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Chances are, you would have to be an English major to know who Saki was. This is a crime, because Saki (H.H. Munro, 1870-1916) is killingly funny. He was inspired by Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll a generation before him, and in turn inspired P.G. Wodehouse, Graham Greene, and A.A. Milne. In our generation, he influenced Edward Gorey, who illustrated his book, THE UNREST-CURE AND OTHER STORIES (New York Review Books, 2013.) It is a perfect match.
Munro was born in British Burma, now Myanmar, and was sent to school in England. After a stint in the Indian Imperial Police, malaria forced him back to London again. During the Edwardian Era, he began writing short stories under his nom-de-plume. This was the Age of the Short Story, and he was able to support himself well. Unfortunately, he was also part of a doomed generation, and he died in the Great War at the Battle of Ancre.
Oscar Wilde was known for the bon mot, the stand alone epigram, but Saki wove his together and made certain each one was as sharp as a barbed wire. His claws were always reserved for English society, which he felt was monolithic enough to withstand it. Wodehouse is better remembered these days, but he was less ironic and insightful than Saki. As Graham Greene said, “Saki, like a chivalrous highwayman, only robs the rich: behind all these stories is an exacting sense of justice.”
(Photo of Will Thomas by Gentry Bowles)