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The Flashman Papers

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Harry Flashman is a fictional character in a series of comic historical novels and short stories by George MacDonald Fraser. The character first appears as a bully in Thomas Hughe's Tom Brown's Schooldays; toward the end of that novel he is expelled from Rugby school at 17 for drunkenness. Fraser takes up the tale from there, having him join the army.

Flashman participates in all of Britain's major wars of the late 19th century, plus other conflicts. The military history is generally quite accurate, except for having Flashy inserted. The tales are written in the first person, with Fraser claiming to be just Flashman's editor. All the books have extensive "editor's notes" giving historical background, and some have appendices for longer background essays. Important characters like Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi have full biographies among the appendices.

Flashman is a thoroughly despicable character; Fraser describes him as "a scoundrel, a drunk, a liar, a cheat [and] a braggart" and "an unrepentant old cad". He is a rake who pursues women from prostitute to princess, a bully who thoroughly enjoys beating servants, and distinctly racist. Worst of all for a military officer, he is an utter coward. Despite that, through a combination of luck and knavery, he comes out of each adventure looking like a hero. He ends up as General Sir Harry Flashman with medals from many countries, including the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Honor.

Flashy claims his only talents are with languages, horses and women. His language skills get him sent into various places as a spy or diplomat, then political and sexual complications usually get him into trouble. The tales are hilarious and definitely bawdy, though never even close to pornographic.

Avoid reading Flashman if you will be offended by his attitudes, which are an exceedingly long way from politically correct by current standards. Almost any 19th century colonial soldier would have ideas some would find offensive today, but the cynical, lecherous scoundrel Flashy is downright outrageous.

Trying to follow Flashman's routes today would be largely impractical since his adventures take him to so many places. However, his tales are worth considering as background reading if you are going to some of those places, especially the battlefields.


Map of The Flashman Papers

We list the tales here in approximately chronological order.

  • Flashman (1839-42). Flashman plays a part in the First Anglo-Afghan War. Flashman (novel) on Wikipedia
    • 1 Retreat from Kabul. This was the worst defeat Britain suffered during Victoria's reign, perhaps their worst ever, as their forces tried to withdraw from Kabul to Jalalabad. At least 16 thousand started on the retreat (4,500 fighting troops plus support troops, families, servants, etc.) and in the usual histories only one man made it out alive. In the novel, Flashy also gets out and he has some scathing comments on the bungling generals. 1842 retreat from Kabul on Wikipedia
    • 2 Piper's Fort. Flashy gained a heroic reputation as the only survivor of the defense of Piper's Fort, just outside Jalalabad. He was found wounded and unconscious with the Union Jack in his hands; only he knew he'd been trying to surrender. Battle of Jellalabad on Wikipedia
  • Royal Flash (1842-43 and 1848-49). Flash is forced by Bismarck and his henchmen to impersonate a Prince and marry a Princess. This is the only Flashman novel that has been made into a movie. Royal Flash on Wikipedia
  • Flashman's Lady (1842-45). When his wife is kidnapped by a Borneo pirate Prince, Flashy reluctantly joins a rescue expedition led by James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak. Flashman's Lady on Wikipedia
    • Cricket enthusiasts will likely enjoy the first part of the book which includes some quite detailed descriptions of the game as played in the 1840s.
    • Some of Fraser's best writing is his description of Singapore, very different from today's city.
    • Flashman escapes the pirates by swimming ashore in Madagascar. His wife is then captured by the locals, despite the lovelorn pirate's effort to keep her. They have further adventures there, mainly in Antananarivo.
  • Flashman and the Mountain of Light (1845-46). This covers the First Anglo-Sikh War. "Mountain of light" is a literal translation of koh-i-noor, an enormous diamond that is now part of the British Crown Jewels, as Flashman put it "Her Majesty's share of the loot". Flashman and the Mountain of Light on Wikipedia
    • Most of the tale takes place in the Punjab, then a Sikh kingdom, mainly in the capital, Lahore.
    • Most of the fighting takes place along the Sutlej River which was then the border. The nearest British garrison was at Ferozpore, on that river.
    • 3 Battle of Sobraon (near Ferozpore). This was the decisive battle of the war, a crushing defeat for the Sikhs. Battle of Sobraon on Wikipedia
  • Flash for Freedom! (1848-49). Flashman needs to leave England for several reasons (none to his credit) and his father-in-law gets him a berth as an officer on a ship of which he is part owner. She turns out to be a slaver in the Atlantic slave trade, and Flash is with her through loading slaves in Dahomey, crossing the Atlantic and selling off most of the slaves in the Caribbean. Then she is captured by the US Navy; at the time the US had not yet forbidden slavery, but they had already banned import of new slaves. Flash for Freedom! on Wikipedia
    • Much of the rest of the story takes place in New Orleans. Flashman charms an English madame, Miss Susie, and takes refuge in her establishment to avoid the navy who want him to testify in court and the slaver captain who would kill to prevent that.
    • Later he sees all sides of the slavery system. He is forced to become a conductor for the Underground Railroad, and after abandoning his passenger he finds work as a slave driver on a plantation, but then he is sold into slavery when he is caught with the boss's wife and she falsely cries rape. It ends with a dramatic escape.
Bent's Fort on the Santa Fe Trail
  • Flashman and the Redskins (First part, 1849-50). Flashman returns to New Orleans, fleeing various problems elsewhere. Miss Susie welcomes him back and recruits him as wagon captain to help move her entire high-class brothel — girls, wardrobe, furniture, toys, wine cellar and all — to Sacramento, California. Flashman and the Redskins on Wikipedia
    • California gold rush. The reason Miss Susie thinks she can do well in California is the gold rush. Most of the prospectors are penniless, but some of them and many ranchers or merchants are well off. California Gold Rush on Wikipedia
    • They follow the Santa Fe Trail from Saint Louis to Santa Fe where Susie decides to stop and open her business. Flashman abandons her there and has other adventures elsewhere in the Old West.
    • At one point Flashman is pursued through the Jornado del Muerto (Road of the dead) by an Apache war party from which he has deserted.
  • Flashman at the Charge (1854-55). This takes place during the Crimean War. "The Charge" in the title is the famous near-suicidal Charge of the light Brigade which took place near Balaclava. Flashman rides with them and is captured by the Russians. Flashman at the Charge on Wikipedia
    • The Russians take him into Central Asia, which they are in the process of conquering. He is imprisoned with the commander of the local anti-Russian forces whose amazing wife leads a raid that breaks them both out. He then joins them for a battle on the shores of the Aral Sea. The wife, recognising his cowardice, fills him full of hashish and takes him to bed. This puts him in fine fettle and for once he fights heroically.
    • The novel ends with Flashman, having crossed Bactria and Afghanistan with an escort provide by his Central Asian friends, arriving at a British sentry post in the Khyber Pass with the news that the Russians had planned an invasion of India but have, at least for now, been foiled.
  • Flashman in the Great Game (1856-58). This tale revolves around the 1857 mutiny of sepoys, Indian soldiers who served under British officers, and the more general uprising which followed. At least in Flashman's version, Russian agents are involved in fomenting rebellion. Flashman in the Great Game on Wikipedia
    • 4 Rani Lakshmibai (India's Joan of Arc). Before the mutiny, Flashman is sent as a diplomat to the court of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. He is elsewhere when she becomes one of the uprising's most important leaders, but returns in time to see the fall of the city and her death. Rani of Jhansi on Wikipedia
    • 5 Sepoy mutiny. Pursued by assassins from the cult of thugee, Flashman hides by passing himself off as an Afghan and enlisting in a sepoy regiment. This puts him in Meerut where his regiment starts the mutiny. Indian Rebellion of 1857 on Wikipedia
    • 6 Siege of Cawnpore. This siege of British positions outside the city now called Kanpur ended with a massacre. Flashman barely escapes. Siege of Cawnpore on Wikipedia
    • 7 Siege of Lucknow. The British in Lucknow were besieged in the Residency. Thomas Kavanagh earned the Victoria Cross by volunteering to cross the hostile city in disguise in order to guide the relief force in. In the usual histories, he was aided by a local man, but in the novel Flashman goes with him and gets a VC as well. Siege of Lucknow on Wikipedia
    • 8 Gwalior. One of the last battles of the rebellion took place near this city, with Rani Lakshmibai leading the defense. Today the town's tourist attractions include her tomb and an equestrian statue in the city and a memorial at the site where she was killed just outside town. Flashman was imprisoned in Gwalior Fort toward the end of the tale.
  • Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (1858-59). Flashman is involved in John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. The Underground Railroad want the raid to succeed, the pro-slavery Kuklos want it to be bloody enough to start a civil war, and Pinkerton's want to stop it or at least delay it. All three think Flashman is working for them, but as usual he is only looking out for himself. Flashman and the Angel of the Lord on Wikipedia
  • Flashman and the Dragon (1860). This takes place during the Second Opium War. Flashman and the Dragon on Wikipedia
    • Taiping Rebellion. Flashman visits Nanjing while it is the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. He meets many of their leading men, including their founder who claims to be Jesus' younger brother. Today there is a Taiping Kingdom History Museum in Nanjing. Taiping Rebellion on Wikipedia
    • March to Peking. Flashman joins Lord Elgin's march to Peking (now called Beijing), where he is captured and imprisoned in the Forbidden City. Second_Opium_War#Second_phase on Wikipedia
    • 9 Summer Palace. As retaliation for the torture of British envoys and their escort, and brutal murder of some, Lord Elgin ordered the complete destruction of this large (3.5 km2 860 acres) complex. Flashman was there, looting like many others. Today the ruins are a Beijing tourist attraction. Old Summer Palace on Wikipedia
  • Flashman on the March (1867-68). This covers the British expedition to Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia. Flashman on the March on Wikipedia
    • 10 Magdala. The taking of this fortress, and the death of the Abyssinian King who preferred suicide to capture, ended the war. Today there is a village called Amba Mariam (Fort Mary) at the site and not much evidence of the former capital is left, though the enormous cannon Stebastopol can still be seen. Battle of Magdala on Wikipedia
  • Flashman and the Redskins (Second part, 1875-76). Flashman returns to the American Old West. Flashman and the Redskins on Wikipedia
    • 11 Little Bighorn (Custer's last stand). Flashman considers Custer a glory hound and tells President Grant "I wouldn't give him command of an escort myself." At the beginning of the Battle of Little Bighorn he is a captive in the Indian camp; by the end he is playing dead on the battlefield. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument on Wikipedia
  • Flashman and the Tiger (1878-1894). This book is not one novel, but three unrelated shorter tales. Flashman and the Tiger on Wikipedia
    • 12 Battle of Isandlwana. The Zulus severely defeated an invading British force in the first major battle of the Anglo-Zulu War. One story opens with Flashman fleeing after this battle. Battle of Isandlwana on Wikipedia
    • 13 Rorke's Drift. A remarkable battle in which 150 British troops successfully held off several thousand Zulus. The film Zulu is about this battle, with Michael Caine in his first major role as one of the young officers. Battle of Rorke's Drift on Wikipedia

It is clear from comments in other books that Flashman also served on both sides of the American Civil War, and with Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, but alas no details have been published.

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