"These stories will be completely truthful; I am breaking the habit of eighty years. Why shouldn't I?
When a man is as old as I am, and knows himself for what he is, he doesn't care much. I'm not ashamed, you see; never was -. So I can look at the picture above my desk, of the young officer; tall and handsome as I was in those days, and say that it is the portrait of a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat. since many of the stories are discreditable to me, you can rest assured they are true....."
Brigadier General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC, KCB KCIE
Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE (5th May 1822 - 1915) is a fictional character originally created by the author Thomas Hughes in his semi-autobiographical work Tom Brown's Schooldays, first published in 1857. The book is set at Rugby School, where Flashman is a notorious bully who persecutes its eponymous hero, Tom Brown. In Hughes' book, Flashman is finally expelled for drunkenness.
20th century author George MacDonald Fraser had the idea of writing a series of memoirs of the cowardly, bullying Flashman, portraying him as an antihero who cuts a swathe through the Victorian wars and uproars (and the boudoirs and harems) of the 19th century. Flashman - a self-described and unapologetic 'cad' - constantly betrays acquaintances, runs from danger or hides cowering in fear, yet he arrives at the end of each volume with medals, the praise of the mighty, and the love of one or more beautiful and enthusiastic women. Ultimately, Flashman becomes one of the most notable and honoured figures of the Victorian era.
In Tom Brown's Schooldays he is called only Flashman or Flashy; Fraser gives him his forenames, a lifespan from 1822 to 1915, and a birth date of 5 May.
In the novel Flashman, Flashman mentions that his mother was a relation of the socially prominent Paget family, but that the Flashman family were descended from a grandfather who'd made his fortune in America trading in rum, slaves, and "probably piracy". His father is a dissolute ex member of parliament, who is "not quite the thing in society." As Flashman says, quoting Greville, "the coarse streak showed through, generation after generation, like dung beneath a rosebush". Flashman's taste in recreational activities etc. reflect his father's heritage, but, we are encouraged to suspect, his ability to pass himself off as a member of the upper crust, and his arrant cowardice, are traits inherited from his aristocratic mother.
The series is a classic use of false documents. The books describe the discovery of the nonagenarian General Flashman's memoirs in a Leicestershire saleroom in 1965. Posing as the editor of the papers, Fraser produces a series of historical novels that give a racy, colourful, mostly pragmatic (or arguably cynical) view of British and American history in the 19th century. Dozens of major and minor characters from history flit in and out of the books, often in an inglorious or hypocritical guise. Other fictional characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, can also be found in the tales, complementing Flashman and sundry figures from Tom Brown's Schooldays and Tom Brown at Oxford.
Fraser's research is extensive and the books illuminate the historical events they depict. The books are heavily annotated, with end notes and appendices, as Fraser (in accordance with the fictional existence of the memoirs) attempts to "confirm" (and in some cases "correct") the elderly Flashman's recollections of events; in many cases, the footnotes serve to aid the reader by indicating that a particularly outlandish character really existed or that an unlikely event actually occurred.
In outline there are some similarities to the Thomas Berger novel (and movie) Little Big Man, in which a 121-year old man recounts his numerous adventures and escapes in the Old West. Mark Twain also wrote a short story about a high decorated English general who was a total idiot, but whose misadventures always ended in success.
The half-scholarly tone has occasionally led to misunderstandings; when first released in the United States, ten of 34 reviews published took it to be a real, albeit obscure, memoir. Several of these were written by academics - to the delight of The New York Times, which published a selection of the more trusting reviews.
For the purposes of American publication, Fraser created a fictional entry of the 1909 edition of Who's Who. This lists Flashman's laurels as: VC, KCB, KCIE; Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur; Congressional Medal of Honor; San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth, 4th Class. In addition, he is inexplicably listed as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War in 1862, and a general in the Confederate Army the following year.