of New Labour, Cool Britania and so on. One senses a fondness in Fraser for the grand days of Empire. But then again he is au courant, with young historians like Niall Ferguson taking a revisionist view of the British Empire in books such as Empire: the Rise and Demise of the British World Order ...

There is a good discussion of the issues raised by Flashman in the Crooker Timber blog and the many comments from readers [here], all initiated by an obit from Neil Gaiman on his blog [here].

Here's a list of the Flashman books in historical chronological order (not publication order):
  1. Flashman (Britain, India and Afghanistan 1839-42)
  2. Royal Flash (England 1842-43, Germany 1847-48)
  3. Flashman's Lady (England, Borneo and Madagascar 1842-45)
  4. Flashman and the Mountain of Light (India Punjab 1845-46)
  5. Flash for Freedom! (England, West Africa, USA 1848-49)
  6. Flashman and the Redskins (USA 1849-50 and 1875-76)
  7. Flashman at the Charge (England, Crimea and Central Asia 1854-55)
  8. Flashman in the Great Game (Scotland, India 1856-58)
  9. Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (India, South Africa, USA 1858-59)
  10. Flashman and the Dragon (China 1860)
  11. Flashman on the March (Abyssinia 1868)
  12. Flashman and the Tiger (Berlin 1878, Paris, Vienna 1883 to 1884 / England 1890-91 / South Africa 1879, England 1894)


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