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Saki (H.H. Munro) - Biography

Saki (H.H. Munro) (1870-1916)
Commentary by Karen Bernardo

Hector Hugh Munro -- more commonly known as Saki -- was born in Akyab, Burma. This was during the period when Burma, like India proper, was occupied by the British, and thus Munro was considered a British citizen despite the location of his birth. Munro's father was an officer in the Burma police. However, apparently feeling that England was a better place to raise children than Burma, Munro's father left his three children in the care of his mother and two sisters (the children's grandmother and aunts) back in Devon, England. Hector Munro and his two siblings were all somewhat sickly children, and out of concern for their health they were tutored at home for much of their childhoods. This focus on home may have contributed to a similar concentration in the drawing-room situations Munro would later describe in his stories.

When Hector had completed his schooling, he went to Burma where his father had arranged for him to join the military police. The climate did not agree with him, and after only a year at his new post, he fell ill with a severe case of malaria and had to return home. Back in England he began writing political satires, which were so entertaining that he had no trouble getting them published in the Westminster Gazette. He chose to publish his fiction (as opposed to his journalistic and non-fiction efforts) under the name of Saki, a pseudonym which was taken from the cup-bearer in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Later in the same year, the Morning Post sent Munro to the Balkans as a foreign correspondent; even in those days, the area was in tremendous political and social upheaval, and Munro found this extremely exciting, reflecting this in his story 'The Cupboard of the Yesterdays.' He also served as a foreign correspondent in Warsaw and St. Petersburg, where there was a great deal of political unrest at the time.

In all he wrote for a dazzling array of the important publications of the time -- including the Daily Express and Bystander in addition to the Westminster Gazette and the Morning Post. During a sojourn in Paris, he also wrote for a paper there. And during this entire time, he was writing exquisitely-crafted stories as well. His output was nothing short of prodigious, and seems even more so when one realizes his writing career only extended for fifteen years.

For Munro was not destined to live long, but he packed an incredible amount of living into a very short time. He used the proceeds from his writing to buy a comfortable cottage in Surrey Hills, which he shared with his sister; he also maintained an active membership at a London club, The Cocoa Tree. His lifestyle seemed rather typical of a mildly eccentric upper-class British gentleman, and wherever he lived he sought out the friendship of the most interesting and unusual people in the vicinity.

It is these people (as well as the extended family he recalled so vividly from his childhood) which populate his stories. His writing, while urbane and witty, is often surprisingly dark and haunting. The fiction of H.H. Munro -- Saki -- has somewhat fallen out of fashion nowadays, as we have a hard time identifying with some of his drawing-room situations. But it remains an exquisitely-crafted reminder of a world that is no more, and in its very readability -- in addition to its dark and haunting wit -- it deserves a renaissance.

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