Last Updated on September 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 643
Hector Hugh Munro was born in Akyab, Burma (now in Myanmar), on December 18, 1870, the son of C. A. Munro, inspector general of the Burmese police, and Mary Frances Mercer Munro, daughter of Rear Admiral Samuel Mercer of the British navy. Hector’s mother died shortly after his birth, and he was sent to England with his brother Charles and sister Ethel to be reared by his father’s two sisters and his grandmother.
The children lived at Broadgate Villa, an eighteenth century house, in Pilton on the beautiful coast of North Devon, but they experienced an unhappy childhood. Hector, whose health was delicate, studied at home with his sister’s governess until the age of fourteen, when he followed his brother to Pencarwick, a boarding school in Exmouth. According to his sister’s memoir, he was much happier at school. In September, 1885, he transferred to the Bedford School in Bedfordshire, but his precarious health forced him to leave in December, 1886, which ended his formal education.
Colonel Munro retired from active service in 1888 and took the children for a series of extended visits to the Continent. They returned to England in 1890 and settled at Heaton Court, also in North Devon, where Hector studied under his father’s tutelage. During the summer of 1893 he sailed for Burma to join his brother as a policeman in the imperial service. His health deteriorated, and after only thirteen months’ duty, he was sent home to recover from malaria.
In 1886, Munro moved to London to begin his career as a professional writer. Using the British Museum reading room, he researched a book on Russia, which eventually was published as The Rise of the Russian Empire (1900). It was favorably reviewed by the general press but not by the academic establishment, and Hector abandoned the writing of history. A chance meeting with a celebrated political cartoonist, Carruthers Gould, had a more favorable outcome.
Writing under the pen name of Saki (SAH-kee), Munro published a series of satirical sketches in the Westminster Gazette attacking the government’s ineptitude in the Boer War. These journalistic pieces, illustrated by Gould, launched his career and were later published in book form as The Westminster Alice (1902). Before completing this early phase of his career, Munro wrote three additional series of satirical sketches for the Westminster Gazette. One was patterned after Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894) stories, another, the Dolly Dialogues, depicted British society through the eyes of a frivolous and wealthy young woman, and the third, a series of Reginald stories, satirized contemporary British institutions and values.
In 1902, Munro began covering the Balkans as a foreign correspondent for the London Morning Post. During the following years he reported from Poland, Serbia, and Russia, where his knowledge of the country’s language and history were invaluable. While in St. Petersburg he witnessed “Bloody Sunday” and the Russian Revolution of 1905. He also became the Paris correspondent for the Morning Post before returning to England in 1908.
During the final years of his career Munro worked as a freelance writer, largely of short stories that he contributed to the Morning Post, the Westminster Gazette, and the Bystander. Most of this fiction eventually appeared in book form. He also wrote two novels, The Unbearable Bassington (1912) and When William Came (1913). In 1924, he collaborated with Cyril Maude on a play, The Watched Pot (pr., pb. 1924). He also returned to journalism to report on Parliament for the Outlook.
Soon after the outbreak of World War I, Munro enlisted in the Second King Edward’s Horse but found cavalry life too strenuous and transferred to an infantry outfit, the Twenty-second Battalion Royal Fusiliers. In November, 1915, he went into combat in France, where he saw considerable action. In October, 1916, he was once again hospitalized for his malaria but rejoined his battalion in time for the Beaumont Hamel offensive. He was killed in action on November 14, 1916.
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