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"A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanations." (from "The Square Egg")

Saki (December 18, 1870 - November 14, 1916) was the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro, chosen from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam. He was a writer whose witty and outrageous stories satirized the Edwardian social scene in macabre and cruel ways. He was openly a misogynist, an anti-Semite, and a reactionary.

He is considered a master of the short story, and is often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. The story The Open Window may be his most famous, with a closing line ("Romance at short notice was her speciality.") that has entered the lexicon of many writers.

Munro was born in Akyab, Burma as the son of Charles Augustus Munro, an inspector-general for the Burma police when that country, now called Myanmar, was still ruled by Great Britain. His mother, the former Mary Frances Mercer, died in 1872, killed by a runaway cow. He was brought up in England with his brother and sister by his grandmother and aunts in a straitlaced household, the humour in which he only appreciated in later life. He used the severity of this household in many stories, notably Sredni Vashtar, in which a young boy's pet weasel takes revenge for its master's unhappiness.

Munro was educated at Pencarwick School in Exmoth and the Bedford Grammar School. In 1893 Munro joined the Burma police. Three years later, failing health forced his resignation and return to England, where he started his career as a journalist, writing for newspapers such as the Westminster Gazette, Daily Express, Bystander, Morning Post, and Outlook.

In 1900 Munro's first book appeared, The Rise of the Russian Empire, a historical study modelled upon Edward Gibbon's famous The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It was followed in 1902 by Not-So-Stories, a collection of short stories.

From 1902 to 1908 Munro worked as a foreign correspondent for The Morning Post in the Balkans, Russia and Paris, then settled in London. Many of the stories from this period feature the elegant and effete Reginald and Clovis, who take heartless and cruel delight in the discomfort or downfall of their conventional and pretentious elders. In 1914 his novel When William Came was published, in which he portrayed what might happen if the German emperor conquered England.

At the start of World War I, although officially over age, Munro joined the Army as an ordinary soldier, refusing a commission. He was killed by a sniper in France, near Beaumont-Hamel. Munro was sheltering in a shell crater and his last words, according to several sources, were "Put that damned cigarette out!" After his death his sister Ethel destroyed most of his papers and wrote her own account of their childhood.

Saki's work is in the public domain, and some of it can be found on the Web. Much of it was published posthumously.

Short Stories

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Some of his best-known short stories include:

At a train station, an arrogant and overbearing woman mistakes the mischievous Lady Carlotta for the governess she expected. Lady Carlotta, deciding not to correct the mistake, presents herself as a proponent of "the Scharz-Metterlume method" of making children understand history by acting it out themselves, and chooses a rather unsuitable historical episode for her first lesson.

Rather than giving their young boys toy soldiers and guns, a couple decides to give their sons "peace toys." When the packages are opened, young Bertie shouts "It's a fort!" and is disappointed when his father replies "It's a municipal dust-bin." The boys are initially baffled as to how to obtain any enjoyment from models of a school of art and a public library, or from little toy figures of
John Stuart Mill, poetess "Mrs. Hemans," and astronomer Sir John Herschel. Youthful inventiveness finds a way, however.

A bachelor is irritated by badly-behaved children in a railway carriage ("the smaller girl created a diversion by beginning to recite On the Road to Mandalay. She only knew the first line, but she put her limited knowledge to the fullest possible use"). He decides to tell them a story about a little girl named Bertha who is extraordinarily good — "horribly good." In the story's denouement, Bertha is hiding in some shrubbery from a pursuing wolf. She almost escapes, but she is wearing three medals — for obedience, punctuality, and good behavior. As she trembles with fear, her medals clink against each other and attract the attention of the wolf, who devours her. "The story began badly," says the smaller of the small girls, "but it had a beautiful ending."


Also: any of several monkeys of the genus Pithecia, of tropical South America, having a golden-brown to black, thick, shaggy coat and a long, bushy, nonprehensile tail.