Friday, January 04, 2008


Via Two Blowhards I read that George McDonald Fraser has passed away. Sad news that a favorite author is gone. Via links from the Blowhards you can read about the Flashman character who is central to Fraser's most popular books. A word of warning to any unfamiliar with them- Flashman is very much an anti-hero and displays about all of the bigotry to be found in Victorian England. Nonetheless, the contrast between Flashman and many of the historical characters with whom he interacts serves to highlight many of the incredible figures from the 19th Century. For that matter, Fraser also does a good job of pointing out that many of the folks battling against the British Empire were not necessarily good guys just because they were fighting imperialism, an un-PC thought which is seldom encountered. You must love the Flashman novels for the endnotes, though. The lovely endnotes that serve to illustrate the research behind the novels and flesh out the minds of the day make Fraser's work stand far ahead of other historical fiction. The lively writing and humor don't hurt, either.

If the Flashman books are not a reader's cup of tea, I'd suggest another very nice historical novel/romance- "Mr. American". Beyond that, Fraser's "Quartered Safe Out Here" is one of the best memoirs of the Second World War which I've read. It deals with the British campaign in Burma against the Japanese, which is an aspect of the war which hasn't received as much attention as some of the other theaters.

Hard not to imagine Flashman not being one's cup of tea, though, if you are interested in the Victorian explorers and adventurers or the Raj. I haven't met a female fan, though, so that might be the dividing line.

A bit from Flashman and the Redskins, which is Flashy speaking of a confrontation in a London club with an academic, this in his eightieth year or so-
"You may wonder that I got in such a taking over one pompous windbag spouting claptrap; usually I just sit and sneer when the know-alls start prating on behalf of the poor oppressed heathen, sticking a barb in 'em as opportunity serves- why, I've absolutely heard 'em lauding the sepoy mutineers as honest patriots, and I haven't even bothered to break wind by way of dissent. I know the heathen, and their oppressors, pretty well, you see, and the folly of sitting smug in judgment years after, stuffed with piety and ignorance and book-learned bias. Humanity is beastly and stupid, aye, and helpless, and there's an end to it. And that's as true for Crazy Horse as it was for Custer- and they're both long gone, thank God....
So, I'm slung out of Traveller's for ungentlemanly conduct. Much I care, I wasn't a member, anyway."

I hope Fraser gets to meet all those Victorian adventurers he drew so very well.


Steve Bodio said...

I was curious and asked-- Libby thinks he was grand.

mdmnm said...

Thanks, Steve! That's interesting. I know of a couple of women who read "Mr. American" and enjoyed it, but it is quite different in tone than the Flashman novels, even though Sir Harry makes a brief appearance.