Monday, December 5, 2011

Flashman - Chapter 10

The 10th chapter of Flashman is mostly about the disastrous retreat from Kabul.

The British forces, which also included the families of the officers, along with a sizeable amount of camp followers, had their steps dogged by determined and effective Afghan fighters who took a considerable toll on the retreating army. While the Afghans certainly thinned the ranks I fancy that the cold weather killed more than the harrying enemy did. A lot of this chapter seems to be largely lifted from the accounts provided by the likes of Lady Sale and Colin Mackenzie. Both of these sources are referenced in the Notes and their works on the retreat recommended by George MacDonald Fraser. The retreat was also not helped by Elphinstone’s lack of leadership and the continual in fighting by many of the British commanders. This chapter gives a reader a bit of insight into the earlier tirade directed Elphy Bey’s way.

There are two non recorded incidents which directly concern Harry Flashman. One doesn’t have much of a bearing on the book, but it is written amusingly and it reinforces Harry’s lack of anything approaching a moral compass again. The other incident does have ramifications for the rest of the book.

Once they’re underway, with Betty Parker’s husband, off on his mission, Flashman makes his move on the army wife. He pops into her tent on the pretext of checking that she is both safe and comfortable. Flashman thinks he’s onto a sure thing here, as he’s laid the groundwork by feeling Mrs Parker up during a game of cards, and she didn’t protest. He gets a shock when he goes in for the ‘kill’ only to be hit across the face by an indignant and scandalised Betty Parker. When Flashman claims that she didn’t mind him having a grope earlier, and actually repeats the action (squeezing her breast) he is told by his intended victim that what he did is something all gentlemen do, it’s not much different to saying hello! To say Flashman is astounded would be understating it. He’s aware that some Victorian ladies had strange ideas when it comes to mixing with the opposite sex, but this one absolutely takes the cake. He apologizes for the misunderstanding but sets her straight, not all gentlemen do it, she must know some pretty odd ones if she’s been taught that it’s acceptable, and she should not allow it to continue as it gives men the wrong idea. As she never takes it further there must be something in Flashman’s words that get to her. I've never been sure if this was based on an incident that Fraser read about somewhere, or whether he just found the idea so preposterous that he decided to use it for comedic effect. Considering how many truly bizarre people and things in the Flashman's turn out to be true maybe this is too.

The second incident in Chapter 10 concerns Akbar Khan. Flashman is part of a delegation that meet with the Afghan prince to arrange cessation of the attacks on the army and the civilians with them. Akbar Khan is attended by a number of his own allies, one of whom is Gul Shah. Khan informs Flashman that Sher Afzul has died, as old men do (it’s not followed up, but highly likely that Shah killed his predecessor), and Shah is now Khan of Mogala. Flashman asks after Ilderim, and is told that Afzul’s son did not inherit because he favours the British, and that is out of fashion. I don’t believe Ilderim reappears in Flashman, but he does enter Flashman’s life again in Flashman in the Great Game.

Realising that the situation is now untenable and the only way he’ll get to India alive is to take matters into his own hands, Flashman informs Hudson and his remaining lancers that they’ve been given a special mission from the command and they have to take off now.

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