Flashman (novel)

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First edition cover
Author George MacDonald Fraser
Cover artist Arthur Barbosa
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Barrie & Jenkins
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 256
ISBN 0-257-66799-7
OCLC 29733
LC Class PZ4.F8418 Fp PR6056.R287
Preceded by -
Followed by Royal Flash

Flashman is a 1969 novel by George MacDonald Fraser. It is the first of the Flashman novels.

Plot introduction[edit]

Presented within the frame of the supposedly discovered historical Flashman Papers, this book describes the bully Flashman from Tom Brown's School Days. The book begins with an explanatory note saying that the Flashman Papers were discovered in 1965 during a sale of household furniture in Ashby, Leicestershire. The papers are attributed to Harry Paget Flashman, who is not only the bully featured in Thomas Hughes' novel, but also a well-known Victorian military hero (in Fraser's fictional England). The papers were supposedly written between 1900 and 1905. The subsequent publishing of these papers, of which Flashman is the first, contrasts the previously believed exploits of a (fictional) hero with his own more scandalous account, which shows the life of a cowardly bully. Flashman begins with his own account of expulsion from Rugby and ends with his fame as "the Hector of Afghanistan", detailing his life from 1839 to 1842 and his travels to Scotland, India, and Afghanistan. It also contains a number of notes by the author, in the guise of a fictional editor, giving additional historical information on the events described. The history in these books is quite accurate; most of the people Flashman meets are real people.

Plot summary[edit]

Flashman's expulsion from Rugby for drunkenness leads him to join the British Army in what he hopes will be a sinecure. He joins the 11th Regiment of Light Dragoons commanded by Lord Cardigan, to whom he toadies in his best style. After an affair with a fellow-officer's lover, he is challenged to a duel but wins after promising a large sum of money to the pistol loader, to give his opponent a blank load in his gun. He does not kill his opponent but instead delopes and accidentally shoots the top off a bottle thirty yards away, an action that gives him instant fame and the respect of the Duke of Wellington. Once the reason for fighting emerges, the army stations Flashman in Scotland. He is quartered with the Morrison family and soon enough takes advantage of one of the daughters, Elspeth. After a forced marriage, Flashman is required to resign the Hussars due to marrying below his station. He is given another option, to make his reputation in India.

By showing off his language and riding skills in India, Flashman is assigned to the worst frontier of the British Empire at that time, Afghanistan. Upon arrival, he meets a soldier who relates the narrow escape he made in November 1842, on the first night of the Afghan Uprising. After Akbar Khan proclaims a general revolt which the citizens of Kabul immediately heed, a mob storms the house of Sir Alexander Burnes, one of the senior British political officers and murders him and his staff. The soldier, stationed nearby, manages to flee in midst of the confusion. This tale sets the tone for Flashman's proceeding adventures, including the retreat from Kabul, Last Stand at the Battle of Gandamak and the Siege of Jalalabad, in the First Anglo-Afghan War. Despite being captured, tortured and escaping death numerous times, hiding and shirking his duty as much as possible, he comes through it with a hero's reputation ... although his triumph is tempered when he realises his wife might have been unfaithful while he was away.


Fictional characters[edit]

  • Elspeth Morrison - His adoring and possibly unfaithful wife,
  • Henry Buckley Flashman - His father,
  • John Morrison - His father-in-law,
  • Judy - His father's mistress and (briefly) Flashman's lover,
  • Bernier - The man he insults and duels with,
  • Josette - Bernier's lover, with whom Flashman has an affair,
  • Fetnab - Flashman's language and sexual tutor in India,
  • Sher Afzul - A Ghilzai Khan to whom Flashman is sent as an emissary,
  • Narreeman - An Afghan dancer whom Flashman rapes,
  • Gul Shah - Sher Afzul's nephew, Narreeman's lover and later husband, and Flashman's torturer,
  • Hudson - Flashman's sergeant on the retreat from Kabul who comes to realise Flashman is a coward but dies before he can expose him.

Historical characters[edit]

  • Lord Cardigan - Flashman's original commanding officer, whom he describes as "amusing, frightening, vindictive, charming, and downright dangerous" and "too stupid ever to be afraid".
  • Captain John Reynolds - embroiled in "The Black Bottle Affair" with Lord Cardigan.
  • Lady Sale - Sir Robert's wife, and celebrated diarist.
  • Paolo Di Avitabile - Governor of Peshawar, Flashman said of him "the Sikhs and Afghans were more scared of him than the devil himself".
  • Alexander Burnes - Political agent at Kabul, Flashman is present at his assassination.
  • Colin Mackenzie - army officer who is depicted as one of the few competent British officers in Afghanistan.
  • George Broadfoot - reckoned to be one of the bravest officers amongst the British in Kabul.
  • General Elphinstone - Commander of the Kabul army, whom Flashman describes as "the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day".
  • Akbar Khan - Led the revolt in Kabul and held Flashman hostage; Flashman "was impressed by the obvious latent strength of the man" but also says "he was something of a dandy".
  • William Nott (1782 – 1845), a British military leader in India.
  • Queen Victoria - Flashman describes her as "rather plump, and pretty enough beneath the neck".
  • Prince Albert - who has "hellish-looking whiskers" according to Flashman.


George MacDonald Fraser was a journalist who dreamt of becoming a novelist. He wrote a straight historical novel in the mid-1950s which no one would publish and came to feel that he would achieve success only if he did something in a more comical vein. In 1966 he came up with the idea of basing a novel around Harry Flashman from Tom Brown's School Days; he later said he was inspired to put pen to paper by two events: going on a recent trip to Borneo and Malaya during the Indonesian Confrontation which re-ignited his interest in Asia and soldiering, and having just completed a stint as acting editor of his paper, which re-enforced his determination to get out of journalism. He told his wife "I'll write us out of this".[1]

Fraser wrote the book after work in nightly bursts, taking ninety hours all up with no advance plotting or revisions. Half way through he broke his arm and could not type; he might have given up but his wife read it, was enthusiastic, and encouraged him to continue. He took two years to find a publisher, before it was taken up by Herbert Jenkins.[1]


When the book was published in America, several reviewers thought it was true.[2]

Reviews were generally positive.[3] By 1970 the book had sold over 200,000 copies in paperback and its success enabled Fraser to leave journalism and become a full-time writer.[4]

Film version[edit]

Film rights were sold to Bob Booker and George Foster and initial plans called for a movie to be directed by Richard Lester from a script by Charles Wood.[5] Later on Stanley Baker was attached as producer.[6] Lester was unable to obtain financing for the project. He later hired Fraser to write the screenplay for The Three Musketeers (1973). The two of them worked together on Royal Flash (1975).


  1. ^ a b George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p304-307
  2. ^ Gen. Sir Harry Flashman And Aide Con the Experts By ALDEN WHITMAN. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 29 July 1969: 26.
  3. ^ Flashman: From the Flashman Papers 1839-1842. By George Macdonald Fraser. 256 pp. New York: NAL-World Publishing Company. $5.95. By BRIAN GLANVILLE. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 Oct 1969: BR62.
  4. ^ FLASHMAN: JOHN O'CALLAGHAN INTERVIEWS GEORGE MACDONALD FRASER, CREATOR OF HARRY FLASHMAN O'Callaghan, John. The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 22 Aug 1970: 6.
  5. ^ ews in the Arts. Kenneth Pearson. The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, August 03, 1969; pg. 41; Issue 7627. (1355 words)
  6. ^ Mary Blume, 'Stanley Baker Likes to Act', Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 14 Aug 1971: a8.