Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408

The main purpose of this story is to deflate the pretensions of the overbearing Mrs. Quabarl by exposing her middle-class values and ignorance to the better informed and aristocratic behavior of Lady Carlotta. Such social satire was the stock in trade of Saki, who wrote dozens of such stories for fashionable periodicals such as the Westminster Gazette, in which this story first appeared. He attacked most of the institutions of his Edwardian era including Parliament, modern styles of dress and behavior, and various religious, political, and social beliefs.

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The character of Mrs. Quabarl is a typical target for Saki’s derision. Overbearing, pretentious, and newly rich, she cannot maintain her self-assurance when faced by the comfortable style and confidence that is bred into Lady Carlotta. In their confrontation Munro pits the traditional savoir faire of the aristocracy against the affectations of the newly arrived. There is really no contest, however, as autocrats are seldom a match for aristocrats in Saki’s fictional world. Lady Carlotta knows more about how to carry off the lifestyle to which Mrs. and Mr. Quabarl aspire, and she refuses to be distracted by the trappings of their wealth, such as the Quabarls’ fancy new car, in the assertion of her superiority. Quabarl Mansion might impress a real governess, but not Lady Carlotta, for whom such places appear false.

Like his fictional Quabarl children, Saki was educated with his brother and sister at home. His father often employed governesses, so he was familiar with the nature of the type. As A. J. Langguth, Saki’s biographer, points out, the Munro children early had worked out a version of the “Schartz-Metterklume method” in their nursery by acting out history among themselves. Such an unconventional education may have worked in the confines of the eccentric and aristocratic Munro household; however, in the story such an unorthodox approach to the subject proves too radical for the more conventional Quabarls. Although they appear to have aristocratic aspirations, they remain middle class at heart and resist anything that might undermine their recently acquired social position. Saki develops that idea through their reactions to Lady Carlotta’s fabricated educational program.

The fact that Lady Carlotta’s history-teaching method has the obviously German-sounding name of “Schartz-Metterklume” adds to the satire. Throughout his life Saki was staunchly British and deeply suspicious of the effect that continental ideas were having on his native culture, so he frequently aimed his wit at foreign values.

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