Black Ajax

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

BLACK AJAX is an historical novel, set during the first two decades of the nineteenth century, mostly in England. It is the story of Tom Molineaux, a black slave who becomes a great boxer.

George MacDonald Fraser’s story opens in Louisiana, where Molineaux is shown in his first boxing match, against another slave. His master promises him his freedom if he wins, and then sends him off to England to be trained as a champion boxer.

In England, Molineaux is taken into the hands of Bill Richmond, himself a former slave, now a boxing trainer. He is noticed by Buck Flashman, a rich man who decides he can make a great deal of money by patronizing the black fighter. Molineaux soon begins to earn a reputation. The climax of his fighting career is two matches against Tom Cribb, the reigning champion. He loses both, but becomes famous in the process.

Meanwhile, Molineaux has responded to his newfound wealth and fame by spending all possible moments drinking and sleeping with women. This soon proves his ruin; he dies in his early thirties in 1818.

Boxing was illegal in England at this time, was fought with bare fists, and had few of the standardized rules that were adopted later. It was a brutal sport. The prevailing feeling about black people, expressed by virtually all the characters, was that they were not quite human.

More than a story of boxing or of Regency England, BLACK AJAX is the story of one man’s struggle against prejudice, and his defeat by his acceptance of the very indulgences that he hoped to engage in by becoming successful.