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Dictionary Definition

Saki

Noun

1 British writer of short stories (1870-1916) [syn: Munro, H. H. Munro, Hector Hugh Munro]
2 Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice; usually served hot [syn: sake, rice beer]
3 small arboreal monkey of tropical South America with long hair and bushy nonprehensile tail

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

  1. alternative spelling of sake (rice wine)

Japanese

Noun

  1. : previous; first
  2. : peninsula
  3. 左記: the following (statement)

Extensive Definition

Hector Hugh Munro (December 18, 1870November 13, 1916), better known by the pen name Saki, was a British writer, whose witty and sometimes macabre stories satirized Edwardian society and culture. He is considered a master of the short story and is often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. His tales feature delicately drawn characters and finely judged narratives. "The Open Window" may be his most famous, with a closing line ("Romance at short notice was her speciality") that has entered the lexicon.
In addition to his short stories (which were first published in newspapers, as was the custom of the time, and then collected into several volumes) he also wrote a full-length play, The Watched Pot, in collaboration with Charles Maude; two one-act plays; a historical study, The Rise of the Russian Empire, the only book published under his own name; a short novel, The Unbearable Bassington; the episodic The Westminster Alice (a Parliamentary parody of Alice in Wonderland), and When William Came, subtitled A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns, an early alternative history. He was influenced by Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, and Kipling, and himself influenced A. A. Milne, Noël Coward, and P. G. Wodehouse

Name

The name Saki is often thought to be a reference to the cupbearer in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, a poem mentioned disparagingly by the eponymous character in "Reginald on Christmas Presents" and alluded to in a few other stories. It may, however, be a reference to the South American primate of the same name, "a small, long-tailed monkey from the Western Hemisphere" that is a central character in "The Remoulding of Groby Lington" and that, like Munro himself, hid a vicious streak beneath a gentle exterior.

Biography

Hector Hugh Munro was born in Akyab, Burma (now known as Sittwe, Myanmar), the son of Charles Augustus Munro and Mary Frances Mercer. His father was an inspector-general for the Burmese police when that country was still part of the British Empire. His mother (the aunt of fellow-author Dornford Yates), died in 1872, killed, essentially, by a runaway cow. It charged at her and the shock caused her to miscarry. She never recovered and soon died. It was an incident that may have influenced the sometimes deadly animals of Saki's later stories. He was brought up in England with his brother and sister by his grandmother and aunts in a straitlaced household whose comic side he appreciated only later in life. He used the severity of these domestic arrangements in many stories, notably "Sredni Vashtar", in which a young boy keeps a pet polecat ferret without the knowledge of his spiteful and domineering female guardian who is eventually killed by the animal, to the boy's great satisfaction.
Munro was educated at Pencarwick School in Exmouth and at Bedford Grammar School. When his father retired to England, he travelled on a few occasions with his sister and father between European watering holes (fashionable society drinking venues) and tourist resorts. In 1893 he followed in his father's footsteps by joining the Indian Imperial Police, where he was posted to Burma (as, coincidentally, was another acerbic and pseudonymous writer a generation later: George Orwell). Two years later, failing health forced his resignation and return to England, where he started his career as a journalist, writing for newspapers such as the Westminster Gazette, Daily Express, Bystander, Morning Post, and Outlook.
In 1900 Munro's first book appeared: The Rise of the Russian Empire, a historical study modelled upon Edward Gibbon's magnum opus The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
From 1902 to 1908 Munro worked as a foreign correspondent for The Morning Post in the Balkans, Warsaw, Russia (where he witnessed Bloody Sunday), and Paris; he then gave that up and settled in London. Many of the stories from this period feature the elegant and effete Reginald and Clovis, young men-about-town who take heartlessly cruel delight in the discomfort or downfall of their conventional, pretentious elders. In addition to his well-known short stories, Saki also turned his talents for fiction into novels. Shortly before the Great War, with the genre of invasion literature selling well, he published a "what-if" novel, When William Came, subtitled "A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns", imagining the eponymous German emperor conquering Britain.
At the start of World War I, although 43 and officially over age, Munro joined the Royal Fusiliers regiment of the British Army as an ordinary soldier, refusing a commission. More than once he returned to the battlefield when officially still too sick or injured to fight. He was sheltering in a shell crater near Beaumont-Hamel, France in November 1916 when he was killed by a German sniper. His last words, according to several sources, were "Put that damned cigarette out!" After his death, his sister Ethel destroyed most of his papers and wrote her own account of their childhood.
Munro never married. A. J. Langguth in his biography produces strong evidence to support the hypothesis that Munro was homosexual. Sexual activity between men was a crime, and the Cleveland Street scandal in 1889, followed by the downfall and disgrace of Oscar Wilde, convicted in 1895 after cause celebre trials, meant that "that side of [Munro's] life had to be secret".
In recognition of his contribution to literature, a blue plaque has been affixed to a building in which he once lived on Mortimer Street in central London. One of his social-climber young characters lived in a similar "roomlet which came under the auspicious constellation of W" (i.e. within the postal district of the West End of London, where the fashionable set lived in Edwardian times).

Controversy

Some believe that Munro wrote misogynistic and anti-Semitic stories. See, for example, "The Unrest-Cure", in which Clovis perpetrates a hoax to the effect that the local bishop is going to massacre every Jew in the neighbourhood. Compared with such contemporaries as Belloc or Chesterton, Munro appears mild.
Rather than the blanket term 'misogyny', it might be more correct to say that he disliked and disapproved of childless women, probably from his own negative experience of growing up in the care of his strict aunts. Some stories give voice to his irritation with aspects of female psychology, such as the middle-class conventionality epitomised by the ceremony of afternoon tea, or the inability to shop efficiently. He was persistently and derisively anti-suffragette.
Despite his lampooning of suffragettes and aunts, several of his stories feature sympathetic portrayals of admirably cool and self-possessed schoolgirls. Others feature strong-willed, independent women in a positive manner. One of his best childhood friends was his sister Ethel, who also never married, and they remained close until his death - a sign of Munro's personal forbearance, as she had a powerful and difficult personality.

Short stories

Saki's world contrasts the effete conventions and hypocrisies of Edwardian England with the ruthless but straightforward life-and-death struggles of nature. Nature generally wins in the end.
Saki's work is now in the public domain, and all or most of these stories are on the Internet.
Some of his best-known short stories are listed below.

"The Interlopers"

"The Interlopers" is a story of two men, Georg Znaeym and Ulrich von Gradwitz, whose families have fought over a forest in the eastern Carpathian Mountains for generations. Ulrich's family legally owns the land, but Georg – feeling it rightfully belongs to him – hunts there anyway. One winter night, Ulrich catches Georg hunting in his forest. The two would never shoot without warning and soil their family’s honor, so they hesitate to acknowledge one another. As an “act of God,” a tree branch suddenly falls on them, trapping the men next to each other under the log. Gradually, they realize the futility of their quarrel and become friends to end the family feud. They call out for their men’s assistance, and after a brief period, Ulrich makes out ten figures approaching over a hill. The story ends with Ulrich’s realization that the "interlopers" on the hill are actually wolves.

"The Schartz-Metterklume Method"

At a railway station, an arrogant and overbearing woman mistakes the mischievous Lady Carlotta for the governess she expected. Lady Carlotta, deciding not to correct the mistake, presents herself as a proponent of "the Schartz-Metterklume method" of making children understand history by acting it out themselves, and chooses a rather unsuitable historical episode for her first lesson.

"The Toys of Peace"

Rather than giving her young boys gifts of toy soldiers and guns, their mother instructs her brother to give the children "peace toys" as an Easter present. When the packages are opened, young Bertie shouts "It's a fort!" and is disappointed when his uncle replies "It's a municipal dust-bin". The boys are initially baffled as to how to obtain any enjoyment from models of a school of art and a public library, or from little toy figures of John Stuart Mill, poetess Felicia Hemans, and astronomer Sir John Herschel. Youthful inventiveness finds a way, however.

"The Storyteller"

"The Storyteller" is a cynical antidote to crude didacticism. An aunt is traveling by train with two nieces and a nephew. The children are naughty and mischievous. A bachelor is sitting opposite. The aunt starts telling a story, but is unable to satisfy the curiosity of the children. The bachelor intervenes and tells a different kind of story which feeds their curiosity and imagination.

"The Unrest-Cure"

Saki's recurring hero Clovis Sangrail, a sly young man, overhears the complacent middle-aged Huddle complaining of his own addiction to routine and aversion to change. Huddle's friend makes the wry suggestion of the need for an "unrest-cure" (the opposite of a rest cure) to be performed, if possible, in the home. Clovis takes it upon himself to "help" the man and his sister by involving them in an invented outrage that will be a "blot on the twentieth century".

"Esmé"

In a hunting story with a difference, the Baroness tells Clovis of a hyena she and her friend Constance encountered alone in the countryside, who cannot resist the urge to stop for a snack. The story is a perfect example of Saki's delight in setting societal convention against uncompromising nature.
The wailing accompaniment was explained. The gypsy child was firmly, and I expect painfully, held in his jaws.
The child is shortly devoured.
Constance shuddered. "Do you think the poor little thing suffered much?" came another of her futile questions.
"The indications were all that way,' I said; 'on the other hand, of course, it may have been crying from sheer temper. Children sometimes do."''

"The Open Window"

A man with the unlikely name of Framton Nuttel comes to a country village for some peace and rest. He calls upon a lady named Mrs. Sappleton his sister used to know; for a few minutes he is left alone with her niece named Vera, who has quite an active imagination. She tells Framton a story about the tragedy of the lady's husband and two younger brothers, who had gone hunting one day three years earlier and never returned. The bodies were never found, and because of this the window from which they left is always kept open. When indeed they do return that very night, Framton, who has suffered from nerves in the past, runs out of the house, and the niece explains his sudden departure to her relatives with an equally imaginative fiction.

"Sredni Vashtar"

The story of a young, sickly child, Conradin. His aunt, Mrs. De Ropp, "would never... have confessed to herself that she dislike Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him for 'his own good' was duty which she did not find particularly irksome." When she finds Conradin's beloved Houdan hen and pet polecat/ferret, which he reveres as "Sredni Vashtar", she calls the exterminator to get rid of the pets. On the morning of the dreaded visit, Mrs. DeRopp enters the shed in which the ferret lies in his hutch, in full view of Conradin. As the time slips by without a stirring from the shed, Conradin begins to pray to Sredni Vashtar — and receives his darkest wish.

"Tobermory"

At a country house party a visiting professor announces to the guests that he has perfected a procedure to teach animals human speech. He demonstrates this on his host's cat. Soon it is clear that he omitted to teach the animal to be silent about certain facts...

"The East Wing"

A 're-discovered' short story, previously cited as a play and therefore less well known. A house party with its typical social mix of bumbling Major Boventry, the precious Lucien Wattleskeat, the wordy Canon Clore and a breathless hostess, Mrs Gramplain, is beset by a fire in the middle of the night in the east wing of the house. Begged by their hostess to save "my poor darling Eva – Eva of the golden hair," Lucien demurs on the grounds that he has never even met her. It is only on discovering that Eva is not a flesh and blood daughter, but Mrs Gramplain's painting of the daughter that she wished that she had had and which she has faithfully updated with the passing years, that Lucien declares a willingness to forfeit his life to rescue her, since "death in this case is more beautiful," a sentiment endorsed by the Major. As the two men disappear into the blaze, Mrs Gramplain recollects that she "sent Eva to Exeter to be cleaned." Thus the two men have lost their lives for nothing. (Compare with Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.)

Books

Posthumous publications:
  • 1919: The Toys of Peace (short stories)
  • 1924: The Square Egg and Other Sketches (short stories)
  • 1924: "The Watched Pot" (play, with Charles Maude)
  • 1926-1927: The Works of Saki (8 vols.)
  • 1930: The Complete Short Stories of Saki
  • 1933: The Complete Novels and Plays of Saki (includes The Westminster Alice)
  • 1934: The Miracle-Merchant (in One-Act Plays for Stage and Study 8)
  • 1950: The Best of Saki (ed. by Graham Greene)
  • 1963: The Bodley Head Saki
  • 1981: Saki (by A.J. Langguth, includes six uncollected stories)
  • 1976: The Complete Saki
  • 1976: Short Stories (ed. by John Letts)
  • 1995: The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope, and Other Stories
  • 2006: A Shot in the Dark (a compilation of 15 uncollected stories)

Television

In 1962, a Granada Television black & white program, produced by Phillip Mackie, dramatized very successfully several stories of Saki. Actors included Mark Burns as Clovis, Fenella Fielding as Mary Drakmanton, Richard Vernon as the Major, Rosamund Greenwood as Veronique and Martita Hunt as Lady Bastable. The program's title was "Saki".

References

External links

wikisource author Saki

Literary criticism and biography

  • Mappining London: Urban Participation in Sakian Satire — by Lorene Mae Birden. Literary criticism focusing on the role of London.
  • "People Dined Against Each Other": Social Practices in Sakian Satire — by Lorene Mae Birden. Literary criticism focusing on the social mannerisms.
  • The Satire of Saki by George James Spears — A 127 page book encompassing a dissection of satire in Saki's works. Bibliography and overview of all of Saki's works in relation to satire.
  • Biography by Ethel M. Munro — A brief biography written by Saki's sister, giving basic information on his life.
  • Saki: A Life of Hector Hugh Munro by A. J. Langguth — Includes six uncollected stories and various photographs.
  • An Asp Lurking in An Apple-Charlotte: Animal Violence in Saki's The Chronicles of Clovis by Joseph S. Salemi — Literary Criticism about the recurrence of animals in Saki's "The Chronicles of Clovis", ultimately suggesting that the animals represent the characters' primal instincts and true vicious mannerisms. Available in Student Research Center of EbscoHost Database.
  • The Unbearable Saki by Sandie Byrne. Oxford University Press. — http://www.sandiebyrne.co.uk/saki.html
  • Where the Wild Things Are — by Christopher Hitchens. The enduring, untamable appeal of Saki's short stories. Atlantic Monthly June 2008
saki in Bengali: সাকি (লেখক)
saki in Catalan: Saki
saki in German: Hector Hugh Munro
saki in Spanish: Hector Hugh Munro
saki in Esperanto: Saki
saki in French: Saki (écrivain)
saki in Dutch: Saki (pseudoniem)
saki in Japanese: サキ
saki in Portuguese: Saki
saki in Russian: Саки (писатель)
saki in Slovak: Saki (spisovateľ)
saki in Swedish: Saki
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