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The Interlopers

by Saki

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Critical Overview

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The Toys of Peace, and Other Papers, the collection in which ‘‘The Interlopers’’ was included, was published in 1919, three years after Saki's death. The title, one of two books published posthumously, collected thirty-three sketches and stories about prewar England and the war itself. Some of these pieces were humorous, some satirical, and some surprisingly grim.

In Britain, critics responded positively to the work, both for the pieces themselves as well as for Saki's heroic death. Some critics speculated on why Saki did not gain more popularity during his lifetime, while others believed that his unexpected death would bring him fame. An anonymous reviewer for the Spectator notes that Saki's ‘‘great gifts'' consist of ‘‘wit, mordant irony, and a remarkable command of ludicrous metaphor.’’ However, the writer believes that Saki's "intermittent vein of freakish inhumanity belied his best nature, and disconcerted the plain person.’’

The Toys of Peace, and Other Papers was also reviewed in the United States, where the critic for the New York Times notes that knowledge of Saki's tragic death blunted enjoyment of reading his lighter, wittier pieces. At the same time, this critic praises the collection: ‘‘They [the tales] show an understanding of the foibles and weaknesses of human nature, but never a contempt for it, nor any degeneration into bitterness.'' This writer also singles out the ‘‘shock'' felt at coming across "that grim story, 'The Interlopers.'''

At the time he was writing, Saki was known for his playfulness and wit, his use of satire and irony, his craftsmanship, and his black comedy. In the decades since his death, these characteristics continue to be celebrated among Saki enthusiasts. However, as Adam Frost points out in an article that appeared in Contemporary Review in 1999, few critical works exist about Saki's writing and literary development. Frost notes that Christopher Morley believed, "Fewer writers are less profitable to write about.’’ However, Frost finds this ‘‘a shame.’’ To Frost, Saki was ‘‘never just a humorist’’ but a knowledgeable writer who explained the culture of his day.

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Essays and Criticism