Flashman

Suggested by Kung Fu Zu • Fraser revives Flashman, a caddish bully from Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes, and relates Flashman’s adventures after he is expelled in drunken disgrace from Rugby school in the late 1830s.
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22 Responses to Flashman

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I may read Tom Brown’s School Days first. Apparently this is the novel in which the character originates. If I do, I’ll report back.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’m not sure if there’s actually all that much about Flashman, but he obviously resents the book in several volumes of his memoirs. This first novel is the one in which he gets involved in his first military disaster, the 1842 retreat from Kabul. Others include the Little Big Horn, Balaklava (where he becomes reluctantly involved in all 3 noted incidents), and apparently (the stories never got written, but there are references) Khartoum and Gettysburg.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I’m 8% into “Tom Brown’s School,” and that 8% likely includes the introduction, so I’m not all that far into it. In fact, the author goes out of his way to note that the reader will first be walking through linguistic brambles as he tells the quaint and subtle story of the English countryside, a countryside not often seen and appreciated, if only because of the “modern” (this is set in the 1850’s, I believe) predilection toward making a couple foreign excursions each year as part of one’s personal vacations or adventures.

        And brambles they are. I will hang tough for a while but it isn’t easy. This book is written in a style in which the author is trying self-consciously to project way too much personality into the writing. I like quirky but not when it’s forced. But soon the author hopes to take us into the meat of the subject which is a cultural investigation of what, for him, is the prototypical English family (at least the way he thinks everyone should be): The Browns.

        I’m hoping wit and charm will soon follow. I’ve got enough gumption in me to last at least another chapter or two. But I’m about worn out already by the somewhat obtuse and convoluted writing style. This off-road coarse into the English countryside is a break from another C.S. Harris novel, When Falcons Fall. It’s another in the series of books like the one I recently read, Where the Dead Lie. This is another novel I found for free at my local online library. It is competent, not entirely dull, but somewhat still lacking in the spark of originality and character depth. But, hey, the brother of Napoleon is in the periphery of the plot, so things could pick up. This brother is living in England at the moment.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I recall Napoleon having two brothers, Joseph and Louis (I think Napoleon III was the son of the latter, since he was named Louis Napoleon [presumably the last named remained Bonaparte]). Joseph nominally was King of Spain from Napoleon’s initial takeover in 1808 to his ejection after the battle of Vitoria in 1813). Louis was named King of the Netherlands at some point (perhaps after Napoleon was crowned Emperor in 1805), but kicked out in 1809 for failing to follow the Continental System (his kingdom was annexed by France). I have no idea which would have ended up in England.

          • Joseph T Major says:

            Boney had four brothers:
            Joseph (King of Naples and then King of Spain)
            Lucien ((Papal) Prince of Canino)
            Louis (King of Holland)
            Jerome (King of Westphalia)

            All four of them were problems for him. There were also three sisters, one of whom, Caroline, was the wife of Joachim Murat (King of Naples after Joseph).

            Napoleon III was the son of Louis and of Josephine’s daughter Hortense, At least he was the son of Hortense.

            The current Napoleonic pretender is descended from Jerome.

            In addition, the Counts Walewski are descended from Napoleon and Marie Waleweska — DNA testing proved this.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Now that you mention, I think I recall Lucien helping run the coup of Brumaire in which Napoleon and his allies overthrew the Directory, and I definitely should have remembered that Jerome became King of Westphalia.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Wow. Thanks for the great info, Joseph. In the case of the novel, “When Falcons Fall,” it is Lucien Bonaparte (described as “the estranged brother of Emperor Napoleon”). He is staying for the summer with Lady Seaton at Northcott Abbey due to repairs to his estate in Worcester. How much of this is historically accurate, I do not know. There’s some suggestion in the novel that his purpose in England is ambiguous.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          this is set in the 1850’s, I believe

          Flashman was thrown out of Rugby in the late 1830’s, so at least part of “Tom Brown’s School Days” takes place at that time.

          I believe Flashman is only mentioned once in that book.

          predilection toward making a couple foreign excursions each year as part of one’s personal vacations or adventures.

          The custom of the wealthy and upper classes of Northern Europe making the “Grand Tour” goes back to the late 1700’s, at the very latest. Generally, the primary destination was Italy, where one could visit the many ruins of antiquity and pick up a little Italian and souvenirs.

          This arose out of the rise of humanism and its admiration for classical Greece and Rome.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Note that he bought a low-rank cavalry commission in Lord Cardigan’s regiment right after being kicked out, and it wasn’t long after that he was sent to join the Afghan occupation force in Kabul. (He became a noted Victorian hero — because, although he was a physical coward, he was even more afraid of being exposed.)

      • Joseph T Major says:

        At the end of “The Road to Charing Cross” (published in FLASHMAN AND THE TIGER (1999)), after trying to escape it for the entirety of the story, Flashman gets sent off to Khartoum.

        At the end of FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME (1975), someone sends Flashman a copy of TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS and he is extremely furious.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “Flashman” is a strange book, which is like no other book I have ever read.

    The main character, Harry Flashman, is by his own admission a scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, coward and toady. He is also a rapist, bully, and would-be murderer. A more complete cynic, there never was.

    It is difficult to impress upon the reader just how horrible a human being Flashman is. Words like scoundrel and liar fail to import the degradation which Flashman has achieved. And this while still a teenager.

    Harry is the polar opposite of someone who sees life through rose-colored glasses. In his view, nothing is sacred, nothing is exalted, nobody is good and nobody does anything without an ulterior motive. He thinks of nobody and nothing but himself and his material well-being.

    I note that some people see this book as a comedy, but truly I find nothing humorous about it.

    The reason it is worth reading is that the author takes just about every human failing and shows each taken to its logical conclusion, when morals, restraint and taste are absent. Could be the Elysian Fields of libertarianism.

    I have not yet made up my mind whether I will read any further books in the series. That being said, I am left with an odd fascination as to how much further the character can sink.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      His behavior will get no worse, since it’s already about as low as it can go. On the other hand, he’s no fool; I recall that a fellow officer listed Flashman as one of the good officers in Kabul — and in many ways he was right. He had a very good mind, and one could see him as another example of the moral danger of the very clever (think T’Pring in “Amok Time”, who turned out to be very amorally logical in her handling of the Vulcan mating ritual). In Flashman and the Great Game, he even behaves courageously for once — under the influence of a drug that had been surreptitiously given to him by someone who did recognize his cowardice.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        One thing Flashman has going for him, is the thing which Napoleon looked for in his generals, i.e. luck.

        The Duke of Wellington notes this during his carriage ride with Flashy, when he says some like Flashman appears brave enough to command an army and get it into trouble and lucky enough to get it out again.

        That being said, you don’t want to be around Flashman when things start going south. No matter how badly things go, he survives and those who are braver and better end up dead. And I mean everyone around him ends up being deceased.

        He’s no fool

        His greatest talent, besides surviving, seems to be an amazing facility at picking up languages in an incredibly short period of time.

        He had a very good mind, and one could see him as another example of the moral danger of the very clever

        I read somewhere that those with imagination are easier to frighten that those who are somewhat dumb. Perhaps the is part of Flashy’s problem.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finally had to put down Tom Brown’ School Days. It’s ponderously awful. Why would anyone write in such a boring style?

    • Joseph T Major says:

      Now you know why Flashman got drunk. (He was sent down — expelled — joined the 11th Hussars, and crossed up Lord Cardigan.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I’m not put off at all in regards to reading “Flashman” because Mr. Kung and I have similar tastes in books. However, I’m pretty sure he’d be more amenable to the content of “Tom Brown’s School Days” because I think he likes to eat his linguistic spinach and not always take the easy road. But, goodness, this book just could not hold my interest.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I think he likes to eat his linguistic spinach

          I even like real spinach, especially in a spinach salad with chopped boiled eggs, bacon bits and warm bacon grease drizzled over the whole salad.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I think I’ve had something like that. In addition, back when I relied heavily on Stouffer’s, they had a spinach soufflé I rather liked. I’ve also had spinach quiche at one or another of hospitals and rehab places I’ve spent most of my last 6 months in.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I find spinach quiche particularly good, if done properly which means the pastry is flaky.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I sometimes put spinach in my soups. I love a spinach salad as well. But boiled spinach? Yuck.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                One should stir fry spinach with a little minced garlic. Then it is something like my favorite vegetable dou miao, pea shoots. The young/first growth shoots are the best.

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