Thursday, January 03, 2008

Flashman and the eternal rest

Sad news from across the Pond -- British author George MacDonald Fraser died earlier today. Fraser is the author of the rollicking, ribald, and frequently hilarious historical adventure novels known as The Flashman Papers. Fraser took the bully Harry Flashman from the novel Tom Brown's School Days and invented his life story. This summary from the IHT obituary linked to this post is more than fair:

In Fraser's hands, the cruel, handsome Flashman is all grown up and in the British Army, serving in India, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Now Brigadier General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, he is a master equestrian, a pretty fair duelist and a polyglot who can pitch woo in a spate of foreign tongues. He is also a scoundrel, a drunk, a liar, a cheat, a braggart and a coward. (A favorite combat strategy is to take credit for a victory from which he has actually run away.)

Last, but most assuredly not least, Flashman is a serial adulterer who by Volume 9 of the series has bedded 480 women. (That Flashman is married himself, to the fair, dimwitted Elspeth, is no impediment. She cuckolds him left and right, in any case.)

Readers adored him. Today, the Internet is populated with a bevy of Flashman fan sites. Flashman's exploits take him to some of the most epochal events of his time, from British colonial campaigns to the American Civil War, in which he magnanimously serves on both the Union and the Confederate sides. He rubs up against eminences like Queen Victoria, Oscar Wilde, Florence Nightingale and Abraham Lincoln. For his work, Flashman earns a string of preposterous awards, including a knighthood, the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Honor.

The novels' conceit is that Fraser discovered a long-lost cache of personal papers from the deceased Flashman and reconfigured them into the multi-volume memoirs. When the first novel Flashman was published in the US, about 1/3 of the reviewers believed that the book was an actual memoir, not just Fraser's creation. The tales also contain numerous footnotes where Fraser "judges" the accuracy of Flashman's claims and adds historical background to the story.

Fraser himself was a WWII veteran who became a newspaper journalist until he wrote his way out of that career with Flashman. He also wrote a variety of non-Flashman historical novels. He died at age 82 on the Isle of Man, where he'd made his home, after losing a three-year fight against cancer.

George MacDonald Fraser, RIP.

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