Thursday, February 2, 2012

Flash for Freedom - Chapter 1

I’ll begin by describing the cover. This time in keeping with the subject matter Flashman is dressed like a plantation overseer, complete with a coiled whip, he’s definitely channelling Simon Legree here. In the background King Gezo’s female honour guard are squaring off against a bunch of slavers. I have to remark here on how much more I like the current covers as opposed to the original copy I had of this which I got from a second hand store. Flashman was dressed in some sort of striped shirt and looked like he was getting ready to go out and play an afternoon of rugby, he was accompanied by 2 ladies, both presumably representative of women in the book, he also had vaguely reddish hair, which indicated that the artist didn’t pay a lot of attention to George MacDonald Fraser’s description of his hero.

There’s the by now familiar explanatory note before the text. Mostly it concerns itself with informing any new comer (one of the beautiful things about the books is that they are all, even this one, relatively standalone and can be read in any order and started anywhere, although I would recommend reading Flash for Freedom before Flashman and the Redskins) about the discovery of the packets, and a little bit about the argument over their authenticity. One different thing is the confirmation that they were written between 1903 – 1905. There’s also an odd move by Fraser, he took the step of partially editing the text, censoring Flashman’s profanities (he generally doesn’t use anything stronger than damn, but in the early days of the 20th century that wasn’t considered polite language) and blasphemies. Fraser claims that this was done by Elspeth’s younger sister Grizel, who presumably discovered the packet after Flashman’s death and altered it, although she gave it up partway through and she’s also inconsistent. The author probably did it in an effort to further the authenticity of the work, but he really just made work for himself and his publisher. It doesn’t add anything to the story.

Flashman explains that seeing a picture of former British Prime Minister Gladstone holding a truncheon took him on this journey down memory lane. The story picks up just after the end of Royal Flash. Not a lot has changed in the Flashman household, although Elspeth is pregnant. There are two things that bother Harry about this turn of events. One is that he’s not entirely sure that the child is his, and could conceivably cause some awkwardness if it doesn’t resemble either of them when it pops out, the other is that in an effort to ensure the baby’s safety Elspeth’s not particularly motivated to have sex with Harry. Elspeth is convinced that the baby will be a boy and she intends to name him Harry Albert Victor, after his papa and Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. Harry says that the child was in fact a boy and was named Harry Albert Victor. He went on to become a bishop! Flashman can’t work out how that happened, although I’d say it was because he was away on one adventure or another for most of the boys life and he was under the influence of his maternal relatives who were all God fearing Scots Calvinists.

Morrison suggests that Harry could occupy himself by getting into politics, it would pay well enough and at least mean he was contributing something to the family. Initially Harry’s not keen, but the more he thinks about it the more appealing the idea becomes. He also confesses at this point that he was unaware exactly how rich or power his father-in-law was. He knows now that the royal family and the country’s politicians danced to the tune played by Morrison and his peers. That, he says, is the way it has always been and probably always will. Considering that even a cursory glance at the news of today proves Harry’s assertion, suggests that he was more astute than he has been given credit for. George MacDonald Fraser, being a journalist by trade, was a fairly cynical type and he often shows that during the Flashmans.

In an effort to get into politics Morrison takes his son-in-law on a weekend at a country estate. Flashman muses on the death of the hunting weekends that he used to go on with friends, which were boys weekends where largely anything went. These country weekends are family affairs and everyone is on their best behaviour. Despite the enforced good behaviour Flashman is making the most of it and rubbing shoulders with the politicians, although he doesn’t much like Disraeli, curiously he wasn’t alone there. Disraeli was never liked by many of his contemporaries, possibly due to his background. He’s also trying his luck with young Fanny Locke, who would later go on to some small measure of fame as Fanny Duberley when she accompanied her officer husband on campaign in the Crimea. Things are going well until Fanny’s fiancé arrives with a fellow officer from the 8th Hussars; Tommy Bryant.

If you read my reread of Flashman you will remember Tommy Bryant was in Cardigan’s 11th Hussars with Flashman, and helped Flashman win his duel with Bernier by ensuring that the other officer’s pistol wasn’t loaded. Flashman promised Bryant 10,000 pounds for that, and never paid him. Bryant has been waiting for his chance at revenge and now he has it. Harry doesn’t help matters by remarking that the 11th must have been too rich for Tommy’s blood.

Bryant’s chance comes during a ‘friendly’ game of blackjack. Flashman is a good player, he’s what would have been known at the time as a sportsman, and he is, but he’s also a keen gambler. He and Fanny make a pair and are doing quite well until Bryant points out that Flashman is cheating. Harry hotly denies the charges, but then discovers 3 cards in his pocket! He knows Bryant is responsible, but can’t prove it and in a fit of rage goes after the other officer. Before anyone can prevent it Flashman has punched Bryant in the face and knocked him down the stairs. Even with all the other honours he’s won: the VC, the knighthood, etc… the memory of hitting Bryant is still one of his fondest. Initial fears are that he’s killed Bryant, and it is touch and go. Had Flashman known what the action was going to lead him into he would probably consider Bryant the lucky one.

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