Harry Paget Flashman

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Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE (1822–1915) is a fictional character created by George MacDonald Fraser (1925–2008), but based on the character "Flashman" in Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), a semi-autobiographical work by Thomas Hughes (1822–1896).

In Hughes' book, Flashman is the notorious bully of Rugby School who persecutes Tom Brown, and who is finally expelled for drunkenness. Twentieth century author George MacDonald Fraser had the idea of writing Flashman's memoirs, in which the school bully would be identified with an "illustrious Victorian soldier": experiencing many 19th century wars and adventures and rising to high rank in the British Army, acclaimed as a great soldier, while remaining by his unapologetic self-description "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward—and oh yes, a toady." Fraser's Flashman is an antihero who runs from danger or hides cowering in fear, betrays or abandons acquaintances at the slightest incentive, bullies and beats servants with gusto, beds every available woman, carries off any loot he can grab, gambles and boozes enthusiastically, and yet, through a combination of luck and cunning, usually ends each volume acclaimed as a hero.


Flashman's origins

In Tom Brown's Schooldays he is called only Flashman or Flashy. Fraser gave him his first and middle names, a lifespan from 1822 to 1915, and a birth date of 5 May. Flashman's first and middle names appear to be an ironic allusion to Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, and one of the heroes of Waterloo, who cuckolded the Duke of Wellington's brother Henry Wellesley and later - in one of the period's more celebrated scandals - married Wellesley's ex-wife.

In Flashman, Flashman says that the family fortune was made by his great-grandfather, Jack Flashman, in America trading in rum, slaves and "piracy too, I shouldn't wonder." Despite their wealth, the Flashmans "were never the thing": Flashman quotes the diarist Henry Greville's comment that "the coarse streak showed through, generation after generation, like dung beneath a rosebush." His father, Henry Buckley Flashman, appears in Black Ajax (1997). Buckley was a bold young officer in the British cavalry, who was wounded in action at Talavera in 1809. He then tried to get into "society" by sponsoring bare-knuckle boxer Tom Molineaux (the first black man to contend for a championship) and subsequently married Flashman's mother Lady Alicia Paget, a fictional relation of the real Marquess of Anglesey. Buckley also served as a Member of Parliament but was "sent to the knacker's yard at Reform". Beside politics, his interests were drinking, fox hunting (riding to hounds) and women.

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