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SAKI: SOMEPROBLEMSANDABIBLIOGRAPHY1 By Robert Drake (University of Texas) i, Some Problems Few writers of the twentieth century who have brought so much pleasure to discriminating readers have suffered the same critical neglect as Saki (Hector Hugh Munro), No hooks have bean written about him, and the serious critical essays on his work may be numbered on the fingers of two hands, He has always enjoyed a small but intensely devoted following, his stories are still included in both "trade" and textbook anthologies, some of his stories have been translated into languages as different as German and Turkish, and some have now been adapted for television,- But few critics hâve taken Saki seriously: they either dismiss him somewhat contemptuously as a purveyor of gilded trifles to an outmoded aristocracy before going on to the tortured Giants of the present century; or, if they think Saki is made of sterner stuff, they allot him a few lines as a lesser Kipling affinity, a diverting inheritor of the Wilde tradition, or an interesting precursor of Evelyn Waugh or the now revived Ronald Firbank. Fairly typical of the former judgment is that expressed by Samuel Chew, who relegates Saki to a footnote on Aldous Huxley: "The cynical, urbane wit of Hector H Munro ('Saki,' Õ 870-1916) was anticipatory of a dominant mood of the nineteen twenties, He satirized society from the point of view of aristocratic Toryism in short stories,,,. His deft competence has in the long run failed to conceal his shallownesso"3 The latter view, which tends to take Saki more seriously, though in somewhat patronizing fashion, is well expressed by William York Tindall, who holds Saki's "fantasies" to be "savage" as contrasted with the "sunny and urbane" pieces produced by Sir Max Beerbohm: "The callousness of his short stories,o.i s that of a sadistic child. His effect depends in part upon regarding the affairs of the adult world with the cold-blooded eyes of such a child and in part upon brevity and casual speed. Appalling practical jokes, infantile revenge, and meaningless horrors compose a world (not unlike that of Kipling) peopled by children, carnivorous animals, and the ruling caste."^ However , it is possible that, though :n the most enthusiastic partisan's eyes Saki must perforce remain a minor literary figure, he is an artist of unique ability, in dead earnest about dramatizing his individual perception of man's plight in a world which is often exotic, sometimes terrible, but always real. Briefly, the bare facts of Saki's life are these. He was born on December 18, I87O, in Akyab, 3urma3 where his father was an officer in the Burma Police. When he was about two, his mother having died, he was brought back to England with his older brother and sister, Charles and Ethel, and installed in Broadgate Villa in Pilton, near Barnstable, North Devon. This establishment was presided over during Major Munro's nearly perpetual absence in the East by his mother and his two sisters, Charlotte ("Aunt Tom") and Augusta, fierce spinster ladies who ruled with an authoritarian hand and whom Saki depicted again and again in his stories with a mixture of hatred and affection. He was educated first by governesses., then at a private school in Exmouth and at Bedford Grammar School. In 1893, at the age of twenty-three, he went out to Burma to take a post with the Military Poiice but was forced to return home after a stay of only thirteen months because of successive bouts of tropical fever. In I896 he went up to London to begin a literary career and began with a series of political satires (illustrated by F. Caruthers Gould) à " la Lewis Carroll for the WESTMINSTER GAZETTE, Saki's first and only "serious" book, THE RISE OF THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE, was published in 1900, followed by THE WESTMINSTER ALICE (1902), a collection of the WESTMINSTER GAZETTE pieces,5 By this time his stories had begun to appear in the WESTMiNSTER GAZETTE and later in the MORNING POST, the BYSTANDER, and a few scattered periodicals. His first collection of stories, REGINALD, appeared in 1904 and was followed by REGINALD IN RUSSIA (I9IO). In 1902...


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