How do we distinguish between the author and the characters he writes There are readers who assume that if a main character does something racist or sexist, that means the author is, too But then, characters can also transform into cockroaches, commit interplanetary genocide, and die gloriously in a hail of bullets without the author having to undergo those experiences, himself.
Even in an autobiography, the author still isn t writing himself he s writing one biased version, crafting coherent stories and meanings out of the messy aggregate of daily life But even in works of pure, fantastical fiction, some authors revealof themselves than others.
For the most inexperienced author, their main character will be a reflection of how they view themselves They know what the author knows, like what they like, and have the same faults an strengths orprecisely, the character will have the traits the author imagines they possess plus a few they wish they had.
On one hand, this is an easy character to write, because all the author has to do is place themselves in the situation and imagine what they would do Unfortunately, this creates a fundamental problem for the author, since they have to create all the conflicts how do you create a problem that you don t know how to solve It becomes a game of tic tac toe against yourself the only way either side could win is by accident In such books, you can predict that any problem that crops up will be solved within the same chapter.
In stories like this, it s common for authors to simply put their own opinions into the mouths of the main characters, and to put opposing opinions into the mouths of the bad guys , a la Ayn Rand This is a silly, unconvincing technique, because the implications drawn are completely false You can t say the villain kills babies and is socialst, therefore socialism is evil , because that doesn t actually demonstrate any connection between the two activities.
A slightlysophisticated author will intentionally create a character who isnaive than them at least, to start out with Then they can have the character make the same mistakes the author used to make when they were younger, before they figured things out Part of the popularity of the bildunsroman growing up story is that it s easy to think up conflicts and solutions for adolescent characters.
Authors who operate on this level can t just put their lengthy monologues in the mouth of the hero, because the hero is too naive to have everything figured out Instead, they leave the speeches to a wise mentor figure, who stands in for all that is good, and who may be recognized in the unremitting slurry of kindly, ironical wizards in much modern fantasy.
But if a writer is self aware and pays attention to the world, they will eventually realize that what makes people interesting is that they are flawed, troubled, and struggle through life They will start exploring different sorts of people, people who are very unlike them, people who might disagree with them fundamentally, but who are still interesting and sympathetic.
But there s still a steep hill to climb for authors who want to write characters unlike themselves Few authors have the grasp of psychology necessary to write a realistic character who is fundamentally different from them, so most authors just cobble together some strong character cliches and play them up But even if he is capable of sticking to the personality he chooses, he risks giving himself away in other ways.
An author might create a sexist character, who constantly says and does sexist things, but that isn t damning authors often explore deeply flawed characters The real problem is if the narration and structure begin to support those same conclusions If a character calls someone a slut , that could just be an expression of how real people sometimes speak If the narration actually refers to a character by that slur, we have a problem where is that judgment coming from, if not the author It s often a problem with genre authors, who try their hardest to make strong female characters, making other characters speak self consciously about the power and strength of women, but then completely undermining all of that by never actually having the women do anything active or make any important decisions Narrative descriptions of women are lengthy, in florid, sexualized terms even when there is no male present in the story to appreciate them Men, contrarily, may never have their face or eye color mentioned.
In the case of Flashman, we have another complexity at play Our main character is often despicable, unsympathetic, sexist, racist, and rarely deserves the victories he gets But the entire story is from his perspective there is no all seeing narrator voice to tell us what s going on All the views, all the descriptions come from Flashman, himself.
Whenever an author completely veils himself behind the character, we must decide what to believe this technique is called the unreliable narrator , for obvious reasons Sure, Flashy is a selfish coward who beats his servants, but does that mean Fraser is for cowardice Is he arguing for toadyism and self promotion over all Certainly, Flashman recognizes that, according to social ideals, he is not a good man, nor a deserving one but then, he is surrounded by important, influential men who are even worse than he is It shouldn t be a surprise to anyone that unpleasant people often end up on top of the totem pole, and never get their comeuppance, but that can be a rather depressing message.
Luckily, in this tale of rollicking adventure, the message is delivered with thick humor and irony, not dour nihilism If money and fame are doled out regularly to the most foolish and detestable of our race, perhaps it is because only the foolish and detestable desire them enough to keep seeking them Most worthwhile people will end up too distracted by positive human relationships and personal growth to continue self possessed social climbing for long enough.
Happily, our dear Flashy has no such hangups Throughout the ceaseless, rousing, ridiculous tale of Victorian colonial mishaps, he rarely fails to disappoint Yet I kept finding myself sympathizing with him at times guiltily I knew he deserved punishment, but I didn t actually want to watch it administered I didn t want the ol chap to suffer.
It just goes to show that we ll always feelattached to the rascal we know well than to the saint we ve never met And while he s not apologetic, at least he doesn t suffer from the terrible mental disability of the average internet commentator, who cannot critique stupidity and hypocrisy without being a stupid hypocrite, himself Flashman may be many unsavory things, but he s no hypocrite He not only accepts his cowardice, he clings to it like a lifeline which in fact it often is He is not, like all the men he serves under, a fool with grand pretensions he is merely a fool, and glad enough to remain one as long as life s grip holds.
Fraser s Victorian is meticulously researched, and his footnotes are often funnier than his witty banter mostly because all the most absurd parts of his stories are completely true Overall, he reminded me of the experience of reading The Three Musketeers a nonstop adventure full of odd characters and occurrences, with life and death always at the next shake of the cup.
Yet there was something of Conrad s The Duel, too with humor and absurdity often rubbing shoulders with dire consequences and the horrors of war The return march of the army through the snowy crags of Afghanistan brought me back to Conrad s harrowing depiction of the French invasion of Russia and the dwindling return of that broken army, immortalized starkly in Minard s famous image.
Creating a sympathetic antihero is a difficult task particularly when they aren t of the violent, ass kicking variety but Fraser displays why flawed, unusual characters will always trump a flat romantic hero Like The Virginian or The Moonstone, this is another exciting, surprisingly touching piece of fun which easily outstrips the limitations of its genre.
This is the first book of the Flashman papers, much loved by many It purports to be the memoirs of a Victorian officer In this book, he serves in Afghanistan and India The cover art encapsulates the plot and tone.
A rake s adventures Harry Flashman is a self aware, shameless, shrewd, cowardly opportunist who describes himself as A scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward and, oh yes, a toady Note that he doesn t mention his treatment of women He joins up fights escapes sleeps around betrays honour, friends, fellow officers, and even his country beats servants for their own good and my amusement bedswomen is tortured duels double crosses takes hostages is taken hostage yada yada rinse and repeat not necessarily in that order I found it a little dull after a while However, I guess this is what fans enjoy especially those who wish, perhaps against their true scruples, they could be Flash It s well written, and Flashman is a complex and believable character He feels authentic for his time and place I disapprove of himthan intended, but he s disarmingly honest about his dishonesty, immorality, and other faults Although I was not charmed and beguiled very much, I was not as outraged as I thought I might have been.
The conceit of a real historic record This book claims to be Flashman s memoirs, written between 1900 and 1905, and found in 1965 Its supposed authenticity is enhanced by footnotes tying his account to real people and events, plus a glossary One of the notes even says his account clears up a longstanding historical mystery When it was published in 1969, some thought it was what it claimed despite Flashman explicitly being the same Flashman as the bully in the fictional Tom Brown s School Days George Macdonald Fraser said he wrote it as entertainment, rooted in history, not as satire He didn t disapprove of much his antihero did, and often railed against political correctness gone mad in interviews and articles Daisy chainFirst there was Flashman in Tom Brown s Schooldays, then there was the adult Flashman that Macdonald Fraser wrote But there are also two brilliant comedic caricatures from British TV.
Arnold Ace Rimmer, played by Chris Barrie, in scifi comedy Red Dwarf And Captain Flasheart, played by the late great Rik Mayall, in Blackadder Marriage, fidelity, and how gender and money lead to hypocrisyThe final chapter was rather different in tone and content, and by far the most engaging to me, though probably not to fans.
The unjustly feted hero returns home, to his devoted, pretty, naive, and wealthy wife But it turns out she is not all those things any , if indeed, she ever was Flashman is forced to confront uncomfortable truths The arch schemer has to find new ways to get what he wants I was almost only almost tempted to find out what happens next Quotes A noisy drunkard is intolerable a passive one may do at a pinch At least, if he has money money will excuse virtually any conduct in the army nowadays Some human faults are military virtues, like stupidity, and arrogance and narrow mindedness There isn t any folly a man won t contemplate if there s money or a woman at stake Always be civil to anyone who might ever be of use to me If you have money a wife need be no great encumbrance There is great pleasure in catastrophe that doesn t touch you It calls for nice judgement, this art of bragging you must be plain, but not too plain, and you must smile only rarely, letting them guessthan you say is the kernel of it, and looking uncomfortable when they compliment you I managed to rape her I prefer willing women He says it s the only time he raped a woman Not imo.
An objective 3.
5 book, with 2.
5 enjoyment for me, averaging at 3.
I don t get on with audiobooks, but I can t help feeling this might work better listening to a master storyteller I ve just been looking at the other reviews, and every guy likes Flashman Every single one I m afraid I do too What does that say about us I often wonder why women put up with men at all.
Most of the people Flashman encounters were real people and the history in these books appears to be accurate Flashman is a wonderful way to learn about history whilst enjoying a ripping yarn that is both funny and gripping I was delighted to learn that there are 12 books in the series Flashman 1969 Royal Flash 1970 Flash for Freedom 1971 Flashman at the Charge 1973 Flashman in the Great Game 1975 Flashman s Lady 1977 Flashman and the Redskins 1982 Flashman and the Dragon 1985 Flashman and the Mountain of Light 1990 Flashman and the Angel of the Lord 1994 Flashman and the Tiger 1999 Flashman on the March 2005 I look forward to reading them.
A magnificent read about an appalling man You get a good feel for Flashman s character early on With his unflinching and intelligent take on the people and situations surrounding him you feel very much a part of the action It is extremely well written and a very entertaining book.
Given the current situation in Afghanistan, it s pretty poignant too I was laughing till I snorted in public at the description of the incompetence of Major General Elphinstone then within moments nearly in tears as the full impact of it was realised.
The voices seem appropriate, the writing is excellent and the adventure is extreme so much better as it accurately follows historical facts and gives credible voice to them in a setting with which we ve lately become familiar through the evening news.
I strongly recommend it for anyone who s interested in a good read of historical fiction just don t expect to like Flashman himself, though his unflinching honesty about his own cowardly, racist, misogonistic, classist, bullying character is extremely refreshing and entertaining.
Coward, Scoundrel, Lover And Cheat, But There Is No Better Man To Go Into The Jungle With Join Flashman In His Adventures As He Survives Fearful Ordeals And Outlandish Perils Across The Four Corners Of The WorldCan A Man Be All Bad When Harry Flashman S Adventures As The Reluctant Secret Agent In Afghanistan Lead Him To Join The Exclusive Company Of Lord Cardigan S Hussars And Play A Part In The Disastrous Retreat From Kabul, It Culminates In The Rascal S Finest And Most Dishonest Turn I am not a big historical fiction buff, but I fell head over heels in love with this book The very premise is awesome in 1857, Thomas Hughes wrote a novel based heavily on his own experiences as a schoolboy The villain of the book is a boy called Flashman, a bully, drunkard, and general asshole Naturally, 100 years later George MacDonald Fraser decided to write a series of historical novels starring a grown up Flashman as the hero The result, at least in Fraser s original book, was pure magic Flashman picks up right where Hughes left off, in 1839 The recently expelled Flashman is forced to find an occupation after being expelled from school for drunkenness, and chooses the army in the hopes of landing a cushy post with no real demands Unfortunately, Flashman ends up getting shuttled off to India and then Afghanistan, just in time to take place in the First Anglo Afghan War Flashman is, by his own admission, a coward, scoundrel, and overall crummy human being He may also be the greatest anti hero I have ever encountered and is a thoroughly entertaining main character The book is written as a sort of diary penned by Flashman in his old age, later discovered by Fraser who provides endnotes The book honestly feels like it was written in the 19th century, and not in a bad way Fraser is pitch perfect writing in Flashman s style, and overall the prose in this book is top notch The plot is also perfectly paced and Fraser does a great job in knowing where to draw out the suspense and where to cut to the chase, so to speak I have nothing but praise for MacDonald s writing and the pages flew by for me The book is also very funny I was turned onto this book in part because I have been nostalgically re reading Douglas Adams books for the 3rd 4th time in order to review them for this site, and have been in the mood for British humor Flashman is not as goofy as Adams s Hitchhiker books, but it is extremely clever and has plenty of laugh out loud moments The historical aspect of this book is also compelling While I am a bit of a history buff, I do not read much historical fiction as I can t help but feel I d be better served just reading the actual history truth being stranger than fiction and all that jazz I am not an expert on the First Anglo Afghan War, so I cannot speak to Fraser s accuracy But he has a reputation for being rock solid regarding his history, and I found that to be completely true I was continually referring to Wikipedia during Flashman s exploits, to determine whether this or that crazy historical occurrence was accurate, and it invariably was While the character Flashman is fictional, the history his adventures take him through is very real and I actually learned a lot in reading this book.
One word of caution Flashman is supposed to be an asshole He is also a 19th century asshole, and to some degree a product of his time Through the course of his book he says and does many things that are racist and or sexist If reading about a fictional character doing these sorts of things will upset you, this is not the book for you However, keep in mind a he is supposed to be awful, and b he is supposed to be a 19th century Englishman, and if you think all 19th century Englishmen regarded their Indian subjects as their equals it s probably time to think again Remember, this book purports to be the journal of a man living in 1839 Many of the men who would fight die to end slavery in the U.
S Civil War weren t even born yet So hand wringing over the lack of political correctness in this book seems incredibly stupid, but I include this paragraph as fair warning.
There are twelve 12 Flashman novels and I could not beexcited to tackle the lot This book featured a thoroughly enjoyable anti hero, razor sharp writing, a fine sense of pace and plot, and plenty of laughs I really can t recommend this book highly enough 5 stars.
Oh boy, I ve got to admit that I did love this one The last unputdownable novel I read was Irvine Welsh s The Blade Artist Needless to say, Flashman features an equally foul and notorious protagonist, whose depravity, shameless bullying and honourless scheming kept me reading on about his life in acute disbelief The fact that Flashman s justification for his actions is often hilarious and at times insightful does not redeem him in any way The fact that he is honest enough to openly and constantly admit that he is a cowardly, toadying rake does not redeem him either After all, this is a character who is capable of carrying out incredible violence against women and please don t anyone utter the phrases man of his time and or too much political correctness Flashy s story serves as an unwavering, fascinating and repeated confirmation of the fact that the supposed heroes paraded by the establishment are often not the beacons of shining light which they re declared to be And most importantly of all Flashy s glaring flaws kept me reading on at a quick pace, for his enthralling magnetism was almost on par with Tolkien s Gollum or Welsh s Begbie, i.
e you just have to read on to find out what they ll do next Despite his flaws, Flashy often provided a refreshingly honest account of the incredible events he lived through and his part in them He was often quick to point out that the likes of Iqbal and Hudson were better men than him, and that he undeservedly profited from their actions Indeed although I m reluctant to admit it, Flashy s self awareness is the one quality about him that s endearing not redeeming That said, I hardly ever felt sympathy for him whenever he found himself in a funk I only read on in my impatience to discover how he would overcome his latest setback.
All of which makes Flashy a highly engaging character through which to discover the large scale Afghan catastrophe which was caused by the likes of Macnaghten and Elfinstone Their blunders could be considered hilarious had they not inflicted such unimaginable human misery upon their own side So many great British soldiers were lost for nothing, and it seems incredible to think that the Brits took over Afghanistan only to end up losing it so embarrassingly Elfinstone must easily rank as the leading commander in military history for vacillating indecisiveness.
Incidentally I did some research on the Afghan puppet king, Shah Shujah, who the Brits installed in Kabul Although this novel makes no bones about the brutality of the Afghan tribes, the savagery of the puppet King is not referred to However his brutality was just jaw dropping a King power hungry enough to have his own brother blinded, and who frequently insisted on mutilating nose, ears, tongues, genitalia his servants and courtiers for the slightest perceived misdeeds after he fled into exile.
Finally I should also add that Macdonald Fraser s writing makes for easy reading, so that I never felt bogged down by the first person narrative It s amazing to think this novel was written in the sixties, given the author s brisk style which still manages to be literary and by all accounts historically accurate.
All in all a highly entertaining yarn but I will try to find something else to read before returning to Flashy s world.
Meet Harry Flashman, decorated hero of the Victorian age He also happens to be a liar, a lecher, a bully, and a sniveling coward, and that is what makes these comic historical novels so funny.
He is also gloriously un PC, which seems to ruffle some dainty feathers these days Great stuff.