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Harry Paget Flashman

Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE (5 May 1822 – 1915) is a fictional character created by George MacDonald Fraser, but based on the character "Flashman" in Tom Brown's Schooldays, a semi-autobiographical work by Thomas Hughes.

In Hughes' book, Flashman is the notorious bully of Rugby School who persecutes Tom Brown, and who is finally expelled for drunkenness. Twentieth century author George MacDonald Fraser had the idea of writing Flashman's memoirs, in which the school bully would be identified with an "illustrious Victorian soldier": experiencing many 19th century wars and adventures and rising to high rank in British army, acclaimed as a great soldier, while remaining by his unapologetic self-description "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward—and oh yes, a toady." Fraser's Flashman is an antihero who runs from danger or hides cowering in fear, betrays or abandons acquaintances at at the slightest incentive, bullies and beats servants with gusto, beds every available woman, carries off any loot he can grab, gambles and boozes enthusiastically, and yet he ends each volume acclaimed as a hero.

Flashman's origins

In Tom Brown's Schooldays he is called only Flashman or Flashy. Fraser gave him his first and middle names, a lifespan from 1822 to 1915, and a birth date of 5 May. In Flashman, Flashman says that the family fortune was made by his great-grandfather, Jack Flashman, in America trading in rum, slaves, and "piracy too, I shouldn't wonder." Despite their wealth, the Flashmans "were never the thing": Flashman quotes the diarist Henry Greville's comment that "the coarse streak showed through, generation after generation, like dung beneath a rosebush." His father, Henry Buckley Flashman, appears in Black Ajax (1997). Buckley was a bold young officer in the British cavalry, who was wounded in action at Talavera in 1809. He then tried to get into "society" by sponsoring bare-knuckle boxer Tom Molineaux (the first black to contend for a championship), and subsequently married Flashman's mother Lady Alicia Paget, a fictional relation of the real Marquess of Anglesey. Buckley also served as a Member of Parliament, but was "sent to the knacker's yard at Reform." Beside politics, his interests were drinking, fox hunting (riding to hounds), and sex.

Flashman's tastes clearly derive from his father. His comparatively elegant manners seem to be inherited from his mother. Where his yellow streak came from is not clear. His father, as mentioned, was a brave soldier, as were several of the Pagets.

Style and layout of the stories

The series is a classic use of imaginary documents. In a preface to the first book, Fraser described the discovery of General Flashman's memoirs in an antique tea-chest, in a Leicestershire saleroom in 1965. As the "editor" of the papers, Fraser produced a series of historical novels that give a largely picaresque (or arguably cynical) description of British and American history during the 19th century. Dozens of major and minor figures from history appear in the books, often in inglorious or hypocritical roles. Characters from other fictional works appear occasionally, notably Sherlock Holmes and some of the boys from Tom Brown's Schooldays.

Fraser's research was considerable. The books are heavily annotated, with end notes and appendices, as Fraser (in accordance with the pretense of the memoirs) attempts to "confirm" (and in some cases "correct") the elderly Flashman's recollections of events. In many cases, the footnotes serve to inform the reader that a particularly outlandish character really existed or that an unlikely event actually occurred.

In outline there are some similarities to Thomas Berger's 1964 novel Little Big Man, in which a 121-year old man recounts his numerous adventures and escapades in the American Old West. Another influence might be Mark Twain's short story Luck, about an illustrious British general who was actually a blundering fool, but whose mistakes in the Crimean War always ended in success.

The half-scholarly tone has occasionally led to misunderstandings. When the first book, Flashman, was published in the United States, 10 of 34 reviews took it to be an obscure but real memoir. Several of these were written by academics — to the delight of The New York Times, which published a selection of the more trusting reviews.

For the American publication, Fraser created a fictional entry for Flashman in the 1909 edition of Who's Who. The entry lists Flashman's laurels: VC, KCB, KCIE; Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur; U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor; San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth, 4th Class. The entry also summarizes his military career, both in the British army and as a wandering adventurer. The latter includes encounters with the "White Rajah" of Sarawak, Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and service as a Union major and as a Confederate colonel during the American Civil War. (Allusions in Flash For Freedom and Flashman and the Redskins indicate that he did indeed fight on both sides in the war, but that it was part of some elaborate and dangerous intrigue instigated by Abraham Lincoln.)

Flashman the man

Flashman was a large man, six feet two inches (1.88 m) tall and close to 13 stone (about 180 pounds or 82 kg). In Flashman and the Tiger, he mentions that one of his grandchildren has black hair and eyes, resembling him in his younger years. His dark coloring frequently enabled him to pass (in disguise) for a Pathan. He claimed only three natural talents: horsemanship, facility with foreign languages, and fornication. He became an expert cricket bowler, but that was through hard effort (he needed sporting credit at Rugby School, and was afraid to play rugby football). He could also display a winning personality, when he wanted to, and was very skilled at flattering those more important than himself without appearing servile.

As he admitted in the Papers, Flashman was a coward, who would flee from danger if there was any way to do so, and on some occasions collapsed in funk. He had one great advantage in concealing this weakness: when he was frightened, his face turned red, rather than white, so that observers thought he was excited, enraged, or exuberant - as a hero ought to be.

Flashman was an insatiable lecher, and had great success with women. His size, good looks, winning manner, and especially his splendid cavalry-style whiskers won over many women, from low to high, including many famous women. He also frequently bought the services of prostitutes. In Flashman and the Great Game, about halfway through his life, he counted up his sexual conquests while languishing in a dungeon at Gwalior, reaching a total of 478 to date. He was not above forcing himself on a partner. However, he was a skilled and attentive lover, and at least some of the women in the last class became quite fond of him - though by his own admission, others tried to kill him afterward. Passages in Royal Flash, Flashman and the Dragon, Flashman and the Redskins, and Flashman and the Angel of the Lord suggest that Flashman was "well-hung".

After his expulsion from Rugby for drunkenness, Flashman looked for an easy life. He had his wealthy father buy him an officer's commission in the fashionable 11th Regiment of Light Dragoons. The 11th, commanded by Lord Cardigan, later involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade, had just returned from India and were not likely to be posted abroad soon. Flashman threw himself into the social life that the 11th offered and became a leading light of Canterbury society.

A duel with another officer over a French courtesan led to his being temporarily stationed in Scotland. There he met and deflowered Elspeth Morrison, daughter of a wealthy textile manufacturer, whom he had to marry in a "shotgun wedding". But marriage to the daughter of a mere businessman forced his resignation from the snobbish 11th Lights. He was sent to India to make a career in the army of the East India Company. Unfortunately, his language talent and his habit of flattery brought him to the attention of the Governor-General. The Governor did him the (very much unwanted) favor of assigning him as aide to General Elphinstone in Afghanistan. Flashman survived the ensuing debacle by a mixture of sheer luck and unstinting cowardice. He became an unwitting hero: the defender of Piper's Fort, where he was the only surviving white man, and was found by the relieving troops clutching the flag and surrounded by enemy dead. Of course, Flashman arrived at the Fort by accident, collapsed in terror rather than fight, was forced to stand and show fight by his sergeant, and was 'rumbled' for a complete coward. He had been trying to surrender the colours, not defend them. Happily for him, all inconvenient witnesses had been killed.

This incident set the tone for Flashman's life. Over the next 60 years or so, he was involved in many of the major military conflicts of the 19th century—always in spite of his best efforts to evade his duty. He was often selected for especially dangerous jobs because of his heroic reputation. He met many famous people, and survived some of the worst military disasters (the First Anglo-Afghan War, Charge of the Light Brigade, the Siege of Cawnpore, Battle of the Little Bighorn, Battle of Isandlwana), always coming out with more heroic laurels. The date of his last adventures seems to have been around 1900. He died in 1915.

Despite his admitted cowardice, Flashman was a dab hand at fighting when he had to. Though he dodged danger as much as he could, and ran away when no one was watching, after the Piper's Fort incident, he usually controlled his fear and often performed bravely. Almost every book contains one or more incidents where Flashman had to fight or perform some other daring action, and held up long enough to complete it. For instance, he was ordered to accompany the Light Brigade on its famous charge, and rode all the way to the Russian guns.

Flashman surrendered to fear in front of witnesses only a few times, and was never caught out again. He broke down while accompanying Rajah Brooke during a battle with pirates, but the noise drowned out his blubbering, and he recovered enough to command a storming party of sailors. After the Charge of the Light Brigade, he fled in panic from the fighting in the battery - but mistakenly charged into a entire Russian regiment, adding to his heroic image.

Volumes of the Flashman Papers

The following extracts (in publication order) from the Flashman Papers have been published:

Flashman also plays a small part in Fraser's novel Mr American (1980). His father, Harry Buckley Flashman, appears in Black Ajax (1997). At one point, it is also mentioned that a member of the Flashman family was present at the Battle of Culloden, 1746. Fraser has confirmed that Flashman died in 1915 but the circumstances of his death have never been related.

In early 2006 Fraser said that he planned to write another installment of the Flashman Papers. Fraser said he had chosen three possible subjects to write about, though what these are he was not willing to say. At the Oxford Literary festival in 2006, Frasder was asked if he ever planned to document Flashman's adventures in Australia. He replied that "Australia is on Flashman's CV, but I don't think I will get around to writing about it." He estimated that it took him roughly three to five months to research and write a Flashman novel.

Fraser died of cancer on 2 January 2008.

Flashman's ladies

Flashman's stories are dominated by his numerous amorous encounters. In Flashman in the Great Game while in prison he compiles a mental list of all the women he has had up to that point in his life, "not counting return engagements" and he places the figure at 478. Several of them are prominent historical personages. These women are not window dressing, but often pivotal characters in the unpredictable twists and turns of the books. Among the real women Flashman bedded were

  • Jind Kaur, Dowager Maharani of Punjab (Flashman and the Mountain of Light).
  • Lakshmibai, Dowager Rani of Jhansi (Flashman in the Great Game) (a dancing girl may have taken the rani's place)
  • Lily Langtry, actress and mistress of Edward VII (Flashman and the Tiger)
  • Masteeat, Queen of the Wollo Gallas (Flashman on the March).
  • Lola Montez (Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert James) (Royal Flash).
  • Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar (Flashman's Lady).
  • The Silk One (a/k/a Ko Dali's daughter), consort of Yakub Beg (Flashman at the Charge).
  • Yehonala, Imperial Chinese concubine, later the Dowager Empress Ci Xi (Flashman and the Dragon).

He also lusted after (but never bedded) Fanny Duberly, a famous army wife.

His fictional amours included:

  • An-yat-heh, an undercover agent of Harry Smith Parkes (Flashman and the Dragon).
  • Aphrodite, one of Miss Susie's "gels" (Flashman and the Redskins).
  • Cassy, an escaped slave who accompanied Flashman up the Mississippi (Flash for Freedom!).
  • Elspeth Rennie Morrison, his wife.
  • Fetnab, a dancing girl Flashy bought in Calcutta (Flashman).
  • Lady Geraldine.
  • Gertrude, niece of Admiral Tegetthoff (Flashman on the March).
  • Cleonie Grouard (a/k/a Mrs Arthur B. Candy), one of "Miss Susie's gels" (Flashman and the Redskins).
  • Irma, Grand Duchess of Strackenz (Royal Flash).
  • Josette, mistress of Captain Bernier of the 11th Light Dragoons (Flashman).
  • Mrs Leo Lade, mistress of a violently jealous duke (Flashman's Lady).
  • "Lady Caroline Lamb", a slave on board the slaver Balliol College (Flash for Freedom!).
  • Mrs Leslie, an unattached woman in the Meerut garrison (Flashman in the Great Game).
  • Mrs Madison.
  • Malee, a servant of Uliba-Wark (Flashman on the March).
  • Mrs Mandeville, a Mississippi planter's wife (Flash for Freedom!).
  • Mangla, maid and confidant to Jind Kaur.*Nareeman, an Afghan dancing girl (Flashman).
  • Mrs Betty Parker (Flashman; unconsummated).
  • Judy Parsons, mistress of Flashy's father (Flashman).
  • Baroness Pechmann, a Bavarian noblewoman (Royal Flash).
  • Penny/Jenny, a steamboat girl (Flash for Freedom!).
  • Lady Plunkett, wife of a colonial judge.
  • Mrs Popplewell, agent of a Southern slaveholders' conspiracy (Flashman and the Angel of the Lord).
  • Sara (Aunt Sara), sister-in-law of Count Pencherjevsky (Flashman at the Charge).
  • Sonsee-Array (Takes-Away-Clouds-Woman), an Apache princess, daughter of Mangas Coloradas (Flashman and the Redskins).
  • Miranda Spring, daughter of John Charity Spring (Flashman and the Angel of the Lord).
  • Szu-Zhan, a Chinese bandit leader (Flashman and the Dragon).
  • Uliba-Wark, an Abyssinian chieftainess and warrior (Flashman on the March).
  • Valentina (Valla), daughter of Count Pencherjevsky (Flashman at the Charge).
  • White Tigress and Honey-and-Milk, two concubines of the Chinese merchant Whampoa (Flashman's Lady).
  • Susie Willinck (a/k/a "Miss Susie"), New Orleans madam (Flash for Freedom! and Flashman and the Redskins).

He had a special penchant for royal ladies, and noted that his favorite amours (apart from his wife) were Lakshmibai, Ci Xi and Lola Montez: "a Queen, an Empress, and the foremost courtesan of her time: I dare say I'm just a snob." He also noted that, while civilized women were than ordinarily partial to him, his most ardent admirers were among the savage of the species: "Elspeth, of course, is Scottish." And for all his raking, it was always Elspeth to whom he returned and who remained ultimately top of the list.

His lechery was so strong that it broke out even in the midst of rather hectic circumstances. While accompanying Thomas Kavanaugh on his daring escape from Lucknow, he paused for a quick rattle with a local prostitute, and during the battle of Patusan, he found himself galloping one of Sharif Sahib's concubines without even realizing it.

Adaptations

A script for a Flashman film adaptation was written by Frank Muir in 1969, to star John Alderton, and is mentioned in his autobiography A Kentish Lad. A film version of Royal Flash was released in 1975. It was directed by Richard Lester and starred Malcolm McDowell as Flashman, Oliver Reed as Otto von Bismarck and Alan Bates as Rudi von Sternberg. It received moderate acclaim, though most fans of the series avoid it, as Lester chose to focus on bawdy buffoonery and slapstick and gave short shrift to the historical context of the story.

Fraser said that further film adaptations of the Flashman books have not been made because he "will not let anyone else have control of the script... and that simply does not happen in Hollywood." He also pointed to a lack of a suitable British actor to portray Flashman; Errol Flynn was always his favourite for the role: "It wasn't just his looks and his style. He had that shifty quality." However, the suggestion of Daniel Day-Lewis struck a chord with him and he says that although "He's probably getting on a bit," he "might make a Flashman... He's big, he's got presence and he's got style.

In 2007, Celtic Films indicated on their website that they had a series of Flashman TV films in development. Picture Palace have announced they are developing Flashman at the Charge for TV and that the script has been prepared by George Macdonald Fraser himself. Both companies took an extensive role in developing Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe (TV series).

Playwright Patrick Rayner wrote the radio play adaptation Flashman at the Charge which was broadcast in 2005 and again in 2008 on BBC Radio 4.

Homages

  • American military historian Raymond M. Saunders created an homage to the Flashman persona in a series of Fenwick Travers novels, set among the US military adventures in the Indian wars, Spanish-American war in Cuba, Boxer Rebellion in China, piracy and Muslim rebellion in the Philippines, and the creation of the Panama Canal. These novels never received the popularity or acclaim of the original Flashman.
  • Peter Bowen's four-book series based on the exploits of Luther Sage "Yellowstone" Kelly is clearly influenced by Flashman. Basing his series loosely on the career of an actual frontier scout, Bowen presents Kelly as a womanizer, heavy drinker, and something of a coward. Like Flashman, Kelly is a victim of his own legend, and is often dragged into exploits against his will by actual historical personages such as U. S. Grant, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Theodore Roosevelt. Eventually he is forced to behave heroically, at times even nobly. Although the novels have a decided comic edge, there is an element of dark tragedy in them, often related to the despoiling of frontiers and the subjugation of native peoples. The books include Yellowstone Kelly: Gentleman and Scout (1987), Kelly Blue (1991), Imperial Kelly (1992) and Kelly and The Three-Toed Horse (2001).
  • Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40,000 character Commissar Ciaphas Cain is partially inspired by Flashman.
  • Eric Nicol's Dickens of the Mounted, a fictional biography of Francis Jeffrey Dickens, the real life third son of novelist Charles Dickens who joined the North West Mounted Police in 1874, has an alternate and less than flattering take on Flashman—the book itself is something of an homage to the Flashman series.
  • In comics, writer John Ostrander took Flashman as his model for his portrayal of the cowardly villain Captain Boomerang in the Suicide Squad series. In the letters page to the last issue in the series (66), Ostrander acknowledges this influence directly. However, Flashman's success with the ladies is noticeably lacking in the Captain Boomerang character.
  • Flashman is briefly mentioned as being a dishonorable officer in Kim Newman's crossover novel The Bloody Red Baron.

Historical characters referenced in the Flashman novels

The Flashman books are littered with references to a vast number of notable historical figures. Although many have but a brief mention, some feature prominently and are portrayed "warts-and-all". They include the following:

References

External links

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