Style and Technique
The story is told from the third-person point of view, limited in the opening paragraphs to the naïve perception of Mr. Nuttel, who is tricked by Vera’s mischievous fantasy. Because the fantasy is so bizarre and inventive and totally unexpected from a fifteen-year-old girl, the reader is also momentarily duped. Vera’s practical joke, which borders on being cruel, is perfectly consistent. When Mr. Sappleton and the brothers are seen returning from the hunt, she pretends to be horrified. The reader, like Framton Nuttel himself, can only assume, therefore, that this is a supernatural event.
The narrator stays in the house, however, after Mr. Nuttel’s frightened and abrupt departure, so as to reveal the ironic twist and to enjoy Vera’s second demonstration of her ability to produce “romance at short notice,” when she explains to her aunt and uncle that Mr. Nuttel has “a horror of dogs” because of an imagined incident he had in a cemetery in India. By this time the reader has reason to doubt that Mr. Nuttel would be adventuresome enough to travel to India.
Vera clearly has a talent for ornamenting the ordinary and the commonplace, and she is too quick-witted to tolerate boredom. She first makes Mr. Nuttel think that her aunt is a lunatic, then tricks him into a state of panic and fear, taking advantage of the poor man’s nervous disorder. Vera is not only “self-possessed” but also clever. Before setting her trap, she is careful to ascertain that Mr. Nuttel knows “practically nothing” about her aunt or her family.
Saki satirizes Mr. Nuttel’s banality in this miniature comedy of manners, lacing his treatment with his typical dry wit and malice and allowing his characters to reveal themselves through meticulously crafted dialogue. Saki has been ranked with O. Henry as a master of the surprise ending, and no less a craftsperson than Noël Coward, in his introduction to The Complete Works of Saki (1976), praised “The Open Window” as a masterpiece of high comedy.
The Open Window
Armed with a letter of introduction, Framton Nuttel is visiting Mrs. Sappleton’s country estate for a “nerve cure.” Mr. Nuttel is greeted by the niece, Vera, a polite “self-possessed young lady of fifteen,” who begins telling him about her aunt’s great tragedy. Pointing to the open French window, Vera (Latin, meaning “truth”) spins a yarn about her aunt’s husband and two brothers who went out through the window on a hunting trip through the moors fifteen years earlier and never returned. The aunt keeps the window open in expectation of their imminent return.
Suddenly the aunt enters. Over the civilities of tea and polite conversation, she alludes to the hunting trip, and Mr. Nuttel becomes gradually unnerved. When, indeed, the hunting party returns, Nuttel, as if he had seen ghosts, flees. The niece, we learn, had told the truth about the hunters, but had made up the part about their disappearance. They had simply gone out that morning, but, says Saki, Vera was incorrigible. “Romance at short notice was her specialty.”
At first glance the story appears to be a mere joke; but “THE OPEN WINDOW” can be reread with pleasure because of its masterful tone--a finely honed, polite restraint with only a hint of a smirk on the authorial face.
Finally, the narrative works as a parody of the traditional ghost story. Vera’s yarn has all the trimmings of the standard mystery--the journey on the moors, the mysterious disappearance, even Mr. Nuttel’s role as scared listener. In the end, the tradition is subverted. Romance is but a prank.
Saki does not specify when his story takes place, but it is obvious that the story is set in Edwardian England, the period of time early in the 20th century when King Edward VII ruled England. During this time, England was at the peak of its colonial power and its people enjoyed wealth and confidence because of their nation's status in the world. The wealthy leisure class was perhaps overly confident, not seeing...
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