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Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





Having arrived in Kabul, Flashman presents himself to the rest of the command. They are, well, not quite what he’s used to.

quote:

…the biggest damned fool this side of the Indus,” the tall officer was saying when I presented myself. “I tell you, Cotton, this army is like a bear in a trap. If there’s a rising, where are you? Stuck helpless in the middle of a people who hate your innards, a week from the nearest friendly garrison, with a bloody fool like McNaghten writing letters to that even bloodier fool Auckland in Calcutta that everything’s all right. God help us! And they’re relieving you – “

“God be thanked,” said Cotton.

“- and sending us Elphy Bey, who’ll be under McNaghten’s thumb and isn’t fit to command an escort anyway. The worst of it is, McNaghten and the other political asses think we are as safe as on Salisbury Plain! Burnes is as bad as the rest – not that he thinks of anything other than Afghan women – but they’re all so sure they’re right! That’s what upsets me. And who the devil are you?”

Flashman introduces himself, and suddenly all is well! Cotton, the outgoing commander, is glad for an excuse to change the subject and, as it transpires, was a friend of Flashman pére; he also managed to be expelled from Rugby.

quote:

This was too good a chance to miss, so I said: “I was expelled from Rugby, too, sir”

“God God! You don’t say! What for, sir?”

“Drunkenness, sir.”

“No! Well, damme! Who’d have believed they would kick you out for that? They’ll be expellin’ for rape next. Wouldn’t have done in my time. I was expelled for mutiny – yes, mutiny! Led the whole school in revolt! Splendid! Well, here’s your health, sir!”

There’s some interesting context here (apart from the disturbing fact that Cotton regards rape as obviously less serious than drunkenness); Fraser notes that Cotton was the ringleader of the Great Rugby School Mutiny of 1797, in which the headmaster’s door was blown down with gunpowder. Wikipedia furnishes additional detail: pupils from the school had been playing by firing bullets made of cork at the windows of their housemaster, using real guns and real gunpowder; the local tradesman who sold the gunpowder to them denied having done so, causing the boy who explained what had happened to be flogged for lying, and for revenge, the outraged students smashed the tradesman’s windows.

The school then attempted to levy a fine on all fifth and sixth form students (that is, senior year + freshman year; in the UK we do freshman at secondary school) to pay for repairs. The student body rioted en masse, blowing up the headmaster’s door with an improvised grenade and burning the school furniture; the revolt was only put down when the local military garrison arrested them as they made a last stand at a local landmark.


The Island, where the students retreated for their last stand

This I think illustrates an interesting difference between their society and ours. The level of familiarity with violence in Victorian society was high. A normal person could expect to have seen violence with weapons by the age of 20 just in the course of ordinary life. When kids decided to rebel, they did so with live grenades.

Willoughby Cotton, by the way, is this guy:

He doesn’t seem to have done the sort of thing that makes generals really famous, although not getting his occupation force massacred in Afghanistan, as we shall see later, should probably stand in his favour.

The other officer – General Nott, who is on loan from Kandahar – reminds them that his concern isn’t expulsion from Rugby but expulsion from Afghanistan. Flashman is a bit confused by having such senior people have an open conversation in front of him (this is not normal behaviour in the highly hierarchical British society of the time), but is told that out here on the frontier, failing to share information gets people killed. So he listens.

Time for another Dramatis Personae!

OK, so: the real ruler of Afghanistan right now is Sir William McNaghten, the British envoy to Kabul. He apparently looked like this:

He subsequently died of natural causes, which is to say “was murdered by Afghans”, ie basically natural causes for anyone British in Kabul at this point. Most sources agree that he didn’t know poo poo about Afghan politics, unlike the next dude we’re going to meet.


Alexander Burnes
OK, so Alex Burnes is one of those guys from history who you look at and think, wow, if most of his peers had been like this, it maybe wouldn’t have been such a shitshow.

He was born in 1805 and was hacked to pieces by angry Afghans died of natural causes in 1841, making him two years younger than I am now when he died. He was a Scot who came to India aged 26, taught himself Urdu and Farsi, and headed out to Afghanistan before all this poo poo went down, becoming the first European to map it and write on their politics. Unlike most British political agents, he dropped the escort and actually got to know the local communities he wandered through, ultimately brokering ‘first contact’ friendly relations between Britain and the Sikh Empire and becoming the mentor to the brilliant Indian spy Mohan Lal, who made a huge contribution to the British (after Burnes’s death) in the first Anglo-Afghan war, for which he was knighted and well-rewarded….ahahaha no, for which he was totally ignored and cut off because that’s how we do. As I said before, it’s a freaking miracle anyone ever ever helps a Brit; we are an untrustworthy lot.

Burnes advised the British to support the popular Dost Mohammed in Kabul, so naturally they ignored him, supported the better connected MacNaghten and put Shah Shuja in charge. Unlike Lal, he did get knighted, he also wrote a memoir, published posthumously, called Travels into Bokhara, being an Account of a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia.

Nott isn’t all that important, and the last of our rogues’ gallery is good old Elphy, who we have already met. Remember that he hasn't arrived yet - Flashman travelled on ahead of him, so Cotton is still around.

quote:

“It is a simple question of policy,” said Nott. “The country, whatever McNaghten may think, is hostile, and we have to treat it as such. We do this in three ways – through the influence which Sujah exerts on his unwilling subjects, which is little enough; through the force of our army here, which with respect is not as all-powerful as McNaghten imagines, since you’re outnumbered fifty to one by one of the fiercest warrior nations in the world; and thirdly, by buying the good will of important chiefs with money…if one of those three instruments of policy fails – Sujah, our strength, or our money – we’re done for. Oh, I know I’m a ‘croaker’, as McNaghten would say; he thinks we are as secure here as on Horse Guards. He’s wrong, you know. We exist on sufferance, and there won’t be much of that if he takes up this idea of cutting the subsidy to the Gilzai chiefs.”

“It would save money,” said Cotton. “Anyway, it’s no more than a thought, as I understand.”

“It would save money if you didn’t buy a bandage when you were bleeding to death,” said Nott, at which Cotton guffawed.

“Aye, laugh, Sir Willoughby, but this is a serious matter. Cutting the subsidy is no more than a thought, you say. Very good, it may never happen. But if the Gilzais so much as suspect it might, how long will they continue to keep the passes open? They sit above the Khyber – your lifeline, remember – and let our convoys come and go, but if they think their subsidy is in danger they’ll look for another source of revenue. And that will mean convoys ambushed and looted, and a very pretty business on your hands. That is why McNaghten’s a fool even to think of cutting the subsidy, let alone talk about it,”

They go on to talk in length about the situation and criticise various important people, leaving Flashman open-mouthed. He’s also a bit contemptuous of how scared the pessimists seem to be, and he mentions this to Broadfoot, another one of the commanders.

quote:

“Wait till ye’ve been here a month or two, and ye’ll be as bad as the rest,” he said brusquely. “It’s a bad place, and a bad people, and if we don’t have war on our hands inside a year I’ll be surprised. Have you heard of Akbar Khan? No? He’s the son of the old king, Dost Mohammed, that we deposed for this clown Sujah, and he’s in the hills now, going from this chief to that, gathering support for the day when he’ll raise the country against us. McNaghten won’t believe it, of course, but he’s a gommeril.”

Gommeril seems to be the same word as “gomerel”, Scotsgaelic slang meaning “a fool”; of the examples given in the Dictionary of the Scots Language I’m particularly fond of “He wus sic a gomeral nae lass wud tak him.” (he was such an idiot no girl would have anything to do with him).

quote:

“Could we not hold Kabul?” I asked. “Surely with a force of five thousand it should be possible, against undisciplined savages.”

“These savages are good men,” says he. “Better shots than we are, for one thing. And we’re badly placed here, with no proper fortifications for the cantonment – even the stores are outside the perimeter – and an army that’s going downhill with soft living and bad discipline. Forbye, we have our families with us, and that’s a bad thing when the bullets are flying – who thinks of his duty when he has his wife and weans to care for? And Elphey Bey is to command us when Cotton goes.” He shook his head. “You’ll know him better than I, but I’d give my next year’s pay to hear he wasn’t coming and we had Nott instead. I’d sleep at nights, anyway.”

OK so from this we can distil a few key points:
1 – Everyone Hates Elphinstone
2 – The British fort is ok but the green zone equivalent can’t be defended properly; food stores are outside it and it’s full of civilian dependents
3 – Dost Mohammed’s son, Akbar Khan, is now running around building an army.
4 - As far as ability to win battles goes, serious soldiers think the Afghans are at least as good as the British.

Flashman is worried by all this but gets on with life, mixing with the leaders of the little British community there, playing cricket and noting acidly that his peers “made more of the wickets I took than of the fact that I was beginning to speak Pushtu better than any of them except Burnes and the politicals.” He immediately loathes McNaghten, and is mildly contemptuous of Burnes for his arrogance, although he shares with him a love of women:

quote:

He knew a good deal about the Afghans, and would go about from time to time in native dress, mixing with the crowds in the bazaar, listening to gossip and keeping his nose to the wind generally. He had another reason for this, of course, which was that he was forever in pursuit of some Afghan woman or other, and had to go to the city to find them. I went with him on these expeditions frequently, and very rewarding they were.

Afghan women are handsome rather than pretty, but they have this great advantage to them, that their own men don’t care for them overmuch. Afghan men would as soon be perverts as not, and have a great taste for young boys; it would sicken you to see them mooning over these painted youths as though they were girls, and our troops thought it a tremendous joke. However, it meant that the Afghan women were always hungry for men, and you could have your pick of them – tall, graceful creatures they were, with long straight noses and proud mouths, running more to muscle than fat, and very active in bed.

Of course, the Afghans didn’t care for this, which was another score against us where they were concerned.

Wow. So, setting aside the raging homophobia (sadly, pretty normal in the UK despite the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality and Churchill’s quip that you would never get a conviction for buggery from an English jury because half wouldn’t believe it could be done and the other half would be doing it), the main point here is a serious one.

Afghanistan and the hilly areas of Pakistan that border it had (and by all accounts still have) two very strong cultural beliefs:
(1) a man’s honour is a very important thing; and
(2) if a man’s woman (his wife, or daughter, or sister, for example) does something dishonourable, it reflects very badly on him.

Having sex with someone you are not married to is dishonourable (if you are a woman).
Having sex with a foreigner is also dishonourable (if you are a woman).
Having sex with a foreigner you are not married to is double dishonourable (again, you have to be a woman for this to be a big deal).

People get killed over this kind of thing, even today. So Flashman is entirely right to note that the Afghans weren’t thrilled about the sudden arrival in town of five thousand undersexed, wealthy, colonial-master-type English squaddies.

Fortunately for the British, they are OK so long as the army is there and feared, and the pass through which the army is supplied from India is controlled by friendly Gilzais (local tribes).

This second part becomes Flashman’s next mission: he is to travel among the Gilzais and reassure them that despite all the rumours of cutting the subsidy the British pay them – which he is expressly told is going to be cut whatever happens – there is nothing else to worry about and the subsidy is just fine. Never Trust A Brit.

quote:

“It’s very important,” says Burnes. “You see, if they thought there was anything wrong, or grew suspicious, it could be bad for us.”

It could be a damned sight worse for me, I thought. I didn’t like this idea above half – all I knew of the Gilzais was that they were murderous brutes, like all country Afghans, and the thought of walking into their nests, up in the hills, with not the slightest hope of help if there was trouble – well, Kabul might not be Hyde Park, but at least it was safe for the present. And what the Afghan women did to prisoners was enough to start my stomach turning at the thought – I’d heard the stories.

If you're reading this thread you are probably already familiar with Kipling's poem The Young British Soldier already, but as a quick reminder, this is how the final stanza goes:

The Young British Soldier (Rudyard Kipling) posted:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

It is just possible that there is a connection between the famed viciousness of the reprisal by Afghan women, and the fact that the British have been trying to start the one-army sexual revolution that they couldn't have back home as colonial masters in one of the most conservative places on the planet.

Despite all this, he is sent off – Burnes notes that Flashman ‘looks honest,’ which is a laugh. He also has to pretend to be eager about travelling to Mogala, some hill fort in the middle of nowhere, and handing a message full of lies to the local warlord, Sher Afzul. Burnes also warns him that Afzul is sharp when he’s lucid, and of Afzul’s nephew, Gul Shah, who is an old friend of Akbar Khan and probably dangerously anti-British. Flashman considers falling suddenly ill but is cornered; Burnes has high hopes for him, “a sentiment I found it difficult to share”.

So off he goes on the road again, with Iqbal, an Afghan guide and five British troopers. The trooper sergeant, a man called Hudson, wisely advises Flashman to leave behind his badly-made regulation-issue Army sword and take a Persian scimitar like the Afghans instead, advice which he takes.

Next time: Flashman hangs out with Afghans. Things happen, mostly bad.

Beefeater1980 fucked around with this message at 16:51 on Aug 15, 2019

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Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





As an aside, I had a quick look through Burnes's memoir, and it strikes me that he took a remarkably sensible approach to his early Afghan travels for a twentysomething given such a serious responsibility: he wore local clothes but was open with people that he was a foreigner instead of trying to blend in like an idiot, and he travelled with a small retinue so nobody would think he was worth robbing.

PupsOfWar
Dec 6, 2013



one issue with burnes is ive never been able to figure out whether him being a turbo horndog is real or apocryphal

some texts flat out blame him for inflaming tensions by loving too much, but these are usually poorly sourced so i imagine this could just come from other imperial officers' goofy axe-grinding memoirs

HIJK
Nov 25, 2012

People were stupid, sometimes. They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library.


Is Flashman talking down about homosexual activity or is he talking down the pedophile practice of bachi bazi? https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/world/asia/us-soldiers-told-to-ignore-afghan-allies-abuse-of-boys.html

This news story is back from 2015 but is still relevant I feel, as it describes child rape as an “Afghan cultural practice” and the US military has been instructed to look the other way even when Afghani families ask them for help. I won’t quote it since it is a distressing read. But this caught my attention as I have family members that observed this practice in Afghanistan when they were over there.

Flashman the character doesn’t differentiate between sex and rape so it would make sense that he might attribute raping young boys to homosexuality, as many people did and still do. But I think there’s more going on in that passage than just “Flashman is homophobic.” (Which he certainly is, but this adds a new layer of awfulness to him.)

PupsOfWar
Dec 6, 2013



Flashman is definitely talking about bacha bazi, which was well-known in colonial times (both in afghanistan and elsewhere in central asia) and appeared as an article of mild fascination in british and russian writing of that era.

it's a bit odd that americans are surprised by it considering that westerners knew about it that long ago, but I guess it's something about the area that just didn't get publicized when GWOT kicked off

probably didn't get included in those troops' briefing

now, you'd think that in an area like afghanistan there would be some sort of hardline religious government that suppresses sexual practices like that

wait,

Larry Parrish
Jul 9, 2012


Yeah it turns out that removing the central government that was barely holding the fractious Afghan nation together was a really bad idea for multiple reasons. But our government decided to back the pedophiles because they have power in and around Kabul.

shovelbum
Oct 21, 2010



Fun Shoe

Larry Parrish posted:

Yeah it turns out that removing the central government that was barely holding the fractious Afghan nation together was a really bad idea for multiple reasons. But our government decided to back the pedophiles because they have power in and around Kabul.

I mean it also turns out that our society is basically run by a cabal of pedophiles

PupsOfWar
Dec 6, 2013



yeah for whatever reason it seems like whenever you get a cabal of people with unchallenged power, they want to gently caress kids

whether they're an afghan warlord whose power comes from Gun or a hedge fund manager whose power comes from mystical finance bullshit

PupsOfWar fucked around with this message at 17:42 on Aug 15, 2019

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





It's bizarre, almost nobody (I assume) starts out wanting to gently caress kids, so maybe for the powerful it's just one last taboo to break?

shovelbum
Oct 21, 2010



Fun Shoe

Beefeater1980 posted:

It's bizarre, almost nobody (I assume) starts out wanting to gently caress kids, so maybe for the powerful it's just one last taboo to break?

or else pedophiles are given to helping each other out, in order to get more access and protection for their plans

PupsOfWar
Dec 6, 2013



i mean there are societies (ancient greece, various tribes even today) where pedophilia is the done thing irrespective of whatever class divisions exist within that society

afghanistan may fall into this category, there's various intra-afghan cultural differences that i know play into it but don't understand well enough to exposit on here

all i know for sure is that the rich are all perverts, to the last man

PupsOfWar fucked around with this message at 17:51 on Aug 15, 2019

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





PupsOfWar posted:

one issue with burnes is ive never been able to figure out whether him being a turbo horndog is real or apocryphal

some texts flat out blame him for inflaming tensions by loving too much, but these are usually poorly sourced so i imagine this could just come from other imperial officers' goofy axe-grinding memoirs

Most sources I've seen give the impression that the male British residents of Kabul were, on a large scale, loving their way through the local population as fast as they could, on account of being young, sex-starved and in a position of power relative to the locals. Possibly also relevant: they were mostly soldiers and soldiers tend to be young, horny and in good physical shape.

Even if Burnes had been priapic 24/7, there's a limit to how much he could have done on his own. From this distance, it looks like a collision of two totally incompatible cultures (ordinary Afghan v military expat Brit) that could possibly have been managed if anyone involved was focused on that instead of their narrow personal interest.

Larry Parrish
Jul 9, 2012


Beefeater1980 posted:

Most sources I've seen give the impression that the male British residents of Kabul were, on a large scale, loving their way through the local population as fast as they could, on account of being young, sex-starved and in a position of power relative to the locals. Possibly also relevant: they were mostly soldiers and soldiers tend to be young, horny and in good physical shape.

Even if Burnes had been priapic 24/7, there's a limit to how much he could have done on his own. From this distance, it looks like a collision of two totally incompatible cultures (ordinary Afghan v military expat Brit) that could possibly have been managed if anyone involved was focused on that instead of their narrow personal interest.

People who actually care about the colonized culture wouldn't be involved in an imperialist project to begin with so it's sort of a chicken and egg thing

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




Salisbury Plain, incidentally, is an area of southern England used for military exercises, in particular artillery. Only since 1898 though so this may be a rare case of GMF slipping up...

Also re: school it's not that we do freshman university year at school in the sense everyone goes to uni at age 19; it's more that (in the modern day) we specialise earlier and thus have shorter, 3 year degrees. Also the sixth form is actually two years, upper and lower sixth, from ages 16 to 18, for reasons. In US terms it's sophomore/junior/senior. In the current UK system middle and high school are the same place (caveat: sixth form colleges).

feedmegin fucked around with this message at 18:17 on Aug 15, 2019

Epicurius
Apr 10, 2010


College Slice

PupsOfWar posted:

i mean there are societies (ancient greece, various tribes even today) where pedophilia is the done thing irrespective of whatever class divisions exist within that society

afghanistan may fall into this category, there's various intra-afghan cultural differences that i know play into it but don't understand well enough to exposit on here

all i know for sure is that the rich are all perverts, to the last man

I think it has a lot to do with the whole idea of women's honor. It's too risky to have an affair with a woman because her father or brother will kill you, but a dancing boy ...nobody cares.

Nckdictator
Sep 8, 2006
Just..someone

PupsOfWar posted:

one issue with burnes is ive never been able to figure out whether him being a turbo horndog is real or apocryphal

some texts flat out blame him for inflaming tensions by loving too much, but these are usually poorly sourced so i imagine this could just come from other imperial officers' goofy axe-grinding memoirs

“After talking in his campaign history about the “athletic amusements of our people” in Kabul, Sir John Kaye with great regret turned to a distasteful subject, noting that “there are truths which must be spoken.” Things were going on in some of those residences, Sir John said, that involved “temptations which are most difficult to withstand, [and] were not withstood by our English officers.” The women of Kabul, he said, finally getting to the point, were exceedingly attractive, and the inmates of the Mohammedan zenanas—women’s quarters—“ were not unwilling to visit the quarters of the Christian stranger.” The scandal, he said, was “open, undisguised, notorious,” and Sir Alexander Burnes was one of the chief culprits. The cuckolded Afghan tribesmen, Kaye said, were outraged, and they had begun plotting revenge.”

-Arrogant Armies: Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them by James M. Perry

No idea how reliable a source it is but it’s a fun read at least.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





There is a point in every adventure novel where the familiar is left behind, and the protagonist is thrust out into a dangerous, unfamiliar world. So far, Flashman has avoided this: Company India turned out not to be as bad as all that, and even Kabul was pleasant.

His luck, however, has just run out; he needs to go to the fortress of Sher Afzul. For those following from home on Google Earth, Flashman’s actually turning around and going southeast from Kabul, i.e. doubling back towards the border, in order to make sure that the supply line is safe. His companions in this task, apart from a couple of squaddies, are two real soldiers: the tough cavalry commander Muhammed Iqbal from the Pathan hill tribes; and a competent, taciturn British cavalry sergeant called Hudson.

quote:

The land was all sun-scorched rock and jagged peaks, with stony defiles that were like ovens, where the ponies stumbled over the loose stones. We hardly saw a living creature for twenty miles after we left Tezeen, and when night came we were camped on a high pass, in the lee of a cliff that might have been the wall of hell. It was bitter cold, and the wind howled up the pass; far away a wolf wailed, and we had barely enough wood to keep our fire going. I lay in my blanket cursing the day I got drunk at Rugby, and wishing I were snug in a warm bed with Elspeth or Fetnab or Josette.

The next day, they are surrounded by tribesmen from the Gilzai tribe. The Gilzai (or Ghijli) are still around, and are the largest tribal confederacy among the Pashtun; according to Wikipedia the name means “born from the mountains”.

Flashman and his group are led to:

quote:

A great, grey fortress, with a round tower behind its outer wall, and a cluster of huts outside its embattled gate. This was Mogala, stronghold of the Gilzai chieftain, Sher Afzul. I seldom saw a place I liked less at first sight.


There doesn't seem to be a real place called Mogala in Afghanistan; instead, it is the name of the fictional fortress of the villain Muhammed Khan in 1930s Hollywood epic The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, of which Flashman is a kind of pastiche. The movie was a wild success in the English speaking world, prompting one critic to note that “England need have no fears for its empire so long as Hollywood insists upon being the Kipling of the Pacific”; outside the Anglosphere, Mussolini banned the film and Hitler was reportedly a fan. It is very likely that Fraser just lifted-and-shifted this fictional venue as a convenient shorthand for an Afghan border fort – look at the similarity from this still from the movie and the description above:


“Mogala”, as represented in Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Actual location, Lone Pine.

Flashman and his team ride on uneasily under the grim regard of the Gilzai, noting in particular the rich accoutrements of the central part of the fortress and the large numbers of well-armed, dangerous looking sentries posted all around.

quote:

Sher Afzul turned out to be a man about sixty, with a beard dyed jet black, and a lined, ugly face whose main features were two fierce, burning eyes that looked straight through you. He received me civilly enough in his fine presence chamber, where sat on a small throne with his court about him, but I couldn’t doubt Burnes’s assertion that he was half-mad. His hands twitched continuously, and he had a habit of jerking his turbaned head in a most violent fashion as he spoke.

I can’t find any references to a historical Sher Afzul at this period, although there is one who was born in 1841 and was significant later in the century, and Wikipedia notes the character as fictional.

The letter from McNaghten is handed over with due ceremony, accompanied by two ornate pistols, to the great delight of Afzul, who immediately fires one off at a parrot, killing it. Flashman also gets a chance to practice his Pushtu again, as well as his own brand of diplomacy.

One thing that comes across here – and in other places, as Ceiling Fan noted earlier – is that Flashman is actually pretty competent whenever he can be arsed to pay attention. He’s already shown he’s perfectly good at logistics and planning for the various military troops he commanded, and here he has a chance to deploy his personal charm. It works pretty well on Sher Afzul and his idealistic son, but not everyone is quite so enthralled.

quote:

I had the happy idea of presenting one of my own pistols on the spot to the Khan’s son, a bright, handsome lad of about sixteen, called Ilderim. He shouted with delight, and his eyes shone as he handled the weapon – I was off to a good start.

Then one of the courtiers came forward, and I felt a prickle up my spine as I looked at him. He was a tall man – as tall as I was – with those big shoulders and the slim waist of an athlete. His coat was black and well fitting, he wore long boots, and there was a silk sash round his waist to carry his sabre. On his head he had one of those polished steel casques with vertical prongs, and the face under it was strikingly handsome in the rather pretty Eastern way which I personally don’t like. You have seen them – straight nose, very full lips, women’s cheeks and jaw. He had a forked beard and two of the coldest eyes I ever saw. I put him down as a nasty customer, and I was right.

“I can kill parrots with a sling,” he said. “Are the feringhee pistols good for anything else?”

This is Gul Shah, another fictional character and Flashman’s first really serious antagonist (also, the anti-British element at court that Burnes had warned of earlier). Just in case we were in any doubt about Gul Shah’s character, he quickly shows us:

quote:

Sher Afzul damned his eyes, more or less, for casting doubt on his fine new weapons, and thrusting one into the fellow’s hand, told him to try his luck. And to my amazement, the brute turned straight about, drew a bead on one of the slaves working in the garden, and shot him on the spot.

Yes, it’s a good old-fashioned random murder to establish this character’s villainy. Even Flashman, racist and contemptuous of the local peasantry as he is, is appalled. Ilderim picks up on this and has a go at Shah – not for the murder, but for his rudeness in doubting the efficacy of the guns.

The negotiations drag on through the afternoon, and we learn that Afzul is tyrannical to everyone except his son Ilderim. That evening, there is a feast, and after the food and drink, out come the entertainment.

quote:


This consisted of a good conjuror, and a few weedy youths with native flutes and tom-toms, and three or four dancing girls. I had pretended to be amused by the conjuror and musicians, but one of the dancing girls struck me as being worth more than a polite look; she was a glorious creature, very tall and long-legged, with a sulky, cold face and hair that had been dyed bright red and hung down in a tail to her backside. It was about all the covering she had; for the rest she wore satin trousers clasped low on her hips, and two brass breastplates which she removed at Sher Afzul’s insistence.

He beckoned her to dance close in front of him, and the sight of the golden, near-naked body writing and quivering made me forget where I was for the moment. By the time she had finished her dance, with the tom-toms throbbing and the sweat glistening on her painted face, I must have been eating her alive with her eyes; as she salaamed to Sher Afzul he suddenly grabbed her by the arm and pulled her towards him, and I noticed Gul Shah lean forward suddenly on his cushion.


Sher Afzul is playing power politics here with Gul Shah’s lover. He immediately starts fondling the girl, to her fury and that of Gul Shah, before suddenly throwing her over to Flashman, prompting a confrontation.

quote:

With an oath Gul Shah was on his feet, his hand dropping to his hilt.

“She is not for any Frank dog,” he shouted.

“By God, is she not?” roared Sher Afzul. “Who says so?”

Gul Shah told him who said so, and there was a pretty little exchange which ended with Sher Afzul ordering him from the room – and it seemed to me that the girl’s eyes followed him with disappointment as he stamped off. Sher Afzul apologised for the disturbance, and said I must not mind Gul Shah, who was an impudent bastard, and very greedy where women were concerned. Did I like the girl? Her name was Narreeman, and if she did not please me I was not to hesitate to flog her to my heart’s content.

What happens next is probably the most controversial part of the book, but in my view is also one of the first ways that Fraser really starts taking apart the kind of adventure story that he is parodying in Flashman. He does so by taking a very well known scene, and playing it out in an unusual way.

We’ve probably all seen this scenario a hundred times in adventure stories of various kinds: the hero has their first serious confrontation with the villain, in front of someone the villain is sexually possessive towards (and may have actual power over). It’s not specifically part of an imperial or masculine narrative - you can genderswap it, set it all inside the same culture, whatever, without changing the core concept – but a few things are always the case because that’s just how this mini-story goes:

    The villain has and abuses power over the love interest
    The love interest shows they aren’t interested in the villain
    The hero has an immediate connection with the love interest

Think of the Sherriff of Nottingham leering over Maid Marion, for example, or Indiana Jones’s interchangeable Nazis pulling out the torture devices while staring creepily at the heroine, or virtually any (every?) Bond movie.

A variant on the storylet does crop up where the protagonist is in a position of power (such as in the classic imperial adventure story), and this is where the hero is invited to take advantage of the love interest but nobly declines to do so, even if there are consequences associated with that. This is the version of the situation that’s been set up here: Flashman recognises that this is a game between Afzul and Shah, and that if he doesn’t take the girl he’ll offend Afzul; at the same time he’s wary of antagonising Shah and at the same same time, he’s horny as gently caress.

So he accepts with alacrity, takes her back to his room after the feast is over, and when she displays absolutely zero interest in him, he whips her (prompting her to fight back angrily) and rapes her, something he claims is the only time in his life he has found it “necessary”. Off the top of my head, I think Fraser writes him as having enthusiastic consent at the point of actual sex in all future cases, although 19th century power dynamics being what they were, in the absence of the enthusiasm, the consent itself would be pretty iffy in a lot of those cases.

In any case, Fraser is clearly loving around with the familiar narrative here; specifically, he’s turning the protagonist into the villain. We’ll get another example of Fraser playing with traditional adventure story narratives quite soon but I want to take a moment on this one because in many ways it’s the defining moment in the Flashman stories; the point at which we establish that no, he’s not just a charming rogue with a bit of a sadistic streak, he’s an actual sociopathic monster. Look at the elements of the ‘Hero and Villain face off in front of the love interest’ storylet, and they’re turned around: Narreeman clearly loves Gul Shah; Flashman is the one to abuse power, and despite the fact we know he’s a sexy sexy guy most of the time, Nareeman isn’t buying it. The rape itself isn’t played for titillation; she sits there “like a side of beef” and the act itself is simply described as him managing to rape her after a vicious struggle. I don’t think there is any question that the reader is expected to look at Flashman here and go “what the gently caress” – not just because he’s a rapist, but also because you’re supposed to know how this story goes and it’s just done a swerve into very uncomfortable territory.

Rape accomplished, he delights Sher Afzul and his faction by telling them all the gory details in the morning, being the classy guy he is, and gets on with building up relations with the ruler and his court, a task he actually quite enjoys:

quote:

This I will say for the Afghan – he is a treacherous, evil brute when he wants to be, but while he is your friend he is a first-rate fellow. The point is, you must judge to a second when he is going to cease to be friendly. There is seldom any warning.

Looking back, though, I can say that I probably got on better with the Afghans than most Britons do. I imagine Thomas Hughes would have said that in many respects of character I resembled them, and I wouldn’t deny it…
But while it was pleasant enough, you could never forget that in Afghanistan you are walking a knife-edge the whole time, and that these were cruel and blood-thirsty savages.


Foreshadowing? In my outpost of Empire?

Flashman manages to go another few days without raping anyone and is able to forget about the incident with Gul Shah and Nareeman. This is not wise. On day three, there’s a hunting trip, and immediately things start to go wrong, leading to one of the cinematic action sequences that Fraser writes so well.

quote:

Muhammed Iqbal and I made one sortie which took us well away from the main body, into a narrow defile where the forest ended, and there they were waiting for us – four horsemen, with spears couched, who made not a sound but they thundered straight down on us. Instinctively I knew they were Gul’s people, bent on murdering me – and no doubt compromising Sher Afzul with the British at the same time.

Iqbal, being a Pathan and loving a fight, gave a yell of delight, “Come on, huzoor!” and went for them. I didn’t hesitate;

To leap in alongside him? No, don’t be silly.

quote:

if he wanted to take on odds it was his affair; I wheeled my pony and went hell-for-leather for the forest, with one eye cocked over my shoulder for safety.

Whether he realised I was leaving him alone, I don’t know; it wouldn’t have made any difference to him. Like me, he had a lance, but in addition he had a sword and pistol in his belt, so he got rid of the lance at once, hurling it into the chest of the leading Gilzai, and driving into the other three with his saber swinging. He cut one down, but the other two swerved past him – it was me they wanted.

I dug in my spurs as they came tearing after me, with Iqbal wheeling after them in turn. He was bawling at me to turn and fight, the fool, but I had no thought but to get away from those hellish lance-points and the wolf-like bearded faces behind them. I rode like fury – and then the pony stumbled and I went over his head, crashing into the bushes and finishing up on a pile of stones with all the breath knocked out of me.

The bushes saved me, for the Gilzais couldn’t come at me easily. They had to swerve round the clump, and I scrambled up a tree. One of the ponies reared up and nearly knocked the other off balance; the rider yelled and had to drop his lance to save being thrown, and then Iqbal was on them, howling his war-cry. The Gilzai who was clutching his pony’s mane was glaring at me and cursing, and suddenly the snarling face was literally split down the middle as Iqbal’s sabre came whistling down on his head, shearing through cap and skull as if they had been putty. The other rider, who had been trying to get in a thrust at me round the tree-trunk, wheeled as Iqbal wrenched his sword free, and the pair of them closed as their ponies crashed into each other.

At this point, Flashman has contributed exactly one thing to the fight: running away so that Iqbal didn’t have to fight all four at once. Iqbal, fortunately, is a stone-cold killer who just down took three men by himself. I’m sure he’ll be fine with just one.

quote:

For one cursing, frantic moment they were locked together, Iqbal trying to get his point into the other’s side, and the Gilzai with his dagger out, thrusting at Iqbal’s body. I heard the thuds as the blows struck, and Iqbal shouting: “Huzoor! Huzoor!” and then the ponies parted and the struggling men crashed into the dust.

From behind my tree I suddenly noticed that my lance was lying within a yard of me, where it had dropped in my fall. Why I didn’t follow the instinct of a lifetime and simply run for it and leave them to fight it out, I don’t know – probably I had some thought of possible disgrace. Anyway, I darted out and grabbed the lance, and as the Gilzi struggled uppermost and raised his bloody knife, I jammed the lance-point squarely into his back. He screamed and dropped the knife, and then lurched into the dust, kicking and clutching, and died.

Iqbal tried to struggle up, but he was done for. His face was grey, and there was a great crimson stain welling through his shirt. He was glaring at me, and as I ran up to him he managed to rear up on one elbow.

“Soor kabaj,” he gasped. “Ya, huzoor! Soor kabaj”

So again, here we have one of Fraser’s characteristic inversions of an adventure story staple: the hero’s ethnic minority sidekick plunges with him into a fight, they both display personal heroism overcoming a group of bad guys (in the course of which the sidekick saves the hero’s life), but at the last minute the sidekick is mortally wounded.

In the ordinary kind of scene, we could expect Iqbal’s dying words to be something like “you fought well, my brother,” or perhaps a wry in-joke, or variant on “you’re not so bad after all”.

quote:

Then he groaned and fell back, but as I knelt over him his eyes opened for a moment, and he gave a little moan and spat in my face, as best he could. So he died, calling me “son of a swine” in Hindi, which is the Muslim’s crowning insult. I saw his point of view, of course.

Oh.

The death of the ethnic minority sidekick in the hero’s arms is such a hoary old trope that even the Simpsons mocked it, but I think this is probably the best example in fiction to show what utter, patronising rubbish it is.
Luck, however, remains on Flashman’s side.

quote:

So there I was, and there also were five dead men – at least, four were dead and the one whom Iqbal had sabred first was lying a little way up the defile, groaning with the side of his skull split. I was shaken by my fall and the scuffle, but it came to me swiftly that the quicker that one breathed his last, the better, so I hurried up with my lance, took a rather unsteady aim, and drove it into his throat. And I had just jerked it out, and was surveying the shambles, when there was a cry and a clatter of hooves, and Sergeant Hudson came galloping out of the wood.

He took it in at a glance – the corpses, the blood-stained ground, and gallant Flashy standing the sole survivor.

This, then, is the essence of Flashman – get into a classic adventure story situation, do the opposite of what the hero ought to do, and then come out smelling of roses. Now that the danger is over, he immediately takes charge, berating his hosts for nearly getting him killed and letting his servant be murdered, and ends up with an escort of twelve Gilzais to see him safely back to Kabul, and Ilderim, Sheer Afzul’s son, as a hostage.

quote:

So we left Mogala, and I had collected a personal following of Afghan tribesmen, and a reputation, as a result of the morning’s work. The twelve Gilzais and Ilderim were the best things I found in Afghanistan, and the nickname “Bloody Lance,” which Sher Afzul conferred, did me no harm either. Incidentally, as a result of all of this Sher Afzul was keener than ever to maintain his alliance with the British, so my mission was a success as well. I was pretty pleased with myself as we set off for Kabul.

Of course, I had not forgotten that I had made an outstanding enemy in Gul Shah. How bitter an enemy I was to find out in time.

Beefeater1980 fucked around with this message at 16:57 on Aug 18, 2019

mllaneza
Apr 28, 2007


Veteran, Bermuda Triangle Expeditionary Force, 1993-1952





That's great writing in many ways, but hoo boy is our man Flashy a poo poo.

Darth Walrus
Feb 13, 2012




Bacha bazi actually played an important role in recent Afghan politics. See, after the Russians were driven out and Najibullah's communist holdout government fell, the mujahideen who'd kicked them out took over. They were about as brutal and fractious as you'd expect tribal warlords to be, but one activity that particularly roused the ire of the general populace was their routine, systematic rape of children. While it was initially a Pashtun practice, the northern Tajiks also took quite enthusiastically to it, and it basically became the stereotypical warlord crime.

One person who took particular notice was a young teacher at a village madrassa near Kandahar by the name of Mohammed Omar. Omar had fought during the Russian invasion in a splinter group of the infamous Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, and made quite a reputation for himself as a capable marksman before returning to religious pursuits after the war ended (and meeting some remarkably influential people, including a Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden). When mujahideen-affiliated bandits raped and murdered a family travelling near his village, including their very young children, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He armed his students (in Pashtun, the word is 'taliban') and began recruiting from refugee camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border, intending to take the fight to the warlords despoiling the country. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ceiling fan
Dec 26, 2003

I really like ceilings.


Dead Man’s Band

mllaneza posted:

That's great writing in many ways, but hoo boy is our man Flashy a poo poo.

Yep. This part really defines Harry Flashman in a lot of ways that Fraser really didn't have the stomach for in further books. Except maybe Flash for Freedom

Beefeater 1980 kind of glided over Flashman's rape of Narreeman. Understandably. In Flashman's reflections on the rape he talks more about how the mechanics of forcing himself on Narreeeman were inconvenient and unpleasant. He disliked it for the most selfish reason possible. It's a lot harder to get your rocks off when you are loving someone fighting back. And he did it anyway out of sheer bloody-minded bullying. Saying he disliked raping Narreeman because she got in the way of giving him pleasure is the closest Flashman comes to expressing a regret in the entire book. He's an almost unadulterated hedonist.

He also wonders about his bravery in stabbing an enemy in the back rather than running away. There's a lot of complicated musings about courage in these books. Fair enough, it's a complicated subject. But rest assured. Flashman only struggles between saving his skin in the short term vs. the long term.

Larry Parrish
Jul 9, 2012


Darth Walrus posted:

Bacha bazi actually played an important role in recent Afghan politics. See, after the Russians were driven out and Najibullah's communist holdout government fell, the mujahideen who'd kicked them out took over. They were about as brutal and fractious as you'd expect tribal warlords to be, but one activity that particularly roused the ire of the general populace was their routine, systematic rape of children. While it was initially a Pashtun practice, the northern Tajiks also took quite enthusiastically to it, and it basically became the stereotypical warlord crime.

One person who took particular notice was a young teacher at a village madrassa near Kandahar by the name of Mohammed Omar. Omar had fought during the Russian invasion in a splinter group of the infamous Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, and made quite a reputation for himself as a capable marksman before returning to religious pursuits after the war ended (and meeting some remarkably influential people, including a Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden). When mujahideen-affiliated bandits raped and murdered a family travelling near his village, including their very young children, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He armed his students (in Pashtun, the word is 'taliban') and began recruiting from refugee camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border, intending to take the fight to the warlords despoiling the country. The rest, as they say, is history.

theres a lot of reasons to hate the US being in Afghanistan but one of my personal favorites is our disturbing habit of arming and supporting a bunch of guys who treat pedophiliac rape as some kind of sport every single time

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




Beefeater1980 posted:

Off the top of my head, I think Fraser writes him as having enthusiastic consent at the point of actual sex in all future cases, although 19th century power dynamics being what they were, in the absence of the enthusiasm, the consent itself would be pretty iffy in a lot of those cases.

I mentioned this earlier, but I'm pretty sure the slave on the slave ship in Flash for Freedom wasn't depicted as consenting even given the (extreme!) power dynamic between, y'know, a slave and the crew of a slave ship. It just isn't called out explicitly.

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





feedmegin posted:

I mentioned this earlier, but I'm pretty sure the slave on the slave ship in Flash for Freedom wasn't depicted as consenting even given the (extreme!) power dynamic between, y'know, a slave and the crew of a slave ship. It just isn't called out explicitly.

Ugh. Well, we’ll get there when we get there. Plenty of horrible poo poo to go down in Afghanistan first - at least one can’t say Flashman gets off entirely Scot free.

Notahippie
Feb 4, 2003

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

feedmegin posted:

I mentioned this earlier, but I'm pretty sure the slave on the slave ship in Flash for Freedom wasn't depicted as consenting even given the (extreme!) power dynamic between, y'know, a slave and the crew of a slave ship. It just isn't called out explicitly.

There's also a lot of "rape by deception" where he promises lots of things he never plans on following through, then laughs at them after sex. He's a pretty awful person.

Metrilenkki
Aug 1, 2007

Oldskool av for lowtaxes medical fund gobbless u -fellow roamingdad

There's also Flashman's recollection of chasing a crying teenage maid around a table in Flash for Freedom. So yeah, Flashy's a bastard through and through.

StashAugustine
Mar 24, 2013

Do not trust in hope- it will betray you! Only faith and hatred sustain.









Read through this a week ago because of the thread and then forgot it existed. Id just read a history of the British-Russian struggle in Asia since I'd gotten a wargame in the subject (which does have a Flashman reference) so the context was nice. I spent the whole book imagining McNaughten as Burke from Aliens.

aphid_licker
Jan 7, 2009

eyebrowse


Pillbug

Epicurius posted:

I think it has a lot to do with the whole idea of women's honor. It's too risky to have an affair with a woman because her father or brother will kill you, but a dancing boy ...nobody cares.

We've seen in this novel that British society has a bunch of women whose honor nobody cares about, maids, the various mistresses, country girls/farmers' daughters, so you'd still have to explain why Afghans go for dancing boys rather than that model

1994 Toyota Celica
Sep 11, 2008

by Nyc_Tattoo


Well it's not as though Victorian gentlemen were stinting on the pedophilia themselves, good English public-school fellows that they were

feedmegin
Jul 30, 2008




1994 Toyota Celica posted:

Well it's not as though Victorian gentlemen were stinting on the pedophilia themselves, good English public-school fellows that they were

Nof in Flashy's case if you read the original Tom Brown's Schooldays. Though if I recall he does set fire to Tom Brown's bum.

His Divine Shadow
Aug 7, 2000

I'm not a fascist. I'm a priest. Fascists dress up in black and tell people what to do.


With all the sex in these books it feels like they should be turned into an HBO show.

shovelbum
Oct 21, 2010



Fun Shoe

His Divine Shadow posted:

With all the sex in these books it feels like they should be turned into an HBO show.

This has got to be like the least producible show possible

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

Too many different sets, not enough empowered sexy female characters.

Darth Walrus
Feb 13, 2012




aphid_licker posted:

We've seen in this novel that British society has a bunch of women whose honor nobody cares about, maids, the various mistresses, country girls/farmers' daughters, so you'd still have to explain why Afghans go for dancing boys rather than that model

Afghanistan has a much flatter society than Victorian Britain - it's more a network of tribes than an imperial hierarchy. There are relatively few people in it so low that nobody will stab you for hurting them.

Ceiling fan
Dec 26, 2003

I really like ceilings.


Dead Man’s Band

There was a surprisingly good screen adaptation of Royal Flash.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Flash_(film)

I liked this quote from the director.

Richard Lester posted:

that equivocal anti hero wasn't easy to take. They wanted a real hero, a hero that was a bounder as well as a hero. And Malcolm McDowell was absolutely 100% bounder - the sleaze was coming through to the film.

And it had one of the best closing scenes of any movie I've watched.

branedotorg
Jun 19, 2009


as it's a pastiche of Prisoner of Zenda it's one of the more filmable ones.

1994 Toyota Celica
Sep 11, 2008

by Nyc_Tattoo


Ceiling fan posted:

There was a surprisingly good screen adaptation of Royal Flash.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Flash_(film)

I liked this quote from the director.


And it had one of the best closing scenes of any movie I've watched.

this is up on Youtube right now and it's delightful

aphid_licker
Jan 7, 2009

eyebrowse


Pillbug

Man that scene of him loving over his lancer sidekick still bums me out.

Darth Walrus posted:

Afghanistan has a much flatter society than Victorian Britain - it's more a network of tribes than an imperial hierarchy. There are relatively few people in it so low that nobody will stab you for hurting them.

Still not sure why from there we get to the dancing boys rather than hypothetical dancing girls though

Beefeater1980
Sep 12, 2008

My God, it's full of Horatios!





aphid_licker posted:

Man that scene of him loving over his lancer sidekick still bums me out.

Don’t worry, he’ll gently caress over plenty more people before the end!

Repeating myself but it’s genius because you know how the story is supposed to go: he’s supposed to try and fail to save the guy so he can give him a tearful send off as they share a parting moment (possibly homoerotic depending on the story), either way earning the sidekick’s loyalty in his dying moments.

The alternative version where his failings get his sidekick killed as a way of sparking his personal growth doesn’t happen either; Iqbal doesn’t nobly forgive him or impart final words of wisdom, he dies spitting in Flashy’s face as Flashman muses that Iqbal is completely right to hate him.

Next episode coming up this evening my time. If you’ve been waiting for the Afghans to get their own back for all the lovely colonial behaviour, well, your wait is nearly up.

StashAugustine
Mar 24, 2013

Do not trust in hope- it will betray you! Only faith and hatred sustain.









The whole retreat sequence is just way too depressing to be funny

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The Rat
Aug 29, 2004

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



aphid_licker posted:

Still not sure why from there we get to the dancing boys rather than hypothetical dancing girls though

Something I remember from History class is that it could be a cultural leftover from Alexander the Great's invasion. Pederasty being a thing with ancient Greece and all.

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