Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Flashman - Chapter 4
Chapter 4 of Flashman is a real game changer for the character and the series in general. It is for me anyway, it also has the introduction of one of my favourite characters, not just in this series, but in fiction generally.
Harry is in Scotland and he doesn’t much care for the place. The climate is wet and the people are rude. I found it amusing that Flashman calls someone else rude, when he himself is so terribly rude to everyone, unless he can see some sort of opportunity in being polite. He’s in Scotland because the working class are sick and tired of being underpaid, overworked and poorly treated in general and are rising up against the ruling class. Flashman, who at this stage of his life, has only a rudimentary grasp of anything outside his own life, is on the side of the factory owners and aristocracy. He is however concerned about the enlisted men, as most of them come from similar backgrounds to the oppressed workers and he’s not entirely certain of their allegiances should push come to shove.
As an officer, Flashman is billeted with a local factory owner by the name of Morrison. Morrison is a miserable, hypocritical, cowardly penny pincher. He reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge, as Flashman seemed to associate with many literary types it’s entirely possible that Dickens did base his famous miser on the Scottish factory owner. Unfortunately for Morrison he has 4 daughters. Flashman’s reactions on meeting the girls are as follows: Agnes, buxom and darkly handsome - she would do. Mary, buxom and plain - she would not. Grizel, thin and mousy and still a schoolgirl - no. Elspeth was like none of the others. She was beautiful fair-haired, blue-eyed and pink-cheeked, and she alone smiled at me with the open, simple smile of the truly stupid. Despite Flashman’s description of Elspeth as being stupid, I think it was love (lust?) at first sight.
In an effort to have his wicked way with Elspeth Morrison, Flashman plays the manly, dutiful British army officer for the family until he can get his chance. The opportunity arises when there’s a riot in the town and only Elspeth and her father are at home. Harry offers to escort Elspeth to safety in Glasgow, although he does observe that the girl is unconcerned about any possible danger, seemingly more interested in admiring her reflection in the window than in being spirited to safety.
It is a pleasant evening, and the scenery along the Clyde is nice. One thing led to another, and Miss Elspeth Rennie Morrison became the latest notch on Harry Flashman’s bedpost. Flashman did note that for a novice Elspeth seemed very willing and quite able. Her innocence shows when she inquires if that they had just done could be referred to as fornication and why the minister seemed so set against it. It didn’t bother our ‘hero’ that he had just deflowered a beautiful young woman who didn’t really understand what they were doing, but more that not realising the enormity of the act she could blithely confess it to her mother 'Mama, you'll never guess what Mr Flashman and I have been doing this evening...’ . By and large something of that sort does occur and in the face of an angry, but ineffectual Morrison, Flashman feels it is best to move lodgings.
He hasn’t been out of the Morrison household all that long when a flinty eyed lawyer by the name of Abercrombie calls on him. He’s Elspeth’s uncle and demands that Flashman marry the girl, or be called out. Initially Flashman refuses and tries to bluff his way out of the situation by bringing up his reputation as a duellist. Abercrombie is a no nonsense type, who can see Flashman for what he is and will be only too pleased to accept a challenge on behalf of his niece’s honour. Realising that he could be in trouble, and with no one like Bryant to call on, Flashman reluctantly agreed to marry Elspeth, although her uncle seemed to really look forward to the opportunity of publicly humiliating the young British officer.
When the recently wed couple returned from their brief honeymoon a letter from Cardigan was awaiting Harry. The contents were going to change his life. In it Cardigan suggested that Flashman may wish to enjoy married life, so wouldn’t want to return to the Hussars. A panicked Flashman returned immediately to London with Elspeth. In a private meeting with Cardigan, Harry found out the real reason for his dismissal from the Hussars. Flashman is a snob, but he’s got nothing on the Earl of Cardigan. The aristocrat doesn’t care if one of his officers is married, it’s more who Flashman has chosen to wed. It doesn’t matter if Elspeth’s father has more money than Midas, he’s a commoner and Scottish one at that, it’s a personal humiliation to Cardigan that one of his nobly born officers is married to a common factory owner’s daughter. Cardigan says that India is the place for Flashman, it’s been the making of many a young army officer before.
This was exactly what Harry wished to avoid by joining the Hussars in the first place. He has an aversion to the colonies in general. To him they’re unpleasant, uncivilised, dangerous places. All Harry Flashman wants to do is play fast and loose in London, and let his pretty uniform and magnificent whiskers attract the pretty young things like moths to a flame. Precious little chance of being able to do that in India. Damn Elspeth’s iron backboned uncle!
Not entirely to Flashman’s surprise, his father agrees with Cardigan. Flashman’s immediate response is to resign from the service. Buck Flashman tells Harry that he can do that, but he’ll have to make his own way if he does, he won’t get a penny out of him from that point on. Buck doesn’t lie where money is concerned. Harry behaves like a spoilt child denied a treat, but Buck stands firm. He even tells Harry that he’s a bad lot, as was his grandfather, but India could be the making of him. He has to take responsibility for his own actions, and going to India is part of that and may even change him for the better. Flashman believes his father’s stand is mostly out of spite, and no doubt there’s a fair amount of that in there, but I believe Buck does think Harry needs to grow up and forcing him to go to India may do the trick. Then of course there’s Elspeth. Harry blames Elspeth for his current situation, and that’s not the case. Buck won’t have it. In a very short time he’s grown fond of Elspeth, he may have even wished the girl was his daughter, and Harry not being around for a long time will in the long run be better for her. Flashman shows some of the depth of his feelings for Elspeth when he says that what upsets him most about his father during this exchange is that he does not believe Harry cares a button about Elspeth. Harry doesn't really fall in love with anyone, not in the true sense of the word, he does kid himself that he was in love with Lola Montez (Royal Flash) and Lakshmibai (Flashman in the Great Game), but the only woman he has ever truly loved is Elspeth.
I need to finish this off by talking a bit about Elspeth. I love Elspeth Flashman. She is one of the best characters George MacDonald Fraser ever created. Many see her through Harry’s eyes, as an indulged airhead. She is most definitely indulged, she’s 'Daddy’s little princess', Morrison’s favourite of his 4 girls, but she is not, as Harry often asserts, stupid. She’s certainly naïve and uncomplicated, but I think she’s highly intelligent. She’s aware of her affect on people, it later becomes apparent that women want to be her and men want to be with her, and she uses it to her best advantage. She does genuinely love Harry, too. Once they’re married, you slight Harry Flashman at your own peril! It’s a shame that Flashman does spend so much time away from home and therefore Elspeth, because readers are deprived of her so very often. Glumly, Harry is left packing his bags for India.