George MacDonald Fraser was preeminently the author of the series of twelve historical novels featuring the Victorian blackguard Harry Flashman. Fraser plucked Flashman from the pages of Tom Brown’s Schooldays where he is the bully who is expelled after he is found in a drunken stupor. Fraser pretended to be the editor of a massive body of recently discovered papers recounting Flashman’s martial and amatory exploits from the late 1830’s to the early years of the twentieth century.
The Flashman papers were supposedly hidden in a tea chest in 1915 by Flashman’s ashamed family where, in an astounding variation of the Boswell papers, they laid undiscovered for 50 years. Beginning with Flashman in 1969, Fraser presented himself as the editor of the Flashman papers, turning his meticulous historical research into a series of very funny comic novels of monumental politcal incorrectness.
Fraser died this week at the age of 82. The Telegraph obituary tells the story of the Flashman novels. In a companion piece, Harry Mount explains that Fraser was no Flashman. Anthony Lejeune’s NR review of Fraser’s 1995 Flashman outing suggests why Flashman will survive his chronicler:
As often happens in a long series, the central character has matured, even mellowed. Indeed some critics complain that Flashman has become less an anti-hero than a true hero. He still runs away from danger when he can, still seduces, or is seduced by, every beddable woman, still lies, flatters, and cajoles without scruple. But while the Angst-ridden protagonists of most modern fiction could scarcely fight their way out of a recycled paper-bag, there is something to admire in a man so ruthlessly skilled at survival, so capable of getting all those women into bed, so wary and so shrewd.