It was the last book that this wittiest of Edwardian writers saw into print, since he soon after enlisted as an infantry soldier in World War I, even though he was already in his early 40s. Saki was eventually killed in action at Beaumont-Hamel, France, in 1916, shot in the head. His last words were reportedly "Put out that bloody cigarette!" ….Mystery & Suspense: Short Stories by Great Writers, one of the "Worth Pocket Companion" series that also includes crime, romance, and travel volumes. And I ran "Reginald at the Claremont" in a previous blog.
It is just this airy suavity, tinged with maliciousness and melancholy, that makes "Beasts and Super-Beasts" so endlessly rereadable. In "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" the wickedly mischievous Lady Carlotta is mistaken for the new governess expected by Mr. and Mrs. Quabarl. For a lark, she quickly pretends to be Miss Hope and, when queried how she will interest her young charges in the past, replies loftily, "I teach history on the Schartz-Metterklume method." She begins her instruction, deplorably, hilariously, with a most inappropriate episode from the annals of early Rome.
In "The Lumber Room" Saki takes up a favorite theme—poetic justice—by relating how young Nicholas revenges himself on an aunt of quite exceptional heartlessness. "It was her habit, whenever one of the children fell from grace, to improvise something of a festival nature from which the offender would be rigorously debarred; if all the children sinned collectively they were suddenly informed of a circus in a neighboring town, a circus of unrivaled merit and uncounted elephants, to which, but for their depravity, they would have been taken that very day." Isn't that a marvelous sentence? Still, Nicholas's vengeance isn't quite so bloodthirsty as that of Conradin in Saki's famously horrific "Sredni Vashtar," found in "The Chronicles of Clovis" (1911).
The drawing of Munro in uniform by David Levine originally appeared in the October 8, 1981 issue of the New York Review of Books with the article "A Genius for Revenge." The Gorey illustration for "Sredni Vashtar" appears in the NYRB classics edition of Saki's stories.
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