‘It was a common custom at that time, in the more romantic females, to see their soldier husbands and sweethearts as Greek heroes, instead of the whoremongering clowns most of them were.’
Flashman (the character and the book) isn’t for the faint-hearted or politically correct. Flashman (the character) is racist, sexist and xenophobic, although Flashman (the book) has its tongue firmly in its cheek. I have a spiteful and inappropriate sense of humour, so I loved book and character both.
This is the first portion of The Flashman Papers, the memoirs of Harry Flashman, the bully of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Discovered and published many years after his death, this instalment charts his journey from schoolboy in the 1840s to officer in the British Army in Afghanistan. And what a journey it is! He gets expelled from school for drunkenness, seduces his father’s mistress, joins the army, is challenged to numerous duels, gets snared by the daughter of a Scottish factory owner, and is posted to India in disgrace. From there (via more seductions, rapes and battles) he finds himself the hero of the British withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite being an unabashed coward who will betray anyone and anything to preserve his own skin. He’s constantly on the look-out for self-advancement and female conquest (‘Unless you’re the kind to fall in love… you take your tumbles when you’ve the chance, and the more the better’). He’s not a very nice chap, but he’s excellent company.
The writing is hilarious. Flashman’s observations of his own character (‘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’) and instinct for self-preservation are scathing. Even more so his views on others, such his inept first commander (the real-life aristocrat who presided over the Charge of the Light Brigade). The Earl of Cardigan is just one of many historical figures that Flashman meets in the course of his first adventure, which culminates in him becoming the toast of England and being presented to Victoria and Albert at court. This book is such good fun, I’m thrilled that there are 11 more to go.