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

Friday, September 16, 2011

"The Hounds of Fate" by Saki

"The Hounds of Fate" by Saki (1911, 5 pages)

A Very UnSaki like Story

I like Saki a lot (1870 to 1915).   Most of his stories are gentle (OK some can be a bit malicious!) satires of the follies and pretensions of Edwardian society.   He is famous as a surprise ending short story writer.   (There is background information on him in my prior posts).    

This week my understanding of the range of Saki has been expanded considerably.   His story, "The Cobwebs" has a very Gothic supernatural feel to it and his "The Comments of Moung" is not set in London on the banks of the Thames but in Burma (I do not use the current name for the country) on the banks of the Irawaddy River.  

Yesterday I checked one of my favorite sources for short stories, East of the Web:Short Stories, and saw a new to me Saki story, "The Hound", was one of the features for the day.    This, I think, is a must read story for Saki fans.   It is not at written in the mannered very smart arch prose Saki does use (I love it but I can see how some might see it as "school boy smart"  and tire of it after a while).

"The Hound" sounds almost like something Thomas Hardy might have written.   It opens with a man very down on his luck, homeless and with only a few pennies to his name.     Saki does a wonderful job setting things up for us in the opening paragraph so I will let him speak (and I also want readers to see his prose style in this story):

In the fading light of a close dull autumn afternoon Martin Stoner plodded his way along muddy lanes and rut-seamed cart tracks that led he knew not exactly whither. Somewhere in front of him, he fancied, lay the sea, and towards the sea his footsteps seemed persistently turning; why he was struggling wearily forward to that goal he could scarcely have explained, unless he was possessed by the same instinct that turns a hard-pressed stag cliffward in its last extremity. In his case the hounds of Fate were certainly pressing him with unrelenting insistence; hunger, fatigue, and despairing hopelessness had numbed his brain, and he could scarcely summon sufficient energy to wonder what underlying impulse was driving him onward. Stoner was one of those unfortunate individuals who seem to have tried everything; a natural slothfulness and improvidence had always intervened to blight any chance of even moderate success, and now he was at the end of his tether, and there was nothing more to try. 

Martin decides to stop off at a farm house he passes and ask for a meal.    When he comes to the door and old man, seemingly a family employee, greets him as "Master Tom" and says he always knew he would return from Australia one day.  He offers to get him dinner and serves him the best meal he has had in years.   He then tells Martin that his employer, a very old woman and seemingly the mother or grandmother of Tom, had told him that if Tom ever returns he is to stay and be told he will inherit the property one day just as planned before he left.  Martin has now figured out they are mistaking him for someone else but he sees no reason to explain the error.     One day he looks at a number of old family photos and the resemblance of himself and Tom is striking.   Soon Tom is told by the old family servant and farm manager that people in the community have not forgotten the terrible thing he did that made him flea to Australia.   We never learn what that was but everywhere he goes people give him hate- filled looks.   Martin is worried over what Tom did but he cannot ask as it would expose his false identity.  I will leave the rest of the plot untold.      There is a surprise ending to the story but it is organic to the plot.

I think even those who have read a number of Saki's stories will be very impressed by "The Hound".

This story, and I think all of his fiction including his novels, can be read HERE.

Please let us know of your experience with Saki.

Does the picture of Saki in uniform look wrong to you?

Mel u


Suko said...

This story does sound excellent--I will read The Hound. Thanks for the link!

Mel u said...

Suko-please come back and let us know how you like the story

Mel said...

I read The Open Window by Saki as a teenager and it completely won me over to short stories - it is the classic Saki, only a few pages and the clever twist at the end. I have read a number of his stories since and love his tone. The Hound is new to me too, I will be sure to check it, and the other two you mention, out this weekend. Many thanks.

Mel u said...

Mel-Saki is like a quick pick me up for me-the more I read him the more I like him

Kevin Faulkner said...

Think it's another man also by the name of Munro in uniform and not Saki at all, cannot imagine him ever wearing a military uniform so i wonder how these photo's got connected ?

Mel u said...

Hydriotaphia-thanks for the visit-Saki served in and in fact died in the British Army during WWI-At the start of World War I, although 43 and officially over-age, Munro refused a commission and joined the British Army Royal Fusiliers as an ordinary soldier. More than once he returned to the battlefield when officially still too sick or injured. In November 1916, he was sheltering in a shell crater near Beaumont-Hamel, France, when he was killed by a German sniper-this information can easily be verified-as to the pic in uniform-it looks very much like the pics of Saki in his later years, though he does look miserable!

Kevin Faulkner said...

Mea Culpa and thanks for having the patience to fill me in on Saki's biography Mel !

Mel u said...

Hydriotaphia-it is hard to imagine Saki in the army but it seems he was very courageous-I admit prior to visiting your blog-which I now follow-I had no idea what "Hydriotaphia" referred to-

Kevin Faulkner said...

But in fact no-one knows what HYDRIOTAPHIA means as it is an invented word, however on October 19th I shall be revealing what it may mean ! Thanks for following !