Sunday, January 1, 2012

Royal Flash - Chapter 1

Before getting into the opening chapter of Royal Flash I'll have some words about the introductions and the cover. The cover for the 1999 paperback edition shows Flashman figged out as a royal complete with ermine lined cloak and sceptre. He wears his trademark smug smile under his magnificent calvary whiskers. There's no girl accompanying him on the cover, as is generally the case. In the background there's some of battle with cannons and castles.

In his explanatory note George MacDonald Fraser informs readers that Royal Flash takes place over two separate periods covering some months in 1842 - 43, and then in 1847 - 48. This is where the chronology started to move away. There's an indication that Flashman does cover the missing period elsewhere in his memoirs, but readers had to wait until book 6 (Flashman's Lady) and book 9 (Flashman and the Mountain of Light) to find out what the hero was doing between 1843 and 1847.

Right from the start of the opening chapter Flashman references other packets of his adventures, saying that if he really was the hero everyone supposed him to be, or even a half decent soldier (I think he's being a bit hard on himself there, although he wasn't much use at the front he does show a great grasp of strategy throughout the books and would have made a decent commander if he hadn't been continually forced to live up to his reckless hero reputation) then Lee would have won the Battle of Gettysburg and maybe even captured Washington. This is a reference to General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Forces during the American Civil War, and it is obvious that Flashman was also involved in that conflict as well as others throughout the world.

The narrative that the book covers begins in 1842 when Flashman is enjoying the laurels he won in the First Afghan War and raising hell with his old friend from Rugby: Speedicut. At this stage Harry is still licking his wounds from the fact that he believes Elspeth is regularly cheating on him, so gets his own back by doing the same to her. Mind you he's still never proved that Elspeth actually has ever cheated on him.

Harry's words about how things were back in the early 1840's running with the young blades tell the readers that he has a great deal of affection for the period, and is still bitter that Queen Victoria and her 'poker-backed' husband smothered the old ways with a lot of pious hypocrisy.

Whilst spending time in a gambling hell it is raided, and Flashman is nearly caught red handed. Speedicut holds off the traps while Flashman makes a getaway.

He takes refuge in a carriage hired by a beautiful woman called Marie Elizabeth Rosanna James (she would later be known to the world as Lola Montez) and a teutonic type who Flashman is informed is Otto von Bismarck, also soon to be better known to the world at large. He annoys Bismarck and makes off with his date. He has a torrid affair with Rosanna which also involves her using a hairbrush during sex to exhort her companions to greater efforts. He does later say that he cannot look at a hairbrush without thinking of his former lover. The meeting with the woman who would become known as Lola Montez is an interesting one in the books in general. Flashman describes her as THE loveliest girl he has ever seen in his life, now when you consider the many women Flashman has met and bedded, including his lovely wife Elspeth, that's quite a statement. Aside from Elspeth, Flashman has probably only ever fallen in love with two women, Lola Montez is one of them. The chapter ends with Flashman fleeing a greatly enraged Rosanna after refusing to come up to the mark when she was feeling amorous, as she very often did. He's made himself two dangerous enemies, and that's just the first chapter!

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