Damn Your Eyes!
August 7, 2003 12:15 AM   Subscribe

Damn your eyes, Harry Paget Flashman lived through and thrived in spite of his involvement in almost all of the sticky and and unpleasant incidents involving agents of the British Empire from the late 1830s to the beginning of the last century. Although a fictional creation, his tales seem to ring as true as anything written about any other Victorian Gent, whether he got his V.C., took a jezail bullet, or even knew 'little Vicky' herself.
posted by GriffX (25 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hmm, sounds like an interesting read.

Highly reminiscent of Sir Richard Francis Burton, a personal hero who has inspired others.

Of course, Sir Richard didn't live as long as Flashman but then again, who does these days?
posted by Dagobert at 12:52 AM on August 7, 2003

[this is good] - I've been a fan of his since Tom Brown's Schooldays...

The Flashman Society and his appearances in the tabloids ...
posted by plep at 1:55 AM on August 7, 2003

You can see some of Flashman's medals here.

I also have the honour of referencing Royal Flash; while it isn't a great film, Malcolm McDowell plays a good Harry Flashman (eerily similar to Alex from A Clockwork Orange in some ways).
posted by pooligan at 5:21 AM on August 7, 2003

It alters your perception of Harry Potter quite a bit if you come to it having already read the post-school adventures of the other Harry. Maybe Draco Malfoy has a great future ahead of him after all.
posted by jfuller at 5:39 AM on August 7, 2003

I just started to read Flashman last weekend. It's very, very non-P.C. Having been raised a good little boy, I had to come to grips with some of the misogyny in the book; it's not that Flashman is a dick to women — Flashman is a dick to everyone. In fact, it's only as I'm beginning to grasp that this is the book's funamental conceit that I'm beginning to enjoy it. Flashy is the antihero of the world! (He's worse than Draco Malfoy — at least Malfoy has convictions!)
posted by jdroth at 5:57 AM on August 7, 2003

Flash by name, flash by nature, woof!
posted by brettski at 6:36 AM on August 7, 2003

Flash is great....I love is nonPC nature. Plus, I feel like I'm actually learning (a little) when I read them...

My boss loves them and is always trying to loan Flashman novels to all the junior staff.
posted by pjgulliver at 6:55 AM on August 7, 2003

"Headmaster Hughes loved the popular misconception
that he was a noble reformer and liberalizer of his
public school, and he knew that none of his fat-cheeked
little charges would dispute the fact, being terrified
to incontinence at the thought of vicious canings
during his insane rages, the pleasant 'thwack thwack'
driving him to states of total excitement."

--Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest entry
posted by kablam at 8:19 AM on August 7, 2003

[this is good] The Flashman novels have been a guilty pleasure since I was a teen. As jdroth points out, some of the, ahem, old-fashioned attitudes are a bit jarring, but I can cope with them in the context of (a) the times in which the books are set and (b) the fact that Flashman is an asshole to everyone.
posted by sennoma at 8:23 AM on August 7, 2003

Flashman's account of the battle of Balaclava in "Flashman at the Charge" -- at which he manages to see action with Campbell's 93rd Highlanders, Scarlett's Heavy Brigade and the famous Light Brigade, all in a single day, is the most lucid, riveting -- and hilarious -- battlefield narrative that I've ever read. George MacDonald Fraser and Patrick O'Brien taught me most of what I know about the British Empire.

I bet I've inadvertently given away four copies of "Flashman" by now.
posted by coelecanth at 8:44 AM on August 7, 2003

Coelecanth, I heartily agree with you about Fraser's battle writing. His account of the charge of the Light Brigade still stands as one of the high points of my reading life. The best thing about all the Flashman books is the exceptional vigor of the language (including every imaginable Victorian slang term for sexual intercourse).

The women in these books are often bouncing bunnies, artifacts of Playboy, circa 1966 (the year Fraser began his then very-naughty series); but the battle action is ripe, he-man stuff: Fraser paints the desperate violence of war with rippling Stevensonian eloquence.

The best book in the series remains "Flashman in the Great Game," a breathless escape from the Indian Mutiny, that winds up with Flashy strapped to the mouth of a loaded cannon, seconds away from an explosive doom.

Fraser has written other, non-Flashman books, as well as gently comic memoirs of his own military experience, but (with the exception, perhaps, of "Pyrates") while they are competent, they don't have the same compelling impact as the Flashman papers. Fraser, like Arthur Conan Doyle and Cervantes, is something of a prisoner to a character of his own creation. A sad fate, in some ways, but there must be some compensation in knowing that you have created a persona who will live as long as people still read books.
posted by Faze at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2003

I just think its amazing that ole Flashy seems to have met every figure of any relevance in the nineteenth century, and been at every major international event...I mean, here's a man who personally knew Lincoln, Grant, Lee, and Custer, as well as Bismark, Vicotria, Albert, Gladstone, etc...if only my life was as exciting as books...
posted by pjgulliver at 9:10 AM on August 7, 2003

George MacDonald Fraser and Patrick O'Brien taught me most of what I know about the British Empire.

It was Patrick O'Brian (and my friends who read him) that led me to George MacDonald Fraser. O'Brian simply astounds me. Again and again his writing carries me away and I find myself serving at sea in the British navy during the Napoleonic Era. I'd heard the rave reviews for his books for years but never bothered to read them. "What could be so good in a book about boats?" I wondered. I don't wonder any more. If Fraser can come even close to O'Brian, I'll be reading all of the Flashman books.

Since we're on the topic: can anyone recommend other books in the vein of O'Brian and Fraser? I love the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy, another set of stirring adventure novels, for example. There must be other such stuff out there.
posted by jdroth at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2003

I, too, love the Flashman books and am constantly trying to introduce other people to them. It seems to me, though, that Flashman's character has softened since the first ones. What book was it in which Flashy tosses his female companion out of his sleigh and to the wolves so he has a better chance of surviving? Yet in Flashman and the Mountain of Light he actually performs acts that require a certain amount of courage. (I'm recalling this after the passage of years, so I may be mistaken.) I imagine that it's difficult to sustain an unlikeable character for that long. Eventually an author must give in to the impulse to give him some decent actions.

I also love all the footnotes, which sometimes contradict Flashman's version, i.e. "Flashman must be mistaken about this because . . ."

I do hope Fraser finally gives us Flashman's experiences during the Civil War. He has only scattered hints about them so far.
posted by Man-Thing at 9:18 AM on August 7, 2003

Yeah, the footnotes are great!
posted by pjgulliver at 9:21 AM on August 7, 2003

I also noticed that he is occasionally courageous in the later stories. Is it "Flashman's Lady" where he and Elspeth end up in Madagascar? I believe he defends her in a sword fight at some point. It's very tastefully done but I took it as a sign that the character was aging :-)
posted by coelecanth at 9:38 AM on August 7, 2003

Man-Thing - It's _Flashman at the Charge_ you're thinking of, the one with that begins with the aforementioned Crimean war battle scenes and finishes with a stoned-out-of-his-gourd Flashman leading a guerilla raid by Islamic resistance fighters on a Russian invasion force. And he tosses his naked Russian mistress to pursuing Cossacks, not wolves, which I suppose is marginally better.

All, by the way, carefully documented (well, not the Harry bits, but all the rest) with footnotes to real historic source materials.

Fraser did soften Flashy dramatically, but the big change is from _Flashman_, the first novel, where Harry is a utterly unlikable shit, to all the other novels, where he's still a poltroon, but what you've essentially got is a modern, cynical sensibility commenting hilariously on all those stiff-upper-lip Victorian officers and gentlemen.
posted by mojohand at 9:47 AM on August 7, 2003

George MacDonald Fraser was also the screenwriter for Richard Lester's superb The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, so it's hardly surprising that these are far and away the best screen adaptations of the Dumas story and probably the best historical action/comedy films ever made.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:54 AM on August 7, 2003

I thought that was Jan-Michael Vincent who threw his girlfriend off the motorcycle to the giant scorpions, so that he would survive

damnation alley, in case anyone is interested
posted by badzen at 9:56 AM on August 7, 2003

I just remembered. You hard-core Flashman junkies should know that General Flashman makes three brief but wonderful appearances in Fraser's _Mr. American_.

That novel's just OK, particularly dragging severely in its second half, but when Harry shows up, especially the two times in the last 100 pages or so, it's like someone turning up a light dimmer.

I'm obvious prejudiced, but if Fraser's tied inexorably to Harry Paget Flashman, it's because that's what he does best.
posted by mojohand at 10:07 AM on August 7, 2003

Hmmm.... now I finally understand what the heck "Lord Flashheart" in the Blackadder series was a reference to.
posted by Shoeburyness at 10:55 AM on August 7, 2003

I started to read Mr. American once, and ended up just thumbing through it to find Flashman's appearances. Yes, it was dreadfully slow. I have yet to read Black Ajax, in which Flashman's father plays a role.

Also, Fraser was responsible for the Octopussy screenplay. Perhaps the less said about that the better.
posted by Man-Thing at 10:57 AM on August 7, 2003

The Flashman books have too many good aspects to enumerate. When I taught history, I always recommended them as a way to jump-start the students' interest in Victorian military history. Fraser may stretch the facts once in a while, but he's more accurate than many of the "serious" historians.

Some of the best parts of the Flashman books are the descriptions of Flashman's behavior by other parties. In The Charge, when Flashman is busy trying to surrender to the Russians, the newspapers back home described it as something like, "Flashman charged into the heart of Muscovy". At the end of the Battle of Piper's Fort, Flashman is worried that the enlisted man who could unmask him might have survived. When he asks about him, the generals in attendance take it as a sign of nobility that his first words were concern for his men. Great stuff.

Question for the UK mefiers: does the term "Flash Harry" predate the Flashman books or does it come from them?
posted by joaquim at 10:58 AM on August 7, 2003

The Hornblower series by C.S. Forester is rather good as a Patrick O'Brian *lite*. Some of it was written during WWII, which explains its "rah-rah" approach, but it works. Lots of color and good British honor.

"The Long Ships", by Frans G. Bengtsson, is a spectacular classic novel about the Vikings and seafaring, an essential read.

If you want pure humor in sea stories, the Glencannon series by Guy Gilpatrick is a rare find.
posted by kablam at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2003

what I love about early flashman, is that precisely because he is so detestable while also being so non-pc, you can laugh uproariously without feeling at all like you are supporting the myth of the noble empire. if he weren't a racist, sexist, lying coward, then the society he portrays with all its airs about honor and its praise for him would be a lot less funny.
posted by jann at 1:00 PM on August 7, 2003

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