So it took a link on Powerline last week to bring to my attention that George McDonald Fraser’s first Flashman book came out fifty years ago.
My, I don’t know how the time flies – but it does. I must have read the first couple of Flashy’s adventures sometime in college, shortly thereafter, and being quite the history nerd even then, they were rowdy enough, and amusing enough that I read most of the rest of them when they came out, even if I had to order them from an English book catalog when I was stationed overseas. I do remember very well reading The General Danced at Dawn, in the back of one of my more boring lecture classes at CSUN and nearly self-strangulating in trying to not laugh uproariously out loud. The professor lecturer would not have been amused – he was a medieval history expert with a thoroughly tedious interest in the most comprehensively boring of early dark age church confabulations and absent any detectable sense of humor.
My main regret as far as the Flashman series goes is that GMF never wrote of Flashy’s adventures in our own Civil War, which sounded from references in other books, as if Flashman conducted himself in the manner which we came to expect of him – that is, purely and basely devoted to the preservation of his own skin, while dodging, lying, fornicating and back-stabbing on battlefields spread across three continents, as well as hob-nobbing socially or sexually with all sorts of likely participants. As one early reviewer put it, Flashy saw 19th century history briefly over his shoulder as he fled down the corridors of power at high speed. His adventures in our very own Civil War would have been … interesting, although when I touched on this matter before, a reader pointed out that a) Flashy was a British officer and hardly gave a toss as to what we recalcitrant ex-Colonials got up to, and that b) that all our native ACW experts, amateur and professional alike would have made passionate objection to any error or omission, fancied or with historical backing that GMF might have worked into the plot. So, the effort wouldn’t have been worth the candle to him … although I and most of his fans would have loved to read it anyway. Just to see the process by how Flashy got suckered into participation by Abraham Lincoln, fought on both sides, and wound up being pals with George Armstrong Custer and well-acquainted with General Grant, and how many other Civil War notables.
I myself would have loved to see Flashy entangled in some kind of partnership with Elizabeth Van Lew, the Richmond spy queen, or perhaps a much deeper entanglement with Allan Pinkerton, of the national detective agency … it all would have been great reading, no matter how contentious the fallout might have been with Civil War historians. His take on Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals would have been interesting, as well. Because GMF had the eye, an absolute gift for writing 19th century dialog, and loved history enough to go into the deep weeds about it all … and most of all, make it interesting to the reader. Pop media is not downhill from culture, it’s in a symbiotic relationship with it. One shapes the other, mutually.
The darkly appealing thing about Flashy is that as a character, he was blunt and unsparingly honest, especially about himself: coward, toady, professionally self-serving, enthusiastic fornicator, (rapist, also on one occasion), and all-around scummy character – and yet with pluck and luck, always coming up out of the sewer smelling like a rose. As well as being brutally honest about himself to himself, Flashy was also was also magnificently candid about a lot of other matters now held to be absolutely radioactive. And that’s a large part of his appeal. I rather suspect that GMF had a great deal of fun in writing Flashy as a character, kicking politically correctitude right in the shorts, over and over again.
And what a wonderful miniseries Flashman would be, supposing that GMF’s literary executors would allow the rights to be negotiated for it, and a producer had the budget and stones to do it right, covering Flashy’s eventful career. You’d likely need eight or nine seasons to do it all justice, filming in fabulous locations in Europe, the US, Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Africa, an international cast of actors buckling swashes right and left … it would leave Game of Thrones in the dust, for sure. Likely it would never happen, given today’s social climate – but it would be glorious. Oh, well – at least we have the books. Discuss as you wish.