Sharpe – best historical fiction ever?

Richard Sharpe... ya Bastard!

Richard Sharpe... ya Bastard!

I’ve been doing some more thinking about Heroes. Richard Sharpe has to be one of mine, and he isn’t even real. A creation of Bernard Cornwell, Richard Sharpe joined the British Army as a Private, and served in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium. He’s a pretty incredible character. Rough and tough, he was a survivor who got by on his talents and skills in an era when birth and privilege counted for far more. He manages to do pretty bad things in every book, but heres the nub – he only does bad things to bad people. So its OK, they were asking for it. He’s not perfect, by any means. But he always ends up coming out on top- if only real life was that clear cut. He cared about his men and stood up for them, and stood up for what he thought was right. In fact, I reckon Sharpe isn’t a bad role model at all. Just as long as you dont go around bayoneting Frenchmen!

Not only all that, but the books are absolutely fantastic. As someone who has read all of them at least 3 times, I think they are perhaps the greatest series of Historical Novels ever written. The research and accuracy is completely impeccable. I’ve always thought that a writer of Historial Fiction is essentially doing the groundwork for two books at one – a history book and a novel. Cornwell does it so well. The great thing is too, you can see how his writing has matured over the years. You could read all of the Sharpe novels from first to last, and probably learn more about the Napoleonic British Army and Regency British Society than you would reading the same amount of History books.

Its a formula that has been copied so many times over the years. There are so many Sharpe imitations out there, some of them are so bad you could almost change the names and they would be the same characters and stories. How they get on the shelves bemuses me. But hey, I guess imitation is a form of flattery, and Cornwell himself was heavily influenced by the Hornblower series of books. I’ve often sat down and tried to write a novel, but without fail it always ends up being another Sharpe.

The TV series takes it to another level too. Sean Bean IS Sharpe, and Daragh O’Malley is Harper, you couldnt imagine any better casting. Maybe the TV programmes are very truncated, because they have to fit it all into 2 hours and make it slightly more simple, but in my opinion its done very sensitively to the original.

Sharpe got me interested in military history, and the Napoleonic War. I think it also encouraged me to study English and to write as much as I have. I have a feeling that the Sharpe books will be as popular in years to come as they have been since Cornwell penned Sharpe’s Eagle. And Long may it continue.

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Filed under Army, fiction, Napoleonic War

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