H. H. Munro
About the Author
Scottish-born writer whose stories satirize the Edwardian social scene, often in a macabre and cruel way. Munro's columns and short stories were published under the pen name 'Saki', who was the cupbearer in The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam, an ancient Persian poem. Saki's stories were full of witty sayings - such as "The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go she went." Sometimes they also included coded references to homosexuality.
Saki was born Hector Hugh Munro in Akyab, Burma (now Myanmar), the son of Charles Augustus Munro, an inspector-general in the Burma police. Munro's mother, the former Mary Frances Mercer, died in 1872 - she was killed by a runaway cow in an English country lane. Munro was brought up in England with his brother and sister by aunts who frequently used the birch and whip. He was educated at Pencarwick School in Exmouth and Bedford Grammar School. From 1887 he traveled with his family in France, Germany and Switzerland. In 1891 his father settled in Devon, where he worked as a teacher. In 1893 Munro joined the Burma police. Three years later he was back in England and started his career as a journalist, writing for the Westminster Gazette.
In 1900 Munro's first book, The Rise of the Russian Empire, appeared. It is a historical study modelled upon Gibbon's famous The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The book was received with hostile reviews in America. It was followed in 1902 with a collection of short stories, Not-so-Stories. From 1902 to 1908 Munro worked as a foreign correspondent for The Morning Post in the Balkans, Russia and Paris, and then returned to London. In 1914 his novel When William Came appeared, in which he portrayed what might happen if the German emperor conquered England.´
After the outbreak of World War I, although officially too old, Munro volunteered for the army as an ordinary soldier. He was killed by a sniper's bullet on November 14, 1916 in France, near Beaumont-Hamel. Munro was sheltering in a shell crater. His last words, according to several sources, were: "Put that damned cigarette out!" After his death, his sister Ethel destroyed most of his papers and wrote her own account of their childhood. Like her brother, Ethel never married.
Saki's best fables are often more macabre than Kipling's. In his early stories Saki often portrayed eccentric characters, familiar from Oscar Wilde's plays. Among Saki's most frequently anthologized short stories is 'Tobermory', in which a cat, who has seen too much scandal through country house windows, learns to talk and starts to repeat the guests' vicious comments about each other. 'The Open Window' was a tale-within-a-tale. In the short story 'Sredni Vashtar' from The Chronicles of Clovis (1911) a young boy makes an idol of his illicit pet ferret. It kills his oppressive cousin and guardian, Mrs. De Ropp, modelled on Saki's aunt Agnes. "Sredni Vashtar went forth, His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth / were white. / His enemies called to peace, but he brought / them death. Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful."
Saki was a misogynist, anti-Semite, and reactionary, who also did not take himself too serious. His stories, "true enough to be interesting and not true enough to be tiresome", were considered ideal reading for schoolboys. However, Saki did not have any interest in safeguarding the Edwardian way of life. "Saki writes like an enemy, " said V.S. Pritchett later. "Society has bored him to the point of murder. Out laughter is only a note or two short of a scream of fear." In 'Laura' the title character is first reincarnated as a destructive otter after her death, and then as a naked brown Nubian boy. Reginald and Clovis, two of his most famous heroes, appeared in a series of stories in which the two soul mates of Wilhelm Busch's Max and Moritz shock the conventional world or leave the reader to read between the lines. When Amabel asks Reginald's help to supervise "the annual outing of the bucolic infants who composed the local choir", Reginald's eyes start to shine "with the dangerous enthusiasm of a convert." Once Reginald states: "People may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die."
Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.