Monday, May 28, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game Chapter 7

A lot of chapter 7 of Flashman in the Great Game is more of the same from the previous chapter.

Jhansi did not escape the conflagration that was engulfing India at the time. The first half of the chapter is given over to descriptions of the atrocities in Jhansi. They’re very similar to those Flashman has seen elsewhere in the country. The main difference with this one is that Flashman didn’t see it first hand, but has to settle for Ilderim’s lurid commentary, told in his lyrical middle ages Arabic. A point of interest was that Fraser chose to lay the blame for what actually did happen in Jhansi squarely at the feet of the Rani. In actual history she always protested her innocence in these matters, there is considerable doubt about her innocence, and obviously Fraser sides with that camp.

Due to his attachment to Lakshmibai and his encounter with her Harry says that what Ilderim is telling him can’t be true. Ilderim puts Harry’s reluctance to believe down to his infatuation with the Rani. What he doesn’t understand is why Flashman is besotted with Lakshmibai when she’s one of Harry’s many conquests and he doesn’t feel that way about all of them. This brings up two points. My belief is that of all the many women Harry has encountered and bedded he only really had feelings of love for three of them. Elspeth of course, Lola Montez and Lakshmibai. Takes Away Clouds Woman may also qualify, but it’s hard to tell with her.  That feeling is why he can’t believe Lakshmibai would preside over the sort of massacre, which included women and children, that Ilderim tells him about. The other point is that I think it’s highly unlikely Harry ever slept with the Rani. He was very drunk that night and she was veiled for much of it. Even he says she moved like a nautch dancer, and I think that’s what she was. A lady Lakshimbai hired to impersonate her and make it easy for her assassins to take care of the British diplomat she saw as a threat. Harry would however go to his grave believing he shared a night of passion with Lakshimbai herself.

Harry, Ilderim and the big Pathan’s men decide to go to Cawnpore to join the British garrison there fighting against the mutiny. On the way they encounter a group of irregulars. They’re composed of former civilian British clerks and businessmen and a handful of loyal Sikhs. They’ve banded together for the express purpose of hunting down and killing mutineers. They initially think Harry’s an enemy, and dressed and looking the way he is, along with the company he’s keeping, little wonder. He’s only able to escape becoming one of their victims by remembering the first name of the son of one of the band, whom he was named as the godfather of in Flashman, young Flashman O’Toole, that was a nice little touch, putting that in.

It’s rather disturbing to see the relish with which these civilized men pursue their vengeance. Understandable, but still disturbing. They’re attacked when not far from Cawnpore and only the courage and strength of Ilderim Khan saves Harry’s life. Once safe behind British lines Harry is offered that most genteel of British customs; nuts or a cigar as a rifle is thrust into his hands. Flashman looks down the line, and wonders if he’s not dreaming, because not too far from him is Harry ‘Scud’ East.

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