I was sad to hear about the death yesterday of George Macdonald Fraser, author of the Flashman series of historical comic novels. His books were politically incorrect, naughty, adventurous, educational and above all seriously funny. They charted the story of the British Empire through arch-cad, Harry Flashman’s eyes, placing this coward and poltroon at many of the key events and battles of the mid to late 19th century. He wasn’t, as some will claim, an apologist for empire or colonialism… far from it. In fact, MacDonald Fraser occasionally used his writing to warn of the dangers present in the waging of imperialist campaigns far from home.
Flashman remains, in my opinion, one of the great comic characters of the English novel and now his creator has died without giving any answer as to how Flashy managed to fight on both sides during the American Civil War.
I nearly shed a manly tear.
3 thoughts on “George MacDonald Fraser: 1925-2008”
Did you read his ‘testament’ in the Daily Mail… I can’t say I’m much impressed, but I didn’t know this author at all and am interested in checking his Flashman stories.
Sophie: good find. I hadn’t read this and I must say that it confirms several comments I’ve read about the writer’s character which have made me feel somewhat unsure about marking his demise. While he makes a couple of interesting points, I’ve always understood ‘political correctness’ to be a misnomer for common decency and understanding, qualities which we should all try to adopt in our intercourse with others.
The problem with those who criticise ‘political correctness’ is that their bedfellows are often out and out racists who seek to claim ‘freedom of speech’ as an excuse for promoting hatred. Harry Flashman was not a character who’d have been bothered by anything like this: he was utterly politically-incorrect, but was equally obnoxious and unpleasant to everyone he met. He was also immensely proud, cowardly and pathetic – this is what made him such an entertaining anti-hero.
That Flashman’s re-creator has apparently chosen to attack what he perceives as ‘political-correctness’ in his final testament is disappointing but it doesn’t deter from the fact that his character acts as narrator in a series of highly amusing and enjoyable novels.
Perhaps I’m the very worst sort of left-winger: I’m not aligned to any party, I come from a decidedly middle-class background, I enjoy silly novels about times gone by. But I know right from wrong and I don’t think it’s wrong to derive some enjoyment from Flashman’s outrageous behaviour.
As I said, I’m still interested in reading a Flashman story to find out what it is.
I would compare it to reading “Tintin in Congo”. There’s this permeating smell of racism throughout the book, but should we ban it from our Tintin collection? I don’t think so. It belongs to the series, and is interesting as it allows us to understand a period we haven’t lived in.
In the testament, I found the following sentence about the “good old times before PC”:
“We had no worries about race or sexual orientation; they have.”
It should be translated to “We, British white heterosexual males, had no worries about race or sexual orientation…” I’m sure one of the British geniuses of the 20th century, Alan Turing, who lived during this blessed period and died quite young, might have begged to differ…