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Literature: Flashman

Damn yer eyes!

This is George MacDonald Fraser's politically incorrect series of novels, presented as the memoirs of a Victorian war hero who is actually a bully, rapist, lecher, backstabber, and coward. The character Flashman is taken from the Victorian novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, where he is presented without any redeeming qualities. He has no redeeming qualities in Fraser's books, either, despite occasional feelings of love for his wife and always coming out of a situation alright, so he might be considered a Magnificent Bastard. There is the very occasional indication that Flashy doth protest too much, and, to be honest, in the situations he finds himself in, "being a coward" also counts as "being the Only Sane Man".

It's the nineteenth century, it's the British Army - very little of it is going to make sense. In fact, if you want the entire series in a nutshell, try this, the blurb for Flashman and the Mountain of Light:
With the mighty Sikh Khalsa, the finest army ever seen in Asia, poised to invade the Punjab and sweep Britannia's ill-guarded Empire into the sea, every able-bodied man was needed to defend the frontier, and one, at least, had his answer ready when the call of duty came: "I'll swim in blood first!" Alas, for poor Flashy, there was no avoiding the terrors of secret service in the debauched and intrigue-ridden court of the Punjab, the attentions of its beautiful nymphomaniac Maharani (not that he minded that really), the horrors of its torture chambers and the baleful influence of the Mountain of Light.

Not to be confused with Choushinsei Flashman. Or the robot master from Mega Man 2.

This series has examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Flashman himself.
  • Actually, I Am Him: Akbar Khan.
  • Altum Videtur: John Charity Spring the slave trader never misses an opportunity to quote a line from Virgil or Tacitus in the original Latin.
  • Anti-Hero: Flashman himself who is an odd mix of Type I and Type V.
  • Ascended Extra: From Tom Brown's Schooldays.
  • Author Existence Failure: Fraser's recent passing likely means it will never be known if he actually planned to write a novel of Flashman's American Civil War adventures, or if it was only a Noodle Incident along the same lines as Sherlock Holmes' "missing cases". It would be interesting to know what the plot was of the novel GMF announced he was researching about six months before his death, but his estate/publishers/relatives aren't telling.
    • Fraser indicated in various interviews (see here) that he found the Civil War a "colossal bore" and researching it tiresome. Considering this, and that several of his later novels featured events never alluded to in earlier books (eg. Flashman on the March), one may conclude Fraser never intended to write the Civil War novel.
    • Around 2007, Celtic films announced they were developing a miniseries adaptation of Flashman at the Charge, to be written by Fraser himself. This project apparently fell apart after Fraser's death.
  • Author Tract: Some of the later installments.
  • Badass Whiskers: Flashman's "tart-catchers".
  • Becoming the Mask: Joe Simmons was a member of the Kuklos, and a highly-respected slave, who was tasked with infiltrating John Brown's army to keep an eye on Flashman in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord. Brown's fanatic idealism gets to him, and after Harry planned out the Harper's Ferry raid and was getting ready to leave, though, Simmons threatens to shoot Flashy for deserting John Brown's cause, along with an awesome speech declaring that he is going to live as a man, not a slave. The really ironic thing is that it was Harry who first planted the seeds of doubt in his mind just to spite him—and, characteristically, his own actions come around to bite him in the arse. When the raid fails and Harper's Ferry is surrounded by soldiers, Joe is the one who takes it the hardest, calling out Brown for a stupid, brainless execution of the plan, and losing sight of his goal of leading a slave rebellion.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: In one of the novels, Flashman catches Lord Cardigan with his wife.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Dances around this trope, as Flashman constantly encounters these fabulous, colorful characters who were movers and shakers of history, but the only genuine instance was in Flashman and the Mountain of Light, where he arranges the British victory in the First Sikh War.
    • He also accidentally gives Lord Raglan the idea to send in the Light Brigade.
    • Also, he does mention that the course of the American Civil War would have changed utterly had he not been present.
  • Blood Brothers: Ilderim Khan, a Pathan horseman, becomes this with Harry. Harry genuinely likes and admires the young man (after all, as he says, it takes a true coward to recognize courage), and is stunned to realize that Ilderim was killed by rebels as a prisoner-of-war in the Sepoy Mutiny.
    • Flashman also becomes a blood brother to Yakub Beg in Flashman at the Charge.
  • Bold Inflation: Queen Victoria emphasizes every fifth word or so with italics. Very much justified by real life, as evinced by Victoria's diaries.
  • The Brigadier: Sir Colin Campbell and a couple other competent commanders Flashman has served with.
  • Butt Monkey: all those adventures that Flashman goes on? None of them were done willingly. In many cases all he wants is to get home to be with his wife, only for some fresh new crisis to brew up for him to be thrust into.
  • The Cameo: An antiquated Flashman appears briefly in Fraser's Mr. American (1980), set in The Edwardian Era. Though pushing 90 years old, Flashy's as randy and cynical as ever.
  • Captain Ersatz: Much of the cast of Royal Flash (the non-historical ones) are this towards the characters of The Prisoner of Zenda, although in-universe, The Prisoner of Zenda is based on Flashman's experiences, making those characters esatzes in this universe.
  • The Casanova: Flashman, that lucky, lucky bastard. Less than midway through his career, while stuck in a prison cell during the Sepoy Mutiny, he counts up all the women that he had to that day and came up with 478.
    • And that's only in 1857. Flashman dies in 1915 and there's a whole lot more women to come.
  • Cavalry Officer: Flashman was originally commissioned in a cavalry regiment, and spends most of his military career in that branch. He exemplifies the profligate womanizer version of this trope, as do a number of comrades.
  • Characterization Marches On: Flashman becomes more conventionally heroic (or at least less craven and cowardly) towards the end of the series. Since the books were written in non-chronological order, however, trying to demarcate a straight line of Character Development is very difficult.
  • Chaste Hero: The series' presentation of the historical figure James Brooke satirizes this trope, as his characterization as a plucky and honorable hero who has no lustful reaction to the topless native women around him is given an unorthodox spin by the implication that he was castrated by a bullet wound received in battle. note  Oddly, the article on Brooke in The Other Wiki suggests he was actually a Depraved Bisexual.
  • The Chess Master: Otto von Bismarck in Royal Flash. He gets offended when Flashman objects to elements of his plan as uncontrollable and risky.
    • Count Nicholas Ignatieff in Flashman at the Charge and Flashman in the Great Game is another example as he tries to invade India.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: In just about every book, whether it's being done to Flashman, someone else, or by Flashman himself.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Flashman's father-in-law is a money-grubbing Scot who besides running a mill under awful conditions is revealed to have investments in the slave trade.
    • The illegal slave trade that the Royal Navy held an extensive military campaign to abolish, mind you.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Flashman is one hell of a bigot.
    • Flash For Freedom! is made of this trope, to the point where it's almost painful to read. On the other hand, Flashy, despite his intense racism, is more than willing to admit that the British soldier is not automatically superior to the natives other officers and civilians consider nothing more than barbaric savages. Flashman has had too many near-death experiences to underestimate a Sikh or a Ghazi. (He mentions at one point that he takes his blood-brotherhood with a Central Asian warlord quite seriously; far more seriously than his marriage vows, though that is not saying much.)
    • Flashman has all of the worst opinions held by his peers towards the less "civilized" cultures he encounters. He stands out as an equal-opportunity cynic, though; his opinion of his peers is little better.
      • Flashman isn't a bigot; he certainly doesn't believe that his British/English compatriots are braver, smarter or more moral than other people — not that he'd give a fig for morality. His view of most of his social and military superiors is that they're bloody lunatics and often criminally incompetent and/or corrupt. He certainly strongly identifies with England, as long as he doesn't have to risk anything for Queen and Country, but that's another matter. He's a chauvinist and cynically brutal towards everyone, but not a bigot.
    • A more subtle one from Flashman and the Angel of the Lord - several American characters praise Oliver Cromwell as a straightforward heroic figure rather than the Well-Intentioned Extremist even many of his admirers see him as today.
  • Dirty Coward: Flashman himself, to the maximum possible and then some. However, Even Cowardice Has Standards — in the original book, Flashman has nothing but scorn for some reinforcements that fled as opposed to pretending to attack. He says this whilst himself fleeing from attacking Afghans, but he at least turns around and yells various disparaging remarks about the Afghan's leader. Also, he looks down upon anyone who displays Cower Power, at least if they can still run.
  • The Ditz: Flashman's wife, Elspeth. As far as he knows. She does show reserves of amazing fortitude, though: in Madagascar, fleeing from mad Queen Ravonalova, a searching guard steps on her finger and breaks it—and she doesn't even cry out.
    • The Subtleties of Baccarat raises the fascinating possibility that Elspeth's ditziness is every bit as much a false front as Flashman's bravery.
  • Double Standard: Accurate for the time it's set in, and played for laughs: Flashman is extremely promiscuous, has countless lovers all over the world, makes advances at other men's lovers and wives and even rapes one. The fact that he's utterly shocked when he suspects his own wife, who stays at home for months or years of his absence, might have a lover of her own is hilarious in and of itself - and becomes more so when he quickly forgets about it because she's the one supplying him with cash (broke as his own father is).
    • Flashy does come to terms with the double standard in a later book, when he discovers that his granddaughter is carrying on with the Prince of Wales.
  • Dragon Lady: The future Dowager Empress Cixi in the appropriately named Flashman and the Dragon
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Lord Cardigan, in keeping with his Upper-Class Twit personality.
  • Embarrassing Rescue: Flashy and company were extremely grateful for it when it happened, but after Ko Dali's daughter successfully broke Flashman, Yakub Beg, and Kutebar out from Fort Raim and got them back to the village, the womenfolk wouldn't stop laughing each time it was mentioned that the mighty warriors had to be rescued by "a little chit of a girl."
  • Embarrassing Nick Name: Flashman is adopted by an Apache tribe and, due to his horseback skills, is named White-Rider-Goes-So-Fast-He-Destroys-The-Wind-With-His-Speed. Unfortunately for convenience it's shorted to He-Who-Breaks-The-Wind or Wind Breaker. Given how Flashman farted his way down the Valley of Death at Balaclava you could say it's appropriate.
  • Emergency Impersonation: The second novel in the series, Royal Flash, is a parody of The Prisoner of Zenda.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Flashman will kill...but he rebels at being told that he's to assassinate John Brown, and later on, Emperor Theodore of Abyssinia; he says "a scoundrel I may be, but I ain't an assassin, and you'll comb my memoirs in vain for a mention of Flashy as First Murderer." The one time he comes close to breaking this rule, he's been driven into a corner... and he ends up not having to do the deed, thanks to Sherlock Holmes having set the whole thing up as a way to trap "Tiger Jack" Moran in "The Adventure of the Empty House."
  • Expecting Someone Taller: an Arkansas hayseed out west to see the legendary Kit Carson doesn't believe that the small, unassuming, polite man could possibly be a frontiersman hero. Carson happened to be sitting next to Flashy, though, so the man assumes that the six-foot-tall handsome chap with the cavalry whiskers has to be it, despite the mountain men telling him otherwise. They laugh themselves sick when he leaves.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Flashy's list of awards stretch as long as his arm, and then some, including things like the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Honor.
    • He's particular delighted with his San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth (4th Class), these two qualities being quite spectacularly absent from Flashman's character.
  • Femme Fatale: Many of Flashman's love affairs fit this label, as the women are typically ruthless in their non-romantic affairs, and sometimes their romantic ones as well.
    • Lola Montez in Royal Flash is a good example of this.
  • The Film of the Book: Richard Lester's 1975 adaptation of Royal Flash, with Malcolm McDowell as Flashman, co-starring Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and Florinda Balkin. Fraser himself wrote the screenplay. The movie isn't universally popular with Flashman fans, however.
  • First-Person Smartass: part of the series' appeal lies in Flashman's honest, cutting assessments of the world around him.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Flashman couldn't have written the memoirs if he'd died at any point, could he? Likewise the framing story makes it clear his reputation remained intact meaning anyone who discovers the truth and threatens to expose him like Hudson in Flashman or Nolan in Flashman and the Dragon is Doomed by Canon.
  • Funetik Aksent: Many, but Scottish is very common because of Flashman's in-laws and the large number of Scots he served with in the military.
  • General Failure and Lord Error-Prone: Flashman's usual view of his commanders, particularly Lord Raglan and Lord Cardigan. He does seem keen enough to recognize the competent ones, however.
    • Another notable example is his incessant condemnation of "Elphy Bey," Major General Elphinstone, a senile old man that got his entire command wiped out fighting the Afghans.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: John Charity Spring has a nasty scar on his face and is one of the more psychotic characters Flashman encounters.
    • Most of Flashman's scars are on his back. Including the bullet scar on his arse.
    • He also has the two schlager scars on his face from Royal Flash.
  • Handsome Lech: Flashman himself.
  • High Dive Escape: Lord Cardigan does this after Flashman catches him and Flashman's wife in a Bedroom Adultery Scene.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Basically every character that appears.
  • Honey Trap: Flashman is the victim of several of these (in Royal Flash; Flashman and the Angel of the Lord - twice! -; and Flashman and the Redskins) and he never does seem to recognise the signs he is walking into one.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: in Royal Flash, Flashman—while disguised as a Danish prince—beds down one of the local housemaids, and reflects if anything came of it—and, if it did, whether the kid ever thought himself to be the son of a prince. If so, he could truly be called an ignorant bastard.
  • Imperial China: Seen in its later days during the Taiping Rebellion; Flashman makes occasional references to the later Boxer Rebellion.
  • Karma Houdini: Lampshaded ruthlessly, but Harry plays it less straight than you'd suppose, other than getting out alive.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Harry usually survives with life and reputation intact, but only after his actions have come around to bite him. In particular everytime he does some especially bad he very swiftly suffers karmic payback (ie. pushing a woman out of a cart they are escaping in to lighten the load only to fall out himself moments later). He never notices the connection.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Fraser presents himself as editing Flashman's memoirs, going so far as to "correct" historical inaccuracies.
    • He even goes as far as correcting Flashman's spelling of a name in a footnote by suggesting that Flashman had never seen the name written down
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Frank, a.k.a. Standing Bear, is Flashy's son by Cleonie. Like Flashy himself, he has a mile-wide streak of scoundrel in him, so naturally Flashman takes a great liking to him.
  • Mad Brass: 19th century British army, so...
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Sulieman Usman in Flashman's Lady is a particularly good example, as is the son of the Rupert of Hentzau equivalent Flashman encounters in the novella The Road to Charing Cross.
  • Miss Kitty: Susie Willinck, a New Orleans madame Flashman encounters in Flash for Freedom and Flashman and the Redskins
  • Morality Pet: Elspeth, in a way. Of all of Flashman's women, she's the only one he returns to again and again.
  • National Stereotypes: Flashman's father-in-law is a dour, canny, miserly, vocally Presbyterian Scot. Admittedly his cowardice is rather unScottish but otherwise he is practically the living embodiment of the frugal Scotsman stereotype.
  • Nice Guy: Scud East in Flashman at the Charge, in complete contrast to Flashman himself.
  • Noble Savage: Averted like all hell. Flashy finds them no better (but in many senses no worse) than the Europeans or the Americans, though he does admire individuals like the Yawner, who would later become famous as Geronimo, and Mangas Colorado. And Sonsee-array, of course.
  • Noodle Incident: Flashman has a tendency to namedrop other campaigns he's served in - and not just from previous installments. The American Civil War is the most famous, but Flashman also mentions adventures in Mexico, Paraguay, The River War and the Boxer Rebellion without elaboration. Chalk this up in part to Author Existence Failure.
  • Orient Express: In Flashman and the Tiger, Flashman travels on the train's first journey as a guest of the journalist Henri Blowitz.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Flashman fooled his contemporaries by presenting himself as an honest and humble soldier, and often wonders whether Elspeth's seeming stupidity is a put-on as well.
  • Omniglot: One of Flashman's great talents is the ability to learn languages preposterously quickly.
    • Flashman claimed that the best way to learn a language is in bed with a hooker that speaks that language. He said that he learned more Greek from one encounter with a Greek whore than in all his years at Rugby. Language is one of his three self-proclaimed talents, along with horses and women.
  • Politically Correct History: Consciously subverted, as Flashman's opinions are those of the more bigoted men of the time.
  • Public Domain Character: Not only is Flashman this, but one novel has unnamed characters who are clearly Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, and another parodies The Prisoner of Zenda. (Although according to Flashman, his own tale-telling is what gave Anthony Hope the idea for Zenda.) Flashman himself shows up in several novels set in his heyday, including two by S.M. Stirling.
    • Tom Brown himself turns up in Flashman's Lady and Scud East, Tom Brown's friend, appears briefly in Flashman, is a secondary character in Flashman at the Charge, and gets killed at the Battle of Cawnpore in Flashman and the Great Game.
  • Red Right Hand: Count Ignatieff has one blue eye and one which is half-blue, half-brown. Although Flashman remarks that women find it an appealing trait, it serves to mark him as someone you shouldn't mess with.
  • Sadist Teacher: The teacher in question is the real individual Thomas Arnold who is presented as angelic in Tom Brown's Schooldays. However, Flashman actually deserves his ire. There is also a recurring villain who Flashman compares to Arnold, John Charity Spring, who is a brilliant Oxford don... turned Psycho for Hire slave-trader.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Used in Flashman at the Charge with Ko Dali's daughter.
  • Sherlock Scan: Flashman gets one from the man himself in Flashman and the Tiger, but between his deliberate disguise and the Prussian-style dueling scars he got in Royal Flash, Holmes misidentifies him as a German sailor.
  • Shown Their Work: For all their tongue-in-cheek humour, the Flashman novels are based on a lot of serious historical research by the author. Fraser never indulges in info-dumps however, and relegates a lot of the background to Author's Notes at the end of the books. note 
  • Shotgun Wedding: Flashman's marriage to Elspeth was forced by old man Morrison after Flashy seduced Elspeth on a river bank.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Abraham Lincoln's personality as depicted in the books seems to use something like this as Obfuscating Stupidity. Very few people see through Flashman before it's too late: Lincoln is one of them.
  • Thrifty Scot: Flashman's father-in-law, though he earns some of that money in unsavoury ways.
  • Try to Fit That on a Business Card: By the time he is supposed to be writing his memoirs, Flashman's full name and title is Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE.
    • Full, hell. Those are just the British ones. If we include all his foreign awards and titles (as Fraser does in Flashman on the March), the results end up taking two entire pages.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Outright unskilled is probably too far but when faced with master swordsman like Rudi Starnberg Flashman's considerable strength (aided by terror induced desperation) help keep him the fight.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Fraser occasionally ascribes historical memories to the poor memory of an aged, hard-drinking Flashman.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Again, to the maximum possible. Above-mentioned bigotry aside, Flashman is a pathological liar, cheat and coward with a vengeful mean streak whenever he's in a position of power over anyone. For a while he was even an unrepentant rapist, although he repented when he was chained to that dungeon wall, didn't he just... and unlike all his other repenting, this one stuck, probably when the author realised he'd overdone the nastiness and although a cowardly, murdering bully could be sympathetic a rapist really couldn't. Flashman decides that rape is risky and not actually much fun, without ever demonstrating something as out of character as a moral objection.
    • Flashman actually says he has always avoided rape in the first novel, after his first and only rape. He himself felt it to be nasty and messy, although it was less a moral objection than a personal distaste.
  • White Sheep:- Flashman's son, who mortifies his hard-living father by becoming an Anglican priest.
  • Would Hit a Girl:- Several times.
  • Yes-Man: or, as Flashy would put it, "toadying". Flashman is a master toady.
    • Tommy Bryant from Flashman and Flash For Freedom! also counts.

FingersmithHistorical Fiction LiteratureFlight
The First CircleLiterature of the 1960sFlowers for Algernon

alternative title(s): Flashman
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