Hardly any of Saki’s short stories, which fill five volumes, can be regarded as works of detective fiction in the more limited sense of the term. Many of his brilliantly crafted, deeply sarcastic pieces, however, deal with the criminal impulse of humankind. In direct contrast to the classic hero of detective fiction, who tries to restore order by abolishing the chaos let loose by antisocial impulses, Saki’s mischievous protagonists arrive on the scene to wreak havoc on victims who have invited their tormentors out of folly or a streak of viciousness of their own. Nevertheless, Saki’s insistence on a masterfully prepared surprise ending demonstrates the closeness in form of his short stories to detective fiction as this genre was understood by its fathers, preeminently Edgar Allan Poe. Moreover, as powerful elements in a poignant satire on society, Saki’s criminal protagonists can claim descent from the heroes of Restoration playwrights William Congreve and William Wycherley and precede some of the post-hard-boiled detectives such as Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently.
Other Literary Forms
Saki’s fame rests on his short stories, but he also wrote novels, plays, political satires, a history of imperial Russia, and journalistic sketches.
The brilliant satirist of the mind and manners of an upper-crust Great Britain that World War I would obliterate, Saki operates within a rich national tradition that stretches from the towering figure of Jonathan Swift well into the present, in which fresh wits such as Douglas Adams have obtained a certain stature. An intelligent, perceptive, and uncannily unsentimental observer, Saki focuses many of his deeply sarcastic pieces, which fill six volumes, on the criminal impulses of a privileged humanity. In his tightly wrought stories, for which surprise endings, ironic reversals, and practical jokes are de rigeur, Saki’s mischievous protagonists thus arrive on the scene to wreak havoc on victims who have invited their tormentors out of folly or a streak of viciousness of their own. The frequent inclusion of intelligent, independent, and improbable animal characters further betrays Saki’s fondness for the supernatural as a powerful satirical device.
What were Saki’s specific charges against British foreign policy at the time of the Boer War?
How did Saki’s experiences as a foreign correspondent alter his writing?
Trace the development of Saki’s character called Reginald, then Clovis, over a series of his works.
Is Saki’s humor characteristically satirical or is it more broadly based?
In what respects was Saki a writer ahead of his time?
Birden, Lorene M. “Saki’s ’A Matter of Sentiment.’” Explicator 5 (Summer, 1998): 201-204. Discusses the Anglo-German relations in the story “A Matter of Sentiment” and argues that the story reflects a shift in Saki’s image of Germans.
Byrne, Sandie. “Saki.” In British Writers: Supplement VI, edited by Jay Parini. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001. Includes discussion of Saki’s short fiction, its influence, and its historical and cultural importance.
Byrne, Sandie. The Unbearable Saki: The Work of H. H. Munro. Oxford: Oxford University, 2007. This work discusses how Munro used his unhappy childhood as inspiration for themes in his fiction and draws on the biography written by his sister to reveal details about his life. His political views and his participation in World War I are also key subjects.
Gillen, Charles H. H. H. Munro (Saki). New York: Twayne, 1969. A comprehensive presentation of the life and work of Saki, with a critical discussion of his literary output in all of its forms. Balanced and readable, Gillen’s work also contains an annotated bibliography.
Lambert, J. W. Introduction to The Bodley Head Saki. London: Bodley Head, 1963. A perceptive, concise, and persuasive review of Saki’s work. Written by a biographer who enjoyed a special and productive working relationship with Saki’s estate.
Langguth, A. J. Saki. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981. Probably the best biography, enriching an informed, analytical presentation of its subject with a fine understanding of Saki’s artistic achievement. Eight pages of photos help bring Saki and his world to life.
Munro, Ethel M. “Biography of Saki.” In The Square Egg and Other Sketches, with Three Plays. New York: Viking, 1929. A warm account of the author by his beloved sister, who shows herself deeply appreciative of his work. Valuable for its glimpses of the inner workings of Saki’s world and as a basis for late twentieth century evaluations.
Queenan, Joe, ed. The Malcontents: The Best Bitter, Cynical, and Satirical Writing in the World. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2002. This anthology of cynicism and satire includes the editor’s commentaries on each author; five of Saki’s stories are featured.
Salemi, Joseph S. “An Asp Lurking in an Apple-Charlotte: Animal Violence in Saki’s The Chronicles of Clovis.” Studies in Short Fiction 26 (Fall, 1989): 423-430. Discusses the animal imagery in the collection, suggesting reasons for Saki’s obsessive interest in animals and analyzing the role animals play in a number of Saki’s major stories.
Spears, George J. The Satire of Saki. New York: Exposition Press, 1963. An interesting, in-depth study of Saki’s wit, which combines careful textual analysis with a clear interest in modern psychoanalysis. The appendix includes four letters by Ethel M. Munro to the author, and the bibliography lists many works that help place Saki in the context of the satirical tradition.