Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Royal Flash - Chapter 3
The third chapter of Royal Flash covers the 3rd member of the unholy trio (Flashman, Bismarck and Montez). Harry and Elspeth are still trading on Harry's laurels from Afghanistan, but it is starting to wear thin and Harry has had Uncle Bindley put the feelers out to obtain a position befitting a hero of the Lion of Kabul's status. Harry will of course ensure that any position he accepts will be as far from combat as is possible. Whilst doing this he spends his time gadding about the city and by chance happens to see an advertisement for an exotic Spanish dancer calling herself Lola Montez. Harry goes to see her rehearsing and is surprised to see that she is none other than his former bed partner Rosanna James!
Harry Flashman is not a good person to have as an enemy and the way he and Lola parted (she threw a chamberpot at him) still rankles. He decides to ruin her new career. He could of course expose her as a fraud himself, but he has another person in mind to do the deed. When they were together Lola mentioned another old lover; the current Lord Ranelagh.
Flashman pays Ranelagh a visit and is not totally unsurprised to find him a rather unpleasant sort. Ranelagh is the living embodiment of the wealthy, titled mid 19th century nobility. Fraser rarely misses an opportunity to skewer the ruling class of the time, he's generally accurate, too. Flashman and Ranelagh don't like each other, but they're united in their mutual dislike of the Irish officer's wife, the former Mrs Betsy James. What Flashman plans to have Ranelagh do is pure vindictiveness and it rams home the point that he is a throughly objectionable character.
Lola's maiden performance is a disaster, not because of her dancing (Flashman is captivated, but reports from the time list her as only a modestly talented dancer), but because during her second dance Ranelagh calls her out as a fraud and she is forced to flee first the theatre, and then England altogether. This was something Fraser did regularly throughout the memoirs, and that is have his fictional anti-hero act as the catalyst for a very real incident. There are further reports of Lola Montez, most of which sound too fantastical to be entirely true. It struck me that Lola was the 19th century equivalent of today's internet celebrities. Another Flashman trait is exposed towards the end of the chapter. One of Lola's very real lovers was the composer Franz Liszt. Flashman is a dreadful name dropper, and he casually mentions that he and Liszt met and compared notes about their famous lover. While Flashman said Lola used to hit him with a hairbrush during sex to encourage him, she used a dog whip on Liszt, and he was rather a frail fellow.
While the chapter is entertaining I'm not sure it was entirely necessary. Readers were aware that Lola Montex and Flashman parted on bad terms, we were also aware of Harry's failings and his sheer vindictiveness. George MacDonald Fraser seemed to have a fascination for the scandals of the nobility of the 19th century and he liked to portray them in all their messy glory. This is an example of that little indulgence. In Chapter Four the real story behind Royal Flash should begin as the stage has now been set.