Saki Biography

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Saki was born Hector Hugh Munro on December 18, 1870, in Akyab, Burma, the third child of Major Charles Augustus Munro and his wife, Mary (née Mercer) Frances. Saki’s mother would die in pregnancy two years later. Brought to Great Britain by their father, Hector and his siblings were reared by two rather repressive aunts until Major Munro resigned his commission and took his children on extended tours through Europe to further their education; this period marked the end of Hector’s time at one of Great Britain’s upper-class public schools.

During this time, the Munros liked to stay in Davos, Switzerland; it was there that the boy made the acquaintance of the writer John Addington Symonds, a man whose homosexual orientation the adult Munro would share. At twenty-three, Munro served for a short time as a military police officer in Burma before malaria brought him back to Great Britain, where he set up bachelor’s quarters in London.

Munro published his first book, The Rise of the Russian Empire, in 1900, yet readers delighted much more in his political satires, which featured an Alice in Wonderland who encountered modern political figures. Accompanied by the drawings of F. Carruthers Gould, The Westminster Alice (collected in 1902) made famous its creator, who took the pen name of Saki from the boyish cupbearer to the gods of Edward FitzGerald’s The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859) and would continue to write all of his fiction under this pseudonym.

In 1902, Saki served as correspondent for the conservative London newspaper Morning Post and saw the Balkans, Russia, and France before he retired to London after the death of his father in 1908. As Saki, he steadily wrote his short stories for publication in British magazines and enjoyed such a success among his exclusive readership that his stories were collected in book form in 1910 and 1911. A year later, Saki’s novel The Unbearable Bassington (1912) appeared, and another novel followed, When William Came (1913).

At the height of his fame for his short fiction and while he was working on a play, World War I broke out. Saki volunteered for military service. Refusing an officer’s commission or a “safe” position, Munro fought in France and was killed in action during the Beaumont-Hamel offensive on November 14, 1916.

Two further collections of Saki’s criminous short stories and other works were posthumously published; one, The Square Egg (1924), contains work written in the trenches on the Western Front. A revival of Saki’s work took place in the 1920’s, and stories such as “Sredni Vashtar” have been continuously in print.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born in colonial Burma (now Myanmar) to a family that had for generations helped to rule the British Empire, Hector Hugh Munro grew up in a Devonshire country house where, reared along with his brother and sister by two formidable aunts, he had the secluded and strictly supervised sort of childhood typical of the Victorian rural gentry. This upbringing decisively shaped—or perhaps warped, as some sources suggest—his character. After finishing public school at Bedford, Munro spent several years studying in Devonshire and traveling on the Continent with his father and sister. In 1983, he went to Burma to accept a police post obtained through his father’s influence. Much weakened by recurrent malaria, he returned to Devonshire to convalesce and write. In the first years of the twentieth century he turned to journalism, wrote political satires, and served as a foreign correspondent in Eastern Europe and Paris. At this time he adopted the pseudonym “Saki,” which may refer to the cupbearer in The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859) or may contract “Sakya Muni,” one of the epithets of the Buddha. After 1908, Saki lived and wrote in London. Despite being over-age and far from robust, he volunteered for active duty at the outbreak of World War I. Refusing to accept a commission, to which his social position entitled him, or a safe job in military intelligence, for which his education and experience equipped him, Munro fought as an enlisted man in the trenches of France. He died in action.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Saki is often depicted as a minor satirist of the Edwardian period, and his writing is usually described, disparagingly, as being in the same vein as Wodehouse’s: witty, airy, and tame. On closer inspection it is possible to detect in the darker nature of his prose a growing alienation from modern life that surfaced more fully in literature of the 1920’s. There is a bite, an edge, and a dislocation of reality in the best of his work that should place him among the forerunners of the generation of British writers who produced the modernist literary movements.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hector Hugh Munro, a Scottish-English short-story writer and journalist who used the pen-name Saki (SAH-kee), was born December 18, 1870, in Akyab, Burma, where his father was a colonel in the Bengal Staff Corps and Inspector General of the Police. Soon thereafter, his mother died and he was sent to England with his elder brother and sister to be raised by his grandmother and two aunts in Pilton, near Barnstaple, North Devon. He went to grammar school at Exmouth and Bedford and during his youth was interested in drawing and art. In 1888, Colonel Munro retired from the army and took his son on an extended tour of Europe, from which they returned in 1890.{$S[A]Munro, Hector Hugh;Saki}

In 1893 Hector Hugh Munro returned to Burma to join the police force in a position gained through his father’s influence. However, the young man suffered so severely from malaria that he returned to England in 1894. Following his convalescence, Munro moved to London in 1896.

Determined to become a writer, he published his first book in 1900 (the only one under his real name), a serious history called The Rise of the Russian Empire. He then adopted his pen name, Saki, from the cupbearer in Edward FitzGerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859), and began a very successful series of political satires for the Westminster Gazette, eleven of which were published in book form as The Westminster Alice in 1902.

Fluent in French, German, and Russian, Saki traveled to the Balkans, Russia, Poland, and France as a foreign correspondent for the Morning Post from 1902 to 1908. Working as a freelance writer following his return to England in 1908, he continued to write short stories while publishing in the Bystander and the Daily Express. The Unbearable Bassington, his first novel, appeared in 1912 and was a scathingly accurate social satire written in a style reminiscent of Oscar Wilde. His second novel, When William Came, was less well received critically and served primarily to warn complacent Britons of Germany’s aggressive intentions prior to World War I.

During his ten most successful years as a writer, from 1904 to 1914, Saki published four volumes of short stories, many notable for their clever dialogue, odd animals and settings, and startling surprise endings. Saki’s short stories remained popular throughout the twentieth century, largely because of their sparkling wit and sharp humor; they are what have earned him a place in literature. Dealing frequently with unconventional subjects, practical jokes, or the supernatural, they seldom obey modern rules of realism.

Romantic idealism spurred Saki toward his last great adventure in 1914: As soon as World War I broke out, though he was over the age limit, he enlisted in the army. He managed to join a newly created cavalry unit called the 2nd King Edward’s Horse but soon transferred to the 22nd Royal Fusiliers, serving with that combat unit for a year in France. At least twice he refused an officer’s commission and safer duty, preferring to remain a common soldier on the front lines. In a predawn advance on German trenches near Beaumont Hamel on the morning of November 14, 1916, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.


(Short Stories for Students)

Hector H. Munro—who took the pen name of Saki when he became a professional writer—was born December 18, 1870, in Burma, to a British army officer and his wife. After the death of his mother in 1873, Saki and his siblings were sent to Britain to be raised by their aunts.

Saki's father retired from the army in 1888 and thereafter took Saki and his sibling on many trips to the European continent. Saki went to Burma in 1893 as a police officer. However, he soon contracted malaria and returned to Britain the following year. He moved to London in 1896 with the hopes of becoming a writer.

In 1899 Saki published his first short story, "Dogged,'' and the next year he published a nonfic-tion book about the history of Russia. Also that year, Saki collaborated with political cartoonist Francis Carruthers Gould to create ‘‘Alice in Westminster,’’ a series of satirical pieces that attacked the British government's handling of the Boer War in South Africa. The series was published in the Westminster Gazette and later collected in a book titled The Westminster Alice (1902). Saki and Gould collaborated again two years later on a similar project.

In 1902 Saki became a foreign correspondent for the Tory Morning Gazette. At the same time, he continued publishing short stories in the Westminster Gazette. In 1908 Saki left the field of journalism to devote himself to fiction writing. He published short stories regularly through 1914, by which time he had also resumed work as a journalist.

With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Saki enlisted for military service. He was sent to the trenches in France in November. He served in numerous battles, but continued to write during the war years. He wrote many articles about the military life for the army newspaper. Saki was killed by sniper fire on November 14, 1916.

The Toys of Peace, and Other Papers, which included ‘‘The Interlopers,’’ was published in 1919. Another posthumous collection, The Square Egg, and Other Sketches, with Three Plays, was published in 1924 and included Saki's wartime writings.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Saki, whose real name was Hector Hugh Munro, was born at the height of English imperialism in Akyab, Burma, on December 18, 1870, to British parents, Charles Augustus and Mary Frances Munro. His father was a colonel in the British military. Following the death of his mother, he was sent back to Devon, England, where he lived with his grandmother and aunts. In 1887 his father returned to England after retiring and subsequently traveled throughout Europe with his children. Saki returned briefly to Burma in 1893 as a police functionary but returned to England owing to his poor health. He turned to writing and became a foreign correspondent for the Morning Post, traveling in eastern Europe and France, from 1902 to 1909. With the illustrator Francis Carruthers Gould, Saki collaborated on a successful series of political cartoons. His unusual pseudonym comes from the name of a character in Edward Fitzgerald's translation of "The Rubaiyat, " a long poem by the twelfth-century Persian writer Omar Khayyam.

Saki is most widely known as a satirist of the English ruling classes, and his best known short story is "The Open Window. " He is also famous for the character Reginald, who appears in a number of his short stories. However, though he is primarily known for his short fiction, including the volumes Reginald (1904), Reginald in Russia (1910), and Beasts and Super-Beasts (1914), he was also a novelist and playwright and the author of two works of nonfiction, including the historical study The Rise of the Russian Empire. When World War I began, Saki joined the British military as an enlisted man, though owing to his high social rank and education he could have enlisted as an officer or worked for military intelligence. Indeed, he refused several offers of commission. He died in action in France on November 14, 1916.