Friday, 5 September 2008

The Richard Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell

G'day, I know I've been a bit quiet of late but the dog's been around and I've only just got rid of him. So here we are again, now let me tell you, if you haven't already come across the adventures of Richard Sharpe, well you're in for a real treat, you can take my word on it.

So who's this Cornwell bloke, well he's an authority on the Napoleonic wars for a start . Reminds me of a maths teacher I had once, we called him Boney, short little bloke, liked to throw his weight around, just like the real one. Old Boney, you know the one: "not tonight Josephine", only I doubt he ever said it, or if he did he ought to be ashamed - nice looking sheila like that. Anyway they reckon his old chap was removed after he kicked the bucket and preserved in a jar, in the interests of science. Boney's that is, not me old teacher's, although that wouldn't have done him any harm. More likely the surgeon thought he'd make a few quid on the side, nice work if you can get it. Coincidentally there's a story about Barbara Villiers, bit of a goer and one of the many sweethearts of Charles II, but we'll save that one for later on.

Now where was I, ah yes Boney, and Sharpe, and Sir Arthur Wellesley - 1st Duke of Wellington, who provides a thread of unifying character through out the series. Although he may not appear in every one of the 21 books to date, his presence is felt just the same. Sharpe fights his first battle as a private under Wellington in Injas sunny clime against the Tippoo Sultan at Seringapatam, who was allied with the French at the time; and his supposed last battle against Boney and the Frogs at Waterloo, I say supposed because literary characters have a way of extending their existence beyond that originally intended by the author, and in some cases beyond even the original author's existence, I mean look at Ginger Meggs, Blinky Bill and the Magic Pudding, all turned into cartoons for the kiddies.

Now the interesting thing about Seringapatam is that the 37 year old Lachlan Macquarie, our greatest early colonial governor, also fought there and came away with 1300 pounds in prize money, a handy sum then. So Lachie could have easily rubbed shoulders with Richard Sharpe, not that they would have held converse, one being a London gutter rat private the other the Deputy Paymaster General of the 77th Regiment and a soon to be Scotch laird. But Sharpe is a good bloke to have near by whenever the going gets rough, which it usually does, having saved Wellington himself in close quarter combat against a horde of Mahrattas at the wheel of a cannon, armed only with cold steel.

And I'll tell you something else interesting - Major Thomas Mitchell, our famous explorer and surveyor, and builder of the road down Victoria Pass in the Blue Mountains, served under Wellington in the Iberian Peninsular Campaign of 1811-1814 against the French, where he compiled army maps and plans of the country and the battles; so he probably met Richard Sharpe as well - yes it's a small world.

I'm going to have to stop here because it's just started raining and I need to get them ewes and lambs in...but I'm coming back soon.....No worries and all's well, nice to have some precipitation though. It's just that I've got a couple of bloodlines coming through that I reckon could be good for next year's sheep races at Caragabal. They're Border Leicester cross Dorset giving the good conformation and the temperament, unless they end up with the Border Leicester temperament and the Dorset's conformation! What would you do with a bad tempered short legged animal like that - put it to work as a watch dog I reckon. I'm sure there are some nice tempered BL's out there, I just haven't met one, that's all. But it's a good way to raise money for charity especially since there's no point in having me head shaved any more, so we'll see how they go and I'll keep you posted.

So anyway we might have a closer look at the characters and the writing and you can see what you think. One thing you'll find is that the detail of the weaponry and tactics is brilliant and with sound historical basis, much of it from original sources including the military memoirs of the men who were there. And here is yarn about one of them and the siege of Badajoz.

Now the siege of Badojoz in 1809 is the setting for Sharps Company. Sharpe and his Irish side kick Patrick Harper were in the Forlorn Hope, the death or glory company of volunteers formed to fight their way into the breach in the fortified walls of towns and fortresses, most would die but the survivors recieved instant promotion and that's where our figure of speech originates. Coincidentally the only time that the Duke of Wellington ever showed grief in public was after the storming of Badajoz, when he cried at the sight of the British dead in the breaches. So after winning through as you might expect, the place is pretty quickly occupied by drunken, rowdy British troops, who as tradition allowed, had free reign on the town they had conquered.

Now one of the senoritas of the town was a 14 year Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon, a sheila of noble birth, who was rescued, blood teaming from her torn ear lobes where the ear rings had been ripped out; by a young English officer name of Harry Smith, who soon married her and was knighted in 1843, after victory over the Sikhs at Aliwal. Harry was was appointed governor of the Cape colony in South Africa in 1847, where the couple was endeared by the locals, and the town of Ladysmith, Natal was named in Juana Maria's honour.

Now if you are still with me, Ladysmith was beseiged during the Boer War 1900-02, and the commander of 12 Company in the famous Relief of Ladysmith, was Lieutenant John Gellibrand, born at Ouse in Tasmania. He commanded 12 Battalion at Gallipoli and was also involved in operations at Poziers, Mouquet Farm, the Bapaume Sector and Bullecourt, where he was awarded the bar to his DSO; and on the Hindenburg Line, leaving France at the end of The Great War with the rank of Major General. Returning to his apple orchard in Risden, he went on to hold various government, military and political posts in Australia, and had a pivotal role in the establishment of the Legacy movement. So how's that for a Sharpe connection.

But stay with me because now it gets interesting, you see my Pa Russell was in Legacy from early on, so I'm connected to bloody Sharpe too. But wait, Harry Flashman from the George Macdonald Fraser series (see entry elsewhere in this blog) was also involved in the Sikh war where he recovered the legendary Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light diamond, later presented to Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1850 and now sits in the Tower of London. I'd put moneyon it that Harry Flashman and Harry Smith, both captains at the time, met during the Sikh war, around 1843. So yours truly has a family connection to a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, a senorita with scared earlobes, the Koh-i-noor, Major General John Gellibrand who knew Breaker Morant who married Daisy Bates and knew Banjo Patterson whose poem appears hereabouts, as well as Harry Flashman and Richard Sharpe - I always said it's a small world.

But back to Sharpe: the fighting scenes throughout the series, both the large military manoeuvres and small personal combats, are gripping and pull no punches - plenty of claret splashed around for sure. The language uses historical terms to add flavour but does not attempt to recreate Georgian English although there is little in the way of strong language - if you've ever heard soldiers talk. There is usually a romantic interest, as you would expect, but the cut and thrust is much less explicit and plays a secondary role to the fighting - quite the opposite to Flashman for example. Sharpe's mate Patrick Harper is also a good bloke to have in a tight corner as well, kind of Sharpe's Sharpe you might say.

So here is a little quote from Sharpe's Havoc to whet your appetite. The action takes place in the Spring of 1809 when the French invasion of northern Portugal begins and Sharpe, now a lieutenant, Harper, and his squad of riflemen are sent to the beleaguered city of Oporto on a special mission. Sharpe is betrayed and amidst the wreckage of a defeated French army, in the storm lashed hills of the Portuguese frontier, he takes a terrible revenge, and recovers his lost telescope, a gift from Sir Arthur Wellesley himself :

"Christopher and Williamson edged away. Christopher watched Sharpe pick up the glass. ‘Not damaged, you see? I took good care of it.’ He had to shout to make himself heard over the seething rain and the crash of the river thrusting through the rocks. He pushed Williamson forward again, but the man obstinately refused to attack and Christopher now found himself trapped on a slippery ledge between cliff and river, and the Colonel, in this last extremity, finally abandoned trying to talk himself out of trouble and simply shoved the deserter towards Sharpe. ‘Kill him!’ he shouted at Williamson. ‘Kill him!’ The hard shove in his back seemed to startle Williamson, who nevertheless raised the sabre and slashed it at Sharpe’s head. There was a great clang as the two blades met, then Sharpe kicked the deserter’s left knee, a kick that made Williamson’s leg buckle, and Sharpe, who looked as though he was not making any particular effort, sliced the sword across Williamson’s neck so that the deserter was knocked back to the right and then the sword lunged through the rifleman’s green jacket and into his belly. Sharpe twisted the blade to stop it being trapped by the suction of flesh, ripped it free and watched the dying Williamson topple into the river. ‘I hate deserters,’ Sharpe said, ‘I do so hate bloody deserters.’"

Now what do you make of that? Worth a go? I reckon it's SAE grade 30 oil - smooth and easy, a bit old fashioned but long lasting and dependable. Well what are you waiting for. Get down to your public library pronto for a couple of Sharpe titles and start reading; and if you find some on the red cross stall, pick them up for the shed, you won't regret it I can promise you.

Now a final word about the DOG, if you've met him you'll know what I'm talking about. If you don't know him, you should at least know the signs and here's a good place to start . So don't be afraid to check up on your mates because I reckon it's every bloke's responsibility, and don't hesitate to let a mate know if things aren't right with yourself and things are getting you down. Get to the quack if need be and get something for it. It can creep up on you before you know it, and then you're in trouble, so start talking and listening to your mates.

So until next time it's cheers from your mate Jacko, and remember what I told you about Fido.


Misao said...

Dear Mr or Ms Merryjack,
Something has been bothering me about your site for a while now, and I have just realized what it is. At first I thought it was just sour grapes, because you are obviously a prodigiously gifted blogger, and you put the rest of us to shame. But no, that wasn't it. It is because you have not listed Pride and Prejudice or the Kite Runner as a favourite book. Do you really work in a library? I have my doubts. Perhaps you are a new breed?

Jack Russell said...

G'day and thanks for dropping in on me blog, mmm these grapes are delicious! Always happy to get a visit from an officer of the law, no matter what they say...Now don't get too anxious about Pride and Prejudice or the Kiteflyer situation because I've had a word to me Missus and she's going to have a word to the ladies down at the CWA and see if they can't come up with a review of both, but seeing how the Shed is for Blokes, someone is going to have to start a new blog for the Ladies something like "Good Material from the Sewing Room"? So as soon as you start it up they'll contribute to it, and I can't say fairer than that...Respectfully, Jacko from the Shed.

All the World

Jaques -
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...