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Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!







Look at that face!

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries produced a lot of literature with a very specific type of hero: the tall, strong, handsome Anglo-Saxon. His vices are that he’s “uncomplicated” (ie a bit thick) and contemptuous of foreigners; his virtues are being brave, loyal, honourable, a protector of the weak and totally incorruptible due to lacking any interest in sex or money. He's usually British, very occasionally American or from a commonwealth country like Canada, Australia or South Africa.

Harry Flashman is English, strong, good looking and as stupid and racist as anyone, but as for the virtues he’s a lustful, lying, cheating, bullying, toadying, total piece of poo poo. What elevates him to one of the fiction greats is that the author knows it, he himself knows it, and he gets away with it - is even rewarded - again and again because he’s rich, white and handsome. With this character, George MacDonald Fraser not only thoroughly killed the myth of the Stoical Imperial Hero, he dismembered it, burned the remnants, and held a dance party on the grave. Somehow, he did all this in a series of highly entertaining bestsellers, starting in the 1960s and continuing until his death in 2008.

The same basic setup was later used in, of all places, Warhammer 40K licensed fiction, in the Ciaphas Cain series of books - although the grimdark universe somehow ends up providing a much pleasanter protagonist, because Flashman is just that much of an rear end in a top hat.

In fact, Flashman’s dickery begins even before the series starts because this is in a sense fan-fiction. The character was first introduced as an adolescent bully in thoroughly Victorian 1857, in the classic novel of what we’d now call child abuse and what was then considered a “good education”, Tom Brown’s School Days. Specifically, Flashman was the first ever school bully in the first ever book about how much being at school sucked - so if you imagine a British, semi-aristocratic, better looking Biff Tanner, you’re not far off.

Prepare to be taken from the Scottish Highlands through the dusty Afghan plains to the Taiping Rebellion to the American Civil War, in the company of someone who’s charming and utterly horrible. It’s a pretty wild ride.

(Final note: I’m not going to sugar coat the racism or awful things Flashman does, which in the early books include rape, because that’s part of how terrible he is, although as public tastes changed, Fraser noticeably phased the worst of it out. What I will do is avoid quoting anything that seems like it could actually trigger unpleasant recollections for anyone. If I miss this, someone please speak up so I can edit down appropriately).

So who wrote this?


This is George MacDonald Fraser (or, to give him his full honours, George MacDonald Fraser OBE FRSL). Yes, as you guessed from his tartan-covered name, he was extremely Scottish.

Like James Bond author Alexander Fleming, Fraser was involved in WW2, although unlike Fleming he fought in actual battles, specifically against the Japanese through the jungles of South-East Asia. At the time, he was nineteen years old.

After the war he became a journalist, moved around the commonwealth a bit before settling in the Isle of Man, and eventually became a full-time writer due to the popularity of a book he wrote in which he imagined what happened next to the antagonist of Victorian novel Tom Brown’s School Days.

Beefeater1980 fucked around with this message at 17:30 on Jul 21, 2019

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Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





Tom Brown’s School Days
It’s hard to understand the early Flashman books properly without at least a basic understanding of the Victorian classic.
Tom Brown’s School Days is the story of a teenage boy’s education at Rugby. Rugby is a well known public school in the UK, and has for around 500 years been educating the children of the elite.
It looks like this:


By tradition, it’s where the game of Rugby football was invented (Rugby is approximately American Football without forward passes or any kind of physical protection). All types of football (including American/Gridiron Football, Association Football aka Soccer and Australian Rules Football) hark back to a common ancestor that is at least medieval and seems to have been a cross between a sport and a brawl, but it is highly likely that the specific rules of American football genuinely did evolve out of a cross between soccer and Rugby.


The hero of the novel is the eponymous Tom Brown, who Wikipedia describes as “Energetic, kind-hearted and athletic, rather than intellectual” - in other words, the perfect person to be moulded into an Imperial Hero in the classic style. He has allies, notably Harry “Scud” East, a tough and heroic older boy, and enemies, primarily the cruel bully Flashman, who is ultimately expelled for his nefarious ways. Virtue triumphs, villainy is vanquished, and our stolid, unimaginative, self-sacrificing heroes presumably go on to lead stolid and unimaginative lives. We may see more of this later

Fraser wasn’t the only person to poke fun at Tom Brown’s Schooldays: fans of Terry Pratchett might find it familiar too, as the Assassin’s Guild that Pteppic attends is a minor parody.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!






OK, let’s get started! The first novel in the series is just called Flashman. It purports to be the first instalment in the collected memoirs of the historical Harry Flashman, uncovered in an attic somewhere:

”George MacDonald Fraser” posted:

The great mass of manuscript known as the Flashman Papers was discovered during a sale of household furniture at Ashby, Leicestershire, in 1965. The papers were subsequently claimed by Mr Paget Morrison, of Durban, South Africa, the nearest known living relative of the author.
A point of major literary interest about the papers is that they clearly identify Flashman, the school bully of Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days, with the celebrated Victorian soldier of the same name. The papers are, in fact, Harry Flashman’s personal memoirs from the day of his expulsion from Rugby School in the later 1830s to the early years of the present century. He appears to have written them some time between 1900 and 1905, when he must have been over eighty. It is possible that he dictated them.
The papers, which had apparently lain untouched for fifty years, in a tea chest, until they were found in the Ashby saleroom, were carefully wrapped in oilskin covers. From correspondence found in the first packet, it is evident that their original discovery by his relatives in 1915 after the great soldier’s death caused considerable consternation; they seem to have been unanimously against publication of their kinsman’s autobiography – one can readily understand why – and the only wonder is that the manuscript was not destroyed.
Fortunately, it was preserved, and what follows is the content of the first packet, covering Flashman’s early adventures. I have no reason to doubt that it is a completely truthful account; where Flashman touches on historical facts he is almost invariably accurate, and readers can judge whether he is to be believed or not on more personal matters.
Mr Paget Morrison, knowing of my interest in this and related subjects, asked me to edit the papers. Beyond correcting some minor spelling errors, however, there has been no editing to do. Flashman had a better sense of narrative than I have, and I have confined myself to the addition of a few historical notes.
The quotation from Tom Brown’s School Days was pasted to the top page of the first packet; it had evidently been cut from the original edition of 1856.

Here's the quote:

Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's School Days posted:

One fine summer evening Flashman had been regaling himself on gin-punch, at Brownsover; and, having exceeded his usual limits, started home uproarious. He fell in with a friend or two coming in from bathing, proposed a glass of beer, to which they assented, the weather being hot, and they thirsty souls, and unaware of the quantity of drink which Flashman already had on board. The story result was, that Flashy became beastly drunk. They tried to get him along, but couldn’t; so they chartered a hurdle and two men to carry him. One of the masters came upon them, and they naturally enough fled. The flight of the rest excited the master’s suspicions, and the good angel of the fags incited him to examine the freight and, after examination, to convoy the hurdle himself up to the School-house; and the Doctor, who had long had his eye on Flashman, arranged for his withdrawal next morning.

"Fags" in this case is not a homophobic slur; it refers to younger boys at the school who "fagged" (acted as servants) for the older boys. They were frequently the victims of bullying, often sexual in nature.

Flashman begins by setting the record straight.

quote:

Hughes got it wrong, in one important detail. You will have read, in Tom Brown, how I was expelled from Rugby School for drunkenness, which is true enough, but when Hughes alleges that this was the result of my deliberately pouring beer on top of gin-punch, he is in error. I knew better than to mix my drinks, even at seventeen.
I mention this, not in self-defence, but in the interests of strict truth. This story will be completely truthful; I am breaking the habit of eighty years. Why shouldn’t I? When a man is as old as I am, and knows himself thoroughly for what he was and is, he doesn’t care much. I’m not ashamed, you see; never was – and I have enough on what Society would consider the credit side of the ledger – a knighthood, a Victoria Cross, high rank, and some popular fame. So I can look at the picture above my desk, of the young officer in Cardigan’s Hussars; tall, masterful and roughly handsome I was in those days (even Hughes allowed that I was big and strong, and had considerable powers of being pleasant), and say that it is the portrait of a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward – and, oh yes, a toady. Hughes said more or less all these things, and his description was pretty fair, except in matters of detail such as the one I’ve mentioned. But he was more concerned to preach a sermon than to give facts.
But I am concerned with facts, and since many of them are discreditable to me, you can rest assured they are true.
At all events, Hughes was wrong in saying I suggested beer. It was Speedicut who ordered it up, and I had drunk it (on top of all those gin-punches) before I knew what I was properly doing. That finished me; I was really drunk then – “beastly drunk,” says Hughes, and he’s right – and when they had got me out of the “Grapes” I could hardly see, let alone walk. They bundled me into a sedan, and then a beak hove in sight and Speedicut lived up to his name and bolted. I was left sprawling in the chair, and up came the master and saw me. It was old Rufton, one of Arnold’s house-masters.
The master correctly identifies Flashman and that he is blind drunk, and summons a posse of teachers to drag him up to the school infirmary to get sober. A couple of hours later when Flashman has sobered up a bit, the Headmaster, Mr Arnold, summons Flashman to his office. Time to face the music.

quote:

He was standing before the fireplace, with his hands behind looping up his coat-tails, and a face like a Turk at a christening. He had eyes like saber-points, and his face was pale and carried that disgusted look that he kept for these occasions. Even with the liquor still working on me a little I was as scared in that minute as I’ve ever been in my life – and when you have ridden into a Russian battery at Balaclava and been chained in an Afghan dungeon waiting for the torturers as I have, you know what fear means. I still feel uneasy when I think of him, and he’s been dead sixty years.
The Headmaster tells him he is to be expelled, and Flashman panics.

quote:

“But, sir,” I said, still blubbering, “it will break my mother’s heart!”
He went pale as a ghost, and I fell back. I thought he was going to hit me.
“Blasphemous wretch!” he cried – he had a great pulpit trick with phrases like those – “your mother has been dead these many years, and do you dare to plead her name – a name that should be sacred to you – in defence of your abominations? You have killed any spark of pity I had for you!”
“My father-”
“Your father,” says he, “will know how to deal with you. I hardly think,” he added, with a look, “that his heart will be broken.” He knew something of my father, you see, and probably thought we were a pretty pair.
The Headmaster continues to harangue Flashman for a bit before expressing a pious hope that he isn’t totally rotten and that this experience will help him return to the straight and narrow path. Flashy lets it all wash over him, pausing only to note that he doesn’t believe in repentance, and is mostly pleased to have avoided being flogged. He also muses that after he became famous, the school was happy enough to have him back to present prizes, and to make a speech about Courage. He finds this amusing. At the end of the harangue, he is expelled and has to leave the place. This doesn't bother him at all.

Scud East, the ‘good’ older boy in Flashman’s year and Tom Brown’s ally, stops by to see him off, and we get a sense of Flashman's fundamental cynicism.

quote:

“I’m sorry, Flashman,” he said.
I asked him what he had to be sorry for, and damned his impudence.
“Sorry you’re being expelled,” says he.
“You’re a liar,” says I. “And drat your sorrow, too.”
He looked at me, and then turned on his heel and walked off. But I know now that I misjudged him; he was sorry, heaven knows why. He’d no cause to love me, and if I had been him I’d have been throwing my cap in the air and hurrahing. But he was soft: one of Arnold’s sturdy fools, manly little chaps, of course, and full of virtue, the kind schoolmasters love. Yes, he was a fool then, and a fool twenty years later, when he died in the dust at Cawnpore with a Sepoy’s bayonet in his back. Honest scud East; that was all his gallant goodness did for him.

Flashman is, of course, right about Scud. The educational system was set up to reward and honour brave, rather stupid individuals. Eighty-odd years later, a younger generation of Scud Easts would march en masse into machine-gun fire at the Somme.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





Flashman heads home, and we learn what he’s good at: horse-riding and picking up foreign languages. We also learn that the family money comes from vice: his grandfather ran slaves and rum to America (and was probably also a pirate to boot), which got him enough money to buy a country home – that is, a mansion - in Leicestershire; because of this sketchy background, the family are not really accepted into proper Society.

Society, with a capital S, means in this context aristocratic society and the landed gentry – anyone else doesn’t really count.

His father however bucked the trend and managed to marry a respectable woman of the Paget family. The Pagets are a prominent family of farmers in Leicestershire, and owned a local manor; two generations of Thomas Paget were MPs and papers relating to them were discovered and sold to the UK records office in the 1990s.

His father was also a bit of a character. Again, we see Flashman’s cynicism in his assessment of people:

quote:

He was a decent enough fellow in his own way, I suppose, pretty rough and with the devil’s own temper, but well enough liked in his set, which was country-squire with enough money to pass in the West End. He enjoyed some lingering fame through having gone a number of rounds with Cribb, in his youth, though it’s my belief that Champion Tom went easy on him because of his cash. He lived half in town, half in country now, and kept an expensive house, but he was out of politics, having been sent to the knacker’s yard at Reform. He was still occupied, though, what with brandy and the tables, and hunting – both kinds.

Tom Cribb was a champion Victorian boxer. For Flashman’s father to have gone in the ring with him at all shows a combination of physical courage and, if we are to believe Flashman that Cribb didn’t want to beat up a rich guy and if we assume that Flashman senior knew this, cunning.

The Reform is the Reform club, a London Private Members’ Club (no, not the kind with strippers, the kind where wealthy people, mostly men, get smashed, eat big dinners and make bets to go around the world in eighty days). In the 19th century it was associated with the liberal movement in politics; conservatives had their own clubs.

Oops, as feedmegin points out below, the sentence is actually referring to the cleaning out of rotten boroughs during the Great Reform Act.

Flashman senior is waiting at home, with a drink in his hand, a flushed face, and something else.

quote:

“What the hell are you doing here?”
At most times this kind of welcome would have taken me aback, but not now. There was a woman in the room, and she distracted my attention. She was a tall, handsome, hussy-looking piece with brown hair piled up on her head and a come-and-catch-me look in her eye. “This is the new one,” I thought, for you got used to his string of madams; they changed as fast as the sentries at St James’.
She was looking at me with a lazy, half-amused smile that sent a shiver up my back at the same time as it made me conscious of the schoolboy cut of my clothes. But it stiffened me, too, all in an instant, so that I answered his question pat:
“I’ve been expelled,” I said, cool as I could.
“Expelled? D’ye mean thrown out? What the devil for, sir?”
“Drunkenness, mainly.”
“Mainly? Good God!” He was going purple. He looked from the woman back to me, as though seeking enlightenment.
So: Flashman’s father is a womanizing lech now gone to seed, and the latest conquest is eyeing up the younger version with interest. In sharp contrast to the Scud Easts of this world, young Harry is fully aware of this and his only worry is that she won’t find him attractive due to his obviously being dressed as a school boy.

Flashman goes on to explain the explusion, and his father calms down enough to ask his companion what she thinks.

quote:

“I take it this is a relative?” she says, letting her fan droop towards me. She had a deep husky voice, and I shivered again.
“Relative? Eh? Oh, dammit, it’s my son Harry, girl! Harry, this is Judy….er, Miss Parsons.”
She smiled at me now, still with that half-amused look, and I preened myself – I was seventeen, remember – and sized up her points while the father got himself another glass and damned Arnold for a puritan hedge-priest. She was what is called Junoesque, broad-shouldered and full-breasted, which was less common then than it is now, and it seemed to me she liked the look of Harry Flashman.
This will come up again, but it’s worth noting: Harry is an unusually good-looking guy. This explains a lot of the poo poo he’s able to get away with. He’s also comfortable around women, in a way that a lot of seventeen year olds are not, and spends more time thinking about what’s going on in their heads, than, say, James Bond. Yes, when he says ‘points’ here, he means breasts.

His father scolds him a bit and asks what’s next. Flashman suggests the army.

quote:

“The army?” he growled. “You mean I’m to buy you colours so that you can live like a king and ruin me at the Guards’ club, I suppose”?
“Not the Guards,” I said. “I’ve a notion for the 11th Light Dragoons.”
He stared at this. “You’ve chosen a regiment already? By gad, here’s a cool hand.”
His father is referring here to the practice of purchasing commissions to be an officer in the army. The practice arose in the 17th century and wasn’t phased out until 1871. Basically, if you joined the army, the only way to be a proper officer with promotion and leadership prospects was to buy a commission. Different regiments cost different amounts, with the most prestigious (and expensive) being the Guards regiments that were stationed in London. Like taxi medallions today, commissions were also an investment for the officers involved, and were often sold at the end of a working life to provide a pension.

The system isn’t quite as batshit crazy as it sounds. The people buying the commissions were mostly from an aristocratic class who had already been trained to lead during war since childhood and were at least no worse at it than anyone else, and during most of the paying commission period there were wars on in which officers, leading from the front, were very frequently killed, freeing up their commissions for someone else. The commissioned British Army didn’t noticeably underperform the supposedly meritocratic French army in the Peninsular campaign or at Waterloo, for example.

That said, once peace broke out the system rapidly went rotten. In the 19th century, after Waterloo, the core regiments of the British Army didn’t do much except for the Crimean War, and didn’t impress there. Most of the serious fighting done in the course of the expansion of the British Empire was done by the overseas armies, in particular in India.

In any case, Flashy has done his homework, and has no intention of going anywhere dangerous.

quote:

I knew the 11th were at Canterbury, after long service in India, and unlikely for that reason to be posted abroad. I had my own notions of soldiering. But this was too fast for the guv’nor; he went on about the expense of buying in, and the cost of army life, and worked back to my expulsion and my character generally, and so back to the army again. The port was making him quarrelsome, I could see, so I judged it best not to press him. He growled on:
“Dragoons, damme! D’ye know what a cornet’s commission costs? Damned nonsense. Never heard the like. Impudence, eh, Judy?”
Judy Parsons is thinking along quite different lines.

quote:

Miss Judy observed that I might look very well as a dashing dragoon.
“Eh?” said my father, and gave her a queer look. “Aye, like enough he would. We’ll see.” He looked moodily at me. “In the meantime, you can get to your bed,” he said. “We’ll talk of this tomorrow. For the moment you’re still in disgrace.”
Come the morning, his father is getting outraged over the daily news, and after a while heads off to his club. Flashman is fine with this, and we get an insight into another core aspect of his personality, his approach to romance.

quote:

I have always believed in one thing at a time, and the thing that was occupying my mind was Miss Judy Parsons.
Let me say that while there have been hundreds of women in my life, I have never been one of those who are forever boasting about their conquests. I’ve raked and ridden harder than most, no doubt, and there are probably a number of middle-aged men and women who could answer to the name of Flashman if only they knew it. That’s by the way; unless you are the kind who falls in love – which I’ve never been – you take your tumbles when you’ve the chance, and the more the better. But Judy has a close bearing on my story.
I was not inexperienced with women; there had been maids at home and a country girl or two, but Judy was a woman of the world, and that I hadn’t attempted. Not that I was concerned on that account, for I fancied myself (and rightly) pretty well. I was big and handsome enough for any of them, but being my father’s mistress she might think it too risky to frolic with the son. As it turned out, she wasn’t frightened of the guv’nor or anyone else.
He heads up to her room and finds her in bed, reading the papers; they sit and flirt a bit and he she lets him play with her hand, which he takes to mean she’s interested (he only holds off making a move on the spot because there is an Abigail – that is, a maid – in the room).
They make a date to “play cards” that night when his father is off at the club, and quickly get down to business – he notes that she laughs during sex. For the sake of good manners they play cards afterwards.
The next day, she’s completely uninterested in continuing the affair. Harry, seventeen and proud, immediately loses his poo poo and starts trying to blackmail her back into bed. This goes....poorly.

quote:

“This time, to my surprise, she slapped my hands and said “No, no, my boy; once for fun but not twice. I’ve a position to keep up here.” Meaning my father, and the chance of servants gossiping, I supposed.
I was annoyed at this, and got ugly, but she laughed at me again. I lost my temper, and tried to blackmail her by threatening to let my father find out about the night before, but she just curled her lip.
“You wouldn’t dare,” she said. “And if you did, I wouldn’t care.”
“Wouldn’t you?” I said. “If he threw you out, you little slut?”
“My, the brave little man,” she mocked me. “I misjudged you. At first sight I thought you were just another noisy brute like your father, but I see you’ve a strong streak of the cur in you as well. Let me tell you, he’s twice the man you are – in bed, or out of it.”


Harry tries to say that he was good enough for her last night but she cuts him off with “once” and tells him to stick to servant girls, causing him to head off swearing under his breath.

Judy Parsons is an interesting character here, as the first of Flashman’s lovers that we meet. She’s tough, independent-minded, and quite happy being the mistress of his rich father. She’s also completely comfortable using the husky young schoolboy for sex, and experienced enough with people to give him the brush-off afterwards. I think it’s telling that in this first encounter, the power dynamic favours her not him. This will be repeated quite a lot through the series.

In any case, his father is savvy enough to realise that something is going on, and as few days later he’s punted over to an uncle in the Horse Guards to take care of things. Flashman spots an opportunity in his dad being so keen to kick him out of the house right now to get him away from Judy, and extracts an extra GBP500 (around USD 50k in 2019 money) per year as an allowance.

Next time: you’re in the army now.

Beefeater1980 fucked around with this message at 07:46 on Jul 22, 2019

Trin Tragula
Apr 22, 2005



Sometimes you just want to read about an incorrigible poo poo being written by someone who knows what he's doing, ya know? Love a bit of Flashman shagging his way round the Empire.

Beefeater1980 posted:

By tradition, it’s where the game of Rugby football was invented (Rugby is approximately American Football without forward passes or any kind of physical protection). All types of football (including American/Gridiron Football, Association Football aka Soccer and Australian Rules Football) hark back to a common ancestor that is at least medieval and seems to have been a cross between a sport and a brawl, but it is highly likely that the specific rules of American football genuinely did evolve out of a cross between soccer and Rugby.


At the risk of being "well ACTUALLY" about this: the playing of football at colleges in America goes back long before the codification of Association football in 1863 or Rugby football in 1870. It's far more accurate to call it parallel development; in both countries, educational institutions (universities in America instead of public schools) adapted a popular mob football game so it could be played in a more controlled environment. Each locality did so in different ways, with some colleges developing a handling-based game and some developing a kicking-based game, in the same way as happened in Britain. The colleges then decided they wanted to play each other, just as ex-public schoolboys were doing in Britain - there, kicking games were more popular, but the people who liked handling games cared enough about handling games to keep them alive and separate as Association football quickly moved to remove almost all handling. In America handling games quickly became dominant, which did then take a little Rugby influence via playing against Canadian colleges (particularly McGill), and kicking codes were abandoned very quickly; the resulting handling code evolved very quickly and almost entirely on its own terms, and by the turn of the 20th century it was recognisably American football.

Trin Tragula fucked around with this message at 19:23 on Jul 21, 2019

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




Point of order: I imagine 'at Reform' means the 1832 Great Reform Act and he was formerly MP for a rotten borough.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





Trin Tragula posted:

Sometimes you just want to read about an incorrigible poo poo being written by someone who knows what he's doing, ya know? Love a bit of Flashman shagging his way round the Empire.


At the risk of being "well ACTUALLY" about this: the playing of football at colleges in America goes back long before the codification of Association football in 1863 or Rugby football in 1870. It's far more accurate to call it parallel development; in both countries, educational institutions (universities in America instead of public schools) adapted a popular mob football game so it could be played in a more controlled environment. Each locality did so in different ways, with some colleges developing a handling-based game and some developing a kicking-based game, in the same way as happened in Britain. The colleges then decided they wanted to play each other, just as ex-public schoolboys were doing in Britain - there, kicking games were more popular, but the people who liked handling games cared enough about handling games to keep them alive and separate as Association football quickly moved to remove almost all handling. In America handling games quickly became dominant, which did then take a little Rugby influence via playing against Canadian colleges (particularly McGill), and kicking codes were abandoned very quickly; the resulting handling code evolved very quickly and almost entirely on its own terms, and by the turn of the 20th century it was recognisably American football.

This is awesome and you are awesome for posting it; thanks!

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





feedmegin posted:

Point of order: I imagine 'at Reform' means the 1832 Great Reform Act and he was formerly MP for a rotten borough.

Ugh yes you’re right. Also no way that Flashman pere would have been a reformist.

MrFlibble
Nov 28, 2007

by Jeffrey of YOSPOS


Fallen Rib

Beefeater1980 posted:

Ugh yes you’re right. Also no way that Flashman pere would have been a reformist.

I was wondering why an obvious shitter would be a liberal in the type of novel Flashman is. I'm really liking this read along, I just don't have much to add.

Xotl
May 28, 2001

Be seeing you.

I love the Flashman books and am greatly looking forward to more of this thread.

New Super Metis
Aug 1, 2014




This is a fun idea! I'd never heard of these books but they sound like interesting artefacts.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





quote:

A lot has been said about the purchase of commissions-how the rich and incompetent can buy ahead of better men, how the poor and efficient are passed over – and most of it, in my experience, is rubbish. Even with purchase abolished, the rich rise faster in the Service than the poor, and they’re both inefficient anyway, as a rule. I’ve seen ten men’s share of service, through no fault of my own, and can say that most officers are bad, and the higher you go, the worse they get, myself included. We were supposed to be rotten with incompetence in the Crimea, for example, when the purchase was at its height, but the bloody mess they made in South Africa recently seems to have been just as bad – and they didn’t buy their commissions.

Although couched in Flashman’s wry voice, this is probably Fraser speaking directly to the audience and drawing from his own experience of war. The ‘bloody mess in South Africa’ is the Boer war, in which a vastly superior English force was for a long time fought to a stalemate by the small but well-trained army of the Transvaal orange state, a group of dutch-German settlers. The insurgency was eventually put down through the innovation of relocating families to military camps where they could be concentrated into a single location. These “concentration camps” were the origin of the more famous ones used by Germany in WW2.
For his part, Flashman’s not thinking about that – only of “being a humble cornet, and living high in a crack regiment” that was close to London. Naturally, he lies through his teeth about this when questioned.

quote:

I said nothing of this to Uncle Bindley, but I acted very keen, as though I was on fire to win my spurs against the Maharattas or the Sikhs. He sniffed, and looked down his nose, which was very high and thin, and said he had never suspected martial ardour in me.
“However, a fine leg in pantaloons and a penchant for folly seem to be all that is required today,” he went on. “And you can ride, as I collect?”
“Anything on legs, uncle,” says I.



quote:

That is of little consequence, anyway. What concerns me is that you cannot, by report, hold your liquor. You’ll agree that being dragged from a Rugby pothouse, reeling, I believe, is no recommendation to an officer’s mess?”
I hastened to tell him that the report was exaggerated.
“I doubt it,” he said. “The point is, were you silent in your drunken state, or did you rave? A noisy drunkard is intolerable; a passive one may do at a pinch. At least, if he has money; money will excuse virtually any conduct in the army nowadays, it seems.”
This was a favorite sneer of his; I may say that my mother’s family, while quality, were not over-rich. However, I took it all meekly.
“Yes,” he went on, “I’ve no doubt that with your allowance you will be able either to kill or ruin yourself in a short space of time. At that, you will be no worse than half the subalterns in the service, if no better. Ah, but wait, it was the 11th Light Dragoons, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, uncle.”
“And you are determined on that regiment?”
“Why, yes,” I said, wondering a little.
“Then you may have a little diversion before you go the way of all flesh,” said he, with a knowing smile. “Have you, by any chance heard of the Earl of Cardigan?”
I said I had not, which shows how little I had taken notice of military affairs.
“Extraordinary. He commands the 11th, you know. He succeeded to the title only a year or so ago, while he was in India with the regiment. A remarkable man. I understand he makes no secret of his intention to turn the 11th into the finest cavalry regiment in the army.”
“He sounds like the very man for me,” I said, all eagerness.
“Indeed, indeed. Well, we mustn’t deny him the service of so ardent a subaltern, must we? Certainly the matter of your colours must be pushed through without delay. I commend your choice, my boy. I’m sure you will find service under Lord Cardigan – ah – both stimulating and interesting. Yes, as I think of it, the combination of his lordship and yourself will be rewarding for you both.”


This is James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, a man who was brave, generous and so colossally bad at generalship that Wikipedia’s introduction to him notes that “His progression through the Army was marked by many episodes of extraordinary incompetence”.

Flashman, however, fails to pick up on the red flags, and gets back to pretending that he has the slightest shred of respect for his uncle.

quote:

I was too busy fawning on the old fool to pay much heed to what he was saying, otherwise I should have realised that anything that pleased him would probably be bad for me. He prided himself on being above my family, whom he considered boors, with some reason, and have never shown much but distaste for me personally. Helping me to my colours was different, of course; he owed that as a duty to a blood relation, but he paid it without enthusiasm. Still, I had to be civil as butter to him, and pretend respect.

Flashman is quickly confirmed into the regiment, noting with retrospect that the actual reason there was a place available is that officers were flooding out of the regiment to get away from having anything to do with Lord Cardigan. He sets about getting his hands on his allowance, buying his uniform and choosing his horses, but what he really wants to do is get back to Judy.

quote:

My tumble with her had only whetted my appetite for more of her, I discovered; I tried to get rid of it with a farm girl in Leicestershire and a young whore in Covent Garden, but the one stank and the other picked my pocket afterwards, and neither was any substitute anyway. I wanted Judy, at the same time as I felt spite for her, but she had avoided me since our quarrel and if we met in the house she simply ignored me.

He eventually decides to try his luck again one last time, turning on the acting skills. We see here that Flashman isn’t just a threatening bully (although he can be); he’s also a classically manipulative sociopath, willing to try any approach to get his way. He goes up to her room after dinner, a bit drunk.

quote:

“What do you want?” she said, very icy, but I was expecting that, and had my speech ready.
“I’ve come to beg pardon,” I said, looking a bit hangdog. “Tomorrow I go away, and before I went I had to apologise for the way I spoke to you. I’m sorry, Judy; I truly am; I acted like a cad and..and a ruffian, and well…I want to make what amends I can. That’s all.”
She put down her book and turned on her stool to face me, still looking mighty cold, but saying nothing. I shuffled like a sheepish schoolboy – I could see my reflection in the mirror behind her, and judge how the performance was going – and said again that I was sorry.
“Very well then,” she said at last. “You’re sorry. You have cause to be.”
I kept quiet, not looking at her.
“Well then,” she said, after a pause. “Good night.”
“Please, Judy,” I said, looking distraught. “You make it very hard. If I behaved like a boor-”
“You did.”
“-it was because I was angry and hurt and didn’t understand why…why you wouldn’t let me…” I let it trail off and then burst out that I had never known a woman like her before, and that I had fallen in love with her, and only came to ask her pardon because I couldn’t bear the thought of her detesting me, and a good deal more in the same strain – simple enough rubbish, you may think, but I was still learning. At that, the mirror told me I was doing well. I finished up by drawing myself up straight, and looking solemn, and saying:
“And that is why I had to see you again…to tell you. And to ask your pardon.”
I gave her a little bow, and turned to the door, rehearsing how I would stop and look back if she didn’t stop me. But she took me at face value, for as I put my hand to the latch she said:
“Harry.” I turned round, and she was smiling a little, and looking sad. Then she smiled properly, and shook her head and said:
“Very well, Harry, if you want my pardon, for what it’s worth you have it. We’ll say no…”
“Judy!” I came striding back, smiling like soul’s awakening. “Oh, Judy, thank you!” And I held out my hand, frank and manly.
She got up and took it, smiling still, but there was none of the old wanton glint about her eye. She was being stately and forgiving, like an aunt to a naughty nephew. The nephew, had she known it, was intent on incest.
As fictional depictions of sociopathic manipulation go, it’s a pretty good one! And it works well enough for Judy to let him kiss her hand. This is not a wise move: he immediately tries to get her back into bed and she tells him to get out. This triggers an unpleasant scene: Flashman attempts to rape her, but she fights him off, biting his lip badly; he then hits her - hard - and storms out, leaving her sobbing in the room.

By this point we know what kind of a person we’re dealing with. Flashman doesn’t have the full ‘dark triad’ of personality traits – he’s only mildly narcissistic, for example – but he is classically machiavellian and sociopathic in how he treats people, and very willing to resort to violence. This whole section is basically an Iago-like soliloquy, as he takes the reader into his confidence to explain what’s going through his head while he does something monstrous.

Karmic debt incurred, Flashman heads off to war – or rather, as he hopes, to a nice cushy billet in a regiment that won’t leave England’s shores any time soon.

quote:

The 11th Light Dragoons at this time were newly back from India, where they had been serving since before I was born. They were a fighting regiment, and – I say it without regimental pride, for I never had any, but as a plain matter of fact – probably the finest mounted troops in England. Yet they had been losing officers, since coming home, hand over fist. The reason was James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan.
You have heard all about him, no doubt. The regimental scandals, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the vanity, stupidity and extravagance of the man – these things are history. Like most history, they have a fair basis of fact. But I knew him, probably as few other officers knew him, and in turn I found him amusing, frightening, vindictive, charming, and downright dangerous. He was God’s own original fool, there’s no doubt of that – although he was not to blame for the fiasco at Balaclava; that was Raglan and Airey between them. And he was arrogant as no other man I’ve ever met, and as sure of his own unshakeable rightness as any man could be – even when his wrong-headedness was there for all to see. That was his great point, the key to his character: he could never be wrong.
They say that at least he was brave. He was not. He was just stupid, too stupid to ever be afraid. Fear is an emotion, and his emotions were all between his knees and his breast-bone; they never touched his reason, and he had little enough of that.
For all that, he could never be called a bad soldier. Some human faults are military virtues, like stupidity, and arrogance, and narrow-mindedness. Cardigan blended all three with a passion for detail and accuracy; he was a perfectionist, and the manual of cavalry drill was his Bible. Whatever rested between the covers of that book he could perform, or cause to be performed, with marvellous efficiency, and God help anyone who marred that performance. He would have made a first-class drill sergeant – only a man with a mind capable of such depths of folly could have led six regiments into the Valley at Balaclava.
I’ll hold off talking about the battle of Balaclava until it comes up in the series; suffice for now to say that it was the site of one of Britain’s biggest military disasters, the Charge of the Light Brigade, in which it turned out that – surprise! – it’s a very bad idea to charge a mass of light cavalry directly at a prepared artillery position.

Beefeater1980 fucked around with this message at 16:28 on Jul 22, 2019

anilEhilated
Feb 17, 2014

But I say fuck the rain.



Grimey Drawer

That's... quite an undertaking you're going for. I've read the whole series long ago but just going by what you posted so far I managed to miss a fair bit of the history involved. Good luck, hope you last at it for a while.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





Thanks, that's the plan. I'll probably start taking longer breaks between excerpts soon; this early in the series there is a lot of character building going on, though.

Flashman duly turns up at regimental HQ determined to impress Cardigan, and succeeds wildly – the Earl, it turns out, is a proper martinet, who likes neat, handsome, well-dressed soldiers and well-groomed horses, and dislikes the tough officers who had seen actual combat in India and the pragmatic measures they took. Flashman, being tall, good-looking and smart, is an instant hit.

He soon finds out that the regiment is split between the ‘Indian’ officers (that is, the officers who had commanded the regiment in India and been involved in difficult, gruelling warfare; they are of course all white) and the ‘Plungers’ (London officers). Reynolds, one of the Indian officers, lays it out for Flashman, after Cardigan has just finished chewing Reynolds out for having ‘yellowed’ sheepskin on his saddle, which he contrasts with the clean white sheepskin that Flashman has – dismissing the perfectly reasonable response that the Indian saddles are old and Flashman’s is new:

quote:

“So you make excuses now!” snapped Cardigan. “Haw-haw! I tell you, sir, if you knew your duty they would be cleaned, or if they are too old, wenewed. But you know nothing of this, of course. Your slovenly Indian ways are good enough, I suppose. Well, they will not do, let me tell you! These skins will be cwean tomorrow, d’you hear, sir? Cwean, or I’ll hold you wesponsible, Captain Weynolds!”
Having humiliated Reynolds and praised Flashman, the Earl heads off, leaving poor Reynolds to give the context.

quote:

“I can see you will do very well, Mr Flashman. Lord Haw Haw may not like us Indian officers, but he likes plungers, and I’ve no doubt you’ll plunger very prettily.”
I asked him what he meant by plunging.
“Oh,” says he, “a plunger is a fellow who makes a great turnout, don’t you know, and leaves cards at the best houses, and is sought by the mamas, and strolls in the Park very languid, and is just a hell of a swell generally. Sometimes they even condescend to soldier a little – when it doesn’t interfere with their social life. Good-day, Mr Flashman.”
Fraser is being interesting here. It is a well-worn conceit of military fiction to contrast tough veteran soldiers with fancy ones who only know how to go on parade, but in general the protagonist in a military story is expected to sympathise with (and eventually join the ranks of) the ‘real’ soldiers. Flashman, on the other hand, knows exactly how to blend in with a group of arrogant, status-obsessed upper-class louts and has no interest at all in actual soldiering.

Again, he shows his manipulative side:

quote:

I toadied as seemed best – not openly, of course, but effectively just the same; there is a way of toadying which is better than fawning, and it consists of acting bluff and hearty and knowing to an inch how far to go. And I had money, and showed it.
All the toadying works: Cardigan continues to discriminate against the Indian officers, and Flashman acquires a servant called Basset who “knows everything a soldier ought to know and nothing more” (who he beats into submission the first time he meets him, noting that this made the man treat him “as a dog does his master”) and a toady of his own called Bryant, who is good at parties and clings to Flashman “like a leech”:

quote:

I found him useful, and tolerated him accordingly, and used him as a court jester when it suited – he was adept in this role too. As Forrest said, if you kicked Bryant’s arse, he always bounced most obligingly.
Flashman continues living it up among the smart set of the London officers, and enjoying the envy of the professional soldiers, making a point of having excellent drill and parade form, and enjoying the expensive lifestyle (which the Indian officers cannot afford to join in, to the amusement of Lord Cardigan and the plungers). The actual enlisted men are tough and unruly, leading to a lot of floggings; Flashman notes how he enjoys a good flogging and has casual bets with his crony Bryant on how the flogged men will perform - which stroke they'll cry out at, or if they will faint.

Life continues in this happy way for a while, and Flashman settles comfortably into the rhythm of regimental life.

A wild rival appears!
All however does not go Flashman’s way. He soon meets an officer he does dislike, personally and not in the generic way he despises the Indian officers.

quote:

His name was Bernier, a tall, hard hawk of a man with a big nose and black whiskers and dark eyes set very close. He was the best blade and shot in the regiment, and until I came on the scene the best rider as well. He didn’t love me for that, I suppose, but our real hatred dated from the night when he made some reference to nabob families of no breeding, and seemed to me to look in my direction.
I was fairly wine-flown, or I’d have kept my mouth shut, for he looked like what the Americans call a “killing gentleman” – indeed, he was very like an American whom I knew later, the celebrated James Hickok, who was also a deadly shot. But being part tipsy, I said I would rather be a nabob Briton, and take my chances on breeding, than be half-caste foreign.
If in doubt, dial up the racism.

quote:

Bryant crowed, as he always did at my jokes, and said: “Bravo, Flash, Old England forever!” and there was general laughter, for my usual heartiness and general bluffness had earned me the name of being something of a John Bull. Bernier only half-caught what I said, for I had kept my voice low so that only those nearest heard, but someone must have told him later, for he never gave me anything but an icy stare from then on, and never spoke to me. He was sensitive about his foreign name – actually, he was a French Jew, if you went far enough back, which accounts for it.

John Bull is the English equivalent of Uncle Sam – except instead of a tall, lean, authoritative man, he is a fat country squire who is often portrayed roaring drunk and misbehaving in some way. In the picture above, he is farting at a picture of the King; another favourite of mine has him making GBS threads out vast quantities of boats to fight France.

I think it says quite a lot about the English that this is who we chose as our national image.

Anyway, the bad blood between Flashman and Bernier festers from that point on. Flashman continues drinking and whoring around, and finally hits on a plan of attack: Bernier has a pretty, dark-haired girl he is seeing, and Flashman is richer than Bernier. Flashman contrives to call on the girl while Bernier is away.

quote:

She was French herself, it turned out, so I could be more direct than with an English girl. I told her straight out that I had taken a fancy to her, and invited her to consider me as a friend – a close friend. I hinted that I had money – she was only a whore, after all, for all her fashionable airs.
At first she made a show of being shocked, and la-la’d a good deal, but when I made to leave she changed her tune. My money aside, I think she found me to her fancy; she toyed with a fan and looked at me over it with big, almond-shaped eyes, playing the minx.
“You have poor opeenion of French girls, then?” says she.
“Not I,” says I, charming again. “I’ve the highest opinion of you, for example. What’s your name?”
WHAT. I can understand a young, macho officer going after his rival’s woman – if Terminal Lance is to be believed, this is hardly unusual even now - but holy poo poo Flashman, you didn’t bother to ask her name until AFTER you propositioned her?

quote:

“Josette.” She said it very pretty.
“Well, Josette, let’s drink to our future acquaintance – at my expense” – and I dropped my purse on the table, at which her eyes widened. It was not a small purse.
You may think me crude. I was. But I saved time and trouble, and perhaps money, too – the money that fools waste in paying court with presents before the fun begins. She had wine in the house, and we drank to each other and talked a good five minutes before I began to tease her into undressing. She played it very prettily, with much pouting and provocative looks, but when she had stripped she was all fire and wickedness, and I was so impatient I had her without getting out of my chair.
I’ve seen Flashman described as misogynistic, and he is, but it’s very different from the usual kind of MRA misogyny that is so common on the internet. What we see here is that he’s just very blunt: he likes sex, he’s socially aware enough to recognise that Josette is a high class escort, and he’s pragmatic about what it takes to get her interest. He is also consistently contemptuous of the hypocrisy (and poor success rate) of men who chase women in indirect, socially acceptable ways. In any case, here he is both amusing himself and getting one over on the deadliest, most murderous officer in the regiment by sleeping with her.

This cannot possibly end badly.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





It ends badly

quote:

Whether I found her unusually delectable because she was Bernier’s mistress or because of her French tricks, I can’t say, but I took to visiting her often, and in spite of my respect for Bernier, I was careless. It was within a week, certainly, that we were engaged heavily one evening when there were footsteps on the stair, the door flew open, and there was the man himself. He stood glaring for a moment, while Josette squeaked and dived under the covers, and I scrambled to get under the bed in my shirt-tail – the sight of him filled me with panic.
One of Flashman’s strongest character traits is his cowardice; he flees the scene (although Bernier makes no move to attack him and in fact just leaves), although not before Josette, who is very amused by the whole situation, coaxes him into another bout of sex.

At this point Bernier is in a bind. He can’t take action against Flashman without admitting that he’d lost his mistress to his rival, which will result in him being humiliated in front of the whole regiment. He also knows that it’s bad form to enter a duel against a fellow officer over something so trivial as a mistress. Flashman, however, isn’t thinking about this; he thinks that Bernier has backed down, and immediately leaks the whole story to Bryant, who gleefully repeats it to the entire regiment.

This cannot POSSIBLY end badly.

A few days later, over a game of cards, Flashman and his toadies are mocking Bernier with jokes about French Fillies and English Jockeys…

quote:

The next I knew my chair had been dragged away, and Bernier was standing over me as I sprawled on the floor, his face livid and his mouth working.
“What the devil-” began Forrest, as I scrambled up, and the others jumped up also. I was half on my feet when Bernier struck me, and I lost my balance and went down again.
“For God’s sake, Bernier!” shouts Forrest, “are you mad?” and they had to hold him back, or or he would have savaged me on the ground, I think. Seeing him held, I came up with an oath, and made to go for him, but Bryant grabbed me, crying “No, no Flash! Hold off, Flashy!,” and they clustered round me as well.
Truth is, I was nearly sick with fear, for the murder was out now. The best shot in the regiment had hit me, but with provocation – fearful or not, I have always been quick and clear enough in my thinking in a crisis – and there couldn’t be any way out except a meeting. Unless I took the blow, which meant an end to my career in the army and in society. But to fight him was a quick road to the grave.
Despite his mortal terror, Flashman stalks out of the room purposefully and composes himself – the rest of the officers assume his shakes are of anger, not fear – and then stalks back in once he has a plan.

quote:

The chatter died away as I came in; I can feel that silence now, sixty years after, and see the elegant blue figures, and the silver gleaming on the table, and Bernier, alone and very pale, by the fireplace. I went straight up to him. I had my speech ready.
“Captain Bernier,” I said, “you have struck me with your hand. That was rash, for I could take you to pieces with mine if I chose.” This was blunt, English Flashman of course. “But I prefer to fight like a gentleman, even if you do not.” I swung round on my heel. “Lieutenant Forrest, will you act for me?”
Forrest said yes, like a shot, and Bryant looked piqued. He expected I would have named him, but I had another part for him to play.
“And who acts for you?” I asked Bernier, very cool. He named Tracy, one of the Indian men, and I gave Tracy a bow and then went over to the card table as though nothing had happened.
“Mr Forrest will have the details to attend to,” I said to the others. “Shall we cut for the bank?”
They stared at me. “By gad, Flash, you’re a cool one!” Cries Bryant.
I shrugged, and took up the cards, and we started playing again, the others all very excited – too excited to notice that my thoughts were not on my cards.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

Enraged by the constant mockery of Flashman’s clique, Bernier, the scariest man in the regiment and a stone-cold killer, has lost his temper and struck him. As a soldier, Flashman HAS to challenge him to a duel, or see his career evaporate.

In a fair duel, Flashman is a dead man.

Flashman has no intention whatsoever of entering into a fair duel.

Undead Hippo
Jun 2, 2013


I always felt like the tone of the first book was very different from the rest of the series. More of a satire, where the rest of the series(and especially the second book) tended towards farce. It also had much darker moments throughout, the first of which with Judy we've already seen. Flashman is a real scumbag in this one, and not at all a lovable one.

It's not just the willingness to go to darker places though. The first book was a barbed critique of the dysfunction of large parts of British Imperialism. It presented an institution ruled by fools, and obsessed with honour and righteousness, that was nevertheless the perfect breeding ground for a confident scoundrel to win acclaim. As we get later and later in the series, the tone drifts from that critique, trending towards outright apologia for Imperialism. I think Fraser ended up being too enamoured of his subject matter.

Notahippie
Feb 4, 2003

Kids, it's not cool to have Shane MacGowan teeth

Beefeater1980 posted:


Enraged by the constant mockery of Flashman’s clique, Bernier, the scariest man in the regiment and a stone-cold killer, has lost his temper and struck him. As a soldier, Flashman HAS to challenge him to a duel, or see his career evaporate.


Although dueling was officially illegal by this point, Army officers were still shunned or in some cases formally censured or court martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman if they failed to duel those who publicly insulted them. In 1766 in Minorca Captain Benjamin Beilby was court martialed after being ostracized by his peers when a fellow captain said to him in public "Is that the way you march your guard, you shitten dirty fellow" and called him a "dirty dog" and Beilby failed to challenge him to a duel.

There's an excellent article in "The Historical Journal" on this from 1976 here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2638355?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

The Rat
Aug 29, 2004

You will find no one to help you here. Beth DuClare has been dissected and placed in cryonic storage.



Everything I know about 19th century British history, I learned from the Flashman books. It's also appropriate that I read them after having worked with British ex-military guys while contracting in Iraq. Prior to that, I had the usual American notion that Brits were all stiff upper lip and the like. Having actually worked with them, I can now find Flashman to be an entirely plausible character.

Side note, the audiobook versions are pretty great. The narrators I've heard do a really great job of making Flashman sound like a pathetic wretch when he gets into a bind.

High Warlord Zog
Dec 12, 2012


Undead Hippo posted:

I always felt like the tone of the first book was very different from the rest of the series. More of a satire, where the rest of the series(and especially the second book) tended towards farce. It also had much darker moments throughout, the first of which with Judy we've already seen. Flashman is a real scumbag in this one, and not at all a lovable one.

You can definitely see GMF experimenting with tone in the early books. Royal Flash is a lot lighter, but Flash For Freedom goes all in on the nastiness (and might be the best of the series for it's commitment to the bit).

High Warlord Zog fucked around with this message at 00:25 on Jul 23, 2019

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





I suspect that the toning down of Flash’s nastiness in some of the later books is at least partially because it’s exhausting to write a really unpleasant character being horrible to people and getting away with it.

branedotorg
Jun 19, 2009


Undead Hippo posted:

I always felt like the tone of the first book was very different from the rest of the series. More of a satire, where the rest of the series(and especially the second book) tended towards farce. It also had much darker moments throughout, the first of which with Judy we've already seen. Flashman is a real scumbag in this one, and not at all a lovable one.

It's not just the willingness to go to darker places though. The first book was a barbed critique of the dysfunction of large parts of British Imperialism. It presented an institution ruled by fools, and obsessed with honour and righteousness, that was nevertheless the perfect breeding ground for a confident scoundrel to win acclaim. As we get later and later in the series, the tone drifts from that critique, trending towards outright apologia for Imperialism. I think Fraser ended up being too enamoured of his subject matter.

I think that is a fair point but as a reader who has read them all at least a few times I think that suits the more adventurous stories later. Particularly Royal Flash with it's open Zenda pastiche

I was quite young when I read them and they can be read as straight adventures or as a primer for basically every politically or socially important thing that happened in the British Empire or the US over about 60 years.

I know this first one is where i first heard about the chartist riots for example. Or John Brown in a later book (well that and the CYOA Civil War Secret Agent).

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





Where we left off, our Antihero had got himself into a difficult situation, with a duel looming against a killer and a crack shot.

What’s his plan to survive? Cheat, of course.

quote:

“Tommy,” says I, “You’re not a rich man.”
“Eh?” says he, “What the-?”
“Tommy,” says I, “Would you like ten thousand pounds?”
“In God’s Name,” says he, “What for?”
“For seeing that Bernier stands up tomorrow with an unloaded pistol,” says I, straight out. I knew my man.

Bryant is reluctant, pointing out that it would be tantamount to murder and fearful that he’d be hanged for it, but Flashman’s grasp of human nature is as good as ever and greed eventually wins out over fear. Bryant agrees to volunteer to act as loader for the pistols and to palm Bernier’s ball, so long as Flashman agrees not to kill Bernier - an easy give, as that would have caused more trouble than it was worth (and would have deprived Flashman of the pleasure of humiliating Bernier).

quote:

“Ten thousand pounds,” I said, and he licked his lips.
“Jesus,” he said at length, “Ten Thousand. Phew! On your word of honour, Flash?”
“Word of honour,” I said, and lit another cheroot.

We all know what that’s worth.

Having made arrangements, Flashman returns to his bunk, and here the real man comes out:

quote:

My throat was dry and my hands were sweating as I thought of what I had done. For all the bluff front I had shown to Bryant, I was in a deathly funk. Suppose something went wrong and Bryant muffed it? It had seemed so easy in that moment of panicky thought outside the mess - fear stimulates thought, perhaps, but it may not be clear thought, because one sees the way out that one wantsto see, and makes headlong for it. I thought of Bryant fumbling, or being too closely overseen, and Bernier standing up in front of me with a loaded pistol in his hand like a rock, and the muzzle tearing into my breast, and myself falling down screaming, and dying on the ground.

Flashman has quite a good imagination! He proceeds to burst into tears, pray, and generally curl up into a pathetic little ball of cowardliness (quite unable to sleep) until it gets to morning, when he realises people might see him like this and promptly pretends to snore loudly. This causes the enlisted soldiers who come to wake him up to comment on his fearlessness, seeing as he is sleeping so soundly.

This attention to his image is one of the major themes of the Flashman books. He is an absolute coward, through and through (which is one of the few things that actually humanises him), but it doesn’t show - and he takes steps to hide it whenever he can. In this he is helped by a ruddy constitution: when he’s terrified, he doesn’t go pale, but his face flushes red, making him look angry.

The duel approaches - a brief hope that Cardigan will halt it ends up going nowhere.

quote:

Bernier and Tracy were already there, with the surgeon, and the mist was hanging a little under the trees. Our feet thumped in the turf, which was still wet with dew, as we strode across to them, Forrest at my side, and Bryant with the pistol case beneath his arm following on with the others. About fifty yards away, under the trees by the fence, was a little knot of officers, and I saw Cardigan’s bald head above his great caped coat. He was smoking a cigar.
Bryant and the surgeon called Bernier and me together, and Bryant asked us if we would not resolve our quarrel. Neither of us said a word; Barnier was pale, and looked fixedly over my shoulder, and in that moment I came as near to turning and running as ever I did in my life. I felt that my bowels would squirt at any moment, and my hands were shuddering beneath my cloak.

Two things strike me about this passage. First, Fraser is a workmanlike, brisk kind of a writer, in the Kipling mold (perhaps due to their shared history as journalists). Unlike, say, Fleming, he doesn’t spend a lot of time on descriptive prose or reach for an elegant metaphor; rather, the prose is just there to set the scene for what follows - action, dialogue, or Flashman’s mental state. This scene, for example, is a pretty generic description of a duel - a wood, somewhere, mist in the air, two men facing off with pistols. The focus is on what’s happening inside Flashman’s head.

Second, Flashman is more than a simple coward, he’s a coward’s coward, with an instinctive sense of probability. Here he is absolutely terrified, but ultimately he is more scared of the certain consequences of running away than the uncertain consequences of carrying out the duel - all of which is to say, his cowardice is actually assisting his decision making.

quote:

“Very good then,” says Bryant, and went with the surgeon to a little table they had set up. He took out the pistols, and from the corner of my eye I saw him spark the flints, pour in the charges and rummage in the shot-case. I daren’t watch him too closely, and anyway Forrest came just then and led me to my place. When I turned round again the surgeon was stooping to pick up a fallen powder-flask, and Bryant was ramming home a wad in one of the Barkers.
They conferred a moment, and then Bryant paced over to Bernier and presented a pistol to him; then he came to me with the other. There was no-one behind me, and as my hand closed on the butt, Bryant winked quickly. My heart came up in my mouth, and I can never hope to describe the relief that flooded through my body, tingling every limb. I was going to live.

They take their positions - Flashman thinking that at this range Barnier could easily shoot the pips off a playing-card, if his gun was actually loaded - and Bryant drops a handkerchief to signal the start of the duel.

quote:

Bernier’s right arm came up like a railway signal, and before I had even cocked my pistol I was looking into his barrel - a split-second and it shot smoke at me and the crack of the charge was followed by something rasping against my cheek and grazing it - it was the wad. I fell back a step. Bernier was glaring at me, aghast that I was still on my feet, I suppose, and someone shouted “Missed, by Jesus!” and another shouted angrily for silence.

If the pistol had been loaded, the shot would presumably have at least maimed Flashman hideously, if not killed him outright.

quote:

It was my turn, and for a moment, the lust was on me to shoot the swine down where he stood. But Bryant might have lost his head, and it was no part of my design, anyway. I had it in my power now to make a name that would run through the army in a week - good old Flashy, who stole another man’s girl and took a blow from him, but was too decent to take advantage from him, even in a duel.

This is a fantastic summary of Flashman’s priorities. Although violent, he’s not particularly bloodthirsty and doesn’t enjoy killing for its own sake. What he does like is high status and having power over people, in particular the power to humiliate anyone who crosses him.

quote:

They stood like statues, every eye on Bernier, waiting for me to shoot him down. I cocked my pistol, watching him.
“Come on, drat you!” he shouted suddenly, his face white with rage and fear.
I looked at him for a moment, then brought my pistol up no higher than hip level, but with the barrel pointing well away to the side. I held it negligently almost, just for a moment, so that everyone might see I was firing deliberately wide. I squeezed the trigger.
What happened to that shot is now regimental history; I had meant it for the ground, but it chanced that the surgeon had set his bag and his bottle of spirits down on the turf in that direction, maybe thirty yards off, and by sheer good luck the shot whipped the neck off the bottle clean as a whistle.
“Deloped, by God!” roared Forest. “He’s deloped!”

Let’s take a step back and see the situation for a moment as Flashman’s peers would have:
- The vaguely foreign Bernier, a terrifying killer, started a fight with good old bluff English Harry Flashman over some girl
- Being the stand-up chap that he is, Flashman immediately challenged Bernier to a duel to defend his honour
- After coolly allowing Bernier to take his shot, Flashman not only deloped (“threw away”) his shot, he did so in a way that seemed to show he was a Victorian xx420NoScopexx crack sniper and could easily have killed Bernier, if only he hadn’t been the better man.

It’s absolutely masterful. As of this point, Bernier’s reputation is in tatters, and Flashman is about to perform his signature move for the first time - spinning a terrible situation that has arisen entirely from his arrogant, thoughtless behaviour into fame, fortune and a great reputation.

I’ve said before that Flashman is stupid and in a sense that is true - he’s anti-intellectual and - at least aged 19 - wholly unreflective. But he’s cunning, surprisingly clear-headed in a crisis, and has some ability to think ahead. So he doesn’t only lack the virtues of the traditional hero - he lacks their vices, too. We’ll see this later in his attitude to race - he’s racist as hell, but in a more complex way than your average Victorian.

After the duel, there is the fallout: Cardigan forces Bernier to shake Flashman’s hand and forgive him, and Bernier does so (with very bad grace). However, he can’t resist one last shot at Flashman:

quote:

Bernier said, in a voice that shook: “Why did you delope? You have made a mock of me. Why didn’t you take a shot at me like a man?”
“My good sir,” I said, “I didn’t presume to tell you where to aim your shot; don’t tell me where I should have aimed mine.”
That remark, I am told, has found its way since into some dictionary of quotations; it was in The Times within the week, and I am told that when the Duke of Wellington heard it, he observed: “Damned good. And damned right, too.”

Compliments flow in from all quarters, except his father, who disapprovingly tells him that you don’t fight duels to delope but to kill the other man. The last loose end to tie up is Bryant, who switched the ammunition.

No, of course Flashman doesn’t pay him.

quote:

When he had finished toadying me around on the day of the duel, he got round to asking about his ten thousand - he knew I had great funds, or at least that my father did, but I knew perfectly well that I could never have pried ten thousand out of my guv’nor. I told Bryant so, and he gaped as though I had kicked him in the stomach.
“But you promised me ten thousand,” he began to bleat.
“Silly promise, ain’t it?- when you think hard about it,” says I. “Ten thousand quid, I mean - who’d pay out that much?”
“You lying swine!” shouts he, almost crying with rage. “You swore you’d pay me.”
“More fool you for believing me,” I said.
“Right, by God!” he snarled. “We’ll see about this. You won’t cheat me, Flashman, I’ll-“
“You’ll what?” says I. “Tell everyone all about it? Confess that you sent a man into a duel with an unloaded gun? It’ll make an interesting story. You’d be confessing to a capital offence - had you thought of that? Not that anyone’d believe you- but they’d certainly kick you out of the service for conduct unbecoming, wouldn’t they?”


Utterly predictable. Bryant slinks off, threatening revenge - which Flashman tells him he’s more likely to get than the ten thousand pounds - but life can’t quite go back to before. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband and a famous moral prude, takes an interest in the affair, and rather than incur his wrath Cardigan temporarily removes Flashman from the regiment but promises to reinstate him once things blow over.

Flashman is as grateful as always:

quote:

One must say it of old Lord Haw-Haw, if you were his favourite he would stand by you, right, reason or none. Old fool.

Harry is assigned to a militia unit up in Scotland to keep the peace, where there are rumours of insurrection as craftsmen try to hold back the tide of industrialisation.

Next up, Flashman and the Class War

Veni Vidi Ameche!
Nov 2, 2017

by Fluffdaddy


I am enjoying this thread. I am not familiar with these books, but I like what I'm reading here. I wonder if Lord Flashheart has roots in this character. I guess not, since Flashheart is brave and likes real soldiering, but he's also a womanizing psychopath with "Flash" in his name.

Notahippie
Feb 4, 2003

Kids, it's not cool to have Shane MacGowan teeth

Veni Vidi Ameche! posted:

I am enjoying this thread. I am not familiar with these books, but I like what I'm reading here. I wonder if Lord Flashheart has roots in this character. I guess not, since Flashheart is brave and likes real soldiering, but he's also a womanizing psychopath with "Flash" in his name.

I'm conflicted about this series because it's a well-written deep dive into an interesting period of time that's usually overlooked in historical fiction (except the later books on the US Civil War), and at the same time a clever critique and skewering of colonialism and colonial myths. But even for the 60's there's a *lot* of rape in these books and later in the series it feels more and more like Flashman is presented as a lovable scamp who always comes out ahead rather than a repulsive character. I think Fraser tries to balance the misogyny a little by presenting women characters who regularly put one over on Flashman or get revenge on him for his abuse, but it never really sticks because he also wants to keep having Flash figure out a way to come out as a winner. I have a hard time recommending the series to anybody because of it, which is a shame - the series includes one of the best historical novels I've ever read about the British in Afghanistan, and later books include things like Crimea and the Indian Mutiny that are amazing bits of history that don't get enough attention.

PupsOfWar
Dec 6, 2013



excited to get to the bit where Flashman is in scotland

old-timey british writing where Scotland is treated as some far-flung foreign locale is the best

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




PupsOfWar posted:

excited to get to the bit where Flashman is in scotland

old-timey british writing where Scotland is treated as some far-flung foreign locale is the best

Anywhere outside of London is notoriously some far-flung foreign locale for many people from London to this day.

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




Veni Vidi Ameche! posted:

I am enjoying this thread. I am not familiar with these books, but I like what I'm reading here. I wonder if Lord Flashheart has roots in this character. I guess not, since Flashheart is brave and likes real soldiering, but he's also a womanizing psychopath with "Flash" in his name.

Probably an inspiration for the name at least.

Note that, if you had met Flashman rather than reading his private memoirs, he too would appear brave and as if he likes real soldiering.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





I’m on a business trip right now and surrounded by very drunk people, so this will be a short update before I get back to the rice wine.

Flashman has been posted to Scotland. What does he think about that?

quote:

I have soldiered in too many countries and known too many peoples to fall into the folly of laying down the law about any of them.

This is not entirely true. As we will see later, Flashman is absolutely fine with making sweeping generalisations about millions of people in ethnic or cultural groups, and he is about to do this with the Scots.

However, this is more than an “I’m not racist, but...”

First, Flashman is consistently interested in the real, not in theoretical frameworks. More specifically, the one thing he really cares about is accumulating power over other people so that he can have a great life (being the sociopath he is, he knows this is monstrous and doesn’t care).

This means that he can’t rely entirely on lazy racial stereotypes, because that would distort his view of the world and place him at a disadvantage. Instead, he starts from the stereotype and then updates based on what he actually sees. Flashman is nothing if not pragmatic. This can end up leading him - and by extension the reader - quite far away from the typical Victorian view of other groups; a view that many of the 1960s-70s readers in the UK would have shared. There is also no cognitive dissonance to force him back to the consensus view, because unlike the average Briton he doesn’t have an emotional investment in feeling superior to other races (or classes, or cultural groups) specifically. He’s not interested in the fake power that comes with feeling you’re better than someone because of some difference - he wants the real thing.

In other words, Flashman genuinely understands privilege, and is actively engaged in a quest to get and keep as much as he can, over as many people as possible. This makes him clear sighted in a way his “morally superior” contemporaries are not. I believe this is intentional on Fraser’s part: the satire here is that Flashman is an honest villain (at least when he is talking to the audience), whereas the ruling class and polite society, who tell themselves that everything is the way it is because that’s the natural way of things, are hypocrites.

We’ll see a lot more of this later.

quote:

I tell you what I have seen, and you may draw your own conclusions. I disliked Scotland and the Scots; the place I found wet and the people rude. They had the fine qualities which bore me - thrift and industry and long-faced holiness, and the young women are mostly great genteel boisterous things who are no doubt bedworthy enough if your tastes run that way. (One acquaintance of mine who had a scotch clergyman’s daughter described it as like wrestling with a sergeant of dragoons.) The men I found solemn, hostile and greedy, and they found me insolent, arrogant and smart.

In short, he doesn’t like the Scots, and they don’t like him much. He’s been sent to Paisley, near to Glasgow, to help a mill owner put down luddites and machine-breakers, and we’ll get into that, and properly into Flashman’s view of class relations, next update.

The Rat
Aug 29, 2004

You will find no one to help you here. Beth DuClare has been dissected and placed in cryonic storage.



Beefeater1980 posted:


In other words, Flashman genuinely understands privilege, and is actively engaged in a quest to get and keep as much as he can, over as many people as possible. This makes him clear sighted in a way his “morally superior” contemporaries are not. I believe this is intentional on Fraser’s part: the satire here is that Flashman is an honest villain (at least when he is talking to the audience), whereas the ruling class and polite society, who tell themselves that everything is the way it is because that’s the natural way of things, are hypocrites.

We’ll see a lot more of this later.


Good explanation, I noticed this a lot in Flashman in the Great Game especially, but wasn't able to really articulate it. That was actually one of the few books where his immoral actions (apart from the usual lechery) are much less pronounced. It seemed like there was a lot more commentary on the grim realities of colonialism and the mutiny as a result.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

oh this is a thread i'm gonna bookmark, thanks for doing this!

I've only read the first couple flashman novels and yeah they're begging for a deep dive.

Notahippie posted:

I'm conflicted about this series because it's a well-written deep dive into an interesting period of time that's usually overlooked in historical fiction (except the later books on the US Civil War), and at the same time a clever critique and skewering of colonialism and colonial myths. But even for the 60's there's a *lot* of rape in these books and later in the series it feels more and more like Flashman is presented as a lovable scamp who always comes out ahead rather than a repulsive character. I think Fraser tries to balance the misogyny a little by presenting women characters who regularly put one over on Flashman or get revenge on him for his abuse, but it never really sticks because he also wants to keep having Flash figure out a way to come out as a winner. I have a hard time recommending the series to anybody because of it, which is a shame - the series includes one of the best historical novels I've ever read about the British in Afghanistan, and later books include things like Crimea and the Indian Mutiny that are amazing bits of history that don't get enough attention.


This is a problem with satire generally: the "no such thing as an anti-war movie" issue, because any time you center a viewpoint, and especially if the protagonist with that viewpoint is successful, you are inevitably lionizing that protagonist and that viewpoint. Satire can only take you so far towards condemnation; it always contains a seed of praise also.

Hieronymous Alloy fucked around with this message at 13:19 on Jul 25, 2019

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





So, Flashy is stuck in Paisley, far from the comforts of London and surrounded by pious Scots, whom he cordially and mutually detests.

Why is he there? He doesn’t care.

quote:

At this time, there was a great unrest in Britain, in the industrial areas, which meant very little to me, and indeed I’ve never troubled to read up the particulars of it. The working people were in a state of agitation, and one heard of riots in the mill towns, and of weavers smashing looms, and Chartists being arrested, but we younger fellows paid no heed. If you were country-bred or lived in London these things were nothing to you, and all I gathered was the poor folk were mutinous and wanted to do less work for more money, and the factory owners were damned if they’d let them. There may have been more to it than this, but I doubt it, and no-one has ever convinced me that it was anything but a war between the two. It always has been, and always will be, as long as one man has what the other has not, and devil take the hindmost.

Again, we see Flashman’s cynicism at play, and again, he couches everything in power terms: who has what, and who can force that to change.

Again, I’m not really sure how to characterise his views here; they’re pre-Marxist, and although he has a view that might makes right, he isn’t really a fascist either - there’s no pathology of a racial enemy or of spiritual triumph or of victory against all odds through being a nobler being: none of the magical thinking. I’d say he was a reactionary but he’s not really that either - he doesn’t actually believe in the nobility of his class, he just knows they’re in charge and wants to keep it that way, with himself at the front. Is sociopathic realism a philosophy?

In any case, Flashman is talking here about the Luddite movements that sprang up periodically, as skilled craftsmen saw their livelihoods disappearing due to the emergence of mass produced factory goods. This wasn’t the first time that strikers had done this - cases are recorded of guildsmen smashing machines as far back as the Elizabethan era - but often in the past the aristocracy has sided with the craftsmen against the machine owners. This time was different, and especially due to cheap cotton from newly conquered India putting many textile workers out of work, there was thought to be a serious risk of revolution in Britain in the early part of the 19th century.

The chartist movement is fascinating, by the way: an early and unsuccessful attempt to make a petition worth anything. People have tried since periodically, with equal impact. It’s well worth the time to look it up on Wikipedia; if anyone knowledgeable has a better summary, I’d be interested to read it.

quote:

The devil seemed to be taking the workers, by and large, with the government helping him, and we were the government’s sword. Troops were called out to subdue the agitators, and the Riot Act was read, and here and there would be clashes between the two, and a few killed. I am fairly neutral now, with my money in the bank, but at that time everyone I knew was damning the workers up and down, and saying they should be hung and flogged and transported, and I was all for it, as the Duke would say. You have no notion, today, how high feeling ran; the mill-folk were the enemy then, as though they were Frenchmen or Afghans. They were to be put down whenever they rose up, and we were to do it.

He worries a little that the troops under his command will sympathise with the strikers and be unwilling to fire on people who are basically the same as them:

quote:

All I was told was that discipline would do the trick. Well, thought I, maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but whoever is going to be caught between a mob on one side and a file of redcoats on the other, it isn’t going to be old Flashy.

Considering how the rest of the novel - and indeed his career - goes, I’m calling this as dramatic irony.

Fortunately, the troops are loyal and have experienced NCOs, giving Flashman a break. His job is to train up an irregular infantry to put down any rioters, but the soldiers under his command don’t need that much attention so he is free to focus on other more interesting things.

That brings us to one of the recurring characters in Flashman’s life, a “brass-bound old moneybags with a long nose and a hard eye,”; Mr John Morrison the mill-owner.

Mr Morrison has a large house in Renfrew. Mr Morrison is Flashman’s host while he is in Scotland (soldiers not in barracks at the time would be imposed on local families; officers, of course, got to stay with the wealthy). Mr Morrison is not altogether a ray of sunshine.

quote:

“We’ve no high opeenion of the military, sir,” said he, “and could well be doing without ye. But since, thanks to slack government and that Reform nonsense, we’re in this sorry plight, we must bear with having soldiers aboot us. A scandal! D’ye see those wretches at my mill, sir? I would have the half of them in Australia this meenit, if it was left to me! And let the rest of them feel their bellies pinched for a week or two - we’d hear less of their caterwaulin’ then.”

Victorian government: disgustingly progressive and far too worker friendly.

quote:

“You need have no fear, sir,” I told him. “We shall protect you.”
“Fear?” he snorted. “I’m not feart, sir. John Morrison doesnae tremble at the whine o’ his ain workers, let me tell you. As for protecting, we’ll see.” And he gave me a look and a sniff.

Mr Morrison shows Flashman around his house (Flashman notes it smells of “must and righteousness”), and introduces him to his family. This gets Flashman’s attention, as Morrison introduces his wife and four daughters: Agnes, Mary, Elspeth and Grizel. Flashman immediately turns on the charm.

quote:

Four heads inclined in reply, and one nodded - this was Mistress Morrison, a tall, beaknosed female in whom one could detect all the fading beauty of a vulture.

Harsh. Since MacDonald Fraser is himself Scottish, I suspect he’s having a little fun with some people he knows and doesn’t like in the sketch of the Morrisons.

quote:

I made a hasty inventory of the daughters: Agnes, buxom and darkly handsome - she would do. Mary, buxom and plain - she would not. Grizel, thin and mousy and still a schoolgirl - no. Elspeth was like none of the others. She was beautiful, fair-haired, blue-eyed and pink-cheeked, and she smiled at me with the open, simple smile of the truly stupid. I marked her down at once, and gave all my attention to Mistress Morrison.

Ever the manipulator, Flashman sets himself to the grim task of winning over the dull, religious Mr and Mistress Morrison, asking about church service and diligently attending it with them. In case the reader is very dense, he spells out why:

quote:

You may wonder why I took pains with these puritan boors, and the answer is that I have always made a point of being civil to anyone who may be of use to me. Also, I had half an eye to Miss Elspeth, and there was no hope there without her mother’s good opinion.

He spends his days in utter tedium, helping Grizel with her lessons and listening to Agnes sing and to Mr Morrison boring for Britain about the government, and occasionally talking to Elspeth, who he finds “brainless beyond description” but “undeniably desirable”, and he soon has her excited in him. As he wryly states, “dashing young cavalrymen with broad shoulders were rare in Paisley.” Try as he might though, he can’t get any alone time with her: his days are full of drilling the troops, and his nights are full of placating the Morrisons.

Next time: Mobs! Mills! Another duel?

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




Beefeater1980 posted:

Mr Morrison has a large house in Renfrew. Mr Morrison is Flashman’s host while he is in Scotland (soldiers not in barracks at the time would be imposed on local families

It was not popular with the locals when this happened, by the way, which is why the Third Amendment to the US Constitution exists. That said I think it would have been more likely in this case that they were put up in local inns if no barracks was available - still would not have been popular though because having a bunch of drunk and disorderly squaddies on the town makes for aggro both then and now. Flashman wouldn't have been imposed on the local bigwig per se, of course; it would have been more of a social obligation to host him.

The_Other
Dec 28, 2012

MOTHER-HECKING FLIP YEAH!



Just wanted to second everyone who was saying that they really like what you are doing in this thread. I remember reading some of the first Flashman book a few years ago but never finishing it. Looking back I think it was just my lack of context of the period it takes place in that made me stop ( I didn't hate the book, but I wasn't really into it either). I may give it another try now.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





Remember how Scrooge McDuck Mr Burns Mr Morrison boasted that he wasn’t afraid of no stinking proletarians? Flashman does.

quote:

Eventually it was [Elspeth’s] father himself who brought matters to a close, which changed my whole life, and hers. And it
was because he, John Morrison, who had boasted of his fearlessness, turned out to be as timid as a mouse.
It was on a Monday, nine days after I had arrived, that a fracas broke out in one of the mills; a young worker had his arm crushed in one of the machines,and his mates made a great outcry, and
a meeting of workmen was held in the streets beyond the mill gates. That was all, but some fool of a magistrate lost his head and demanded that the troops
be called “to quell the seditious rioters.” I sent his messenger about his business,
in the first place because there seemed
no danger from the meeting-although there was plenty of fist-shaking and
threat-shouting, by all accounts-and in the second because I do not make a
practice of seeking sorrow.

Yet more evidence that I may have to revise my earlier statement that Flashman is stupid: he’s actually quite level headed about the situation, and correctly makes the call not to escalate matters.

quote:

Sure enough, the meeting dispersed,
but not before the magistrate had
spread panic and alarm, ordering the
shops to close and windows in the town
to be shuttered and God knows what other folly. I told him to his face he was a
fool, ordered my sergeant to let the mil-
itia go home (but to have them ready on recall), and trotted over to Renfrew.

There Morrison was in a state of des-
pair. He peeped at me round the front
door, his face ashen, and demanded:
"Are they comin', in Goad's name?”
and then "Why are ye not at the head of
your troops,sir? Are we tae be murdered
for your neglect?"
I told him, pretty sharp, that there
was no danger, but that if there had
been, his place was surely at his mill, to
keep his rascals in order. He whinnied
at me-I've seldom seen a man in such
fright, and being a true-bred poltroon
myself, I speak with authority.
I love the use of the word “whinnied” here. It’s not only funny, it’s also the kind of word you would expect to pop into the mind of a cavalryman.

quote:

"My place is here,"he yelped,"de-
fendin' my hame and bairns!"
"I thought they were in Glasgow
today," I said, as I came into the hall.
"My wee Elspeth's here," said he,
groaning." If the mob was tae break
in...”
"Oh, for God's sake," says I, for I was
well out of sorts, what with the idiot
magistrate and now Morrison, "there
isn't a mob. They've gone home."
"Will they stay hame?" he bawled.
"Oh, they hate me, Mr Flashman, drat
them a'! What if they were to come
here? O, wae's me-and my poor wee
Elspeth!"
Poor wee Elspeth was sitting in the window-seat, admiring her reflection in
the panes, and perfectly unconcerned. Catching sight of her, I had an excellent thought.
“If you’re nervous for her, why not send her to Glasgow too? I asked him, very unconcerned.”

So this is Flashman’s play: get her alone and make his move on a road trip. The distance is only about 10 miles; maybe an hour and a half’s journey if he is going slowly.

Morrison is reluctant at first, afraid of what will happen to him if he is left behind and the angry workers come back for a little proletariat rage. But in the end he turns down the offer to travel along with them (Flashman suspects this is because the old miser’s money is stored in the house), and agrees to allow Flashman to escort his daughter to Glasgow so as to save her from an entirely imaginary mob.

quote:

We were packed off together in the gig, I driving, she humming gaily at the thought of a jaunt, and her devoted parent crying instruction and consternation after us as we rattled off.

"Tak' care o'my poor wee lamb, Mr Flashman," he wailed.
"To be sure I will, sir," I replied. And I did.
The banks of the Clyde in those days were very pretty, not like the grimy slums that cover them now. There was a
gentle evening haze, I remember, and a warm sun setting on a glorious day, and after a mile or two I suggested we stop and ramble among the thickets by the waterside. Miss Elspeth was eager, so we left the pony grazing and went into a little copse. I suggested we sit down, and Miss Elspeth was eager again - that glorious vacant smile informed me. I believe I murmured a few pleasantries, played with her hair, and then kissed her. Miss Elspeth was more eager still. Then I got to work in earnest, and Miss Elspeth’s eagerness knew no bounds. I had great red claw-marks on my back for a fortnight after.

This is our first example of Flashman having pure, uncomplicated sex with an unattached woman who likes him. Unsurprisingly, it goes pretty well.

quote:

When we had finished, she lay in the grass, drowsy, like a contented kitten,
and after a few pleased sighs she said
"Was that what the minister means when he talks of fornication?"
Astonished, I said, yes, it was.
"Um-hm," said she. "Why has he such a down on it?"
It seemed to me time to be pressing on towards Glasgow. Ignorant women I have met, and I knew that Miss Elspeth must rank high among them, but I had not supposed until now that she had not earthly idea of elementary human relations. (Yet there were even married women in my time who did not connect their husbands' antics in bed with the
conception of children.) She simply did not understand what had taken place between us. She liked it, certainly, but she had no thought of anything beyond the act - no notion of consequences, or guilt, or the need for secrecy. In her, ignorance and stupidity formed a perfect shield against the world; this, I suppose, is innocence.

We get a lot of information here. At the most basic level, we know that Elspeth enjoys sex as much as Flashman does (and is good at it too - he’s definitely happy about the claw marks), but is totally ignorant of the fact that for normal people it’s a massive massive deal - she herself doesn’t think of it as very important. We also learn that Flashman has acquired a kind of grudging respect for the innocence that protects her from the consequences of her decisions: this is perhaps the first character growth he has shown - and it’s earned, because he is relating it back to what he understands (real world consequences). It’s irrelevant to him that it comes from ignorance and stupidity; it’s effective, and that is something he is consistent in caring about. In fact, something about the whole encounter is enough to break through his usual cynicism.

quote:

I took her back to the gig and helped her in, and I thought what a beautiful fool she was. Oddly enough, I felt a sudden affection for her in that moment, such as I hadn't felt for any of my other women, even though some of them had been better tumbles than she. It had
nothing to do with rolling her in the grass; looking at the gold hair that had fallen loose on her cheek, and seeing the happy smile in her eyes, I felt a great desire to keep her, not only for bed, but to have her near me. I wanted to watch her
face, and the way she pushed her hair into place, and the steady, serene look that she turned on me. Hullo, Flashy, I remember thinking, careful, old son. But it stayed with me, that queer empty feeling in my inside, and of all the recollections of my life there isn't one that is clearer than of that warm evening bythe Clyde, with Elspeth smiling at me beneath the trees.

This is a very unusual turn from Flashman; until now he has been remarkably consistent in viewing people only as tools for him to use. He’s never actually liked anyone in front of us before.

Before long though, he’s back on form:

quote:

Almost equally distinct, however,but less pleasant, is my memory of Morrison, a few days later, shaking his fist in my face and scarlet with rage as he shouted:
“Ye damned blackguard! Ye thieving, raping, licentious devil!”

Yes, just as predicted, innocent Elspeth cheerfully told one of her sisters about this amazing new trick to have fun, and within minutes it made it to papa.

Flashman wisely decides to get himself out of the immediate mess by relocating to the nearest city - Glasgow - and throw himself on the mercy of the local commandant, who can be assumed to be neutral in all of this, to explain the situation.

Yet before he can do this, the commandant calls on him.

quote:

He was a stiff-shouldered,brisk-
mannered fellow of about fifty; rather
dapper in an almost military way, with
a brown face and hard grey eyes. He
looked as though he might be a sporting
sort,but when he came to see me he was
all business.
“Mr Flashman,I believe?" says he.
“My name is Abercrombie."
“Good luck to you,then," says I. "I'm
not buying anything today,so close the
door as you leave."
He looked at me sharp,head on one
side. "Good" says he.
"This makes it easier. I had thought
you might be a smooth one,but I see
you're what they call a plunger.”
I asked him what the devil he meant.
"Quite simple," says he, taking a seat
as cool as you please." We have a mu-
tual acquaintance. Mrs Morrison of Ren-
frew is my sister. Elspeth Morrison is my
niece."

Son, you done hosed UP!!

Yes, the man Flashman is relying on to give him a hall pass is kin to the girl he just seduced, and is also, given his intro, obviously a stone-cold badass. Which was wholly predictable given that Society here is pretty small.

Flashman makes a manful effort to brazen his way out of it.

quote:

This was an uneasy piece of news,for
I didn't like the look of him.He was too
sure of himself by half. But I gave him
a stare and told him he had a damned
handsome niece.

It fails.

quote:

"I'm relieved that you think so,"said
he. “I'd be distressed to think that the
Hussars were not discriminating.”

Oh yeah. Flashy-boy is hosed

Beefeater1980 fucked around with this message at 01:49 on Jul 28, 2019

Ccs
Feb 25, 2011




Great thread! I downloaded the first Flashman book on my old computer before it died but never got to it. Experiencing this annotated version is more fun.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





I said that Flashman was hosed - and he is - but he hasn’t realised it yet. As far as he’s concerned, he is dealing with a jumped up tradesman of some kind - a social inferior, to whom he, as landed gentry, doesn’t need to be accountable. He proceeds accordingly.

quote:

"The point is," he said, "that we have to make arrangements for the wedding. You'll not want to lose time. "

I had picked up a bottle and glass, but I set them down sharp at this. He had taken my breath away.

"What the hell d'you mean?" says I. Then I laughed. "You don't think I'll marry her, do you? Good God, you must be a lunatic."

"And why?"says he.

"Because I'm not such a fool, " I told him. Suddenly I was angry, at this damned little snip, and his tone with me.

"If every girl who's ready to play in the hay was to get married, we'd have damned few spinsters left, wouldn't we? And d'you suppose I'd be pushed into a wedding over a trifle like this?"

"My niece's honour."

"Your niece's honour! A mill-owner's
daughter's honour! I'm to mend that at the altar, am I? Oh, I see the game! You see an excellent chance of a match,eh? A chance to marry your niece to a gentleman? You smell a fortune, do you? Well, let me tell you-"

"As to the excellence of the match, "said he, 'I’d sooner see her marry a Barbary ape. I take it, however, that you decline the honour of my niece's hand?”
"drat your impudence! You take it right. Now, get out!"
“Excellent," says he,very bright-eyed." It's what I hoped for." And he stood up, straightening his coat.
"What's that meant to mean, curse you?"
He smiled at me. "I'll send a friend to talk to you. He will arrange matters. I don't approve of meetings, myself, but I'll be delighted, in this case, to put either a bullet or a blade into you."
He clapped his hat on his head." You know, I don't suppose there has been a duel in Glasgow these fifty years or more. It will cause quite a stir.”

I gaped at the man, but gathered my wits soon enough.
“Lord," says I, with a sneer," you don't suppose I would fight you?"
“No?"
"Gentlemen fight gentlemen," I told him, and ran a scornful eye over him. "They don't fight shop-keepers."
“Wrong again," says he,cheerily. "I'm a lawyer."
"Then stick to your law. We don't fight lawyers, either."
"Not if you can help it, I imagine. But you'll be hard put to it to refuse a brother officer, Mr Flashman. You see, although I've no more than a militia commission now, I was formerly of the 93rd Foot - you have heard of the Sutherlands, I take it? - and had the honour to hold the rank of captain. I even achieved some little service in the field."

He was smiling almost benignly now. "If you doubt my bona fides, may I refer you to my former chief, Colonel Colin Campbell? Good day, Mr Flashman."

He was at the door before I found my voice.
"To hell with you, and him! I'll not fight you!"

He turned. “Then I'll enjoy taking a whip to you in the street. I really shall. Your own chief - my Lord Cardigan, isn't it? - will find that happy reading in The Times, I don't doubt."

He had me in a cleft stick, as I saw at once. It would mean professional ruin - and at the hands of a damned provincial infantryman, and a retired one at that. I stood there, overcome with rage and panic, damning the day I ever set eyes on his infernal niece, with my wits working for a way out. I tried another tack.

Flashman has just had a nasty shock. Although he can safely refuse a challenge from a civilian who is his social inferior, he looks like a coward if he refuses one from even a retired soldier. And up here in Scotland with no toadies to take the fall for him, he can’t play the delopement trick again.

However, he has one card left to play: perhaps Abercrombie can be persuaded that Flashman is a fearsome opponent?

quote:

"You may not realise who you're dealing with," I told him, and asked if he had not heard of the Bernier affair: it seemed to me that it must be known about, even in the wilds of Glasgow, and I said so.

"I think I recollect a paragraph," says he. "Dear me, Mr Flashman, should I be overcome? Should I quail? I'll just have to try to hold my pistol steady, won't I?"

Lol, no. Abercrombie knows exactly what kind of man he’s dealing with.

quote:

"drat you," I shouted, "wait a moment.”
He stood attentive, watching me.
"All right, blast you," I said. "How much do you want?"
"I thought it might come to that,“ he said. "Your kind of rat generally reaches for its purse when cornered. You're wasting time, Flashman. I'll take your promise to marry Elspeth - or your life. I'd prefer the latter. But it's one or the other. Make up your mind."
And from that I could not budge him. I pleaded and swore and promised any kind of reparation short of marriage. I was almost in tears, but I might as well have tried to move a rock. Marry or die - that was what it amounted to, for I'd no doubt he would be damnably efficient with the Barkers. There was nothing for it: in the end I had to give in and say I’d marry the girl.

And that’s that. Right at the start of his race to sow wild oats, Flashman falls off the horse at the very first hurdle.

Apart from the inconvenience of having a wife for a young soldier who just wants to play around, this is a big problem for him socially too. For all their wealth, the Morrisons aren’t gentry - Flashman is marrying down, at a time when there are real social consequences for doing so. Large parts of society that a respectable wife would have given him (business owners and lawyers are not socially respectable at this time) are now closed off. In particular, the smart set he used to run with will not understand or approve.

In any case, Abercrombie has seen right through him. The pair get their wedding, everyone gets wasted on whisky, and Flashman observes that Elspeth has been placidly calm throughout (showing no more attention to choosing a husband than to choosing a pair of gloves, as he puts it). This is another example of his moral cowardice - when actually confronted with consequences by someone he can’t bully, he tends to quickly back down.

The couple pass a pleasant honeymoon with a lot of pleasant sex, and Elspeth proves very willing to learn Josette’s (remember her?) “French Tricks”. But nemesis is lurking around the corner, in the form of a letter that’s waiting for him when he gets back.

quote:

Lord Cardigan [it read] has learned of the marriage contracted lately by Mr Flashman, of this regiment, and Miss Morrison, of Glasgow. In view of this marriage, his Lordship feels that Mr Flashman will no longer wish to serve with the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s), but that he will wish either to resign or to transfer to another regiment.

In other words, he’s no longer posh enough to stay in such a fancy regiment. He flies down to London in a rage, taking with him a blithely oblivious Elspeth, who is delighted to be moving to Town, and drops her off at his father’s townhouse. There he is rude to a smirking Judy (who has correctly guessed the shotgun nature of the wedding), introducing her to Elspeth as “my father’s tart”, before heading off to confront Cardigan.

Not that it does any good. Cardigan patiently explains that it would be insupportable to have a man in the regiment whose father-in-law owns a factory, but that all is not lost. From the kindness of his heart, he has found a place for Flashman.

In India.

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




Beefeater1980 posted:

Apart from the inconvenience of having a wife for a young soldier who just wants to play around, this is a big problem for him socially too. For all their wealth, the Morrisons aren’t gentry - Flashman is marrying down, at a time when there are real social consequences for doing so. Large parts of society that a respectable wife would have given him (business owners and lawyers are not socially respectable at this time) are now closed off. In particular, the smart set he used to run with will not understand or approve.

That said, financially hard-up gentry marrying the daughters of rich businessmen was kind of A Thing at the time (there's an episode of the 18th century series of Blackadder where that's the plot); it wouldn't have been particularly shocking. Typically the aristo gets a bunch of money while the businessman's family gets to rise socially; however, do note that Flashman isn't being offered a dowry or anything here...

Also, there are many fine gradations of poshness in Victorian society, and while one marry into trade and still be posh, one cannot do so and be completely top drawer, and Cardigan only wants the poshest of the posh.

quote:

The couple pass a pleasant honeymoon with a lot of pleasant sex, and Elspeth proves very willing to learn Josette’s (remember her?) “French Tricks”.

This probably specifically means blowjobs, which were considered pretty drat dirty/racy at the time compared to now; there were even whorehouses that specialised in them.

feedmegin fucked around with this message at 11:21 on Jul 31, 2019

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





feedmegin posted:

Also, there are many fine gradations of poshness in Victorian society, and while one marry into trade and still be posh, one cannot do so and be completely top drawer, and Cardigan only wants the poshest of the posh.

I once saw a Victorian seating plan for a formal banquet in a museum somewhere together with elaborate notes on the precise order of precedence for something like 500 people. It was insane.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Beefeater1980 posted:

I once saw a Victorian seating plan for a formal banquet in a museum somewhere together with elaborate notes on the precise order of precedence for something like 500 people. It was insane.

There's a really great book "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew," that helps modern readers get the context of victorian and regency british fiction:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B008O58KKK/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

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Rockopolis
Dec 21, 2012

I MAKE FUN OF QUEER STORYGAMES BECAUSE I HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO WITH MY LIFE THAN MAKE OTHER PEOPLE CRY

I can't understand these kinds of games, and not getting it bugs me almost as much as me being weird


Wow, thanks for doing this. I read the first book, but at the time just found Flashman to be too unpleasant to keep on with the series.

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