Character: Richard Sharpe
Fandom: Sharpe (movie version)
Spoilers: for the entire series
Beta: many thanks to jenna_thorn
Author's Note: For those not familiar with canon, Sharpe is a series of British made-for-TV movies1, based on the novels of Bernard Cornwell, depicting the adventures of Richard Sharpe, an officer in Wellington's army during the Napoleonic Wars – mostly the Peninsular. This essay will concern itself solely with the TV version, which of necessity differs somewhat from the novels, although Cornwell appears to be ok with the film adaptations. Cornwell is also a whole-hearted fan of Sean Bean in the title role; I completely agree with him on this. In fact, Bean is the reason I began watching Sharpe in the first place. Is anyone surprised? I thought not.*g*
Good with a rifle, quick on his feet and bloody fearless2
Richard Sharpe is an action hero and his story is one of war – of battles, intrigues and adventure. As we see him in the series, his life is all derring-do, with a good dash of romance. Sharpe is a rough diamond who rises through the ranks from private soldier, eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He has a strong sense of honour, is fiercely loyal to his friends, implacable towards his enemies, and irresistible to women – every inch the stuff of legend.
Sharpe has been described as a working-class hero, and indeed class issues play a huge role in his life and career. Cornwell, in an interview, describes him thus: "Sharpe is a villain; he's a rogue, but he's our rogue, he's our villain."3 And Bean says, "He's street-wise. I guess there's a roguish element to him, but there has to be because that's how he survives all these battles."4 In Sharpe's Justice Wickham sneers that Sharpe "rides like a peasant, dresses like a peasant, eats like a peasant, fights like the devil."
The son of a whore, raised in a workhouse, Sharpe found his place in the Army, gaining far more success there than he might have expected in civilian life. Like most men of his social class, he was illiterate when he enlisted, but was taught to read and write in India. We learn in Sharpe's Eagle that he spent 3 months in a cell with an officer, Lt. Lawford, who used a page of the Bible to teach Sharpe his letters, for which Sharpe is very grateful.
Sharpe is a born warrior. "It's my work; it's what I do. I'm good at it."5 He is good at it, very good. He fights brilliantly – he's tough, cunning, and relentless, and men follow him willingly. He also has a fair share of the luck that can take a man far in war. He learns how to inspire loyalty in common soldiers, having started out as one of them, and he gives his loyalty to them unreservedly.
However, having been raised from the ranks, he has plenty of trouble with other officers. Ninety-five percent of the officer corps in the British Army of that era were gentlemen – men of wealth and social standing – who purchased their commissions; they did not look kindly upon those they regarded as jumped up guttersnipes. Sneers, snubs, ostracism, and all the pinpricks of social disapproval were the daily ration meted out to such interlopers. Sharpe, while irritated by this behavior, is not to be discouraged by it. He respects and admires ability and courage – witness his relationship with Wellington – but has no use whatsoever for mere rank when unaccompanied by these qualities. He makes his contempt stingingly clear and gains enemies thereby. But Wellington – and his spymasters – think well of Sharpe and make use of his abilities throughout the series.
Sharpe first comes to Wellington's attention at the very start of the series, in the opening scene of Sharpe's Rifles, when he is still a sergeant. He single-handedly saves Wellington's life, killing three French cavalrymen and taking a sabre cut in the process. In gratitude, Wellington grants him a field commission, making him a Lieutenant. He says, "I'm much obliged to you; you did me a damn good turn. Now I'm going to do you a damn bad one." The General knows that promotion will be a mixed blessing for Sharpe, but he recognizes Sharpe's quality and realizes that he is more than tough enough to make his way. No doubt he is already planning how to make use of Sharpe's talents. In fact, his chief of intelligence, Major Hogan, immediately takes Sharpe under his wing and in short order Sharpe finds himself in charge of a squad of Riflemen, the Chosen Men, and bound on a secret mission into enemy territory.
Sharpe and the Chosen Men
The Chosen Men are sharpshooters, and a bunch of rogues, drawn from the dregs of society, much like Sharpe himself. Debtors, thieves, poachers – they're a tough and unsavory bunch, but good men underneath, again much like Sharpe. They are even less pleased than Sharpe is with this arrangement. He's not what they consider to be a "proper officer" and Sharpe, ill at ease with his new status, does nothing at first to conciliate them.
The mission goes badly from the start, with the whole detachment, save the Rifles, caught in an ambush and slaughtered, along with both of Sharpe's superior officers. Sharpe is left with six reluctant men and responsibility for completing the mission. The men, instigated by Patrick Harper, attempt to mutiny, and Sharpe and Harper proceed to beat the living Hell out of each other. It's a dirty fight, a continuation of the scuffle they had had the day before, when Harper challenged Sharpe's authority upon his introduction to the Chosen Men. They are fighting for alpha dog status and the success of Sharpe's career as an officer hangs on the outcome. They are pretty evenly matched, and Sharpe's toughness and ability clearly impress the watching men – it's not what they would have expected from an officer, even one jumped up from the ranks. The fight is interrupted by Spanish partisans (guerilla fighters), commanded by Teresa Moreno, before either could kill the other. Sparks fly instantly between Sharpe and Teresa. The two groups join forces as reluctant allies against the French and the rest of the episode deals with the successful completion of their respective missions, during which Sharpe settles into his rank.
Before he died, Captain Murray, knowing Sharpe was headed for trouble, had kindly given him some advice on handling the men, the most important of which was to get Patrick Harper on his side. Teresa also delivers some pointed remarks on the subject of command during the course of their travels. Sharpe, for all his rough and occasionally uncouth behavior, is no fool. On the contrary, he's extremely clever and a quick study, and he takes their advice to heart. He never stops being a hardass – barking orders and taking no guff - but you can see him modify his tactics with the men. A bond begins to form and by the end of the mission they are fighting as a unit; the Chosen Men become Sharpe's men, and so they remain for the rest of the series, right through to Waterloo. To cap it off, Sharpe makes Harper his sergeant and a relationship that started in bloody brawls gradually turns into a lifelong friendship.
Sharpe and Harper
Harper quickly becomes Sharpe's right hand, looking out for his interests and supporting him through all their adventures. He helps to bring the Chosen Men into line during the early days, when they were still inclined to rebel on occasion. In battle, Harper saves Sharpe's life any number of times. Over and over, at key points of crisis in each episode, Harper is there at Sharpe's shoulder, silent and watchful, and nearly as dangerous as Sharpe himself. As the years go by they become comfortable enough so that rank occasionally vanishes and they bicker and banter like the best friends they are. But always when the chips are down, it's Sharpe in command and Harper his unflagging second. Sharpe gives Harper a Nock volley gun, which becomes his trademark weapon. It had seven barrels that fired simultaneously. It was devastating in its effect but very difficult to use due to the enormous recoil. Harper is a big man and, as Sharpe says, "he's the only one who can handle it."6
In addition to being the perfect sidekick, Harper is very good, in his glib Irish way, at explaining Sharpe to strangers, as in Sharpe's Eagle when he tells Captain Leroy, "Ye can't stop Captain Sharpe, sir. You can walk away from him or you can stand behind him, but don't ever try to get in his way," or when he tells Mohan Singh in Sharpe's Challenge, "Colonel Sharpe's always had a certain gift for the impossible."
Sharpe's rise through the ranks
Once made up to Lieutenant, Sharpe proceeds to rise steadily through the ranks. In Sharpe's Eagle he is gazetted Captain by Wellington for his heroism in going to the aid of Major Lennox at the bridge at Val de la Casa. He tops that feat by capturing an Imperial Eagle (the French battle standard) during the battle of Talavera – a stunning accomplishment that swiftly makes him famous throughout the Army and at home in England, much to his bemusement. He suffers a brief setback in Sharpe's Company, when his commission is refused in England and he is reduced to Lieutenant, but regains Captain's rank permanently by being first into the breach at Badajoz. In Sharpe's Enemy he is made Major by special command of the Prince Regent, who has heard of Sharpe's deeds and wishes to reward him.
He remains at this rank until Waterloo, where he gets his lift to lieutenant colonel by joining the Prince of Orange's staff, at Wellington's request. Orange is young, impulsive, and inexperienced, and the Duke gives him seasoned British officers in the hopes of keeping him out of trouble. It does not work; the Prince's bumbling leads to huge casualties on the British side, including the total destruction of Sharpe's former battalion, as well the deaths of Harris and Hagman, the last of the Chosen Men, save for Harper. This so enrages Sharpe that he shoots the Prince from ambush, intending to kill him. (Historically, the Prince of Orange was wounded at Waterloo and survived.) This scene has one of the classic Sharpe & Harper moments. Harper first attempts to reason with him. "They were soldiers, Hagman and Harris. They knew they would die." But Sharpe is having none of it. "They were *mine*. I chose them. They fought with me! Now I'll only get one shot. Now, Patrick, this is a hanging matter when I plug him dead. So you keep out of it. Just keep out of it!" Harper ignores this, of course, taking his place at Sharpe's side. "Aim for his belly," he says. That's Harper all over; he'll try to steer Sharpe away from trouble but, failing that, he'll stick around to help.
In the grand finale of the battle the colonel of the South Essex is killed and Sharpe assumes command with Wellington's blessing. "Your battalion, Mister Sharpe; I'm beholden to you." They proceed to break Napoleon's Old Guard, thereby sealing Wellington's victory.
Sharpe is a Rifleman; his regiment is the 95th Rifles, the Green Jackets. It is a regiment of sharpshooters, armed with Baker rifles, rather than the Brown Bess muskets carried by most of the rest of the British Army. They wore dark green uniforms, not the standard bright red. The 95th fought with distinction in Spain and elsewhere, making good use of their highly-accurate and long-range rifles. In the Sharpe series, most of the regiment is withdrawn from Spain early on, with a small detachment left behind, which included Sharpe and the Chosen Men. During much of the rest of the series, they are attached to the South Essex regiment – although Sharpe's special assignments from Wellington take them pretty far afield at times. Through it all they continue to wear their treasured green jackets with pride, despite at least one effort to put them in red. In Sharpe's Enemy, Sharpe is given command of a company of the 60th Rifles. In Sharpe's Regiment the reinforcements Sharpe brings to Spain from England, the second battalion of the South Essex, is renamed The Prince of Wales' Own Volunteers. (Note: the 95th Rifles and the 60th Rifles are real regiments; the South Essex is fictional.)
The South Essex is completely without battle experience when they arrive in Spain at the start of Sharpe's Eagle. Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson orders Sharpe to train them to load and fire three shots a minute, as Sharpe has boasted he can do. Sharpe does so – one soldier even manages four shots in a minute – which annoys the hell out of Simmerson, but gets the men on his side, echoing Sharpe’s repeated conflict with officers and camaraderie with the rank and file. Later, on the eve of the Battle of Talavera, he gives them a short and powerful speech about what to expect in the battle, about how to stand in the face of an advancing French column. It's a far cry from his early awkwardness with the Chosen Men; Sharpe is growing into his rank quickly and very well. The next day, in the battle, things fall out exactly as Sharpe had described. As the French advance, Simmerson breaks and runs in a panic. The regiment is wavering on the verge of doing the same when Sharpe strides to their front and yells for them to "Stand!" Reassured, the line firms up and performs creditably – firing volley after volley until the French retreat. The steadiness of the South Essex wins the day.
In Sharpe's Battle, Sharpe is assigned to whip the Royal Irish Company - the Spanish King's palace guard, presented to Wellington to 'help' with the war - into fighting shape. They are a pitiful bunch at first, but Sharpe succeeds in making them into a force to be reckoned with, despite their initial resistance. At one point he gives another of his rousing pep talks and has them cheering by the end of it. Colonel the Lord Kiley, their commanding officer, compliments Sharpe on it and Sharpe looks disgusted. "I hate making bloody speeches," he replies. He does hate it, but he does what's needed to get the job done. Duty and honour, as always, are paramount with Richard Sharpe.
Throughout the series, Sharpe's skills at managing the men under his command increase. The Chosen Men, of course, are a special case, being his own men, from his beloved 95th. As Rifleman Harris explains it to Jane in Sharpe's Mission, when she asks why they would follow him to the death, he replies, "Loyalty. We're loyal to him; he's loyal to us, in life and in death. We trust him with our lives and he trusts us with his life." But most of the other enlisted men and junior officers Sharpe commands come to trust and admire him, too. He leads from the front, for one thing – he's always at the head of his troops, first into battle, unlike some officers. He never asks his men to do anything he is unwilling to do himself. He roughs it along with them, living amongst them instead of keeping himself aloof. He appears absolutely fearless and is a remarkable fighter, which inspires his men to emulate him. His manners are rough – although they smooth out somewhat over time – which reminds the men that Sharpe was once one of them in very fact. He *gets* them, knows what makes them tick; he looks out for them and their interests. And they love him for it.
Sharpe on soldiering
He has a pretty clear notion of his role in the Army. In Sharpe's Rifles he tells the Chosen Men, "All I know is how to fight." And in Sharpe's Company, during the short time he was reduced to Lieutenant, he gets into a shouting match with Major Nairn – one of Wellington's spymasters – over his new role. Here's part of it:
Sharpe: "I'm a soldier, sir, not a bloody clerk! I fetch, I forage, I count shovels and I take punishment drills. It's yes sir, no sir, can I dig your latrine sir, and it's not bloody soldiering!"
Nairn: "It IS bloody soldiering! What the hell do you think soldiering is? Just because you've been allowed to swan around like a bloody pirate for years …"
Sharpe: "Listen, sir, when they fling us up against those walls, you'll be glad there's some pirates in there and not just bloody clerks."
Then in Sharpe's Honour, Sharpe objects to an assignment Nairn gives him, saying, "I'm a soldier. I'm for fighting, not spying." Sharpe has a rocky relationship with each of Wellington's 'exploring officers.' It's clear that he disdains the subterfuge of intelligence-gathering, preferring straightforward battle.
Sharpe and honour
It's all about honour with Sharpe. In battle and afterward, he treats his opponents with respect. He's a pragmatist; he doesn't question the need for war but he deplores the loss of life and does what he can to minimize it. He will use tricks and stratagems to win, especially when fighting against long odds, but once he has won, he is not cruel in victory. He does not kill needlessly and calls upon his men to cease firing the instant the enemy yields. Often, after a battle, you will see him bent over the fallen, both English and French, head bowed, with an expression of regret upon his face. His men follow his lead. In Sharpe's Mission, Harper says, "Chosen Men are men of honour. Men who will fight any enemy to the death, but still bury them. They have respect."
Sharpe has strict rules about plunder, too. "Taken only from the French, and only when they'd fought and died."7 In other words, only when it's been fairly won. He doesn't despoil non-combatants – no looting captured cities for Sharpe or his men.
Dealing with Betrayal
Because of his personal honor, it always hits him hard when someone he views as a friend betrays him, which (leaving out his marital difficulties) happens three times in quick succession.
In Sharpe's Sword we meet Captain the Lord Spears, or Jack as he insists on being called. He lost an arm earlier in the war and now is one of Major Nairn's 'exploring officers'. Despite the fact that he is a spy (a profession Sharpe has issues with) and he bears a title, putting him – in the ordinary course of things – well beyond Sharpe's sphere, he and Sharpe strike up a close friendship. It's a mutual admiration society – Spears compliments Sharpe on taking the Eagle and Sharpe points to Spears's empty sleeve and says, "Well, you didn't get that scratching your ass, Jack."
They work together trying to locate a French spy/assassin who apparently is working with an English accomplice. Sharpe is shocked to discover that the traitor is Spears. There is a wrenching scene where Sharpe lets Spears know the game is up. It turns out that Spears is a most unwilling traitor, having been tortured and blackmailed into cooperating with the French. In fact, he tells how he had balked at one point because " if I betrayed the fort I would've had to betray you and I may be able to betray my country, but I could never betray my friend." Sharpe is moved to pity. He asks, "So what am I supposed to do now, Jack? Me not being an officer and a gentleman. I mean I know what an officer'd do. He'd put you under close arrest, court martial you, shoot you, and let your family die of shame. Oh, and I know what a gentleman would do. He'd put a pistol on that table, walk outside that door, and wait for you to blow your brains out. But me? What the hell do I do with you, Jack?"
Sharpe's real problem here is that Jack is his friend and it will tear him up to do either of those things. In the end, Sharpe lets Spears lead the attack on the fort, in such a way that he is certain to die, thereby preserving his honour. Their goodbye – a long look with no words – hurts to watch.
Then, in Sharpe's Regiment, when Sharpe has uncovered corruption in the War Office, he confides in Sir William Lawford, his old mentor, for help. Sir William, who has left the Army and gone into politics, promptly takes this information to the perpetrators of the fraud and bargains it for personal advancement. Sharpe is appalled when he finds out. "There's nobody I would trust more," he says. He seems almost stunned to think Lawford would act in such a dishonorable way.
Finally, in Sharpe's Mission, Sharpe has to deal with the treachery of Colonel Brand – a man he admires almost to the point of hero-worship. They faced an ambush together years before and Brand performed a feat of great daring, rescuing a captured English officer from the French. Sharpe's glowing report on the action helped gain Brand his promotion to Colonel.
Now Sharpe discovers that Brand has been working with the French for years; that the 'daring rescue' had been nothing but a setup between Brand and his French handler. Worse still, Brand has now led Sharpe and his men and Major General Ross (Wellington's current chief of intelligence) into a French trap.
Clearly, Sharpe has had a bellyful of betrayal. On this occasion he wastes no time with regrets. He and Ross court-martial Brand and sentence him to death, sentence to be carried out at a later date, i.e. when they have escaped the French. Brand makes the mistake of taunting Sharpe about the situation; gloating that they won't live to see him shot and that even if they do get back to camp alive, Brand has enough influence to beat the rap. Sharpe realizes that Brand is probably right – that he will escape justice – and you can almost see him snap. He punches Brand in the chest, pushing him down a well to his death, and stalks off to deal with the French attack. Later, Ross tells Wellington the whole story and asks what are they to tell Horse Guards? Wellington snaps, "Tell them Brand died a hero's death and let's get on with the damned war!" Yay for rough justice and validation for Sharpe.
There are villains in every episode, of course, but three characters stand out as personal enemies, men who are prepared to go to any length to destroy Sharpe. Sharpe, however, is a match for each of them, which is highly satisfying to watch. The enemies are:
Sir Henry Simmerson, is a conceited, corrupt, incompetent coward. He is introduced in Sharpe's Eagle, when he arrives in the Peninsula as Colonel of the South Essex. Simmerson is also a snob and treats Sharpe with utter contempt, considering him an upstart and refusing to acknowledge that a ranker can also be a good officer. Sharpe and his men are sent on a mission with the South Essex, which mission Simmerson bungles spectacularly, including losing the regiment's colors to the French – a terrible dishonour. Wellington rages at him and brushes aside his excuses. Simmerson, humiliated and blaming everyone but himself, but especially Sharpe (who was actually the hero of the action), tries to have Sharpe murdered. Then at the Battle of Talavera, Simmerson compounds his shame by turning tail and fleeing at his first sight of a French column advancing, leaving Sharpe to once again save the day. Simmerson is sent home in disgrace, with his regiment given to Colonel Sir William Lawford. That should have been the end of it. But thanks to friends in high places, he gets a diplomatic post in Spain a few years later and crosses paths with Sharpe once again. Driven by hatred, Simmerson stoops to treason, betraying British plans to the French in the hope that Sharpe will die in the subsequent battle. Sharpe is terribly wounded but recovers. Simmerson again goes home to England, where Sharpe encounters him for a third time, when Sharpe and Harper are sent to home to discover why reinforcements are not forthcoming. They find Simmerson deep in a highly illegal and fraudulent scheme to siphon off the South Essex's recruits and auction them to other regiments. Sharpe, of course, foils that and Simmerson is once again put to rout. All his attempts to destroy Sharpe end in disaster for himself. You would think he'd learn his lesson. To add insult to injury, it is during this time that Sharpe falls in love with Jane Gibbons, Simmerson's niece, and they are engaged. Since Simmerson had been planning to marry her off to his own advantage, this undoubtedly doesn't sit well with him. Sharpe runs into Simmerson again in Sharpe's Challenge, but this time, at least, Simmerson doesn't manage to damage Sharpe at all. I don't know if he shows up in Sharpe's Peril, but I hope not. We've seen enough of the slimy bastard.
Sgt Obadiah Hakeswill is a thoroughly evil man. Years ago, in India, Hakeswill and an officer named Morris framed Sharpe for a crime he didn't commit and he was flogged in consequence. When Hakeswill arrives as part of a draft of reinforcements from Lisbon at the beginning of Sharpe's Company, Sharpe is enraged to have to deal with him again. Hakeswill promptly tries to rape Teresa, who defends herself easily, as one would expect. The entire episode is full of Hakeswill's nasty tricks, all aimed at Sharpe. He preys on the men, trying to get them in trouble or to force their wives, he gets Harper framed for theft, flogged and stripped of his rank, he tries to kill Sharpe, using the Nock gun he confiscated from Harper – wounding him in the leg, but killing a young ensign by mistake. Finally, during the battle of Badajoz, he kills two English officers and tries once again to rape Teresa, which has become an obsession with him; he wants "Sharpie's whore." He is shot and wounded by Harper and flees, committing another rape and murder on the way. He turns up again as the title character in Sharpe's Enemy, at the head of a multi-national army of deserters that is holding the wives of two officers, one French and one English, to ransom. He is finally caught and executed, but not before he succeeds in killing Teresa. (I must note here that Pete Postlethwaite did a scarily convincing job of portraying a psychopath. *shudder*)
Major Pierre Ducos is a spy and one of Napoleon's advisors. He is cold, ruthless, and more than a little twisted (he seems to get an almost sexual thrill from causing pain). He's a physical coward who does his work by manipulating others. He and Sharpe meet during the hostage negotiations in Sharpe's Enemy and Sharpe guesses immediately that he is a spy. It is hate at first sight. Ducos appears in four episodes, causing all manner of trouble for Wellington's army in general, as well as pursuing his personal vendetta; he wants Sharpe dead. Twice he sets up a battle, hoping Sharpe will fall in the fighting and twice he arranges to have Sharpe framed for murder so that the English Army will hang him. He's devious and treacherous, but in the end he's no match for Sharpe, who finally manages to kill him in Sharpe's Revenge.
Women and Richard Sharpe
Sharpe is very attractive to women; countesses to courtesans, they can't seem to resist him. And for his part he's more than a bit susceptible to their charms. By my count there are no less than fourteen women in the 15 episodes of Sharpe who look upon him with, to say the least, interest. Three women he falls in love with, six more he tumbles with differing degrees of affection, three offers he refuses for various good reasons, one woman he may or may not have slept with, and one simply admires Sharpe from afar. But not one of them is indifferent to him. The only woman character who is unmoved by Richard Sharpe, in fact, is Ramona Harper, née Gonzalez, who only has eyes for Harper.
Sharpe loves women. But as with men, his respect is reserved those deserving of it. If a woman is 'no better than she should be' as the old saying goes, he's up for a quick fumble with no qualms. But he has a chivalrous side, as well. A woman in trouble he will always try to help with no strings attached.
For example, in Sharpe's Battle, when Lady Kiley comes to him for help, she offers herself to him as incentive. She is clearly humiliated by what she is doing, but her need is desperate and she thinks this is the only way she can convince him. He stops her from stripping off and she is crushed, thinking she's too unattractive to tempt him. He very gently reassures her, saying that no, it is because she is a married woman, and he promises to help after all, without requiring payment.
Another time, when he is freeing the (extremely naughty and up for it) Marquesa Dorada from a convent where she is held prisoner, he manages to fight off the assault of dozens of screeching and furious nuns without hitting a single one of them. Asked about it later, he shrugs it off. "They are good women."
And in Sharpe's Eagle, when the widowed Josefina, Countess LaCosta, is having some trouble with Simmerson and his nephew, Sharpe steps in and rescues her. When praised for helping her, he simply says, "She's woman. She needed help," as if that's all the explanation he needs to make. He admires her, and it is hinted that she is available, but nothing comes of it because he was in the throes of his first great love affair with Teresa Moreno.
Teresa is well-born and well educated. Her immediate family was destroyed by the French, along with their wealth and position, and now she has become a partisan who lives to kill Frenchmen. She's a free spirit, understandably distrustful of soldiers, and as fearless in battle as Sharpe himself. Sharpe is smitten and it's clear Teresa is attracted, too, almost despite herself. They fall pretty hard for each other.
Their liaison lasts four years and they have a daughter. Teresa continues as a leader of the partisans, where she is known as La Aguja, The Needle, and Sharpe is immensely proud of her. He delights in shocking people – especially officers fresh from England - by telling them his wife slits French throats.
Teresa teaches Sharpe to read and speak French (although, unlike her, he speaks it with a really atrocious accent!) and he reads Voltaire, finding therein something he is fond of quoting to those who doubt him: "God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best." Clearly, he takes this as validation for himself and the Rifles.
Sharpe and Teresa meet when they can and as their respective work allows. She often spies for Wellington. After three years they marry, during Sharpe's Company, although we do not see the ceremony. Their daughter stays with Teresa's relatives. In the end Teresa is murdered by Sharpe's long-time enemy, the renegade Sergeant Hakeswill. Sharpe is shattered by her loss
His grief is made worse by the fact that he spent the night before her death with an old flame, a whore who had married into the upper classes, Isabella, Lady Farthingdale. Teresa never knew that while she was riding through the night, bearing vital information from Nairn to Sharpe, he was being unfaithful, but Sharpe suffers acute pangs of guilt nonetheless. It is some time before his spirits recover enough for him to start behaving like a tomcat, but of course he does, eventually. And once he starts, he carries on like Don Juan for a while. That is, until he meets the disastrous Jane.
Jane is the niece of Sir Henry Simmerson, as mentioned above, and that should have given Sharpe pause, I think, but she was helpless and in a dreadful situation when he encountered her and a combination of pity and his chronic susceptibility tripped him up. It is hinted that she had had a bad case of hero-worship for him since she was a child, which no doubt inclined her to accept his suit. In any case, she accompanies him to Spain and they are married. At first all goes well – she is proud of her heroic soldier and he is smitten with his lovely bride, but things go downhill very quickly. Jane begins to chafe at Army life and longs to return to England with Sharpe, where she envisions them living the life of gentlefolk. Only she has some doubts that her working-class husband is up to the task of playing the gentleman. Sharpe asks, clearly worried, "Is that why you married me, Jane? To cut a figure in society? I thought you loved me for what I am." She reassures him, but it rings hollow. She proceeds to make a fool of herself over Mr. Shellington, a newspaper reporter/poet/painter who visits the Army in search of "heroic" stories to tell his readers. He courts her in the smarmiest way and she, seeing only his veneer of culture, is in danger of falling for his line of crap, until Rifleman Harris, who (long story) is temporarily acting as butler, reveals him to be a plagiarist. Shelllington is reading a love poem, that he claims to have written, to Jane when Harris, in the most amusing way, jumps in and finishes the recitation from memory, adding a remark on the identity of the real author.8 Exit Shellington, with Harris's boot to his backside. Ironically enough, when a pretty French noblewoman, Catherine de Maquerre, had thrown herself at Sharpe shortly before this incident, Sharpe had rebuffed her. He'd learned his lesson after Teresa's death; no more cheating on his wife. Nevertheless, Jane grows more and more intolerant of the war and of Sharpe's part in it. Shortly afterward she leaves him on the flimsiest of pretexts, sneaking off when he is with the regiment. She returns to England and draws out all his considerable savings (plunder converted to gold). She takes pretty, cultured, spineless Lord Rossendale as a lover and proceeds to spend Sharpe's money at a great rate. As soon as the complicated situation in Europe will allow, Sharpe follows her to England, intent on recovering his money and his wife. Jane makes it clear she now despises Sharpe and has no intention of ever returning to him and indeed, Sharpe feels he is well rid of her, especially since by this time he has met Lucille, about whom more presently. Sharpe does however want his ten thousand guineas back. That's about half a million in today's money, so he has good reason to continue to press for its return. Jane and Rossendale have, however, wasted most of it and Sharpe never does get any of it back. Rossendale falls at Waterloo, just as Jane discovers she has fallen pregnant. One may guess at her subsequent career, but at least she is out of Sharpe's life.
Lucille is the widow of a French officer who owns a farm in Normandy. They meet when Sharpe is trying to clear himself of charges that Ducos had framed him with. In a misunderstanding, she shoots him in the leg and it takes him weeks to recover, during which time they fall in love. Sharpe resists at first, because he still considers himself married to Jane, but once it becomes clear that his marriage is effectively over, he and Lucille tumble headlong. After a series of adventures back in England, Sharpe returns to France (this is during Napoleon's exile in Elba and Europe is at peace for the moment) and settles down with her. She accompanies him to Waterloo and before they leave the farm he tells her, "Lucille, it is you now forever, for I am suited in love and life, I do declare it." They remain together until her death two years later.
I love Richard Sharpe. He's a hero, he's a pirate; he's a good man and bad boy. He's smart and tough and brave and so damn good at what he does. And, perhaps most of all, I love him because he's a three-dimensional character. He grows and changes over the course of the series, always getting better.
He soaks up information like a sponge. And he's very quick to put bits of knowledge gleaned here and there to good use, as when in Sharpe's Mission, Harris uses the term prima facie and Sharpe irritably demands clarification. Then, just days later, Sharpe himself uses the term when acting as prosecutor at Brand's court martial. Similar things happen a number of times throughout the series and it always makes me grin. I love a clever and resourceful man.
He goes from being awkward and almost uncouth at the start to someone considerably more sophisticated at the end, all without losing the essential qualities that make him who he is. Over the course of the series, which covers eight years (so far) from 1809 to 1817, he learns to read and speak French, he acquires a bit of Latin, and he reads Voltaire. His vocabulary improves tremendously. He becomes more at ease interacting with his superiors – he goes from stammering and wishing he were elsewhere to taking a full and confident role in strategy meetings, for example. Wellington never ceases to awe him, but even there Sharpe grows far more comfortable. In Sharpe's Eagles he is formal and stiff but in Sharpe's Waterloo he speaks to Wellington man to man, fluently and easily (and in Sharpe's Challenge he has no trouble at all refusing Wellington's request that he come out of retirement and go to India… until the Duke – clever, manipulative bastard that he is – throws Ramona Harper in his way to change his mind). And, while I doubt he'll ever be comfortable at social events of the upper class, he gets better at getting through them.
Whatever life throws at Richard Sharpe you may be sure he'll deal with it and come out on top – and provide lots of excitement along the way. My kind of hero.
1. Episode list
1. Sharpe's Rifles 1993
2. Sharpe's Eagle 1993
3. Sharpe's Company 1994
4. Sharpe's Enemy 1994
5. Sharpe's Honour 1994
6. Sharpe's Gold 1995
7. Sharpe's Battle 1995
8. Sharpe's Sword 1995
9. Sharpe's Regiment 1996
10. Sharpe's Siege 1996
11. Sharpe's Mission 1996
12. Sharpe's Revenge 1997
13. Sharpe's Justice 1997
14. Sharpe's Waterloo 1997
15. Sharpe's Challenge 2006
16. Sharpe's Peril* 2008
*due out on DVD in late 2009, and not covered in this essay.
2. DVD series introduction
3. Making of featurette on Sharpe's Challenge DVD
5. Sharpe's Waterloo
6. Sharpe's Company
7. Sharpe's Regiment
8. Harris is an educated man, well read in a number of languages. He was forced into the Army by debt and drink and is not at all your typical enlisted man. Throughout the series, he is Sharpe's go-to guy for questions of literature. Their conversations are sometimes hilarious because, while they grow to respect and like each other very much (dare I say love? And no, I do NOT mean anything slashy! They are comrades in arms and that bond can be very like love) they could not be more unlike. They are like a fish and a bird trying to converse. Nonetheless, Sharpe learns a great deal from Harris that comes in extremely useful.