George MacDonald Fraser: Political Incorrectness With A Vengeance

in Culture by
   

The late great Christopher Hitchens was nothing if not surprising. To cite one example of his iconoclasm, Hitchens, an almost life-long supporter of Leon Trotsky, did not apply an ideological litmus test when picking his favorite novelists. For topping the list were fascist sympathizers such as Evelyn Waugh, and gruff Tories like George MacDonald Fraser. With the latter, Hitchens had, despite obvious political differences, a kinship with Fraser because of both men’s dislike of political correctness.

Fraser’s novels centered around an amoral, cowardly, selfishly-indulgent, traitorous soldier in the mid-19th Century named Harry Flashman, who Fraser appropriated the bully character in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. But Fraser’s politics, which were decidedly socially conservative, championed the very values Flashman did not subscribe to: “standards of decency, sportsmanship, politeness, respect for the law, family values.”

Fraser never injected such sentiments into the novels, however. Instead, Flashman’s overwhelming desire to save his own skin led him into all sorts of betrayals, especially toward his relations with women.

This is illustrated in a scene where slave-catchers in the 19th Century North are held at gunpoint by Flashman and his lover/slave. Giving her the gun to guard them, Flash next does the following:

“And with that I slipped out of the door, pulled it to, and was off like a stung whipper. I’d make a quarter of a mile, maybe more, before she would twig; or they overpowered her.”

Or when his canoe has capsized near a waterfall, and Flashman, hanging on to a branch while his paramour, Uliba, in turn hangs onto his leg, does the following:

“There was only one thing to be done, so I did it, drawing up my free leg and driving my foot down with all my force at Uliba’s face staring up at me open-mouthed, half-submerged…I missed, but caught her full on the shoulder, jarring her grip free, and away she went, canoe and all…One glimpse I had of the white water foaming over those long beautiful legs, and then she was gone.”

Rather give Flashman, the narrator, remorse about such actions, Fraser made such self-indulgent treachery somehow appealing.

But what linked Hitchens and Fraser, writers on the opposite end of the political correctness was their mutual disgust with “political correctness.” By the reception given his novels from 1969 to his death in 2008, one can chart the rise and triumph of political correctness in Britain and America.

Despite being published in the violently left atmosphere of 1969, Fraser wistfully recalled the positive reception that greeted the first novel:

“When 30 years ago I resurrected Flashman, the bully in Thomas Hughes’s Victorian novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, political correctness hadn’t been heard of, and no exception was taken to my adopted hero’s character, behaviour, attitude to women and subject races (indeed, any races, including his own) and general awfulness.

On the contrary, it soon became evident that these were his main attractions. He was politically incorrect with a vengeance.”

This reception held fast throughout the 1970s. But by the 1990s, the reception grew markedly different and outraged, forcing reviewers into a rigid self-censorship:

“Reviewers …started describing Flashman (and me) as politically incorrect…{and now felt} they must warn readers that some may find Flashman offensive, and that his views are certainly not those of the interviewer or reviewer, God forbid.”

This catering to political correctness wasn’t just to placate the faction, but to earn the reviewers some street credit in the process:

“They are almost a knee-jerk reaction and often rather a nervous one, as if the writer were saying: “Look, I’m not a racist or sexist. I hold the right views and I’m in line with modern enlightened thought, honestly.”

But Fraser stated that all was not lost, and it was not only his World War II generation that was battling the PC crowd. Always the soldier, Fraser gave a stark warning to the PC movement as well as a clarion call for the “politically incorrect” to muster their underground forces:

“…among the middle-aged and people in their 20s and 30s, there is a groundswell of anger and frustration at the damage done to Britain by so-called reformers and dishonest politicians…Plainly many thought they were alone in some reactionary minority. They had been led to think that they were voices muttering to themselves in the wilderness.

Well, you are not. There are more of you out there than you realize – very many more, perhaps even a majority.”