Sunday, November 27, 2011

Flashman - Chapter 2

In the 2nd chapter of Flashman readers see the ‘heros’ true colours.

Despite his father’s volatile temperament the young Flashman does not seem overly concerned about his reaction to the news that his son has been expelled from Rugby. Possibly Harry realises even then that he and his father are not all that dissimilar and that neither of them have much love for Dr Arnold and his teachings. Although they have very similar characters there is one significant difference between Harry and his father. No one could ever call Buck Flashman a coward.

Readers also discover where the Flashman’s money came from, Harry’s grandfather was a nabob, who made a fortune out of the slave trade, and Harry even muses that there was more than likely some piracy involved. Although Buck married into respectability (Harry’s mother was a Paget, and according to Flashman they sit on the right hand of God), the family is still not well regarded, their coarse streak shows through generation after generation.

Although the older Flashman is not greatly concerned at his son’s plight being expelled, he still doesn’t really want him hanging around the Leicester estate. Even then he knew what Harry was like. Harry himself gave his future some thought on the journey home, and says he wants to join the army. Now why would a self confessed coward want to do something like that? The thing is Harry has no intention of ever seeing action or even serving overseas, and for that reason he chose his regiment carefully. Lord Cardigan’s 11th Hussars had recently returned from active duty in India, so were unlikely to be sent back or pressed into service unless absolutely necessary, being commanded by one of the rising stars of the British military in Cardigan they were well regarded, and most importantly to a young Harry they cut a fine figure in their uniforms. Buck Flashman’s first question is how much is it going to cost him? In the 19th century no one could get ahead in the British Army unless they had money or a good name, usually both, and the money was the most important thing. First you had to purchase a commission. A 17 year old like Flashman would be looking at shelling out for the rank of cornet or junior lieutenant, then there’s the uniform and horses on top of that, plus money for the officer’s mess and to keep up appearances. It all adds up. Flashman gives his opinion that even though positions aren’t generally bought now, the recent showing by the British army in South Africa hasn’t proved that it wasn’t a sound policy. It sounds as if Flashman is referring to the Boer War with his South African comment, which would suggest that this particular packet was written in the early 1900’s, post 1902. This is the first time that Flashman prevails upon his Uncle Bindley to use his family name of Paget and his considerable influence with the Horse Guards to get Harry the commission he wants with his preferred regiment. Uncle Bindley proved very useful in the early years of Harry’s career.

It is during his conversation with Uncle Bindley and listing his qualifications, such as they were, for the calvary that readers were made aware of two of Flashman's natural talents. He later claims to have 4: women, horses, languages and cricket. Here he mentions two of them: horses and languages. Flashman is an excellent rider, always has been, he's a natural born horseman, this will appeal to Cardigan, who appreciates a soldier who looks good in the saddle. Despite not being particularly good at the classics (Greek and Latin), Flashman does have an ear for languages, and picks them up very quickly. Both of these talents have saved his life more times than he comfortably cares to remember.

While this was being done Harry set his cap for his father’s mistress; Judy. She seemed receptive to his original advances, and even spent an afternoon ‘playing’ with Harry, but when he tried it on again he was rebuffed, with the woman telling him once for fun was fine, but she had a position and a name, and that afternoon was all he was going to get. Flashman’s mean streak shows, and he threatens to blackmail her, unfortunately for him Judy is made of sterner stuff and tells him to go ahead. He wasn’t expecting his bluff to be called and takes no further action, but he’s not a man to be scorned, and he darkly plots revenge. He tries apologising to her for his behaviour and when it is accepted, again attempts to force himself on her. It ends badly and in violence. Flashman proves, not for the last time, that he is no gentleman by hitting the woman. This particular action reinforces Harry Flashman’s amorality and readers wondered what exactly they were letting themselves in for by following this sort of character.

This chapter also contained the first of the footnotes. George MacDonald Fraser’s footnotes were a feature of the books. Some people found them a little irritating, but I thought they added to the authenticity of the manuscript and often contained some delicious historical nuggets that made the events covered really come alive. There are probably less of them in Flashman than subsequent volumes, but Flashman is one of the shortest packets at just shy of 300 pages in length in the paperback edition I’m using. George MacDonald Fraser quite often had Flashman’s memory for historical facts play him false, errors which he would then mischievously correct in the historical notes at the back of the book. They really made you wonder if somehow he hadn’t really stumbled across an actual historical document.

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