Brigadier-General Sir Harry Flashman, celebrated Victorian soldier, winner of the Victoria Cross, survivor of the charge of the Light Brigade, the battle of Little Big Horn, and the raid on Harper’s Ferry, reveals himself in this frank memoir published long after his death to be “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward—and, oh yes, a toady.”
The central conceit of the fictional Flashman Papers is that Flashy, writing frankly in his old age about his remarkable set of adventures, is perfectly willing to put himself in a bad light, because he was an unabashed rogue and a poltroon who was never caught.
This is the first novel in the series and it reveals how Flashman first made his name. Later novels were not published in chronological order. Fraser, having set down the mileposts of Flashman’s life in the first book, filled them in as the mood took him.
Young Flashman is expelled from Rugby School for beastly drunkenness, an episode taken from Tom Brown’s School Days. His father buys him a commission in a regiment of dragoons, but he disgraces himself and is sent to India and thence to Afghanistan, where he gets caught up in the First Anglo-Afghan War. He is one of the few survivors of the 1842 retreat from Kabul, the debacle also known as Elphinstone’s Massacre. He is mistakenly believed to have performed heroically—those who knew otherwise having all been killed—and so becomes a major celebrity upon his return to England.
Fraser is a master storyteller and Flashman is a marvelous character, entertaining yet rotten, cruel yet compelling, boorish yet endearing. It’s many years since I first this book and it’s still enjoyable.
See also my 2007 review of Flashman on the March, the last book.