In "The Open Window," are the brilliance and the evil compatible?
Fifteen-year-old Vera is by far the most interesting and likable character in Saki's story. She is obviously a brilliant girl, but not necessarily evil, more mischievous and rebellious than evil.
She is obviously brilliant to be able to concoct such a story and, not only narrate it, but direct and produce it, so to speak. She has to invent the story and then have it fit the characters as they appear in person and as they speak the appropriate dialogue. She has seen the same setting and the same performance for so many tea-times that it is driving her a bit bonkers. Then at the climax, she herself has to become one of the actors and pretend to be horrified at what she sees through the open window.
The fact that Vera has a brilliant mind probably explains why she is behaving as she does. She is bored in this country manor where nobody ever talks about anything but shooting birds. Even her aunt Mrs. Sappleton seems to be so brainwashed by the conversations of her husband and her two brothers that she can only think about the same subject.
She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter.
Vera, of course, knew that her aunt would be talking about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. It is hardly surprising that there should be a scarcity of birds, since the three males go out killing them every day.
Vera is rebellious and resentful. What is there for a fifteen-year-old girl of her social class to do except read books and contemplate mischief. She resents the fact that her aunt has sent her down to play hostess to Framton Nuttel because she sees that Mrs. Sappleton is trying to shape her into another mindless domestic matron like herself. She would probably like to go out hunting, but she can't do that, of course, because it would not be ladylike. What is ladylike is to look decorative, to feel suffocated, and to wait patiently for the heroic men to come back covered with mud and carrying their bloody trophies.
It is because she is brilliant that she is resentful and angrier than she herself realizes; and it is because she is resentful and angry that she is mischievous. Unfortunately for poor Framton Nuttel, he becomes the focus of her bad feelings. Instead of getting the sympathy and commiseration he is seeking, Vera immediately understands that he is the perfect victim for a practical joke. Here is the one actor who has been missing from the cast of characters, the one who has been needed for the production to be staged. Instead of playing the perfect junior hostess, she plays exactly the opposite. Instead of making him feel at home,
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall-door, the gravel-drive, and the front gate were dimly-noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid an imminent collision.
He doesn't just run out of the house but keeps on running all the way down the road and out of sight. If we finid this paragraph amusing, then we can hardly consider Vera evil. We are secretly sharing her secret amusement. No one but Vera and the reader can understand what made this stranger behave as he did.
"Who was that who bolted out as we came up?"
"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of good-bye or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."