The Open Window by Saki

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The Open Window Summary

In "The Open Window," Eccentric hypochondriac Mr. Nuttel is frightened by the fanciful lies of his new neighbors' niece, Vera.

  • While visiting his neighbors, Mr. Nuttel meets young Vera, who explains that her uncle and his brothers-in-law drowned in a bog three years ago on a hunting trip and that her aunt leaves the window open because she believes they will eventually return.

  • When the hunters, who actually only left that morning, return, Mr. Nuttel believes they're ghosts and flees. Vera explains his departure as a result of his fear of dogs, triggered by the appearance of the family's spaniel.

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Framton Nuttel, an eccentric hypochondriac, has moved to the country on his doctor’s advice to effect a cure for a nervous condition from which he suffers. His sister has lived in the area he visits and has given him letters of introduction to his new neighbors. The story concerns his visit to the home of one of these neighbors, a Mrs. Sappleton.

Mr. Nuttel is first met by Mrs. Sappleton’s niece Vera, who entertains him until her aunt is available. Vera, apparently bored with her guest, is graced with an overactive imagination and a sense of mischief. Once she determines that Mr. Nuttel knows nothing about the family and is a very literal-minded fellow, Vera spins a gothic yarn involving her aunt, whom she characterizes as a mentally disturbed widow.

Three years ago, Mr. Sappleton and his two younger brothers-in-law went hunting, leaving the house through a French window, which was left open until their return. However, all three of them were lost in a bog that day, Vera asserts, and their bodies were never recovered. The aunt, driven to distraction by her grief and loss, left the window open thereafter, anticipating that “they will come back some day” with “the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in that window just as they used to do.”

When Mrs. Sappleton finally appears, she explains why the window is open, apparently confirming Vera’s story. Mr. Nuttel then tells Mrs. Sappleton about his nervous disorder and his need to avoid any “mental excitement.” Mrs. Sappleton is clearly bored, but at that very moment she sees her husband and brothers returning from their hunt. Vera appears to be horrified by the sight of them. The nervous Mr. Nuttel is therefore terrified and beats a hasty retreat from the house.

In the closing paragraphs, the issue is clarified. The men had only that day gone hunting, and Vera’s yarn was purely imaginary. Mr. Nuttel has obviously been duped by Vera’s story, but Vera, a habitual liar, does not explain his odd behavior to the others. Instead, Vera invents another story that suggests Mr. Nuttel had once been frightened by “a pack of pariah dogs” in a cemetery “on the banks of the Ganges” and apparently had bolted at the sight of the spaniel accompanying the hunters. Thus, Mr. Nuttel is perfectly victimized by the young girl’s imagination.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"The Open Window" is Saki's most popular short story. It was first collected in Beasts and Super-Beasts in 1914. Saki's wit is at its sharpest in this story of a spontaneous practical joke played on a visiting stranger. The practical joke recurs in many of Saki's stories, but "The Open Window" is perhaps his most successful and the best-known example of the type. In dramatizing the conflict between reality and imagination, Saki makes the point that they are more difficult to distinguish than we often realize. Not only does the unfortunate Mr. Nuttel fall victim to the joke, but so do readers, who are at first inclined to laugh at Nuttel for being so gullible. However, readers, too, have been taken in by Saki's story and must realize that they are also inclined to believe a well-told and interesting tale.

At the beginning of the story Framton Nuttel has presented himself at...

(The entire section is 2,000 words.)