Friday, March 2, 2012

Flashman at the Charge - Chapter 1

The first chapter of Flashman at the Charge informs readers where and when in the old soldier's career this particular packet is and how he came to be sent to the Crimea in the first place. Flashman is thinking back on the conflict and blames Lew Nolan for drawing him into the celebrated Charge of the Light Brigade.

It is 1854 and while the battle over in the disputed territory between Turkey and Russia is brewing Flashman wants no part of it and goes about getting himself a job that will keep him at home, but at the same time preserve his reputation. This dismays Elspeth a little as she liked his old Cherrypicker uniform. There is some mention of their son; Havvy, here. The rather cute nickname is because his full name is Harry Albert Victor and he had trouble correctly pronouncing his name of Harry. Readers are also told that Morrison purchased a minor baronetcy before he popped his clogs and that Elspeth actually has a valid title to her name now. Something she, being a social climber and dreadful snob, really likes.

At a loose end Harry is looking for some devilry in a billiard hall and lights on a green young man from the continent who is touring England and has managed to slip his chaperone. Harry uses the boy to take a petty revenge on a friend by using a shaved billiard ball, gets the boy drunk and along with Speedicut leaves him for the bobbies to find.

George MacDonald Fraser did a great job in this early chapter of setting the scene with the looming war and talking about London at the time. There was actually movement of young men, who liked to wear all sorts of outlandish clothes and facial hair known as the 'moustache movement', they are likened in appearance at least to the 'hippies' of the 60's. It's not mentioned as to whether they had the same sort of social conscience or not.

Harry has an encounter with Elspeth while she's out riding in the company of Lord Cardigan. Cardigan's speech impediment (in his appearance in Flashman he spoke like Elmer Fudd on a bad day) is worse than ever, and it's galling to Harry that the old roue takes such an interest in his wife. The woman he once drummed Flashman out of his regiment for marrying! The episode ends in the bedroom with the implication that Elspeth likes a bit of role play. God! I love Elspeth Flashman! Flashman actually blames Cardigan for his experiences in Afghanistan, reasoning that if he hadn't been thrown out of the Hussars he never would have gone there, but he also never would have won the honours and reputation that he still enjoys. He neglects to consider that last.

Not long after this Flashman is summoned by one of the Crimean War's other key figures in Lord Raglan (interesting the impact that conflict had on fashion, it gave the world the cardigan, raglan sleeves and the balaclava), and told that he is wanted at court to look after Prince Albert's nephew Prince William of Celle.

Harry thinks he's landed on his feet, but may also be called to accompany the inconvenient relative over to the Crimea after all the trouble he's gone to so he could stay out of it. Albert doesn't think that the rank of captain is sufficient for the officer who chaperones his nephew, so Harry is immediately brevetted to colonel, not something he's averse to. What happens after is a shock, William of Celle is the young man he and Speedicut tried to lead astray not so long ago! Harry you really know how to pick them.

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