Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Of course, there is much here to satisfy the Flashman fan. In my opinion, these stories round out the character of Flashman, particularly because they show how, in his later years, he was much more of the jovial old grandfather type. Keen to enjoy his well earned rest and not too prepared to show of his laurels.
The longest part of this book is the novelette The Road to Charing Cross a classic story of diplomatic underhandedness and attempted murder. It has some similarities to one of the earliest novels, Royal Flash and shares some characters with that novel. It has a couple of delightful twists too, and Flashman is left a little high and dry. Interestingly, it clearly was intended to serve as a bridge to one of the other eagerly awaited Flashman tales - the story of his involvement in the Zulu wars. Several references elsewhere have indicated that Flashman was at Rorkes drift, and while details are scarce, the final story here begins in that chaotic battle. It finishes with one of Flashman's few examples of bravery - albeit fuelled by a decent whiskey. A few literary stabs at another Victorian novelist finish things off nicely.
Finally, the middle story The Subtleties of Baccarat is by far the best. Dealing less with adventure and war, and more a drawing room scandal, the tale centres on the Royal Baccarat Scandal. This was a minor piece of ruling class snobbery, which had the characters involved been less interested in their personal images and the delight of scandal and expressed more of a collective attitude to solving problems, would have had a better outcome for all concerned.
Fraser puts his own spin on the story, but he illustrates brilliantly the life of the ruling classes in late Victorian times. Their scandals, gossip, adultery and lack of individual solidarity. The future Edward VII was dragged in front of the courts as a witness and the whole lot were made to look foolish in front of the mass of the population. The scandal was on a par with anything the Daily Mail might put on its front page today and no doubt helped to undermine respect for the ruling class at the time. Fraser illuminates history neatly with this story in a way that he would have done for the US Civil War had he lived long enough. Flashman fans should not dismiss these well written and fascinating episodes in the life of our favourite rake.