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Old 01-01-2012, 08:28 PM   #1
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Post The MobileRead Literary Book Club December 2011 Discussion: The short stories of Saki

Happy New Year! It's time to discuss our December selection, the short stories of Saki. fantasyfan has volunteered to lead the discussion, and any of you may post your thoughts at any time you like. Anyone is free to join in the discussion. Let's begin!

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Old 01-01-2012, 08:39 PM   #2
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I don't want to usurp fantasyfan's leadership, so I'll limit my comment to saying how very much I enjoyed these stories. I had always planned to get around to The Honourable Bassington; after reading these stories it's obvious that the short story was Saki's metier and I look forward to reading more of them.
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Old 01-01-2012, 10:02 PM   #3
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I only read about 30% of Beasts and Super-Beasts, 11 stories in all. I really enjoyed the earlier ones (Story #2: Laura being my favorite) but the last 3 or 4 seemed to take on a biting, mean tone that put me off. I did not find them as amusing or entertaining as the others. I do plan to read the rest at some point, I just needed to take break from it.
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Old 01-01-2012, 10:12 PM   #4
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I think the stories would be better appreciated as an occasional treat. While I loved Saki's style, the stories got repetitive in theme and denouement. I'll read more, but I'll dip into them, not try to read a bunch at once.
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Old 01-01-2012, 10:20 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by issybird View Post
I think the stories would be better appreciated as an occasional treat. While I loved Saki's style, the stories got repetitive in theme and denouement. I'll read more, but I'll dip into them, not try to read a bunch at once.
I agree!!
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Old 01-02-2012, 07:52 AM   #6
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First of all, let me wish everyone in the club a very Happy New Year!

I had worries about how to handle a discussion of a book of over thirty stories. As has been pointed out in a previous post, discussing short stories can be a quite challenging project for a book club. Happily, just recently I ran across an interesting guide to approaching the genre by Robin Black--herself a short story writer. Robin Black clearly had in mind a group which met at a physical location rather than an on-line club, but I feel that the method can be adapted so as to work effectively for us too. The relevant link is:

http://robinblack.net/short-story-co...r-book-groups/

I thought that I would try to adapt her approach to Saki’s work. To begin, she suggests that the group should start with an analysis of three specific stories to focus on the author’s theme and style. I think that one could start with six in the case of Saki as his stories tend to be very short.

So perhaps we could begin with an examination of these six pieces from the Beasts and Super Beasts collection: In numerical order they are:

2. “The Boar Pig”
5. “The Open Window”
11. “The Schartz-Metterklume Method”
20. “The Dreamer”
27. “The Story Teller”
32. “The Lumber Room”

Black suggests that one should take the approach of viewing a picture-gallery. Examine and experience each story on its own merits. Quite possibly some may stand out as particularly significant. After familiarising oneself with the group, one could begin an exploration by considering some of the following questions.

1. Is there a common theme running through them?

2. What kind of a fictional world does Saki create? Is there a dominant ethical, social or life perspective? Is a particularly significant authorial tone { e.g. sarcasm, bitterness, humour, cruelty} present? One might look at the kind of characters which people it. Are the clever? greedy? self-absorbed? shallow?

4. What sorts of conflicts drive the plots? Does Saki resolve them satisfactorily? Does he want to? Did you find the endings at all unsettling in some cases?

5. Does Saki manage cross gender writing? Does he manage to create a believable perspective when writing from a child’s point of view?

6. Which of the stories ddid you find to be the most rewarding? Why?

Black mentions that one could explore the significance {if any} of titles and whether any of the characters stand out with a special intensity.

The final step would be to move to other stories in the collection which you found interesting and examine them in light of this opening discussion. For instance, I find “The Cobweb” much darker than most of Saki’s stories and with a melancholy feeling one doesn't often find in his work, but he still focuses on a social theme. “The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat” is a brilliant slash at the comfortable “do-gooder”, but I find “The Romancers” quite cruel. “Blind Spot” has a brilliance of wit but a very unsettling {and shocking} conclusion. "The Treasure Ship" is a very hostile glance at a corrupt and parasitical upper class with some very strange ideas thrown in and there are multiple ironic plays on the title.

Speaking generally, it has been said of satirists that they spend their time "examining the bars of their cages" but they don't provide any answers. Is this true of Saki?

I hope you will find these suggested guidelines useful. Please add any ideas you may have.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 01-02-2012 at 08:23 AM.
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Old 01-02-2012, 10:45 AM   #7
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Briefly, for now: the stories all have in common a skewering of the pretensions of the middle and upper classes, and all end with a twist (some more successful than others). To me, the main issue that separated the stories was whether or not the reader feels that justice has been served. The aunt in The Lumber Room,, for example--it's impossible not to take unholy glee in her predicament. But when one thinks of the potential repercussions in The Dreamer, it's highly unsettling even as you snigger.

In general, to me Saki reads like Waugh stripped of any pretensions of civility. Bile with no redemption. I enormously enjoyed him, perhaps even for that reason, most especially for the economy of his language. However, the tropes get a little tired taken en masse.
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Old 01-02-2012, 11:27 AM   #8
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Slight correction: "The Boar Pig" is actually story #3. "She-Wolf" which is the first story does not show up as such in the table of contents). "Laura" is story #2.


As to the stories. I only read "The Boar Pig" & "The Open Window" out of that grouping.

I agree with issybird in that my enjoyment level varied as to "whether or not [I felt] that justice has been served" or even whether or not a lesson was being taught/learned.

I truly disliked "The Boar Pig". It was basically one rude, nosy woman being "swindled" (for lack of a better word) by an equally, if not more so, rude and obnoxious little girl; While the second woman got thrown in the middle.

As to "The Open Window": What the heck was that?? I don't know what we were supposed to get from the story, but I would have like to have known what happened next. I left very angry with the young - um story teller. The whole thing was very odd.

Of the 11 stories I did read, I found "She Wolf, "Laura", and "The Treasure Ship" to be the most enjoyable. "The Treasure Ship" was also one of the most frustrating because I really really wanted to know what happened in the end.

Last edited by Nyssa; 01-02-2012 at 12:18 PM. Reason: had an extra "the"
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Old 01-02-2012, 11:36 AM   #9
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Nyssa, I think we know at the end of The Treasure Ship that young Vasco succeeds in his blackmail and gets his villa (the Sub-Rosa) in Florence as well as a generous allowance. This was one of those cases where while justice wasn't done, the only people harmed were crooks themselves.

As for The Open Window, if the young man weren't suffering from a nervous disease, his credulity would have given the kid a pass.

That's another of the common themes; in so many of the stories, credulousness is what causes a comeuppance. Common sense would have saved the day.

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Old 01-02-2012, 01:11 PM   #10
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Thanks for your comments Nyssa and Issybird.

I think that "The Open window" is, in part, a light satire on the Edwardian obsession with the supernatural. I think an important part of the fun is that Saki doesn't make Frampton Nuttel a particularly sympathetic character, after all, look at the weird name Saki gives him! Perhaps he's rather a bore as well as overly self-absorbed and credulous {as Issybird pointed out}. So Saki cleverly directs our attention to the "self-possessed young lady" and the story she tells thus causing the innocent remarks of Mrs Sappleton to suddenly take on a deeply sinister meaning with hilarious results. The danger, of course, is that if Saki's rhetoric doesn't work the girl becomes quite awful and Nuttel a pitiable victim. But I think he succeeds.

"The Boar Pig" is a good example of Saki pitting tough, smart, imaginative children against dull, stupid, unsympathetic adults. Mrs Phiidore Stossen is a pretentious social climber and gate-crasher. Her daughter clearly goes along with the whole attempt to crash the garden party. {the comment about gooseberry bushes reminds me of the world of "The Lumber Room"--perhaps Saki is using the same setting}. Now, is Matilda Cuvering really a mean brat? One can certainly argue that. Matilda is rather mean to Claude. Interestingly, she is obviously quite clever, but certainly not regarded as a "good" child; that role is filled by her young cousin, Claude--who follows the rules. As in "The Lumber Room" Matilda uses the arbitrary rules imposed upon her by her aunt against the gate crashers. Thus, she makes fools of them and makes some money as well. Was justice done? Well, maybe.

I think that Saki shows children of this type because they need to be tough, smart and a bit ruthless in breaking rules to retain their sense of identity in a society which doesn't approve of independence of mind and spirit {at least in children}. I think the same pattern is in "The Lumber Room", "The Story Teller" and even, to some extent, in “The Schartz-Metterklume Method”.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 01-02-2012 at 02:29 PM.
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Old 01-02-2012, 02:48 PM   #11
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Perhaps my problem is that I read the stories all in one go, but after a while all I could see is the common theme of lashing out at the upper middle classes - and I found he stretched the distance between the gullibility of those at the wrong end of the stick and the wit of the character mastering the situation far too much. Also some wiff of intellectual/class elitism came across: for instance in the Schartz-Metterklume method Lady Carlotta is punishing Mrs. Quabarl (I note a Lady vs a Mrs) for being too pretentious, as she is not the real article, which she would be only by birth.

It has been a while since I finished the book, so I should have another quick browse before commenting any further, in case my gut reaction needs taming , but in terms of the impression left in me after reading Beast and Superbeast, overall I did find a constant undertone of class snobbishness in the way Saki satirizes the middle classes that was somewhat disturbing: in other words, my impression is that the "credulousness is what causes a comeuppance" theme is always woven by the clever higher classes at the expense of the undeserving ignorant, who more often than not happen to be less well bred.
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Old 01-02-2012, 02:54 PM   #12
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I wasn't around for the voting and I had never heard of Saki before but now I'm very glad to have found the recommendation here! I just read a few stories today but will read more.

For the time at which he wrote these stories the social commentary is quite sarcastic and satirical. The stories are quite absurd and too short for much character development so I see them more as vignettes about inter-class and parent-child relationships and some of the rediculous rules they were and are expected to live by.

He also seems to have an overall moral of the story which is that you should not take things at face value. You should not believe everything you are told or perhaps anything you are told.

In The Boar Pig I mostly see the silly social rules, the need to be at the party even if not invited, an attempt to sneak in, assuming it is true that the boar is dangerous. In a twist it seems she really does give the money to charity.

In The Open Window, it is rediculous to try and cure a nervous condition by visiting strangers by way of letters of introduction. The girl takes advantage of his overdivulging of information and believe anything nature to make him see ghosts. He is so eager to apply the appropriate amount of flattery and talk about his illness that he opens himself up to the joke.

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Old 01-02-2012, 03:26 PM   #13
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In The Schartz-Metterklume Method a bored Lady Carlotta allows herself to be taken to be Miss Hope, a private teacher. She offers to speak unwanted Russian three days a week and teach history in an even more engaging method than was desired. Carlotta just does it for fun it seems.

The Dreamer is silly again, the box carrying nephew who ends up as an unauthorized sales clerk. A case of breaking the rules for him.

The Story Teller is fun, here again a bit of gender interaction. A bachelor being better with children than their mother, a more interesting story teller breaking the standard accepted rules for morals of the story.

The Lumber Room I really enjoyed with the boy turning the rules to his advantage at every turn from the hilarious frog in his breakfast to tricking his aunt in the rainbarrel. He turns her own words against her over and over. It seems Saki doesn't much of his parents or parents in general.

Laura is a ton of fun too, poking fun perhaps at western religion with a set of well prognosticated reincarnations and revenge on Amanda's husband Egbert.

Gutenburg has a whole set of his books for free so I will enjoy them. They make a nice light hearted contrast to Black Rain which I just finished.
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Old 01-03-2012, 04:37 AM   #14
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The Dreamer is silly again, the box carrying nephew who ends up as an unauthorized sales clerk. A case of breaking the rules for him.

The Story Teller is fun, here again a bit of gender interaction. A bachelor being better with children than their mother, a more interesting story teller breaking the standard accepted rules for morals of the story.

The Lumber Room I really enjoyed with the boy turning the rules to his advantage at every turn from the hilarious frog in his breakfast to tricking his aunt in the rainbarrel. He turns her own words against her over and over. It seems Saki doesn't much of his parents or parents in general.

Gutenburg has a whole set of his books for free so I will enjoy them. They make a nice light hearted contrast to Black Rain which I just finished.
"The Dreamer" and "The Story Teller" in different ways both launch attacks on the too-smug morality of the Edwardians. "The Dreamer" in particular sails very close to the wind.

I think "The Lumber Room" is one of the most brilliant stories Saki ever wrote. It is beautifully developed and has a central character {based on Saki himself} who really lives.
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Old 01-03-2012, 11:38 AM   #15
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Paola noted:
"Perhaps my problem is that I read the stories all in one go, but after a while all I could see is the common theme of lashing out at the upper middle classes - and I found he stretched the distance between the gullibility of those at the wrong end of the stick and the wit of the character mastering the situation far too much. Also some wiff of intellectual/class elitism came across: for instance in the Schartz-Metterklume method Lady Carlotta is punishing Mrs. Quabarl (I note a Lady vs a Mrs) for being too pretentious, as she is not the real article, which she would be only by birth. "

Yes, there certainly does seem to be a feature of that sort in his writing. Particularly perceptive is Paola's insight about "Mrs" vs "Lady". In a similar vein, I found "The Romancers" to be an unnecesarily cruel jibe at beggars in general.

On the other hand, in the story "The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat" we see just the opposite. Here we have a woman comfortably well off who pities the deluded, boring and stupid lives of the middle classes. In one of his more memorable moments Saki pulls the rug out from under this self-appointed "fairy godmother" and demonstrates that in fact it is her life that is empty . . . .

Last edited by fantasyfan; 01-03-2012 at 11:44 AM.
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