The Unbearable Bassington synthesizes the attitudes, ideas, techniques, stylistic mannerisms, and narrative quirks that made Saki one of the most entertaining and provocative writers in Edwardian England. It was also his first novel and represents his most serious attempt to gain recognition as an important literary artist. The great artistic merit of The Unbearable Bassington suggests that, had Saki not been killed in World War I, he might well have ranked with Aldous Huxley as a satirical chronicler of the disillusioned, disintegrating British upper class in the years following the war.
The Unbearable Bassington immediately impresses the reader as a vivid, brilliant, amusing, ironical portrait of pre-World War I upper-class English society. As a member of that group, Saki knows it intimately and, although he never seriously questions the social and political institutions that support it—the rigid class system, economic and social injustice, and imperialism—he sees its brittleness, shallowness, frivolity, and materialism, and he describes it with a deft and bitter wit that is as provoking as it is amusing. If most of the personages are more caricature than character, they are a colorful crew, in constant motion and conflict. The dialogue is made up of a steady stream of acute observations, sharp, witty exchanges, and brilliant epigrams. The social rituals, subtle class distinctions, and special mannerisms of the group are sketched with both careful precision and ironical understatement.
There is more to The Unbearable Bassington than a witty description of a superficial social stratum. The real importance of the novel depends on the seriousness of the action and the fates of the primary characters. Saki reveals his true feelings about not only his own social grouping but also life in general. At the center of The Unbearable Bassington is the tragicomic mother-son...
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