“Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken . . . ”

P.G. Wodehouse reached for Keats to describe his emotions when he read the first of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman saga.  Fraser had already joined the glorious company of famously successful authors who were turned away from the doors of many publishers.  They include the first of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which was rejected by 12 publishers.  She had revived an ancient genre, the boarding-school story, created by Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), in which the school bully Flashman makes his first appearance.  The genre is extraordinarily tenacious: Residential courses for St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, have run at Alnwick Castle for many years, begun before Harry Potter but benefiting from his fame.  And the genre gave birth to Fraser’s antihero who swaggered through 12 books, all of them a sheer delight.

The Flashman of Fraser’s invention is lecherous, cowardly, hard-drinking, racist in the Victorian way, self-seeking, socially boastful but inwardly fearful, adroit at easing his way out of difficult situations but usually at someone else’s expense. ...

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