Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Flashman's Lady introduction and Chapter 1
It's been a while. I think I got a bit Flashmanned out there. I also had other things to read and do, something had to give and unfortunately it was Flash Harry. A bit of a shame really because Flashman's Lady is one of my favourites.
There's a few reasons I rate it so highly. It was the sixth of the books to be published, but it fits in chronologically during the period after first encountering Bismarck and Lola Montez and before the second part of Royal Flash. This is one of the reasons that it is a near impossibility to read the books chronologically and why it's not the most satisfying experiences to do so.
I like the Harry of the period George MacDonald Fraser covers in Flashman's Lady. He was young and larger than life, he was still cynical, but less so than he became and he was still a little idealistic. Then there's the subject matter of the early part of the book; cricket. I'm a cricket fan, always have been. Admittedly I do prefer Australian Rules, but cricket probably runs it a close second. One gets the impression that George MacDonald Fraser was also a cricket buff. Finally there's Elspeth. The Lady of the title is Elspeth, there are even excerpts from her diary in this one and they are delightful. It's great to get a closer look at her and realise that she has depths Harry simply does not understand.
Unlike some of the other books there's no real high stakes in this one. Harry and Elspeth's lives for sure, but the Empire won't come to a shuddering halt if Harry can't get out of this one with his miserable skin intact, as is the case with some of other installments.
The cover is a beauty. Harry in his cricket whites, complete with pads, bat and top hat, a sword held like a cricket bat over one broad shoulder. Elspeth, holding her skirts up, is coming up behind him and there's a beach side battle brewing in the distance.
Included is Fraser's traditional explanatory note at the start, and he also mentions that Elspeth's greatly religious and somewhat repressed sister Grizel de Rothschild had gotten hold of this one. She has modified Flashman's language and included some pages from Elspeth's diaries to which she has added her own comments.
I appreciated the addition of the diaries and even Grizel's acidic little comments were amusing, but I really don't know why he had her change Flashman's language. It basically means that every blasphemy or mild profanity has the first and last letter, but none of the middle ones. It makes it hard to read occasionally and must have been a bugger to typeset. About halfway through I think it stops. Clearly Grizel either stopped reading or George MacDonald Fraser gave it up for a bad job.
It begins with Harry talking about the leg before wicket rule. I can only imagine what people not from cricket playing countries made of this. I found it highly amusing. The book was written in the mid 1970's, it was purportedly written by someone who played cricket in the mid 1800's, and it's discussing a series played in the early part of the 20th century. I suspect Flashman's grousing about the tampering with the leg before wicket rule was a view shared by the author when he penned the book. They're still doing it. Even now in 2013 they're still mucking about with the leg before wicket rule and they still haven't gotten it right!
Harry introduces this packet by talking about how he dropped into a well known sportsman's pub to get some of the talk and feel of the game while he was being lionised as the hero of Jalallabad. I personally think the early part of Flashman's Lady contains one of George MacDonald Fraser's rare continuity errors. While at the pub he bumps into Tom Brown. He initially gives the impression that he doesn't recognise him, although when Brown reminds him about the bullying at Rugby he remembers quick enough. Flashman in the Great Game ended with Harry raging about the publication of Tom Brown's Schooldays and the damage it did to his reputation. I just find it odd that he would speak the way he does of Brown in this book after what he said at the end of the previous one.
Brown, believing Harry has turned over a new leaf, invites him to play a game of cricket at Lords. Rugby Old Boys against the men of Kent, who contained some of England's most celebrated cricketers of the time.
It turns out at school Harry was a demon fast bowler. This shouldn't surprise. Most fast bowlers are bullies at heart. Of all Harry's talents the cricket is the one he is most proud of, mainly because it wasn't God given, it was something he actually had to work out.
The game itself is something of a carnival as apparently cricket was at the time. It was a betting game, and again interestingly enough it still is. Many of the more outlandish bets that Flashman talks about are pretty common these days, especially in the sub continent, they're called exotic bets. They're every bit as much of a danger to the game as they were then, too.
I was particularly amused by Harry's comments about Brooke, his old head boy at Rugby.
'he was clean-limbed and handsome and went to church and had no impure thoughts and was kind to animals and old ladies and was a midshipman in the Navy; what happened to him I've no idea, but I hope he absconded with the ship's funds and the admiral's wife and set up a knocking-shop in Valparaiso'
That is vintage Flashman.
Harry distinguishes himself by taking the first ever hat trick, although I suspect George MacDonald Fraser is taking huge licence here. I'm not sure how the hat trick got it's name, but I don't think the explanation given in the Notes is entirely accurate.
Elspeth happens to meet an exotic character who goes by the name of Don Solomon. Harry takes an instant dislike to him, in part because he's taken Elspeth's eye, and in part because he thinks he's a villain. It takes one to know one.
Harry's performance on the field, a disreputable character by the name of Daedalus Tighe who he met and Don Solomon are all going to change the course of the old soldier's history very soon.