The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jan 3, 2008

Goodbye Flashman

Reeling under a cold snap, I staggered into work today only to be greeted by the news that George MacDonald Fraser died, aged 82. This man, as readers of the highest humour and historical fiction are aware, was the author of the hugely successful Flashman series of novels.

I first heard about Flashman several years ago but only got around to reading the novels fairly recently. They are all fairly rollicking romps. That Victorian coward, womaniser and braggart gets entangled in every major event of the 19th century, pisses in his trousers time and again, and yet manages to emerge with reputation enhanced and honour at the highest. Fraser who served as a soldier in Burma and India during World War II wrote with a deft touch, his journalistic and wartime experiences serving to provide a solid feel of authenticity for his well-researched novels.

When the first novel was published in 1969, many experts were taken in by its annotations and the claim that it was based on the first packet of memoirs of Sir Harry Paget Flashman, V.C., K.C.B, K.C.I.E. The New York Times responded with glee: "Gen. Sir Harry Flashman and Aide Con the Experts", thundered the review by Alden Whitman (July 29, 1969):
So far, ‘Flashman’ has had 34 reviews in the United States. Ten of these found the book to be genuine autobiography.
Fraser was born on April 2, 1925, in Carlisle, of Scottish parentage. He worked as a journalist in England, Scotland and Canada, and was briefly editor of The Glasgow Herald. In the 1960s he was considered the foremost journalist in Scotland and much lauded for his work. But he was beginning to tire of newspapers, and he sought to write my way out with a historical novel. Having grown up on the muscular Christian tales of Tom Brown, that irritating do-gooder from Rugby, he remembered the character of the bully Flashman. He resolved to reappraise Victorian history by having an iconoclastic anti-hero, who (by his own admission) was a poltroon of the first water and invariably took credit for a victory in a battle from which he had absconded.

In all, it took 90 hours, no advance plotting, no revisions, just tea and toast and cigarettes at the kitchen table, Fraser said in an interview quoted in the reference work Authors and Artists for Young Adults.

Although many people were put off by the sexism and racism in the novels (well, what did they expect? They were set in a very racist and sexist time), Fraser had immense popular and critical support. P.G. Wodehouse was an ardent fan. For his body of work, Fraser received an OBE in 1999. Unlike Flashman, who amassed honour after honour from governments across the world for entirely dubious practises and achievements, the New York Times declared that this was decidedly genuine. To which all I can add is a heartfelt "cheers".


Kothos said...

Good blog post. Not enough work on Flashman around, all up. Thanks.

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