Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Rogue, a Ruffian, a Cad and a Wastrel....

How many different words are there for a BAD man? 

I don't know exactly, but no matter how many, most (if not all) of them would fit handily on the man known as Harry Flashman. 

Harry Flashman was, originally, a creation of Thomas Hughes in his much-beloved novel of English boyhood Tom Brown's Schooldays. The novel, published in 1857, related the adventures of one Tom Brown as he went off to public school (IE: British PRIVATE school - in this case, Rugby School which is Warwickshire, England). Tom's adventures centered around the school, its masters (teachers) and both friends and enemies. The most obnoxious of these enemies was Harry Flashman. Flashman was a cad and a bully of enormous magnitude who finally received his comeuppance by being expelled from Rubgy for drunkenness.

Though Thomas Hughes did write a follow-up novel to Tom Brown's Schooldays, Tom Brown at Oxford, the cad Flashman was never seen again....

Until George MacDonald Fraser decided to resurrect him in -- in a series of adventures which were purportedly "Found"  in 1965 thusly from the explanatory note:

"The great mass of manuscript known as the Flashman Papers was discovered during a sale of household furniture at Ashby, Leicestershire, in 1965. The papers were subsequently claimed by Mr. Paget Morrison, of Durban, South Africa, the nearest known living relative of their author. A point of major literary interest about the papers is that they clearly identify Flashman, the school bully of Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays, with the celebrated Victorian soldier of the same name. The papers are, in fact, Harry Flashman's personal memoirs from the day of his expulsion from Rugby School in the late 1830's to the early years of the present century., 1905, when he must have been over eighty."

From the front jacket blurb, the reader received a much flashier introduction:

"This is the story of a classic blackguard who enjoyed villainy for its own sake. Shameless, exicting, funny, Flashman's deplorable odyssey is studded with such great figures as Wellington, Queen Victoria, Dr. Arnold Cardigan, and Akbar Khan, observed with the cynical eye of a scoundrel who was honest only in reporting what he saw."

The series consists of twelve books (if you count only those strictly about Harry Flashman himself), the last published in 2005. Sadly, author George MacDonald Fraser (OBE) died in 2008, ending the raucous series.
The dust jacket art for this series of books was created from 1969-1994  by A. E. Barbosa, an Englishman of Portuguese ancestry (his father was a vice-consul), he lived the life of an upper-class Englishman (he referred to himself as Barbosa and only used the Anglicanized version of his first name Arturo - Arthur.)
He illustrated all of the Flashman books through 1994 and before that, he illustrated books by Georgette Heyer. His artwork for both Fraser and Heyer was exceptional, and human figures were similarly tall and thin, but the colors he used for Georgette Heyer's work was much more muted and subtle, while Flashman and his ilk received darker, richer and more exotic coloring and scenery.

Flashman books are not only still available, they are actively collected and read -- both for their historical accuracy and dashing military adventures, as well as for their raunchy, bad-boy protagonist Flashman, that irrepressible CAD (I LOVE that word) of a man who didn't say no to any sort of trouble.


Speedicut said...

Enjoyed this post (apart from the vigorous use of caps). The Flashman books are a popular collectable and, with the death of GMF, this will no doubt intensify. Also, well done covering Barbosa's artwork, a significant contribution often overlooked.

Rachel said...

Love that bad boy Flashy too. What an excellent series. Barbosa illustrated a lot of other book jackets in his distinctive style and I enjoy seeing them when they show up in the shop.