Friday, December 18, 2009

Notes For December 18th, 2009


This Day In Writing History

On December 18th, 1870, the famous British writer Saki, the pseudonym of H.H. Munro, was born in Akyab, Burma, which is now known as Sittwe, Myanmar. He was born Hector Hugh Munro, the son of an inspector-general for the Burmese police. At the time of his birth, Burma was still part of the British Empire.

In 1872, Munro's pregnant mother had gone home to England for a visit. While there, she was charged by a cow, and the shock of it caused her to miscarry. She never recovered from the miscarriage and died shortly afterward. So, Munro's father sent him and his sister Ethel to England, where they were raised by their aunts and grandmother in a strict Victorian household.

H.H. Munro received his primary education at Pencarwick School in Exmouth and Bedford Grammar School. When his father left the Burmese police and retired to England, Munro and his sister traveled with him around Europe, visiting various fashionable spas and tourist resorts.

In 1893, Munro followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Indian Imperial Police. He was posted to Burma. Two years later, he had to resign due to poor health. Munro returned to England, where he began a career as a journalist, writing for newspapers such as The Westminster Gazette, The Daily Express, The Bystander, The Morning Post, and The Outlook.

Munro's first book was published in 1900. It was a non-fiction historical study called The Rise Of The Russian Empire. For six years, from 1902-08, Munro worked as a foreign correspondent for The Morning Post in the Balkans, Warsaw, Russia, and Paris. In Russia, he witnessed the infamous Bloody Sunday incident of January 22nd, 1905, where striking workers marched to St. Petersburg, hoping to deliver a petition to the Tsar. Instead, they were met by gunfire from the Tsar's soldiers and massacred. The organizer of the march, a Russian Orthodox priest named Father Gapon, later revealed himself to be a traitor working for the Tsarist secret police.

By 1908, H.H. Munro gave up his position as a foreign correspondent and settled in London, where he continued his writing career. He took the pseudonym Saki, which was thought by scholars to be a reference to the cupbearer in the famous ancient Persian poetry collection, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Although he had co-written a play, Saki's specialty was the short story, and he became a master of the form. He often satirized life in Edwardian England, but he was best known for his darkly humorous and macabre tales, such as The Storyteller, The Toys Of Peace, and Tobermory. His most famous story was The Open Window, a masterpiece of dark comedy.

The Open Window told the story of Framton Nuttel, a nervous nebbish who has come to visit Mrs. Sappleton, a friend of his sister's. He finds himself left alone with the woman's young niece, Vera, who tells him a horrifying story: three years ago, her aunt's husband and younger brothers had gone out hunting and drowned in a bog. Their bodies were never found, so Mrs. Sappleton has always left the walk-in window open in case they return.

That night, the men do return, covered in mud. A terrified Nuttel grabs his hat and cane and runs out of the house. The imaginative Vera explains that Nuttel was most likely frightened by the hunters' dog, as he was once chased into a cemetery by a pack of wild dogs and had to spend the night in a freshly dug grave!

In addition to his short story collections, Saki also wrote two novels, The Unbearable Bassington (1912), and When William Came (1913). When William Came, published before the outbreak of World War 1, was a work of "what if" fiction - a chronicle of life in London under German occupation after the armies of Kaiser Wilhelm II (the William of the title) invade Britain and conquer it.

When World War 1 broke out, Saki was 43 years old - too old to join the military, but he did anyway. He joined the Royal Fusiliers regiment of the British Army as an ordinary soldier, refusing a commission. In November of 1916, Saki was in a shell crater near Beaumont-Hamel, France, when he was shot and killed by a German sniper. His last words were "Put that bloody cigarette out!"


Quote Of The Day

"We all know that Prime Ministers are wedded to the truth, but like other married couples, they sometimes live apart." - Saki (H.H. Munro)


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading from Saki's classic short story, The Open Window. Enjoy!

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