Posted by: Sally Ingraham | May 6, 2009

The Complete Saki

SakiIn April I read a review of a short story by Saki on Eva’s blog, and was so intrigued that I almost bought The Complete Saki that day. Tight purse strings convinced me to inter-library loan it instead. When it arrived a week and a half later, the desire to start in on the fabulously funny short stories compelled me to finish reading Hopscotch!

So far I have read the first three collections – Reginald, Reginald in Russia, and The Chronicles of Clovis. They were thoroughly delightful. The author, Hector Hugh Monro – who used Saki as his pseudonym – published several other short story collections as well as three plays and three novels. Born in Burma in 1870 to a senior official in the Burma police, Saki was brought up in Devonshire, traveled throughout Europe with his father, joined the Burma police for year, then became a foreign correspondent for the Morning Post in the Balkans, Russia, and Paris. He died fairly young, in 1916, mixed up with WWI at Beaumont Hamel.

His life seemed to lend itself well to keeping his finger on the pulse of English Edwardian life, among other things, and it is the rather foolish escapades of the upper crust that the stories I read were about. Reginald and Clovis, the narrators, instigators, and very well dressed heroes of these three collections, are similar in their mischievous attempts to keep the duchesses and elderly aunts of their acquaintance off balance. Reginald seems to do it with slightly less wit, but both young men rise equally well to the challenge of reminding everyone just how silly they are.

In the first collection – Reginald, – Reginald gets up to various types of mischief and gives his opinions on several matters very loudly and pointedly. In the second collection – Reginald in Russia – Reginald figures less prominently, and the pieces are often absurd tales with abrupt, ironic endings. One of my favorites was The Mouse, where a man on a train journey finds that he has a mouse inside his clothes and is forced to undress, all the while hoping the sleeping lady sharing his compartment won’t wake. When she does, he spends the rest of the trip huddled beneath a rug, frantically making up stories about malaria and wondering how on earth he’ll get his clothes back on before they reach the station. In a final panic he throws the rug to the wind and bares all, and then…the punchline.

Clovis is definitely the hero of his own life and all the stories in The Chronicles of Clovis, although his roll is often storyteller. He is one of those infuriating people that one tolerates because they keep things interesting. Certainly that can be the only reason he wasn’t drowned at birth, something his Aunt and the Baroness whose house he frequents may sometimes regret. A classic escapade can be found in The Unrest-Cure, where Clovis overhears a man on a train regretting that he and his middle-aged sister are already living as though they were far older. They dislike any kind of excitement or deviation from their normal schedule. His friend suggests an ‘unrest-cure’, some vigorous action to shake them back into being spontaneous and young again. Clovis, being Clovis, decides he will inflict his own variety of ‘unrest-cure’ upon the fellow. When the poor man receives a telegram informing him of the momentary arrival of the Bishop, Clovis’ cure has only just begun.

Although I am abandoning these snarky, hilarious stories for the moment, I am thoroughly pleased to have discovered Saki (thank you Eva!) and will probably have to purchase the book after all. I’ll leave you with this delicious scene that made me giggle, while being abundantly true:

From The Match-Maker
‘Six minutes later Clovis approached the supper-table, in the blessed expectancy of one who has dined sketchily and long ago.
“I’m starving,” he announced, making an effort to sit down gracefully and read the menu at the same time.
“So I gathered,” said his host, “from the fact that you were nearly punctual. I ought to have told you that I’m a Food Reformer. I’ve order two bowls of bread-and-milk and some health biscuits. I hope you don’t mind.”
Clovis pretended afterwards that he didn’t go white above the collar-line for the fraction of a second.
“All the same,” he said, “you ought not to joke about such things. There really are such people. I’ve known people who’ve met them. To think of all the adorable things there are to eat in the world, and then to go through life munching sawdust and being proud of it.”
“They’re like the Flagellants of the Middle Ages, who went about mortifying themselves.”
“They had some excuse,” said Clovis. ” They did it to save their immortal souls, didn’t they? You needn’t tell me that a man who doesn’t love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul, or a stomach either. He’s simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly developed.” ‘

Truly, a man after my own heart, at least on some points!


  1. Ha, this sounds right up my alley! I can always get into the ridiculous escapades of some bumbling upper-class British lads.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever read any short stories by Saki, but everybody I know who has has raved about him just as much as you. Looks like you’re finding some real gems on interlibrary loan these days!

  3. I hope you both enjoy Saki. He’s really very pleasant – perfect for both the beach or a cozy armchair by the fire. I imagine his stories would be excellent for reading out loud too, although hard to get through due to giggling. 🙂

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