To the unquestionable dismay of millions of readers worldwide, the memoirs of the life of the British Empire's most reluctant soldier and outstanding cad, Sir Harry Flashman, are now at a close with the death of his chronicler, George MacDonald Fraser, at the age of 82.
The most thoroughgoing yet admirable coward, thief, womaniser, scoundrel and all-around rotter ever described, Fraser's re-creation of the bully from Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays as the most unlikely and unintentional hero of Queen Victoria's Empire surely stands as one of literature's great comic characters. But the remarkable feat of Fraser's writing and research has always been his astonishing attention to historical accuracy and detail, copiously annotated in endnotes. Always at the greatest pain to escape any possible danger to any hair on his head, but equally keen to grab any opportunity for undeserved credit, Flashman cuts a dashing if vainglorious figure through the most incredible list of actual historical exploits of the British Empire that could possibly be compiled, not to mention so vividly described and faithfully related. The twelve books of Flashman's adventures are absolutely painless and rewarding history lessons, less learned than happily imbibed. And, it must be added for those with the taste, Fraser's unabashed and merry colonial — dare I say tory? — chauvinism is a constant treat in this day of unrelenting received anglo-phobia.
With the possible exception of P.G. Wodehouse — who himself was a great fan — Fraser's Flashman sequence and his short tales of Private McAuslan of the Gordon Highlanders, "the dirtiest soldier in the world," are probably the most purely enjoyable experiences of my good reading fortune. Fraser's talent, and the possibility of just one more Flashman book, will be very much missed, but there will never be any loss of the opportunity to read them again. Rest in peace, George MacDonald Fraser… God has received a great soldier and story-teller.
Friday, January 4, 2008
Posted by MapMaster on Friday, January 04, 2008