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Author Exploration Paper: Saki Essay

Born on December eighteenth, 1870, Hector Hugh Munro was the third child of Charles Augustus Munro, an inspector general in the Burma police. H.H. Munro’s mother, Mary Frances Mercer, was killed a mere two years after her youngest son was born. She was killed by a runaway cow in England (Merriman). After her death, H.H. Munro and his siblings were raised in England by their two aunts and grandmother. These three adults were often the inspiration for many female characters in Munro’s stories (“A biography of Saki”). Mrs. DeRopp, in “Srendi Vashtar”, is modelled after his aunt Agnes (“H.H. Munro: About the Author”). His aunts were both very strict, and they often used the birch and whip as a form of punishment. However, if Saki had not faced such harsh trials as a child, his future works might not have been as rich as they are today{Subjunctive mode}.

Due to the Munro children’s poor health, they were forced to be taught by governesses at home. At the age of twelve, H.H. Munro was finally able to attend school in Exmouth and Bedford Grammar. H.H. Munro’s father retired when Hector was sixteen. For a few years, the small family traveled the continent before his father arranged a post for him in the Burma police. Munro spent thirteen months in Burma. Although sick on multiple occasions, Munro was able to study Burmese animals, and he even raised a tiger cub during his time there(A Biography of Saki”). In 1984, Munro was forced to return to England after contracting malaria while in Burma.In 1896, Munro begn to write political satires for the Westminster Gazette. These essays were later collected and published as The Westminster Alice.

In 1902, Munro published a collection of his short stories, called Not-So Stories. Munro also published only one work of serious non-fiction called The Rise of the Russian Empire. This was the only piece ever written by Munro to contain his real name on the book jacket. For all of Munro’s other pieces, however, Munro’s name was nowhere to be found. Instead, Munro chose to write under the pen name of “Saki”. The name Saki can mean one of two things, either Munro was referring to himself as a breed of monkey, or he saw himself as the cupbearer of Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat. It is more probable that the latter option is true, for Saki had often expressed his admiration for Fitzgerald’s work (Hitchens){Compound sentence}.

During his lifetime, Saki also served as a war correspondent before moving to Paris to write for The Morning Post and a French paper. He briefly revisited England in 1907 when his father became ill and died in May. Saki then opened a club, The Cocoa Tree, and continued to write for many newspapers and publish his short stories. When war was declared in late 1914, Saki enlisted in the army although he was officially too old{Complex Sentence}. He also surprised many of his admirers by turning down several commissions and insisting that he serve in the trenches, claiming that he couldn’t lead soldiers if he didn’t first know how to be one (Hitchens). He continued writing{gerund phrase} while in the army about his life on the front until November in 1916.

Near the village of Beaumont-Home on the river Somes, Saki was shot by a German sniper. On the verge of a crater, the great storyteller shouted, “Put that bloody cigarette out!” Those were to be the “great Saki’s” last words (Hitchens). Although Saki’s hand would write no more, it is quite clear that Saki’s writing has definitely been influenced by his life events. H.H. Munro, or Saki, lived and wrote during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This time period was speckled with various wars and revolutions, and gave birth to the world’s first great war. Throughout these major events, Saki was there to witness, record, and eventually give his life to these skirmishes.

During his life, Saki traveled to the Balkans, Russia, Poland, and France as a foreign correspondent from 1902 to 1908. While in these countries, he witnessed “Bloody Sunday” in St.Petersburg and the Russian Revolution of 1905. He also criticized the government for its “inept handling” of the Boer War (Silet). Saki’s many travels allowed him to be exposed to hardships and dangers that “…did much to alter the tone of his work” (Silet). Saki’s travels to Europe also “…introduced him to European Folk Literature” (Silet), a genre that supplied him with both subject matter and the darker vision of many of his later fiction.

When not traveling the world, Saki was often found in England, where he made observations about the Edwardian society that he lived in. He later transformed these observations into many short stories, based on the upsetting of the monotonous routine of everyday life (Silet). However, towards the end of his life, Saki’s work is darker; there seems to be less humor in his writing as time goes on (Silet).

During this period of his life, a hint of naturalism begins to creep into his writing, nearly extinguishing the flickering tongue of humor that used to be evident in all of his work. Saki’s use of naturalism is very apparent in his later fiction, such as the short stories “Dogged” and “The remoulding of Groby Lingfoughn”(Elahipanah). Although Saki wrote many different stories, sometimes using multiple genres, there is no question that the many world events that occurred during Saki’s lifetime greatly influenced Saki’s writing. Saki has often been called a “master of the short story”(Hitchens). Aside from this title, Saki was also a master of satire. Satire is generally witty and ironic, and uses carefully hidden hints in the text to convey its message.

The genre rarely attacks specific individuals, and often uses extremes to bring the audience to an awareness of the danger in a particular society (“Characteristics of Satire”). More specifically, Saki was an Edwardian satirist–he often made fun of his society, and many of his short stories have to deal with extraordinarily strange events happening to the ordinary people of his social class and time period (“H.H. Munro: About the Author”). Saki’s earlier stories are typically more humorous; his later stories are darker and more macabre due to his many experiences with war and the darker sides of humanity (Silet). Naturalism, a genre that shows the harsher side of life and portrays the idea that man is powerless against nature{appositive phrase}, is also apparent in some of Saki’s aforementioned later fiction. Many figures from Saki’s childhood (mainly his aunts Agatha and Charlotte) are also used as models for many of Saki’s female characters (Silet).

The characteristics of satire and and naturalism are both clearly portrayed through Saki’s writing. Saki’s short story “On Approval” includes many of the classic characteristics of satire that are also found in Saki’s other works. Having lived in England for much of his life, Saki knew the the city well, and chose London, a city he often frequented, as the setting for this story (“A Biography of Saki”). Gebhard Knopfschrank, a self-pronounced artist, moves to London from his small farm to try his success at painting. As time goes on, Knopfschrank becomes more and more poor, rarely purchasing meals. However, one day, Knopfschrank enters his boarding house and gleefully buys “…an elaborate meal that scarcely stopped short of being a banquet.” (“On Approval”).

The other boarders, believing that Knopfschrank has finally sold his his art and been discovered as a genius, rush to purchase Knopfschrank’s ridiculously expensive paintings, eager to buy his work{infinitive phrase} before their prices increase with his fame. Later, the boarders realize that Knopfschrank has not sold a single painting at all. In fact, a wealthy American has accidentally hit, and killed, many animals back on Knopfschrank’s farm. The American hastily paid “‘…perhaps more than they were worth, many times more than they would have fetched in the market after a month of fattening, but he was in a hurry to get on to Dantzig.’” (“On Approval”). Saki’s use of satire in this piece is evident. At the end of the story, Saki, through Knopfschrank’s character, ridicules Americans and how they constantly rush around using money to get out of their problems, saying, “‘…God be thanked for rich Americans, who are always in a hurry to get somewhere else” (“On Approval”).

This general attack on a specific group of people is an element commonly used in satire (“Characteristics of Satire”). This story also uses satire in another way–it is very ironic. Irony is almost always found in satire “(Characteristics of Satire”). On the last night of his stay, Knopfschrank sells many of his works, noting “Till to- day I have sold not one of my sketches. To-night you have bought a few, because I am going away from you” (“On Approval”). This is an example of situational irony. Satire is also evident yet another way in this piece–Saki writes the story in such a way that he makes the members of the boarding house’s unfortunate mistake seem more humorous than tragic, which is a key point of satire (“Characteristics of Satire”). Saki also states in the text that Knopfschrank “…fancied he could paint and was pardonably anxious to escape from the monotony of rye bread diet and the sandy, swine-bestrewn plains of Pomerania” (“On Approval”).

This quote portrays a common theme that often appears in many of Saki’s writings–the upsetting of everyday routines. The use of Saki’s genre satire and his personal connections to the setting of the story are evident Saki’s “On Approval”. Saki’s short story “The Interlopers” has clearly been influenced by Saki’s own life and genre. This tale, which takes place in a small strip of disputed forest, is about two enemies–Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym–who are both out late on a stormy night, patrolling their borders with their huntsmen, each trying to catch and kill the other. After wandering for some time, the men come face to face with each other. Before either can react, however, there was a “…splitting crash over their heads” (“The Interlopers”) and a towering tree {participial phrase[present]} falls and pins both men to the ground.

The two talk for a time, at first trading insults, but their exchanges soon become much kinder as the men begin to offer each other their friendship. By the end of the story, the former enemies have now become friends, and they see dark figures rushing towards them. Believing these figures to be their men, coming to rescue them, the two feel that all of their troubles are over, before coming to the startling realization that the forms, presumed to be their saviors, are actually the things that will be their deaths–wolves. The story ends with Ulrich letting out “…the idiotic chattering of a man unstrung with fear.” (“The Interlopers”).

This story contains many examples of irony, which is both a staple of satire (“Characteristics of Satire”) and a common element in many of Saki’s other stories. Dramatic irony is shown in the middle of the story, when the two enemies, fighting over a piece of land, are eventually killed by that land. Irony is portrayed in the story yet again by having the two former enemies end a century-long family feud mere moments before their own death. Saki even states in the text that “…if there was a man in the world whom [Gradwitz] detested and wished ill to it was Georg Znaeym” (“The Interlopers”). This story also connects to Saki’s personal life through the story’s setting. This story takes place in a forest located “…somewhere on the eastern spurs of the Carpathians” (“The Interlopers”), an area that Saki visited while traveling with his family (Merriaman). Saki’s “The Interlopers” includes aspects of Saki’s life, genre, and environment in its telling.

Many different facets of Saki’s life and his satire can be found in his short story “The Lumber-Room”. In this story, a young boy, Nicholas, is banned from the garden and forced to stay at home with his unpleasant aunt as punishment while his cousins are taken to the seaside for a vacation. While at home, Nicholas manages to pull off a great trick on his aunt; he compels her to believe that he is in the forbidden garden while Nicholas steals the key to the mysterious lumber-room. Once inside the mysterious room, Nicholas explores the room, discovering dozens of prizes. While in this room, Nicholas hears his aunt calling and hastily runs to her, only to discover that she has fallen into the water tank in the forbidden garden and is trapped inside, calling for help. Nicholas then explains to his aunt, whom he believes to be “…the Evil One” (“The Lumber-Room”), that he cannot help her because, due to rules laid out by her, he is not allowed to enter the garden.

Nicholas leaves the aunt in the water tank until a maid discovers her. Meanwhile, the other aunt and the children return from their visit, which turned out to be disastrous. While sitting at dinner, Nicholas reflects on the tapestry that he saw, and speculates that the huntsman may still escape from the wolves with his hounds. This story displays many different aspects of Saki’s own childhood. Saki himself was actually raised by his two aunts.

Saki, like Nicholas, also despised two aunts, and often based many of his female characters off of them (Hitchens). Saki was a practical joker (“A Biography of Saki”), quite similar to Nicholas in the story. Saki was also very fond of animals during his lifetime (“H.H. Munro: About the Author”), and displays this love of animals in “The Lumber-Room” by scattering many of them throughout the story. Nicholas finds some of these animals in the lumber room; there are many animal-themed items, and Nicholas soon discovers brass figures shaped in the images of “…hump-necked bulls, and peacocks and goblins” (“The Lumber-Room”).

There is also a beautiful book depicting colorful birds. Saki shows his love of animals by placing them in this “…storehouse of unimagined treasures” (“The Lumber-Room”). Saki uses irony, an important element of satire, in this story as well. When Nicholas’s aunt is trapped in the water tank and needs Nicholas to save her, Nicholas is unable to because she dictated earlier that he was “…not to go into the gooseberry garden” (“The Lumber-Room”). Saki uses both satire and his own life experiences to give this story true life and color.

The events of Saki’s life are heavily apparent in his short story “Sredni Vashtar”. In this story, Conradin, a young boy{appositive phrase}, is forced by his sickness to stay with his despised cousin, Mrs. DeRopp. One day, however, Conradin is able to smuggle an internecine ferret into the shed by his room. Conradin names this ferret Sredni Vashtar and creates a religion around this feral god. His aunt soon grows suspicious as Conradin begins to spend all of his time in the shed, showing fervid devotion to the gracile ferret. As time goes on, Conradin grows more and more obsessed with the ferret, and begins to chant “‘Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.’” (“Sredni Vashtar”). Finally, his aunt goes to investigate the shed, puzzled as to why Conradin finds it so interesting. During her visit to the shed, a scream is heard coming from it. Moments later, a sleek shadow darts off into the night, its maw red and dark with Mrs. DeRopp’s blood. This story reflects Saki’s own childhood in many ways.

Saki, like Conradin, was weak when he was young, and was not deemed healthy enough to attend school until the age of twelve (Hitchens). Conradin also feels that “…without his imagination” (Sredni Vashtar”) he would not have been able to live due to”…drawn-out dullness” (“Sredni Vashtar). Saki writes that he sometimes felt the same way (Silet). Saki, like Conradin, was also confined to the care of an overbearing relative whom he greatly disliked–his aunt, Agatha (Silet). In “Sredni Vashtar, Conradin hates Mrs. DeRopp with “…a desperate sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask.” (“Sredni Vashtar”). Saki most likely felt this same way towards his own aunts. Mrs. DeRopp is actually based off of Saki’s despised aunt (Silet).

Clearly, many references to Saki’s early childhood are made in Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar”. Saki’s short stories, which are often about extraordinary things happening to extra-ordinary people, are as applicable in today’s world as they were during Saki’s own lifetime. Many of Saki’s works utilize the key aspects of both satire and naturalism, perfectly. Saki uses ironic wit and exaggerated scenarios to enthrall the reader in his works. This same method is often found in political cartoons today. Saki has also used his considerable talents to influence other authors, such as P.G. Wodehouse. One well-known actor (Hitchens) that was heavily impressed by Saki’s work was the late Noël Coward (Hitchens). While staying at a county house, Coward discovered a copy of Beasts and Super Beasts (a collection of Saki’s short stories) and was captivated by the author’s work (Hitchens). “‘I took it up to my bedroom, opened it casually, and was unable to go to sleep until I had finished it’” (Hitchens).

When referring to his own writing, Saki often called it ‘“true enough to be interesting but not true enough to be tiresome’” (Hitchens). This view of Saki’s prose is quite clear–although his work mainly focuses on the people of Saki’s day, the tremendous events that occur to them keep Saki’s work interesting and engaging. There is no doubt that Saki was able to create imaginative works that captivate the reader, beautiful short stories that are incredibly detailed, and unique texts that are unlike any other author’s{Parallel construction}. This makes Saki’s stories interesting and fun to read.Saki’s work has definitely been influenced by his personal experiences, his environment, and the genre of satire. Saki’s ironic short stories reveal to his readers his personal view on the disturbance of daily routine, events
that still occur quite often today.

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