I just discovered at the HNN that George Macdonald Fraser, author of the acclaimed Flashman series of historical fiction novels, passed away yesterday. His ribald contributions to a true appreciation of the nuances of Victorian military and social history will be missed. I have always looked forward to the next installment of the Flashman Papers. The obits remind that he was an author, journalist and screenwriter. When Octopussy with Roger Moore as James Bond came out I remember thinking that it had a rather different feel than other bonds. The Indian scenes were exotic and there even seemed to be a different pace. Shortly thereafter I found out that Fraser had done the screenplay and I should have sensed the familiar had at work. He was a master storyteller and was able to capture the colour and spirit of another time.
The Flashman series of novels trace the life of Sir Harry Flashman, Victorian bounder and cad as he finds himself caught up in many of the most significant events of the time in which Fraser placed him. The historical treatment was thorough and meticulously documented with footnotes – all of them imagined by Fraser. When the first volume of the ‘papers’ was released in the 1960s, apparently many critics presumed that the stories were true and that Fraser has unearthed a previously unknown cache of private letters. Although this obviously led to wonderful publicity, it is a testament to the fine writing and captivating style in which Fraser wrote. If you haven’t experienced a Fraser novel, the early Flashman series is a treat. Flashman at the Charge is my favourite, as Sir Harry participates in the Charge of the Light Brigade and we find out what really happened behind the scenes. Fraser painted a deep and vivid series of portraits of the main players as real human characters and linked them to real events with learned imagination. he truly brought historical events to life, even if he did a little stretching to do so.
His novel, Royal Flash, was turned into a movie with Malcolm McDowell superbly cast as Flashman, and a foil to Oliver Reed as a scheming Bismark machiavellianly piecing together a German Empire.
George Macdonald Fraser was a very unique historian. he brought history alive for me and entertained me at the same time. He will live on through the characters in his novels. He will be missed.
Additional: A wonderful extract from the Charge reprinted in the Times