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Literature / Flashman

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Damn' yer eyes!

I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century...I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I'll give you chapter and verse.
Sir Harry Paget Flashman, From the Flashman Papers 1839-1842

The Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser are a Picaresque series of adventures, starring Harry Flashman. They are presented as the memoirs of an infamous Victorian war hero who describes his adventures as a bully, rapist, lecher, backstabber, and coward. The author had a fondness for Refuge in Audacity and strove to make his stories—narrated by the eponymous rogue from the perspective of his comfortable retired life—as deliciously offensive as possible.

The character Flashman is taken from the Victorian novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, where he is presented without any redeeming qualities. He has almost no redeeming qualities in Fraser's books either, except from crystal-clear powers of observation and real affection for his wife Elspeth and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In fact, these last two are the only categories of people in the world he's prepared to risk his own life for. Like his latter-day literary child Ciaphas Cain, there is the occasional indication that Flashy doth protest too much and is braver than he thinks he is - but unlike Cain, even if this is the case, cowardice is only one aspect of the bullying, self-centered, and misogynistic Flashy's awfulness. Of course, given the many military catastrophes and disasters of the 19th-century British Empire, frequently in the situations Flashy finds himself in "being a coward" also counts as "being the Only Sane Man" (certainly, a certain George Armstrong Custer should have retreated when Flashman advised it).


The novels are extremely well-researched, and Flashman encounters pretty much anyone who was famous during the Victorian times, as well as living through most of the great political movements and scandals of the era.

    The Flashman Papers, in chronological order 

  • Flashman (1839-1842): The first instalment begins with Flashman's expulsion from Rugby School, his entry into the Army, and his adventures in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
  • Royal Flash (first part, 1842-43): Flashman meets Lola Montez and Otto von Bismarck in London.
  • Flashman's Lady (1843 - 45): Flashman finds himself in hot waters after a cricket match between Rugby and England ends up causing a pan-Indian Ocean adventure as Flashman, his wife, and, worst of all, his father-in-law, find themselves abducted by pirates and enslaved by Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar.
  • Flashman and the Mountain of Light: Flashman is given the (very much unwanted) mission of spying on the Maharani Jind Kaur of the Punjab and intriguing against the Sikh Khalsa in the run-up to the Anglo-Sikh War.
  • Royal Flash (second part, 1847-48): Flashman takes an ill-advised trip to Munich and finds himself tangled up in Bismarck's well as in the artful Montez and the delightful Duchess Irma von Strackenz.
  • Flash for Freedom!: After being framed as a card sharp and almost killing his accuser, Flashman is sent out of the country as supercargo on the illegal slave ship Balliol College by his father in law until the scandal blows over. Flashman must dodge the Dahomey Amazons, the British laws against slave trading, the American laws against slave-stealing, and Balliol College's insane Latin-quoting captain, John Charity Spring.
  • Flashman and the Redskins, "The Forty-Niner" (1849-50): Ending Flash for Freedom! still stuck to Spring and wanted for perjury, murder, and impersonating a naval officer, Flashman escapes New Orleans as wagon-captain of Miss Susie Willinck, a brothel madam and old flame who is taking her business to San Francisco to, er, service the needs of the California gold rushers. But the Mimbreno Apache conspire to throw a tomahawk into Flashy's best-laid plans.
  • Flashman at the Charge (1854-55): "Forward the Light Brigade! Was there a man dismayed?" Damn right there was, Flashman, who finds himself galloping towards the Russian guns with the Light Brigade and, latterly, fleeing headlong across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with the sadistic Nikolai Ignatieff in hot pursuit.
  • Flashman in the Great Game (1856-58): Wintering at Balmoral with Queen Victoria, Flashman is sent to India by Lord Palmerston to investigate rumours of an impending uprising by the sepoys. After trying (and failing) to seduce the Rani of Jhansi, Flashman finds himself fighting - on both sides, naturally - of the 1857 War of Indian Independence.
  • Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (1858-59): Caught in flagrante whilst recharging in Calcutta following the events of Flashman in the Great Game, Flashman prudently takes the next mail packet to Cape Town before the jealous husband tracks him dwn - but there he bumps into an old and unhappy acquaintance. Before he knows it, he's been shanghaied to Baltimore and finds himself caught up in a train of conspiracy that is hurtling headlong to the sleepy Virginia town of Harper's Ferry...
  • Flashman and the Dragon (1860): Seduced by the promise of a dalliance with a beautiful minister's wife, Flashman agrees to accompany a cargo of opium into Hong Kong - and so begins a breakneck adventure in Taiping Rebellion-shattered China, as Lord Elgin's army marches steadily towards Peking.
  • Flashman on the March (1867): Most unwillingly, Flashman finds himself on a secret mission to incite rebellion against the mad king Tewodros II, as Abyssinia is riven with rebellion and foreign invasion. Still, Africa has its charms in the form of the ravishing Queen Masteeat of the Wollo Galla...
  • Flashman and the Redskins "The Seventy-Sixer" (1875-6): Flashman and his wife Elspeth are holidaying in Washington DC when Flashman encounters old comrade George Armstrong Custer and the beautiful Ms Arthur B. Candy. But not everything is as it seems. An old face from Flashman's past is plotting terrible revenge, and events are in motion that will sweep our reluctant hero inexorably towards the blood-soaked grass of the Little Bighorn.
  • Flashman and the Tiger, "The Road to Charing Cross" (1878): Flashman finds himself at the Congress of Berlin to try and steal a copy of the Treaty of Berlin, compelled by French journalist Henri Blowitz and tempted by the beautiful French spy Caprice. The caper goes off without a hitch...but other eyes are fixed on Flashy.
  • Flashman and the Tiger (1879): Holidaying in South Africa, Flashman finds himself hurtling headlong from the carnage at Isandl'wana straight into the mission station at Rorke's Drift in the company of the Captain John Sebastian "Tiger Jack" Moran.
  • Flashman and the Tiger, "The Road to Charing Cross" (1883-84): Picking up where we left off, Flashman finds himself riding the inaugural journey of the Orient Express and in the company of Henri Blowitz, the beautiful Princess Kralta, Kaiser Franz-Josef II of Austria and, to his horror, Otto von Bismarck.
  • Flashman and the Tiger, "The Subleties of Baccarat" (1890-91): In Yorkshire ("a sort of English Texas") for the Doncaster Cup, Flashman finds himself lodging at Tranby Croft with Elspeth and the Prince of Wales, bored rigid. But a scandal at the baccarat tables soon offers him a chance for some amusing devilment.
  • Flashman and the Tiger (1894): Flashman finds himself in a race against time to save the honour of his granddaughter Selina, and ends up meeting one of the 19th-century's other great literary creations.
And finally, two of Fraser's other novels feature Flashman in some capacity:

  • Black Ajax (1810): Not a Flashman story itself, it's a fictionalised account of the life of bareknuckle boxer Tom Molineaux. Instead, Flash's father Henry Buckley Flashman is a major supporting character.
  • Mr American (1909-1914): Also not a Flashman story itself, Mr American follows the travels of Mr Mark Franklin, a retired Nevadan silver prospector who returns to England to see his roots. The octogenarian Flashy, wits sharp as ever, makes several appearances.

Order of Publication: Flashman (1969), Royal Flash (1970), Flash for Freedom (1971), Flashman at the Charge (1973), Flashman in the Great Game (1975), Flashman's Lady (1977), Mr American (1980) 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)

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


This series has examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Flashman and the Dragon ends with Flashman attempting to blackmail the woman who tricked him into gun-running past Chinese authorities. It rapidly becomes clear that she has outwitted him, and the book ends with her husband, thought missing, and a shadowy figure asking a clearly drugged Flashman if he is enjoying his drink and clearly intending him mischief. If Fraser intended to delve into this any deeper, he passed before he had the chance; the next chronological story takes place seven years later in Abyssinia, and the incident is never mentioned again.
  • The Ace: Parodied and subverted with Flashman himself. His countrymen see him as this, but in reality he's a Dirty Coward, obsessive womaniser, and overall devoid of morality.
  • Action Survivor: Flashman himself. He may be a spectacular coward, but he's also big, strong, and cunning enough to get himself out of trouble when trouble comes calling.
  • Actually, I Am Him: Akbar Khan.
  • Affably Evil: Akbar Khan, Rudi von Starnberg and his son, and of course Flashman himself.
  • Anti-Hero: Flashman is an Unscrupulous Hero who cares only about himself and what he can get out of a situation.
  • Anti-Villain: Suleiman in Flashman's Lady. While he kidnaps Elspeth with the intent of forcing her into marriage, he treats her otherwise honourably and seems to be genuinely in love with her. He even tries to save Flashman from Malagasy soldiers without an ulterior motive. Plus, it would be difficult to argue that he is a worse man than Flashman.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: At the beginning of Flashman and the Redskins, Flashman is wanted for "murder, slave-stealing, impersonating a naval officer, false pretences, theft, perjury and issuing false bills of sale".
  • Artistic License – History: While Fraser is known for his careful research, he does occasionally slip. He portrays the Underground Railroad as much more organized and far-reaching than it was, and also invents a pre-1865 precursor of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Ascended Extra: From Tom Brown's Schooldays.
    • The cabin boy who Spring sells to the Dahomeys returns as Sebastian Moran, the story's main antagonist, in Flashman and the Tiger.
  • Author Avatar: George Mac Donald Fraser was perfectly aware his conservative political views and as the century grew older, his non-politically correct social opinions were making him more and more of a dinosaur in a Britain that he felt was losing touch with him (and expressly not the other way around). It is very possible the fictional reactionary Victorian Flashman was the perfect vehicle for his being able to present personal opinions he knew he'd be castigated for, if he expressed them in any other context.
  • Author Tract: Some of the later installments feature lectures on the British Empire's achievements and slams at modern Political Correctness. That said, these rarely interfere with the actual story.
  • Badass Whiskers: Flashman's "tart-catchers".
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Flashman, certainly later in his career, seems to be rather adept at talking his way out of certain situations. He certainly seems proud of the fact that he once convinced Jefferson Davis that he was only there to fix the lightning rod.
  • 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. He even tries to kill Brown over it before Flashman shoots him.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: In one of the novels, Flashman catches Lord Cardigan with his wife. (Though it is never made clear whether it was a prearranged tryst, or Cardigan intending to rape Elspeth.)
  • 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 Sikh defeat in the First Anglo-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.
    • During the Battle of Little Big Horn, Flashman ends up accidentally shooting and killing General Custer.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Caprice showing up just in time to disarm and kill Rupert von Starnberg before he can execute Flashman at the climax of "The Road to Charing Cross".
    • Flashman himself Double Subverts this in the same story when he interrupts von Starnberg's attempt to kill Franz Josef seconds before he breaks into the room. Whilst he is easily overpowered by the Holnup assassins, the commotion rouses the guards and allows them to pull a Big Damn Heroes of their own.
    • Subverted in "Flashman and the Tiger": Flashman's about to pull one by killing Colonel Moran, only to realize he's being arrested for the murder of Ronald Adair.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: It's heavily implied that Flashman himself, who in Flashman and the Great Game calculates that he has slept with 478 women ("not counting return engagements"), is well-endowed.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: During Flashman's adventures, he often witnesses both sides of a conflict behaving equally immorally.
  • 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.
  • Brainless Beauty: Flashy's wife, Elspeth: a ravishing beauty well into her middle age, and not two brain cells to rub together—unless, as is often hinted, it's all a facade. Certainly she seems about as randy as Flashman himself when it comes to the opposite sex, yet extremely adept at disguising it.
  • 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 Caligula: Ranavalona I of Madagascar, King Gezo of Dahomey and Emperor Theodore of Abyssinia aren't the most sane or humane of rulers, to put it mildly.
  • 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.
  • Cowardly Lion: Despite his admitted cowardice, Flashman is a dab hand at fighting when he has to. Though he dodges danger as much as he can, and runs away when no one is watching, after the Piper's Fort incident, he usually controls his fear and often performs bravely. Almost every book contains one or more incidents where Flashman has to fight or perform some other daring action, and he holds up long enough to complete it. For instance, he is ordered to accompany the Light Brigade on its famous charge and rides all the way to the Russian guns. However, most of these acts of 'bravery' are performed only when he has absolutely no choice and to do anything else would result in his being exposed as a coward and losing his respected status in society, or being shot for desertion. When he can act like a coward with impunity, he invariably does.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Subverted - the cowardly and slinky Flashman is a Big Guy of appropriate physical strength, a very good swordsman, proficient with cavalry lance and brags about his ability with horses. In each book there is at least a scene where he has no way to run and uses his strength to fight ferociously. What keeps him back most of the time is lack of courage, not physical inadequacy.
  • Dated History: Some of the novels suffer from this on account of recent historical research by scholars accessing new primary sources in Afghanistan and India from the original languages. Fraser at the time he wrote the books relied on the then available British sources and his own, very good, intuition, and as such his account of the Afghan Wars and the Indian Mutiny while entertaining as always is not exactly insightful as education. In general, Fraser takes as given that "the Great Game" was an active thing and that Imperial Russia's designs on India were real, when modern historians like Peter Hopkirk and William Dalrymple have seen the Great Game as an exaggerated diplomatic issue on the part of the British, and used more as an Excuse Plot to ensure there was something to do for bored officers than of any practical diplomatic concerns.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Elspeth in Flashman's Lady. Besides being actively involved in the story for once, her diary entries are also woven into the plot, their romantic tone providing a counterpoint with Harry's tell-all cynicism.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Flashman is an arrogant, womanizing chauvinist, which would not be out of place for his time period. He openly dismisses different cultures he encounters, although Flashman does stand out as an equal-opportunity cynic, though; his opinion of his peers is little better.
    • Flash For Freedom! is made of this trope. Flashy is able to admit that Indian soldiers are skilled under the righ circumstances. Flashman like most of his fellow officers maintains a warrior-caste sentimentality and romanticism about Sikh and Ghazi troops, but in general he doesn't consider them very highly or see them as having identities beyond being soldiers.
    • 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. Of course Fraser like others is probably mocking the Global Ignorance of Americans of his time.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Fraser presents himself as editing Flashman's memoirs, going so far as to "correct" historical inaccuracies. He even goes as far as explaining Flashman's (mis)spelling of a name in a footnote by suggesting that Flashman had never seen the name written down.
  • 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.
    • In Flashman's Lady the possibility, or as Harry sees it the near certainty, he will fail Elspeth is as terrifying to him as death itself.
  • 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. In Flashman and the Redskins Harry comments on his wife's 'cold courage'.
    • 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: Surprisingly averted. Flashman's wife is as lecherous as he is, and Flashman is remarkably tolerant of this - objecting only when her conquests are a little too obvious (and he makes an equal amount of effort to keep his affairs from her knowledge) or if it's with someone he hates.
    • 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.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted in Flash for Freedom!, in which the rape of male captives by the Dahomey Amazons is Played for Horror and part of a Fate Worse than Death inflicted upon them.
    • And then played straight in Flashman and the Dragon when Yehonala rapes Flashman.
    • An attempt by an overweight, somewhat unattractive Abyssinian concubine to rape Flashman in his sleep in Flashman on the March is Played for Laughs.
  • Dragon Lady: The future Dowager Empress Cixi in the appropriately named Flashman and the Dragon.
  • Dumb Blonde: The beautiful, golden-locked Elspeth isn't very bright.
  • 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.
  • Epigraph: The first novel opens with the following epigraph from the novel from which Fraser borrowed Flashman:
    One fine summer evening Flashman had been regaling himself on gin-punch, at Brownsover; and, having exceeded his usual limits, started home uproarious. He fell in with a friend or two coming back from bathing, proposed a glass of beer, to which they assented, the weather being hot, and they thirsty souls, and unaware of the quantity of drink which Flashman had already on board. The short result was, that Flashy became beastly drunk. They tried to get him along, but couldn’t; so they chartered a hurdle and two men to carry him. One of the masters came upon them, and they naturally enough fled. The flight of the rest excited the master’s suspicions, and the good angel of the fags incited him to examine the freight, and, after examination, to convoy the hurdle himself up to the School-house; and the doctor, who had long had his eye on Flashman, arranged for his withdrawal next morning.
    Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's Schooldays
  • 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."
    • Also, with the exception of raping the Afghan lady Narreeman in the first book, he never commits rape again or so he likes to have us believenote . The fact that Narreeman got frighteningly close to castrating him in revenge might have played a part (although he also states while reflecting on the rape that he finds sex more enjoyable when the woman wants it as well).
    • Even Flashy is astonished that John Charity Spring would stoop so low as to sell his own cabin boy as a slave to the King of Dahomey in exchange for six Amazon slaves.
    • When Flashman has to watch the widows of an Indian ruler committing suttee, he comes away seething with rage at the cruelty and wastefulness of it.
    • He also finds loading slaves aboard a slave ship to be a sickening experience, and is appalled by what he witnesses at a Malagassy slave block, although he's even more appalled when no-one buys him.
    • And he is not favorably impressed by the casual cruelty of the Lady Yehonala later to be better known as the Dowager Empress Cixi while being held captive in the Imperial Palace in Beijing.
    • While participating in an Apache raid, Flashman sees one of the braves preparing to run down a baby with sadistic glee, and actually shoots him dead to save the infant, only afterwards thinking about how this could negatively affect him.
      • Similarly, during the Indian Mutiny, Flashman discovers a mutineer laughing sadistically about killing a seven-year-old child; he responds by blowing the man's balls off, commenting that with luck it'll take him a few days to die.
    • Throughout the series, Flashman is often horrified by what he sees various enemy forces doing, most notably the unimaginable cruelties perpetrated by the Chinese Manchus and Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar.
    • While visiting Dahomey, Flashman is shocked when he discovers the practice of human sacrifice, and when he witnesses several captive slavers being raped by the Dahomey Amazons.
  • 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.
    • In the first Flashman book, he gets an award, personally fitted by the young Queen Victoria with The Duke of Wellington standing by, for his work in holding a position during the Siege of Jalalabad. In actual fact, Flashman slept through most of the siege, and was forced by his own subordinate Sergeant Hudson at sword-point, to fulfill his duty and inspire the troops, and it was Hudson who truly defended the position, but he died, and all he gets is a sentence comemorating his courage, while Flashman gets the credit. Flashman even notes that even if the truth came out, Hudson would never gotten high honours anyway since as a sergeant it wouldn't mean that he had done more than his duty, whereas for an officer like Flashman, who bought his commission, what he did made him a hero.
    • 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.
  • False Rape Accusation: In Flash For Freedom!, a plantation owner's wife who Flashman has an affair with accuses him of raping her after they get caught together (although admittedly it's not like he's never raped anyone).
  • 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.
  • For the Evulz: Half the devilment that Flashman gets into is out of idle amusement, at least at first. For instance, his entire motivation for judiciously blowing up the Baccarat Scandal into the public eye is idle merriment. (For once, it doesn't backfire on him—but then again, Flashy is old and wise in sin by that time.)
  • 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.
    • Prince Albert has a German one.
  • Gambit Pileup: Flashman's part in the raid on Harper's Ferry comes as a result of this. Finding himself shanghai'd to Baltimore, Flashman is first dragooned by Mr Crixus of the Underground Railroad (portrayed by Fraser as far more extensive and organised than it was) to become Brown's second in command for the raid and help Brown establish a black Republic. He is then kidnapped by the Kuklos (a fictional Southern secret society and forerunner of the KKK) who want to ensure that Brown succeeds and thus start a war for Southern seccession but fails to create the slave republic. He is then kidnapped by Allan Pinkerton and the US secret service who want him to foil the raid from the inside to prevent Civil War.
  • 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.
  • Gratuitous Latin: John Charity Spring the slave trader never misses an opportunity to quote a line from Virgil or Tacitus in the original Latin.
  • Handsome Lech: Flashman himself.
  • Hidden Depths: Flashman occasionally shows concern for people other than himself - in Flashman, for example, he is actually offended when old man Morrison believes he doesn't really care about Elspeth. Elspeth, for her part, occasionally shows flashes of serious cunning and steady nerve, which Flashman never notices.
  • Historical Domain Character: With the exceptions of the characters from Tom Brown's Schooldays: Tom, Flashman, 'Scud' East, Flashman's family, and his wife, and Sherlock Holmes for some reason, most of the characters are historical figures, even ones, such as Sir Colin Campbell, Elspeth's Uncle, who might seem fictional.
  • Honey Trap: Flashman is the victim of several of these (in Royal Flash; Flashman and the Angel of the Lord - three times -; and Flashman and the Redskins) and he never does seem to recognise the signs he is walking into one.
  • Identical Grandson: In Flashman and the Tiger, Flashman mentions that one of his grandchildren has black hair and eyes, resembling him in his younger years.
  • Imperial China: Seen in its later days during the Taiping Rebellion; Flashman makes occasional references to the later Boxer Rebellion.
  • 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.
    • An in-universe one in the first book. After returning to England, Flashman sees a cartoon in Punch of himself fighting off a dozen Afghans, captioned "A Flash(ing) Blade". He finds it groanworthy.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Flashman describes Lola Montez in the most glowing terms. Even though the historical Lola wasn't unattractive, early photographs don't really show an exceptionally good-looking woman.
  • Karma Houdini: Lampshaded ruthlessly, but Harry plays it less straight than you'd suppose, other than getting out alive.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: A few examples:
    • Peter Omohundro, a slave-catcher from Flash For Freedom! who foils Flashman's unwilling attempt to smuggle an escaped slave to Canada, gets his comeuppance in Flashman and the Redskins when he recognises Flashman and tries to have him arrested, but gets killed by John Charity Spring in the ensuing brawl.
    • Several of the historical characters aren't punished in the books, but are mentioned in Fraser's footnotes to have received their punishment later (for example, John Joel Glanton and Mangas Colorado both get away with rape and mass murder in Flashman and the Redskins, but Fraser notes that Glanton was killed by the Sioux while trying to flee to Mexico and Mangas was captured by some American soldiers who provoked him into lashing out so they could kill him in self defence.)
    • Flashman himself, whilst always winning in the end, usually receives some form of punishment during the course of the book, such as being tortured by Afghans or being publicly humiliated after Tom Brown's School Days is published.
    • Rudi von Starnberg escapes in the climax of Royal Flash, but according to Flashman he's now missing, presumed killed in action following World War One.
    • Mr. Mandeville is last seen in Flash for Freedom! selling Flashman into white slavery. In Flashman and the Angel of the Lord it's mentioned that he descended even further into alcoholism and drank himself to death.
    • Related to the above; Annette Mandeville's False Rape Accusation against Flashman in Flash for Freedom! is never uncovered. Come Flashman and the Angel of the Lord and she's married Atropos, leader of the Kuklos, only to find that he's a complete pervert who gets off having his slaves rape her while he watches through a peephole. She is ultimately caught betraying the Kuklos and apparently killed off-page.
    • "Flashman and the Tiger" (one of the short stories in the book of the same name) reveals that John Charity Spring underwent this off-page after the events of Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, as he was hunted down and murdered by Colonel Moran.
  • Karmic Rape: A couple of the slavers in Flash For Freedom! get this treatment.
    • Annette Mandeville also gets this in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Flashman often gets this treatment, such as being flogged, almost castrated, breaking his leg and being shot in Flashman, being roasted alive in Flashman and the Mountain of Light and being stretched on the rack and then almost going mad after he is arrested and sentenced to be executed by being blown from a cannon in Flashman in the Great Game.
    • Illario and several other scalp-hunters being flayed alive by the Apaches also qualifies.
  • Lady of War: Ko Dali's Daughter, a lovely young woman who is also a brave Afghan warlord.
  • 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
  • Last Stand: Flashy has been in on a lot of these, from Gandamack and Piper's Fort in Afghanistan, to the Siege of Cawnpore in the Indian Mutiny, to Custer's Last Stand. And there are gaps in the Papers, at least so far, so he may have been in on others, such as Camerone in Mexico.
  • 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
  • Monumental Damage: Flashman and the Dragon deals with the real-life destruction of the Summer Palace ordered by Lord Elgin, the son of the same Lord Elgin who "acquired" the marbles from Greece.
  • Moral Myopia: Despite being the world's biggest philanderer, Flashman is outraged when he realizes that Elspeth has been with other men while he was in Afghanistan.
  • 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 and mocked. 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.
  • No Indoor Voice: Sang Kol-in-sen really likes to shout.
  • 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, and he tends to mention fooling Jefferson Davis into believing he was only there to fix the lightning rod whenever he successfully bullshits someone, 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.
  • Old-Timey Ankle Taboo: Flashman was born at just that point in time when attitudes were changing and prudishness descended on Britain. His whole life could be seen as a rebellion against Victorian morality - which at the other end of his life had become the ankle taboo. Something Flashman was somewhat opposed to.
  • 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.
    • Subverted in Royal Flash, where the entire impersonation ploy fails due to Flashman, impersonating a Danish prince, barely knowing any Danish.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted and lampshaded in Flashman on the March. Flash encounters both his old crony Speedicut note  and the historical figure Captain Tristram Speedy. A footnote from Fraser observes that a work of fiction would never feature two such similarly-named characters.
  • Politically Correct History: Consciously subverted, as Flashman's opinions are those of the more bigoted men of the time.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Flashman is a massive racist and misogynist.
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Joe Simmons gets a good one in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, calling John Brown out for his incompetence and stupidity.
    Joe: Min' ma place! An' whut place is that, hey? Ah'll tell yuh, John Brown - it's right heah, waitin' to git kilt, when Ah should've been in the hills this minute! That's wheah ma place should ha' been!
    Brown: You forget yourself, Joseph. Get to your post, my boy, and no more of this!
    Joe: Ah ain't forgettin' nothin'! You the one that's forgettin' - how we was goin' to free the niggers and make an army in the hills! Wheah is they - all the slaves you was goin' to free, that was goin' to come in to us? You nevah looked near 'em - you didn't try to rouse 'em! All you roused was hostages and that damn toy sword you wearin'! Call this a rebellion? Gittin' ourselves caged in heah like damn runaways in a bottom, gittin' shot down -
    Brown: Hold your tongue! You dare raise your voice to me? Are you mad? Or in fear of your life -
    —->Joe: [I] Ain't feared o' nothin'! Tis a lie - an' not th' only one you tol', neethah! You said we was goin' to clear out the arsenal, an' hightail! Well, you didn't! Jes' sat heah, doin' nothin' - an' Stevens tellin' yuh to git out, an' Kagi sendin' messages, an' you di'nt pay no heed, an' they gits theyselves kilt 'cos o' you foolin' an' playin' wi' yo' damn sword'n pistols! Whyn't you got while we cud? Even that rat Comber had tole you we dassn't stay heah! Why, you goddamn ole fool, you destroyed us! An' wuss, you betrayed us, an the coloured folks an' all, with yo' fine talk an' promises, an' gittin' us trapped an' all git kilt, 'cos high'n mighty John Brown ain't got the brains of a buzzard! An' didn't need to - cud ha' been in the hills right now, rousin' the niggers to tear up you white slavin' bastards if you'd jes' listened!
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Flashy frequently does this. In Flashman's Lady, he calls it the "Flashman's Gambit": When all else fails, run!
  • 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.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Flashman's marriage to Elspeth was forced by old man Morrison after Flashy seduced Elspeth on a river bank.
  • 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 
    • There's a story that Patrick Macrory, author of The Fierce Pawnsnote  read Flashman and was furious that Fraser seemingly lifted passages from his own work. Macrory supposedly threatened to sue Fraser, to the point of consulting lawyers... then read Fraser's end notes praising Macrory's book. The two became lifelong friends afterwards.
  • 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.
  • Take That!:
    • Flashman and the Tiger sees Flashman become tangled up in Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Empty House". Flashman is seconds from murdering Colonel Moran himself when he realises the Metropolitan Police are standing ready to apprehend him. Fraser consciously mocks the contemporary depictions of Holmes and Watson - Watson immediately sees through Flashman's disguise as a tramp, but is convinced by Holmes that Flashman must be a German-American sailor.
    • Fraser's opinion of the American Civil War as a "colossal bore", especially when American readers began to treat it as obviously the most important historical event Flashman witnessed:
    "An American wrote to me urging me to write it, saying it had to be the high point of Flashman's career. I wrote back saying: 'Son, it's a foreign sideshow. The Crimea, the Indian Mutiny, these were the important things in Flashman's life. Your civil war? He was so disinterested that he fought on both sides."note 
    • Flashman on the March, the last published novel in the series has an Author's Introduction and Footnotes that's more or less a Take That! to The War on Terror in general, and Bush and Blair in particular.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: In Flashman, Flashman is forced into fighting a duel after a brief affair with a fellow officer's lover. Flashman gains a free shot after promising a large sum of money to the pistol loader to give his opponent blanks in his gun, but rather than attempt to kill his opponent, instead delopes and accidentally shoots the top off a bottle thirty yards away, an action that gives him instant fame and the respect of Duke of Wellington.
  • Thrifty Scot: Flashman's father-in-law, though he earns some of that money in unsavoury ways.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The first book has British high command get virtually everyone killed through their own stupidity. To wit: all violence by the Afghan insurgents is ignored or swept under the rug because the commanders don't think it's in their interest to do anything; when an outright uprising occurs and an angry mob forms to kill sekundar Burnes they ignore it; when Burnes is actually killed they refuse to apprehend the guilty parties even when Akbar Khan offers them up on a plate because they don't want to offend the Afghans; McNaghten gets himself killed by going to talk to Akbar and ordering his reserves not to do anything if he's attacked; and when they eventually have to retreat due to high command's utter inability to fight back Elphy Bey makes things harder for the soldiers by preventing them from taking basic protection against the weather and consistently believing Akbar's blatantly untrue promises not to attack them. He also gives Akbar all the competent commanders as hostages when he asks without any protest and eventually goes to meet with him despite the fact that he's obviously going to betray him again, leading to him being arrested and dying in an Afghan jail.
    • Parkes from Flashman and the Dragon has a similar moment when he refuses to believe that the Chinese leadership are aware of the attacks on the British convoy and goes to talk to Prince Yi alone. Obviously he is immediately imprisoned in the Board of Punishments and tortured almost to death.
    • John Brown in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord comes up with an utterly inept plan to capture Harper's Ferry wherein he captures an armoury and then just sits there with a couple of hostages waiting for a relief force that obviously isn't coming, before getting most of the other commanders killed by sending them out with the hostages under a white flag even when it becomes apparent that the townsfolk will always just kill them. He also refuses to surrender even when the rest of the army is begging him to because he's still convinced they can win.
  • Trauma Button: Flashman occasionally relates symptoms of PTSD in his memoirs. In particular, he cannot stand the playing or singing of the military march "Garryowen" because it brings back a memory of wounded men singing it in a shed after the charge of the Light Brigade:
    I’ve heard it from Afghanistan to Whitehall, from the African veldt to drunken hunting parties in Rutland; heard it sounded on penny whistles by children and roared out by Custer’s 7th on the day of Greasy Grass — and there were survivors of the Light Brigade singing on that day, too — but it always sounds bitter on my ears, because I think of those brave, deluded, pathetic bloody fools in that Russian shed, with their mangled bodies and lost limbs, all for a shilling a day and a pauper’s grave — and yet they thought Cardigan, who’d have flogged ’em for a rusty spur and would see them murdered under the Russian guns because he hadn’t wit and manhood enough to tell Lucan to take his order to hell — they thought he was “a good old commander,” and they even cheered me, who’d have turned tail on ’em at the click of a bolt.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: Flashman's Lady, which is set on both Borneo and Madagascar.
  • 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 inaccuracies to the poor memory, narrow interests, and severe Lack of Empathy of an aged, hard-drinking Flashman. Flashy does try hard not to be this, but being a not-particularly-bright sociopath does rather limit your usefulness as a narrator.
  • 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 at least decided he wouldn't do it any more when he was subsequently tortured and realised it wasn't worth the hassle.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Emperor Theodore of Abyssinia is prone to having these, as is John Charity Spring.
    • Flashy himself has one at the end of Flashman in the Great Game after reading Tom Brown's School Days.
  • Villain Protagonist: Well, obviously.
  • War Is Hell: This is Flashman's perspective, although he isn't totally a pacifist:
    It isn’t important whether you win or lose so long as you survive. So long as your people survive. And that’s the only good reason for fighting that anyone ever invented. The survival of your people and race and kind. That’s the only victory that matters.
  • What the Romans Have Done for Us: Fraser doesn't deny the British Empire originated from purely economic motivations, but he points out that it did contribute to a great deal of good, especially the work of rank-and-file bureaucrats who governed on the ground.
  • White Sheep: Flashman's son, who mortifies his hard-living father by becoming an Anglican priest, and later bishop. Flashman's comment: "I can't believe I made the bastard."
  • 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.

The car was lost to sight as it turned through the gates and made towards the Palace, even as the lights on the balcony came up again and royalty reappeared. The singing swelled to a triumphant climax; Mr Franklin could imagine the monarch glimpsing the car with its eccentric occupant as it sped across the open space before the Palace — what in God’s name was the old villain going to say when he got inside and the Palace minions discovered he was an entirely unauthorised visitor bent only on relieving himself? Mr Franklin could not guess — but he had no doubt Sir Harry would think of something. He’d had a lot of practice.
-Mr. American, p526

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