Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Flash for Freedom - some afterthoughts

As I said at the start of this that Flash for Freedom does differ from the two books that preceded it. It's in North America, I don't know if Flashman ever went to Canada, he spent most of his time on the continent either in the US or Mexico, but he seemed to have gone most other places and I can only imagine what sort of chaos he could have caused in Canada, so there may very well be an adventure there that never actually made it to print. Secondly at no stage is Flashman ever actually doing something for Queen and Country. He pretends to be a naval officer, but that's only to get himself out of trouble. It also ends differently as I have covered.

It seems to be an attempt by George MacDonald Fraser to make a comment on the slave trade, and in fact when you think about it slavery of one form or another is the continuing theme of the book. It begins with the downtrodden masses of England, who like many in similar straits in Europe were rising up in revolution at their plight (this was covered briefly at the end of Royal Flash) and it continued early in Flash for Freedom, it was largely how Harry came to think about this adventure and how Morrison managed to railroad him into having a go at politics. The slavery theme continues on the Dahomey and in the slave states of the United States, only the slaves in those positions can't rise up in the way the factory and mine workers in England could. George MacDonald Fraser liked to make comments on the hypocrisy of those in power in Victorian England, and he does it in Flash for Freedom. On the one hand they decry slavery, although they know it goes on and they largely allow it to, no one ever looked close enough at Morrison's business to realise that he profited from slavery and his ship was captained by an Englishman. On the other hand they allow and profit from legalised slavery amongst their own in the factories and the mines that were often owned and run by the very same aristocracy that railed against slavery in the colonies.

I do like Flash for Freedom, clunky title aside, and it introduces some of the most memorable characters from the entire series: John Charity Spring and Susie Willinck are two of them, not to forget the elfin Missus Mandeville. It's a great rip roaring tale from a bygone somewhat genteel age with riverboats and bustling ports and a gold rush underway. I couldn't shake the thought at the end that Harry wasn't out of the States yet and it wasn't going to be as easy as he thought, so there was more to the tale than first thought.

Three down and lots more to go. Join me again in March when Harry Flashman leads the Light Brigade into the Valley of Death.

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