Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, May 15, 2010

" Open Window" by Saki

"The Open Window" by Saki

 "The Open Window"   by Saki-aka Hector Munro (4 pages, 1911)

Hector Munro (1870 to 1916)  writing under the pen name of Saki is considered a master of the very short story (under 5 pages)and is often mentioned as an English O Henry.   Saki was born in Burma (I prefer the old name) in 1870 where his father was serving as inspector general for the Burmese police.   Burma was part of the British Empire at that time.   At age two Saki is sent back to England to be raised by his grandmother when his mother died as a result of an incident with a cow.   His father later retired to England and he and Saki appeared to have had an amiable relationship as perhaps indicated by Saki also joining the office of the Burmese police inspector at age 23.   Saki caught malaria at age 25 and returned to England where he would become journalist.   He worked for a couple of years as foreign correspondent in Russia where he witnessed the infamous bloody Sunday episode.   He also gave that up and for about the last ten years of his life he was not formally employed on a regular basis  and was supported by family wealth.   It is during this period that he wrote most of his work.
Saki is famous for his satires of the upper classes in Edwardian England.   The two stories  (I also read "The Philanthropist and the Cat" and may post on that also) of his I read did remind me of P G Wodehouse's "The Man With Two Left Feet" in that both have the same subject matters and are writers of what can be see as light works of short fiction written in a very refined gentle  mannered style about the foibles of humanity in a way that allows us to see the flaws in the characters of the subjects of the stories without invoking contempt for them.  Saki, based on the two stories I read, also seems to rely on the use of a twist at the end to conclude his stories.    There is a wicked edge to Saki that may not be in Wodehouse and his writing does have a more educated tone than O Henry.

I choose to read "The Open Window" as it is considered one of the most highly regarded of Saki's many short stories.   Some consider it his best work and it did contribute a wonderful catch phrase to English.

"The Open Window" is narrated by Mr  Framton Nuttell who has been ordered by his doctor to take a rest in the country.    His aunt has given him letters of introduction to several members of the gentry and he is making a round of visits.   Mr Nuttell is waiting in the parlor of one of the houses he is visiting with the 15 year old niece of the family he  is visiting and has not yet met.   The niece points out to him the open widow in the parlor and says he is probably wondering why they keep a window open in the middle of October (a cold period in England).   The niece explains it to him:

"Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day's shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it." Here the child's voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. "Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back someday, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do" 
When he meets the aunt and she tells him she is expecting her husband and his hunting party friends to return through the open window at any moment he essentially humors her but is aghast by her madness.  He turns with surprise when the Aunt says in a very matter of fact way with no surprise at all in her voice she sees her husband now.  Here is what then happens:

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.
     "Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window, "fairly muddy, but most of it's dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?"      "A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodby or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."      "I expect it was the spaniel," said the niece calmly; "he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve."
I said at the start of my post that this story created a catch phrase.   Here it is

     Romance at short notice was her speciality. 

I think I prefer the style of Saki to O Henry but I see the similarities as will all who read them.   Saki also wrote a novel and a history of Russia modeled on Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.   At age 43 (way over the age at which he could be drafted -Ford Madox Ford did the same thing) he volunteered for service in WWI and was killed in combat.   He was gay but because of  the repressive laws of the era (remember what happened to Oscar Wilde who went to jail when Saki was 25) he kept this side of his life in confidence.

I really enjoyed this story.  I read it on line at a very interesting new to me web page I found recently Short Stories:  East of the Web .   They seem like a great resource for on line reading of short stories.   I prefer I must say the presentation of the material on but I will be checking East of the Web on a regular basis-they constantly add new stories.  

Mel u


Emidy @ Une Parole said...

Hm, I've never read anything by this author. But it's good to hear that you enjoyed it!

Rebecca Reid said...

I have really been meaning to read some Saki. I'm glad to hear you prefer his style to O.Henry. I really like the latter's stories -- but I always thought his writing a bit phooey. Thanks for this. I'll have to find a collection of his stories soon.

Mel said...

Hi Mel

I really enjoyed reading this review and thank you for commenting on my review of the same story.

I am gratified that you also compare his style to PG Wodehouse, because when I put that in my review I was not sure if anyone would see the similarity. I totally agree that he has a harder edge to his stories and encourage you to check out Sredni Vashtar for another example of that hard edge.

Thanks for sharing this review. I also really enjoyed the biographical info on Monro you include.