Sir Harry Paget Flashman

To the delight of Flashman fans worldwide, George MacDonald Fraser composed Flashy’s biography for the forward to Flashman on the March, the twelfth (and last) book in the Flashman Papers series.

[Note from Steve: I’ve spelled out abbreviations and acronyms. GMF wrote the Flashman biography in the style & format it would appear in a Who's Who guide to Victorian society's upper crust.]

Biographical Note

FLASHMAN, Harry Paget, brigadier-general, V.C. [Victoria Cross], K.C.B. [Knight Commander of the Bath], K.C.I.E. [Knight Commander, Order of the Indian Empire]: Chevalier, Legion of Honour; Order of Maria Theresa, Austria; Order of the Elephant, Denmark (temporary); U.S. Medal of Honor; San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth, 4th class; born May 5, 1822, son of H. Buckley Flashman, Esq., Ashby, and Hon. Alicia Paget; married Elspeth Rennie Morrison, daughter of Lord Paisley, one son, one daughter. Educated Rugby School, 11th Hussars, 17th Lancers. Served Afghanistan 1841-2 (medals, thanks of Parliament); chief of staff to H.M. [His Majesty] James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak, Batang Luper expedition, 1844; military adviser with unique rank of sergeant-general to H.M. [Her Majesty] Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, 1844-5; Sutleg campaign, 1845-6 (Ferozeshah, Sobraon, envoy extraordinary to Maharani Jeendan, Court of Lahore); political adviser to Herr (later Chancellor Prince) von Bismarck, Schleswig-Holstein, 1847-8; Crimea, staff (Alma, Sevastopol, Balaclava), prisoner of war, 1854; artillery adviser to Atalik Ghazi, Syr Daria campaign, 1855; India, Sepoy Mutiny, 1857-8, diplomatic envoy to H.R.H. [His Royal Highness] the Maharani of Jhansi, trooper 3rd Native Cavalry, Meerut, subsequently attached Rowbotham’s Mosstroopers, Cawnpore (Lucknow, Gwalior, etc., V.C.); adjutant to Captain John Brown, Harper’s Ferry, 1859; China campaign 1860, political mission to Nanking, Taiping Rebellion, political and other services, Imperial Court, Pekin; U.S. Army (major, Union forces, 1862, colonel [staff], Army of the Confederacy, 1863); aide-de-camp to H.I.M. [His Imperial Majesty] Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, 1867; interpreter and observer Sioux campaign, U.S., 1875-6 (Camp Robinson conference, Little Big Horn, etc.); Zulu War, 1879 (Isandhlwana, Rorke’s Drift); Egypt 1882 (Kassassin, Tel-el-Kebir; personal bodyguard to H.I.M. Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria, 1883; Sudan 1884-5 (Khartoum); Pekin Legations, 1900. Traveled widely in military and civilian capacities, among them supercargo, merchant marine (West Africa), agriculturist (Mississippi valley), wagon captain and hotelier (Santa Fe Trail); buffalo hunter and scout (Oregon Trail); majordomo (India), prospector (Australia); trader and missionary (Solomon Islands, Fly River, etc.), lottery supervisor (Manila), diamond broker and horse coper (Punjab) [coper, defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a horse dealer; especially : a dishonest one], deputy marshal (U.S.), occasional actor and impersonator. Honorable member of numerous societies and clubs, including Sons of the Volsungs (Strackenz), Mimbreno Apache Copper Mines band (New Mexico), Khokand Horde (Central Asia), Kit Carson’s Boys (Colorado), Brown’s Lambs (Maryland), M.C.C. [Marylebone Cricket Club], White’s and United Service [two gentlemen’s clubs] (London, both resigned), Blackjack [another gentleman’s club] (Batavia). Chairman, Flashman & Bottomley, Ltd.; director, British Opium Trading Co.; governor, Rugby School; honorary president Mission for Reclamation of Reduced Females.
Publications: Dawns and Departures of a Soldier’s Life; Twixt Cossack and Cannon; The Case Against Army Reform.
Recreations: oriental studies, angling, cricket (performed first recorded “hat trick,” wickets of Felix Pilch, Mynn, for 14 runs, Rugby Past and Present v. Kent, Lord’s, 1842; five for 12, Mynn’s Casuals v. All-England XI, 1843.
Address: Gandamack Lodge, Ashby, Leicestershire

Best Historical Novels on the Planet

As I read Flashman’s bio, I recall scenes from all the Flashman books I’ve read, beginning with Royal Flash that I happily stumbled upon in 1972.  My sisters, identical twins, were 12 years old (now 50), in the 4H, and had a big, preening, blustering, but cowardly rooster I suggested they name Flashman. That rooster lived up to his namesake.

If you haven’t read the Flashman series, I envy you. You’re about to discover the best historical novels on the planet, as entertaining as they are instructive.

Looking over Flashman’s bio, my biggest smile is that Flashy was once “honorary president Mission for Reclamation of Reduced Females.”  Our Flashy, a handsome and promiscuous devil, couldn’t resist a good romp.

But I’m quick to add that many of the women in the Flashman series are strong, intelligent, and very much in control of their own destinies — such as the enchantress Lola Montez, the powerful Empress Dowager Cixi of China, and the depraved Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar – no push overs to any man.

I’m saddest noting Flashman’s experience in the American Civil War.

George MacDonald Fraser died in 2008, before he wrote the long-anticipated memoirs of our hero’s service  in both the Confederate and Union armies. I would give anything to know GMF’s take on the horrific, bloody battles and larger-than-life personalities of the Civil War.

Flashman Meets Abe Lincoln

Flashy comes across Abraham Lincoln, then a young congressman, in one book, Flash For Freedom.

It’s GMF’s genius that the one man who immediately sees through Flashman’s bluster and undeserved reputation is Lincoln.

But GMF does no portray Lincoln godlike. Abe Lincoln is not only a step ahead of Flashman, but a bit of a rogue, too.

As both Abe and Flashy would tell you, a rogue succeeds by knowing all too well human nature.

This is how GMF introduces Lincoln in Flash For Freedom. . .

He was an unusually tall man, with the ugliest face you ever saw, deep dark eye sockets and a chin like a coffin, and a black cow’s lick of hair smeared across his forehead. When he spoke it was with the slow, deliberate drawl of the American back-countryman, which was explained by the fact that he was new to the capital; in fact he was a very junior Congressman, invited at the last moment because he had some anti-slavery bill in preparation, and so would be interested in meeting me. His name will be familiar to you: Mr. Lincoln.

In  Flashman and the Angel of the Lord. Flashy meets Lincoln again.

It’s spring of 1865, Lincoln has begun his second term as president, the bloodiest war in our nation’s history just concluded, the Union preserved — thanks to Lincoln’s leadership and the sheer force of character of one of history’s most extraordinary men.

It’s an incredible passage in the book. GMF covers the origin of the Civil War, all from Flashman’s brutally honest (and very British) perspective. (Read it here).

One part of Flashy’s conversation with Lincoln has always stuck with me.

Flashman first gives Abe his opinion of the Constitution: a “monstrous collection of platitudes… which is worse than useless because it can be twisted to mean anything you please by crooked lawyers and grafting politicos.”

Then Flashman poses an intriguing question, one only a John Bull Brit would ask:

He [Lincoln] was the only American, by the way, who ever gave me a straight answer to a question I’ve asked occasionally, out of pure mischief: why was it right for the thirteen colonies to secede from the British Empire, but wrong for the Southern States to secede from the Union?

“Setting asked the Constitution, of which you think so poorly – and which I’d abandon gladly in order to preserve the Union, if you pardon the paradox – I’m astonished that a man of your worldly experience can even ask such a question,” says he. “What has ‘right’ got to do with it? The Revolution of 76 succeeded, the recent rebellion did not, and there, as the darkie said when he’d et the melon, is an end of it.”

A few hours later, John Wilkes Booth assassinates Lincoln. Our Flashy is one of the last people to see Lincoln alive.

Oh, about Lincoln’s  “darkie” comment: politically incorrect today, but Lincoln grew up in a culture that restricted blacks to the lowest manual labor and most demeaning domestic work and thought all blacks intellectually inferior. Lincoln was no exception to his times. GMF is historically accurate. See Was Lincoln a Racist?

Frederick Douglass — former slave, brilliant speaker & writer, leader in the abolitionist movement, and the first black person Lincoln treated as an intellectual equal – also appears briefly in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord. Flashman is unimpressed, condescending. I think Douglass is one of our most inspiring Americans. I’m disappointed in Flashy’s — and GMF’s — treatment of Frederick Douglass.

Here’s a link to a hilarious video recreation of Lincoln’s historic meeting with Frederick Douglass.

Drunk HistoryVol. 5 with Will Ferrel as Lincoln, Don Cheadle as Douglass & Zooey Deschanel as crazy Mary Todd Lincoln. As told by Jen Kirkman, after she drinks two bottles of wine.

Worst Possible Man to Admire (But I Do)

Flashman is a bully, cheat, coward, rapist, liar, adulterer, whore-monger,  elitist snob, and a racist to the bone (Flashy once worked as a slave trader).

Flashy is a drunkard, imperialist, flunky, fraud, thief — a poltroon of the highest magnitude.

A full audit of Flashman’s sins (none of which appear in his bio, though hinted at) would take pages and pages.

Damn your eyes, Flashman! Why I’m so fond of you, I don’t know.
["Damn your eyes!" is one of Flashy's favorite expressions]

FLASHMAN, BIRGADIER-GENERAL SIR HARRY PAGET
(1822 – 1915)
A fictional character created by author George MacDonald Fraser. Based on the notorious bully Flashman from the Victorian classic, Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes.

The Flashman memoirs begin with Flashman’s expulsion from Rugby School. Enlisting in the British Army, Flashy cuts a swath through the 19-century’s wars and uproars (and boudoirs and harems).

Though Flashman constantly runs from danger, betrays or abandons acquaintances at the slightest incentive, bullies and beats servants with gusto, beds every available woman, carries off any loot he can grab and gambles and boozes enthusiastically, our Flashy inevitably arrives at the end of each volume with medals, the praise of the mighty, and the love of one or more beautiful women.

Flashman  claimed only three natural talents: horsemanship, facility with foreign languages, and fornication.

By his own unapologetic self-description, Flashman is “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward – and, oh yes, a toady.”

Adapted from the Harry Paget Flashman posting on Wikipedia, which has everything you’d possibly want to know about Flashy and the Flashman papers. For example: “Flashman was a large man, six feet two inches (1.88 m) tall and close to 13 stone (about 180 pounds or 82 kg).” How the hell did they figure that?

Oh, about Flashman’s address in GMF’s bio: Gandamack Lodge, Ashby, Leicester.

With the money Flashman made from the looting of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny in 1858, he bought an estate in the Leicestershire countryside in England, and named it Gandamack Lodge in memory of the British defeat at Gandamak Pass, Afghanistan, and his own fortunate (and cowardly) escape from that massacre [see Flashman: A Novel, the first book in the series].

Retreating through a rugged mountain pass, an entire force of 690 British soldiers, 2,840 Indian soldiers and 12,000 followers were killed, or in a few cases taken prisoner.

In comparison, Sitting Bull’s warriors killed 263 members of the US 7th Cavalry during the Battle of the Little Bighorn (June 1876). Most troopers fell at Custer’s Last Stand, where the lone white man to survive is — you guessed it! — Flashman, as told in Flashman and the Redskins.

In the battle, Flashman is partially scalped by his own illegitimate son, the product of an earlier visit to the American West when he took advantage of a Sioux maiden.

The last stand of the survivors of Her Majesty’s 44th Foot at Gandamak

You know Flashman is a fictional character, right? There is no Gandamack Lodge in Leicester.

But there is such a place in Afghanistan, and you’re welcome to visit.

A Brit, Peter Jouvenal, established Gandamack Lodge in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2001. Fifteen rooms, British colonial décor, meals served in the Flashman Restaurant.

The lodge is popular with journalists. Peter has filmed events in Afghanistan for 25 years, including interviews with the late Osama bin Laden, who sleeps with the fishes tonight, tucked in by SEAL Team Six.

I’m sure ol’ Flashy would approve of pumping bin Laden full of holes in his own bedroom. Especially as Flashman wasn’t on the mission and in no danger.

————————————————————————

Harry Flashman is the “perfect historian”?

The best analysis I’ve read of Flashman and the achievement of George MacDonald Fraser in the Flashman papers is Andrew Kavan’s article in the Boston Review,  Flashman and The Tragic Sensibility.

————————————————————————

Flashman’s Words To Live By

A selection of Flashman quotes by Michael F. Dilley reveals the essence of Sir Harry Paget Flashman’s character.

Flashy’s philosophy is sound, practical advice for surviving in this crazy world (requires the absence of any moral principles).

Flashman is not one to stop and wonder, “What would Jesus do?”

————————————————————————

MORE ON FLASHY
Flashman’s experience in the Crimean War — he rode, to his infinite dismay, in the charge of the Light Brigade —  figure in a post I wrote.

Thoughts on the end of the war in Iraq

I’m interested in your comments about Flashman and George MacDonald Fraser. You can also contact me here . . .

7 thoughts on “Sir Harry Paget Flashman

  1. Steve, I’ve written a novel in the Flashman style about a real-life American Flashman–a man named General James Wilkinson. I believe any Flashman fan would enjoy it and I’m trying to get the word out in the UK. For more information and a free preview of the first 25 pages, check out the book’s website at: http://www.scoundrel1776.info
    (It’s available at Amazon.uk in both book & kindle form.) Thank you.

  2. Steve says:

    I’ve read the first 25 pages of Keith Thompson’s book, Scoundrel, and I am hooked.

    Mr Thompson replicates George MacDonald Fraser’s scrupulous historical research with all the devilish fun of a character in the mold of Flashman.

    But it’s not a rip-off. For one, James Wilkinson, unlike Flashman, is a real person. Second, Wilkinson plumbs the depths of chicanery in a thoroughly American way.

    I recommend Keith Thompson’s historical novel Scoundrel to every fan of Flashman.

    This is volume one in what Thompson obviously hopes will be a series of books based on the life of James Wilkinson.

    I am looking forward to Wilkinson’s adventures in the War of 1812, when the British burn Washington DC (something many Americans wish to see repeated, though not by a foreign force), and the Battle of New Orleans.

    Thank you, Keith, for filling the hole left by the passing of George MacDonald Fraser.

  3. Steve says:

    In regard to the slaughter at Gandamak: I just heard a fascinating interview with author Diana Preston on NPR’s The World. Preston is author of a new book,“The Dark Defile: Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842″

    The “dark defile” in the title refers to the freezing mountain passes where the Afghans massacred the retreating British army, along with all the support staff and even the soldiers’ wives and children. More than 16,000 perished in the ‘dark defiles’ on the road back to India.

    I was excited when I heard Preston mention that only one British man survived the disaster and escaped. She didn’t give the name. Flashman! I thought. But no, reading the posting at The World, I found out the lone survivor was a Doctor William Brydon.

    http://www.theworld.org/2012/04/afghanistan-how-britains-first-intervention-ended-in-disaster/

    • Steve says:

      Flashman and the War Between the States

      by Barry Tighe

      Book description from Amazon.com
      What was Flashman’s role in the War between the American States? Much more than the Victorian ‘hero’ wanted, you may be sure. Shanghaied to California in late 1860, Flashy’s genius for finding trouble (and ability to weasel right out again) asserts itself from the word go. Flashy finds himself caught up in the secret world of the Committee of Thirty and the Knights of the Golden Circle, evacuating Fort Fillmore with the Federals, then marching back in with the Confederates, joining in an audacious train raid (against his better judgment), fleeing across half a continent, and generally being pushed from Yankee pillar to Rebel post, before renewing his acquaintance with Abe Lincoln. And all Flashy has to protect him is his natural cowardice under fire, willingness to leave others in the lurch, and the luck of the wicked. Will it be enough?

      I have my doubts about this book. Only one copy, used, is available on Amazon, and it sells for $900! Also, isn’t this copyright infringement? As one person comments on Amazon, “Harry Flashman is almost certainly not a public domain character, nor the novels written by Fraser.”

  4. Steve,
    I first discovered Flashman in 1970. I had just returned from my second tour of duty in Viet Nam. While there I had become interested in the history of the British Army in the 19th Century. As I browsed a book store one day I came across a paperback copy of the first in the series, “Flashman.” I thought it was a non-fiction story and a quick glance inside showed me a Who’s Who entry that I did not read but only noticed. Assuming the book to be a history, I bought it. I read the introduction with interest and settled into the body of the story. By the second footnote I went back to the Who’s Who and read it. Then I knew I had been had. But I kept reading because I had been well and truly had – and hooked.

    I have read them all, several times and have hardback copies of each one of them. I enjoy them each time I read them. Flash Harry is my favorite fictional character and I recommend the series to all and many.

    Eight years ago I wrote a pastiche that I call “Flashman on the Barbary Coast.”. I have been a little concerned about it because, of course, Flashman is not my character although the story is. It is set in San Francisco in roughly the 1851 or so time frame, which, in The Flashman Papers, is a blank area. Like Flashy I have obvious errors in the story and even footnotes. If You can tell me how to send this story to you, I will be glad to do it, for your enjoyment and, if you wish, to tell others about. So, how do I get it to you?

    Michael F. Dilley

    • Steve says:

      It’s spring of 1906. Sir Harry Paget Flashman – a wealthy, honored hero of the Empire (all of which, as we know – none better than Flashman himself — is totally undeserved) – picks up a copy of the Illustrated London Daily and reads of a devastating earthquake in the American city of San Francisco.

      The news of that catastrophe releases Flashy’s memories of his brief adventure in that city more than 50 years prior, back in 1851, when San Francisco, at the height of the Gold Rush, “could make Sodom and Gomorrah look like a nursery school.”

      Thus begins another of Flashman’s memoirs, Flashman on the Barbary Coast, as written by Michael F. Dilley. Michael wrote this short story, which covers a blank area in the Flashman Papers, not for publication but for his own enjoyment and to share with other fans of Flashman.

      I really enjoyed Flashman on the Barbary Coast. What a treat for any fan of Flash Harry!

      Michael weaves historical events and people — such as Levi Strauss, whose denim jeans clothed the West – into an action-packed romp through “one of the roarin’est towns of the old American West.” He includes fascinating footnotes to “correct” Flashman and provide the reader insights into 1850s San Francisco and background of the real-life characters we meet.

      Flashy is true to form – all his cowardice, self-aggrandizement, licentiousness, and – yes, incredible luck. Several hair-raising scenes have our hero’s “bowels turning to liquid.”

      I checked with Michael and he will share Flashman on the Barbary Coast with Flashy fans who email him at mfdilley@gmail.com. Just reference Steve of Upland when you request the story.

      Michael welcomes feedback on his Flashy tale. He is an interesting fellow, an accomplished writer and an incredibly knowledgeable military historian. I’m sure you will enjoy corresponding with him as much as I have.

      Michael shared with me two of his favorite quotes from Flashman, which contain what he believes is the essence of Flashy. I’ve included them in my blog post.

      I apologize for not reviewing Michael’s story earlier. My wife has been seriously ill and that has all my attention. I’ve neglected to acknowledge the emails I’ve received on my blog’s Flashman post. A shout out to David Kirschbaum for the following email:

      Well said (okay, written), sirrah! Indeed!
      I too will sadly miss that Civil War diary, and can only hope our good Mr. Fraser is telling the story either in Valhalla or Fiddler’s Green.
      David Kirschbaum
      SGM, USA SF (Ret)

  5. Steve says:

    Frederick Douglass characterized Lincoln in a speech delivered in 1876:

    “In his interest, in his association, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of the white man. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people, to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.”

    This is the sort of honest analysis our Flashy delivers in his memoirs. Flashman, too, is a myth-buster.

    But in defense of Lincoln, his thoughts on race relations evolved over time. Lincoln, just weeks before he was assassinated, gave a speech in which he called for voting rights for African-Americans. In the audience for that speech was John Wilkes Booth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s