Places: The Unbearable Bassington

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1912

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBassington house

Bassington Unbearable Bassington, Thehouse. London home of Francesca Bassington, whose house is hers only until Emmeline Chetrof marries. Thus, it is not truly a home, and its very impermanence drives Francesca’s actions and suggests the shallowness of the society in which she lives. Francesca’s only visitors seem to be her son and her brother–one more indication that the house will disappear. The furnishings that Francesca prizes she has acquired mostly by chance; her “delicious bronze Fremiet” she buys with winnings from horse racing; some Dresden figurines are given to her by an admirer; other Dresden figurines she acquires with bridge winnings. There are other things she values, in part because they come from marvelous, mysterious places, but above all because they are somehow connected with her own history. Her prize possession, the “Van der Meulen” painting, turns out to be a fake.


*London. Great Britain’s chief city, in which almost all the action in the novel takes place. The people inhabiting Saki’s London are strictly upper middle class, with an occasional member of the lower aristocracy. Francesca plays bridge with her female friends at various houses, especially Serena Golackly’s, all of which are clearly in the West End of London, where the upper classes live. Besides bridge, the main purpose of these parties is gossip, of a petty and nasty sort.

Elaine’s garden-park

Elaine’s garden-park. Place where Elaine entertains both Comus and Youghal. With its roses, “emerald turf,” and brilliantly plumed pheasants, the park functions as a kind of Garden of Eden. All should be well. But Comus foolishly shows himself at his worst, just when he should be at his best, a small, self-destructive, selfish Adam who demands that Elaine give him a silver bread-and-butter dish which is a family heirloom.

Keriway farm

Keriway farm. Place outside London where Elaine pays an accidental visit to Tom Keriway. The farm presents the ambiguities of the natural world against those of the city world. Keriway, too, has an Eden, and Elaine believes it is a real Eden. However, he himself points out its violence and, at the same time, its dullness. Like virtually all the places in the novel, the farm, too, disappoints.

African colony

African colony. Unnamed tropical British colony where Comus is sent and dies. With all its faults, the colony appears to be somehow superior to the superficial English world of the rest of the novel, though Saki is not making a clear anticolonial statement. At the same time, Africa is hot, humid, and dangerous–the very opposite of the well-furnished, comfortable houses of upper-middle-class life back in England. However, it is also the only place in the novel containing people of other races and other classes. Comus Bassington sees and envies the African children at play, something he would have hardly noticed back home. Indeed, the only glimpse of children in England is at the public school that the young Comus attends and at which casual cruelty is the ruling principle. Human violence and emptiness is not the point here. The finally irony is that Comus does not fit in–and that this place will kill him.

BibliographyBaring, Maurice. Introduction to The Unbearable Bassington, by Saki. New York: Viking, 1928. Thematic analysis of the work; calls it “an ironic tragedy on a high level.” Believes Saki possessed a stoic view of life, recognizing the fragility of human relationships but resigned to struggle for the preservation of a civilized society.Bloom, Harold, ed. Twentieth Century British Literature. Vol. 4. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Collection of excerpts from reviews by eminent literary critics of the early twentieth century. Allows readers to place The Unbearable Bassington in the context of Saki’s career, and relates it to his short stories; also comments on the quality of satire in the novel.Gillen, Charles H. H. H. Munro (Saki). New York: Twayne, 1969. General survey of the novelist’s career as a historian, journalist, short-story writer, novelist, and playwright. Surveys the critical reception of The Unbearable Bassington; explains how the novel summarizes themes present throughout Saki’s writings and discusses his handling of issues involving sexuality.Langguth, A. J. Saki: A Life of Hector Hugh Munro. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981. Well researched and well written biography integrating literary analysis with details of Saki’s life. A chapter on The Unbearable Bassington reviews biographical genesis of the work and comments on characterization. Judges the novel a mixed success.Spears, George James. The Satire of Saki. New York: Exposition Press, 1963. Demonstrates how Saki uses a number of satiric techniques in the novel to explore the “will to destruction” residing in humankind; notes how he manages to evoke sympathy for the mother in the story.
Categories: Places