Flashman is a 1969 novel by George MacDonald Fraser. It is the first of the Flashman novels.

First edition cover
AuthorGeorge MacDonald Fraser
Cover artistArthur Barbosa
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherBarrie & Jenkins
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
LC ClassPZ4.F8418 Fp PR6056.R287
Preceded by
Followed byRoyal Flash 

Plot introductionEdit

Presented within the frame of the discovery of the supposedly historical Flashman Papers, this book chronicles the subsequent career of the bully Flashman from Tom Brown's School Days. The book begins with a fictional note explaining that the Flashman Papers were discovered in 1965 during a sale of household furniture in Ashby, Leicestershire. The papers are attributed to Harry Paget Flashman, the bully featured in Thomas Hughes' novel, who becomes a well-known Victorian military hero (in Fraser's fictional England). The papers were supposedly written between 1900 and 1905. The subsequent publishing of these papers, of which Flashman is the first instalment, contrasts the public image of a (fictional) hero with his own more scandalous account of his life as an amoral and cowardly bully. Flashman begins with the eponymous hero's own account of his expulsion from Rugby and ends with his fame as "the Hector of Afghanistan". It details his life from 1839 to 1842 and his travels to Scotland, India, and Afghanistan. It also contains a number of notes by the author, in the guise of a fictional editor, providing additional historical glosses on the events described. The history in these books is largely accurate; most of the prominent figures Flashman meets were real people.

Plot summaryEdit

Flashman's expulsion from Rugby for drunkenness leads him to join the British Army in what he hopes will be a sinecure. He joins the 11th Regiment of Light Dragoons commanded by Lord Cardigan, to whom he toadies in his best style. After an affair with a fellow-officer's lover, he is challenged to a duel but wins after promising a large sum of money to the pistol loader, to give his opponent a blank load in his gun. He does not kill his opponent but instead delopes and accidentally shoots the top off a bottle thirty yards away, an action that gives him instant fame and the respect of the Duke of Wellington. Once the reason for fighting emerges, the army stations Flashman in Scotland. He is quartered with the Morrison family and soon enough takes advantage of one of the daughters, Elspeth. After a forced marriage, Flashman is required to resign the Hussars due to marrying below his station. He is given another option, to make his reputation in India.

By showing off his language and riding skills in India, Flashman is assigned to the staff of General Elphinstone, who is to command the garrison at the worst frontier of the British Empire at that time, Afghanistan. Upon arrival, he meets a soldier who relates the narrow escape he made in November 1842, on the first night of the Afghan Uprising. After Akbar Khan proclaims a general revolt which the citizens of Kabul immediately heed, a mob storms the house of Sir Alexander Burnes, one of the senior British political officers and murders him and his staff. The soldier, stationed nearby, manages to flee in midst of the confusion. This tale sets the tone for Flashman's proceeding adventures, including the retreat from Kabul, Last Stand at the Battle of Gandamak and the Siege of Jalalabad, in the First Anglo-Afghan War. Despite being captured, tortured and escaping death numerous times, hiding and shirking his duty as much as possible, he comes through it with a hero's reputation ... although his triumph is tempered when he realises his wife might have been unfaithful while he was away.


Fictional charactersEdit

  • Harry Paget Flashman - The hero or anti-hero,
  • Elspeth Morrison - His adoring and possibly unfaithful wife,
  • Henry Buckley Flashman - His father,
  • John Morrison - His father-in-law,
  • Judy - His father's mistress and (briefly) Flashman's lover,
  • Bernier - The man he insults and duels with,
  • Josette - Bernier's lover, with whom Flashman has an affair,
  • Fetnab - Flashman's language and sexual tutor in India,
  • Sher Afzul - A Ghilzai Khan to whom Flashman is sent as an emissary,
  • Narreeman - An Afghan dancer whom Flashman rapes,
  • Gul Shah - Sher Afzul's nephew, Narreeman's lover and later husband, and Flashman's torturer,
  • Hudson - Flashman's sergeant on the retreat from Kabul who comes to realise Flashman is a coward but dies before he can expose him.

Historical charactersEdit


George MacDonald Fraser was a journalist who dreamt of becoming a novelist. He wrote a straight historical novel in the mid-1950s which no one would publish and came to feel that he would achieve success only if he did something in a more comical vein. In 1966 he came up with the idea of basing a novel around Harry Flashman from Tom Brown's School Days; he later said he was inspired to put pen to paper by two events: going on a recent trip to Borneo and Malaya during the Indonesian Confrontation which re-ignited his interest in Asia and soldiering, and having just completed a stint as acting editor of his paper, which re-enforced his determination to get out of journalism. He told his wife "I'll write us out of this".[1]

Fraser wrote the book after work in nightly bursts, taking ninety hours all up with no advance plotting or revisions. Half way through he broke his arm and could not type; he might have given up but his wife read it, was enthusiastic, and encouraged him to continue. He took two years to find a publisher, before it was taken up by Herbert Jenkins.[1]


When the book was published in America, several reviewers thought it was true.[2]

Reviews were generally positive.[3] By 1970 the book had sold over 200,000 copies in paperback and its success – notably the sale of the film rights – enabled Fraser to leave journalism and become a full-time writer. It also compelled him to move to the Isle of Man to avoid income tax.[4][5]

Film versionEdit

Film rights were sold to Bob Booker and George Foster and initial plans called for a movie to be directed by Richard Lester from a script by Charles Wood.[6] Later on Stanley Baker was attached as producer.[7] Lester was unable to obtain financing for the project. He later hired Fraser to write the screenplay for The Three Musketeers (1973). The two of them worked together on Royal Flash (1975).


  1. ^ a b Fraser, George MacDonald (2002). The Light's On at Signpost. HarperCollins. pp. 304–307. ISBN 978-0-00713-646-9.
  2. ^ Whitman, Alden (29 July 1969). "Gen. Sir Harry Flashman and Aide Con the Experts". The New York Times. p. 26.
  3. ^ Glanville, Brian (26 October 1969). "Flashman: From the Flashman Papers 1839-1842. By George Macdonald Fraser. 256 pp. New York: NAL-World Publishing Company. $5.95". The New York Times. p. BR62.
  4. ^ O'Callaghan, John (22 August 1970). "Flashman: John O'Callaghan Interviews George Macdonald Fraser, Creator of Harry Flashman". The Guardian. p. 6.
  5. ^ Clements, Toby (8 August 2015). "Flashman flies the Jolly Roger: George MacDonald Fraser's lost pirate novel". The Daily Telegraph.
  6. ^ Pearson, Kenneth (3 August 1969). "News in the Arts". The Sunday Times (7627). p. 41.
  7. ^ Blume, Mary (14 August 1971). "Stanley Baker Likes to Act". Los Angeles Times. p. a8.