Authors: Saki

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

British short-story writer and journalist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Reginald, 1904

Reginald in Russia, 1910

The Chronicles of Clovis, 1911

Beasts and Super-Beasts, 1914

The Toys of Peace, 1919

The Square Egg, 1924

The Short Stories of Saki (H. H. Munro) Complete, 1930

Long Fiction:

The Unbearable Bassington, 1912

When William Came, 1913

Drama:

The Death-Trap, pb. 1924

Karl-Ludwig’s Window, pb. 1924

The Watched Pot, pr., pb. 1924 (with Cyril Maude)

The Square Egg and Other Sketches, with Three Plays, pb. 1924

Nonfiction:

The Rise of the Russian Empire, 1900

The Westminster Alice, 1902

Biography

Hector Hugh Munro, a Scottish-English short-story writer and journalist who used the pen-name Saki (SAH-kee), was born December 18, 1870, in Akyab, Burma, where his father was a colonel in the Bengal Staff Corps and Inspector General of the Police. Soon thereafter, his mother died and he was sent to England with his elder brother and sister to be raised by his grandmother and two aunts in Pilton, near Barnstaple, North Devon. He went to grammar school at Exmouth and Bedford and during his youth was interested in drawing and art. In 1888, Colonel Munro retired from the army and took his son on an extended tour of Europe, from which they returned in 1890.{$I[AN]9810001476}{$I[A]Saki}{$S[A]Munro, Hector Hugh;Saki}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Saki}{$I[geo]MYANMAR;Saki}{$I[tim]1870;Saki}

Saki

In 1893 Hector Hugh Munro returned to Burma to join the police force in a position gained through his father’s influence. However, the young man suffered so severely from malaria that he returned to England in 1894. Following his convalescence, Munro moved to London in 1896.

Determined to become a writer, he published his first book in 1900 (the only one under his real name), a serious history called The Rise of the Russian Empire. He then adopted his pen name, Saki, from the cupbearer in Edward FitzGerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859), and began a very successful series of political satires for the Westminster Gazette, eleven of which were published in book form as The Westminster Alice in 1902.

Fluent in French, German, and Russian, Saki traveled to the Balkans, Russia, Poland, and France as a foreign correspondent for the Morning Post from 1902 to 1908. Working as a freelance writer following his return to England in 1908, he continued to write short stories while publishing in the Bystander and the Daily Express. The Unbearable Bassington, his first novel, appeared in 1912 and was a scathingly accurate social satire written in a style reminiscent of Oscar Wilde. His second novel, When William Came, was less well received critically and served primarily to warn complacent Britons of Germany’s aggressive intentions prior to World War I.

During his ten most successful years as a writer, from 1904 to 1914, Saki published four volumes of short stories, many notable for their clever dialogue, odd animals and settings, and startling surprise endings. Saki’s short stories remained popular throughout the twentieth century, largely because of their sparkling wit and sharp humor; they are what have earned him a place in literature. Dealing frequently with unconventional subjects, practical jokes, or the supernatural, they seldom obey modern rules of realism.

Romantic idealism spurred Saki toward his last great adventure in 1914: As soon as World War I broke out, though he was over the age limit, he enlisted in the army. He managed to join a newly created cavalry unit called the 2nd King Edward’s Horse but soon transferred to the 22nd Royal Fusiliers, serving with that combat unit for a year in France. At least twice he refused an officer’s commission and safer duty, preferring to remain a common soldier on the front lines. In a predawn advance on German trenches near Beaumont Hamel on the morning of November 14, 1916, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

BibliographyBirden, Lorene M. “Saki’s ’A Matter of Sentiment.’” Explicator 5 (Summer, 1998): 201-204. Discusses the Anglo-German relations in the story “A Matter of Sentiment” and argues that the story reflects a shift in Saki’s image of Germans.Byrne, Sandie. “Saki.” In British Writers: Supplement VI, edited by Jay Parini. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001. Includes discussion of Saki’s short fiction, its influence, and its historical and cultural importance.Byrne, Sandie. The Unbearable Saki: The Work of H. H. Munro. Oxford: Oxford University, 2007. This work discusses how Munro used his unhappy childhood as inspiration for themes in his fiction and draws on the biography written by his sister to reveal details about his life. His political views and his participation in World War I are also key subjects.Gillen, Charles H. H. H. Munro (Saki). New York: Twayne, 1969. A comprehensive presentation of the life and work of Saki, with a critical discussion of his literary output in all of its forms. Balanced and readable, Gillen’s work also contains an annotated bibliography.Lambert, J. W. Introduction to The Bodley Head Saki. London: Bodley Head, 1963. A perceptive, concise, and persuasive review of Saki’s work. Written by a biographer who enjoyed a special and productive working relationship with Saki’s estate.Langguth, A. J. Saki. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981. Probably the best biography, enriching an informed, analytical presentation of its subject with a fine understanding of Saki’s artistic achievement. Eight pages of photos help bring Saki and his world to life.Munro, Ethel M. “Biography of Saki.” In The Square Egg and Other Sketches, with Three Plays. New York: Viking, 1929. A warm account of the author by his beloved sister, who shows herself deeply appreciative of his work. Valuable for its glimpses of the inner workings of Saki’s world and as a basis for late twentieth century evaluations.Queenan, Joe, ed. The Malcontents: The Best Bitter, Cynical, and Satirical Writing in the World. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2002. This anthology of cynicism and satire includes the editor’s commentaries on each author; five of Saki’s stories are featured.Salemi, Joseph S. “An Asp Lurking in an Apple-Charlotte: Animal Violence in Saki’s The Chronicles of Clovis.” Studies in Short Fiction 26 (Fall, 1989): 423-430. Discusses the animal imagery in the collection, suggesting reasons for Saki’s obsessive interest in animals and analyzing the role animals play in a number of Saki’s major stories.Spears, George J. The Satire of Saki. New York: Exposition Press, 1963. An interesting, in-depth study of Saki’s wit, which combines careful textual analysis with a clear interest in modern psychoanalysis. The appendix includes four letters by Ethel M. Munro to the author, and the bibliography lists many works that help place Saki in the context of the satirical tradition.
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