Thursday, May 25, 2006

Victoria's Wars

"...Victoria's Wars covers the period from the queen's accession in 1837 to the death of Prince Albert in 1861, taking in the First Afghan War, the Sikh Wars, the conquest of Burma, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the Opium Wars. In an afterword, Saul David notes that he fell in love with the old stories when reading George MacDonald Fraser's marvellous Flashman books, which narrate the further adventures of the cowardly bully from the classic Victorian novel Tom Brown's Schooldays.

In the world of fiction, Flashy supposedly took part in almost all the actions described here, from the storming of Delhi to the burning of the Summer Palace at Peking. Indeed, anyone who knows the Flashman novels will find it impossible to read this book without picturing the familiar lovable rogue. The real story of the Battle of Balaklava, for example, is pretty good, and is superbly retold here; but can anything better the Flashman version, with its part-invented fictional detail and character touches?

In their own way, the Flashman books reflect our changing attitude to Empire. A coward, a liar, a braggart and an adulterer, his conduct would have horrified many genuine Victorian officers, and his adventures often show British imperialism in the very worst light. David, however, draws attention to the genuine courage that underpinned the often cynical enterprise of national expansion..."