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.
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...
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