‘The Metamorphoses of Lobelia Jabb, Suffragette’

Presented below for the first time since they originally appeared on 12 March 1913 in The Bystander are Saki’s satirical verses on a suffragette, with illustrations by ‘Pat’. The views expressed are in line with the tenor of stories such as ‘The Gala Programme’ (The Square Egg) and ‘Hermann the Irascible–A Story of the Great Weep’ (The Chronicles of Clovis).

Saki fans will no doubt also note parallels with ‘Laura’ (Beasts and Super-beasts), which also takes for its plot the repeated reincarnation of an annoying woman.

For the sake of the search engines, here is the text by itself. You can see the actual illustrated version if you scroll down.

A Suffragette Lobelia was,
She early left this life because
(She had the rottenest of luck)
She too sincerely hunger-struck.
Mere death her spirit could not tame,
A super-nuisance she became:
On every club she made her raids
–They slew her with the ace of spades.
She wrecked, with penetrating scorn,
the après-midi of the Faun;
And now another shape she wore,
She propaganda’d more and more.
Fierce androphobia winged her feet,
she bit three men in Downing Street.
The men were pasteurised – her bark,
was silenced in St. James’s Park.
Then took she yet another shape,
The larger, fiercer breed of ape.
She met a military man,
Who in the wrong direction ran.
It scarcely served her wrath to cool,
To find herself a boy at school;
She sought the other boys to vex
–And now she really loathes the sex.

The Metamorphoses of Lobelia Jabb, Suffragette, p. 1

The Metamorphoses of Lobelia Jabb, Suffragette, p. 2

My thanks are due to Brian Gibson for sending me a photocopy of the original. Interested readers are advised to consult pages 143–146 of his book Reading Saki: The Fiction of H.H. Munro for a discussion of this piece.

“Some confusion having arisen…”

“Some confusion having arisen owing to the similarity of names, Mr. Hector H. Munro (who usually writes under the pen-name of ‘Saki’) asks us to state that he is not the author of the novel ‘Mrs. Elmsley,’ by Mr. Hector Munro, published by Messrs. Constable and Co.”
― ‘Notice in the Westminster Gazette, Monday 3 April 1911, p. 4.’

El ala este : Y otros cuentos (Saki in Spanish)

Saki fan, researcher and contributor to this blog Juan Facundo Araujo has published a book of Spanish translations, including (if I understand correctly) the previously untranslated ‘The East Wing’ and ‘A Jungle Story’. He also wrote an introductory essay.

Here’s the Spanish description from Amazon:

“El ala este” incluye tres relatos inéditos en español del genial autor inglés, con un estudio preliminar de Facundo Araujo y una elegante selección anotada de cuentos, ilustrados por los artistas Néstor Martín y Pablo Castillo.

‘Reginald on Christmas Presents’

I wish it to be distinctly understood (said Reginald) that I don’t want a “George, Prince of Wales” Prayer-book1 as a Christmas present. The fact cannot be too widely known.

There ought (he continued) to be technical education classes on the science of present-giving. No one seems to have the faintest notion of what anyone else wants, and the prevalent ideas on the subject are not creditable to a civilised community.

There is, for instance, the female relative in the country who “knows a tie is always useful,” and sends you some spotted horror that you could only wear in secret or in Tottenham Court Road.2 It might have been useful had she kept it to tie up currant bushes with, when it would have served the double purpose of supporting the branches and frightening away the birds—for it is an admitted fact that the ordinary tomtit of commerce has a sounder æsthetic taste than the average female relative in the country.

Then there are aunts. They are always a difficult class to deal with in the matter of presents. The trouble is that one never catches them really young enough. By the time one has educated them to an appreciation of the fact that one does not wear red woollen mittens in the West End, they die, or quarrel with the family, or do something equally inconsiderate. That is why the supply of trained aunts is always so precarious. Continue reading

‘The East Wing’

“I’m so glad you have come,” she said; “servants are so little help in an emergency of this kind. My husband has gone off in the car to summon the fire-brigade.”

“Haven’t you telephoned to them?” asked the Major.

“The telephone unfortunately is in the east wing,” said the hostess; “so is the telephone-book. Both are being devoured by the flames at this moment. It makes one feel dreadfully isolated. Now if the fire had only broken out in the west wing instead, we could have used the telephone and had the fire-engines here by now.”

“On the other hand,” objected Lucien, “Canon Clore and Major Boventry and myself would probably have met with the fate that has overtaken the telephone-book. I think I prefer the present arrangement.”

“The butler and most of the other servants are in the dining-room, trying to save the Raeburns and the alleged Van Dyke,”1 continued Mrs Gramplain, “and in that little room on the first landing, cut off from us by the cruel flames, is my poor darling Eva. Eva of the golden hair. Will none of you save her?”

“Who is Eva of the golden hair?” asked Lucien.

“My daughter,” said Mrs Gramplain.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter,” said Lucien, “and really I don’t think I can risk my life to save some one I’ve never met or even heard about. You see, my life is not only wonderful and beautiful to myself, but if my life goes, nothing else really matters to me. I don’t suppose you can realise that, to me, the whole world as it exists to-day, the Ulster problem, the Albanian tangle, the Kikuyu controversy,2 the wide field of social reform and Antarctic exploration, the realms of finance, and research and international armaments, all this varied and crowded and complex world, all comes to a complete and absolute end the moment my life is finished. Eva might be snatched from the flames and live to be the grandmother of brilliant and charming men and women; but, as far as I should be concerned, she and they would no more exist than a vanished puff of cigarette smoke or a dissolved soda-water bubble. And if, in losing my life, I am to lose her life and theirs, as far as I personally am concerned with them, why on earth should I, personally, risk my life to save hers and theirs?”

“Major Boventry,” exclaimed Mrs Gramplain, “you are not clever, but you are a man with honest human feelings. I have only known you for a few hours, but I am sure you are the man I take you for. You will not let my Eva perish.”

“Lady,” said the Major stumblingly, “I would gladly give my life to rescue your Eva, or anybody’s Eva for the matter of that, but my life is not mine to give. I am engaged to the sweetest little woman in the world. I am everything to her. What would my poor little Mildred say if they brought her news that I had cast away my life in an endeavour, perhaps fruitless, to save some unknown girl in a burning country house?”

“You are like all the rest of them,” said Mrs Gramplain bitterly; “I thought that you, at least, were stupid. It shows how rash it is to judge a man by his bridge-play. It has been like this all my life,” she continued in dull, level tones; “I was married, when little more than a child, to my husband, and there has never been any real bond of affection between us. We have been polite and considerate to one another, nothing more. I sometimes think that if we had had a child things might have been different.”

“But your daughter Eva?” queried the Canon, and the two other men echoed his question.

“I have never had a daughter,” said the woman quietly, yet, amid the roar and crackle of the flames, her voice carried, so that not a syllable was lost. “Eva is the outcome of my imagination. I so much wanted a little girl, and at last I came to believe that she really existed. She grew up, year by year, in my mind, and when she was eighteen I painted her portrait, a beautiful young girl with masses of golden hair. Since that moment the portrait has been Eva. I have altered it a little with the changing years — she is twenty-one now — and I have repainted her dress with every incoming fashion. On her last birthday I painted her a pair of beautiful diamond earrings. Every day I have sat with her for an hour or so, telling her my thoughts, or reading to her. And now she is there, alone with the flames and the smoke, unable to stir, waiting for the deliverance that does not come.”

“It is beautiful,” said Lucien; “it is the most beautiful thing I ever heard.”

“Where are you going?” asked his hostess, as the young man moved towards the blazing staircase of the east wing.

“I am going to try and save her,” he answered; “as she has never existed, my death cannot compromise her future existence. I shall go into nothingness, and she, as far as I am concerned, will go into nothingness too; but then she has never been anything else.”

“But your life, your beautiful life?”

“Death in this case is more beautiful.”

The Major started forward.

“I am going too,” he said simply.

“To save Eva?” cried the woman.

“Yes,” he said; “my little Mildred will not grudge me to a woman who has never existed.”

“How well he reads our sex,” murmured Mrs Gramplain, “and yet how badly he plays bridge!”

The two men went side by side up the blazing staircase, the slender young figure in the well-fitting dinner-jacket and the thick-set military man in striped pyjamas of an obvious Swan & Edgar pattern.3 Down in the hall below them stood the woman in her pale wrapper, and the Canon in his wonderful-hued Albanian-work dressing-gown, looking like the arch-priests of some strange religion presiding at a human sacrifice.

As the rescue-party disappeared into the roaring cavern of smoke and flames, the butler came into the hall, bearing with him one of the Raeburns.

“I think I hear the clanging of the fire-engines, ma’am,” he announced.

Mrs Gramplain continued staring at the spot where the two men had disappeared.

“How stupid of me!” she said presently to the Canon. “I’ve just remembered I sent Eva to Exeter to be cleaned. Those two men have lost their lives for nothing.”

“They have certainly lost their lives,” said the Canon.

“The irony of it all,” said Mrs Gramplain, “the tragic irony of it all!”


  1. Henry Raeburn (1756–1823), Scottish portrait painter. After relative neglect for forty years after his death, his reputation had undergone a reassessment and at the time Saki was writing his works were much sought after and correspondingly expensive. Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Dutch painter who worked for the English court.

  2. The Ulster unionists’ were prepared to oppose the government’s Irish Home Rule plans by force if necessary. The borders of Albania had been established by international agreement in 1913 after it gained independence in 1912. However, in February 1914 ethnic Greeks in the south of the country tried to break away, setting up the the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus. The issue was not settled till 1921. A controversy within the Anglican Church had erupted over an ecumenical service held in Kikuyu in modern-day Kenya in June 1913.

  3. Swan & Edgar was a high-class department store, located at Piccadilly Circus, London.


‘The East Wing’ by Saki (H.H. Munro) (public domain). Notes © 2020 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

‘Angels of Grace’ and King Robert of Sicily

The following narrative poem by Longfellow provided the inspiration for Saki’s story ‘Ministers of Grace’ (originally published in The Bystander and later collected in The Chronicles of Clovis).

Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Apparelled in magnificent attire,
With retinue of many a knight and squire,
On St. John’s eve, at vespers, proudly sat
And heard the priests chant the Magnificat,
And as he listened, o’er and o’er again
Repeated, like a burden or refrain,
He caught the words, “Deposuit potentes
De sede, et exaltavit humiles”;
And slowly lifting up his kingly head
He to a learned clerk beside him said,
“What mean these words?” The clerk made answer meet,
“He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them of low degree.”
Thereat King Robert muttered scornfully,
“’T is well that such seditious words are sung
Only by priests and in the Latin tongue;
For unto priests and people be it known,
There is no power can push me from my throne!”
And leaning back, he yawned and fell asleep,
Lulled by the chant monotonous and deep.

When he awoke, it was already night;
The church was empty, and there was no light,
Save where the lamps, that glimmered few and faint,
Lighted a little space before some saint.
He started from his seat and gazed around,
But saw no living thing and heard no sound.
He groped towards the door, but it was locked;
He cried aloud, and listened, and then knocked,
And uttered awful threatenings and complaints,
And imprecations upon men and saints.
The sounds re-echoed from the roof and walls
As if dead priests were laughing in their stalls.

At length the sexton, hearing from without
The tumult of the knocking and the shout,
And thinking thieves were in the house of prayer,
Came with his lantern, asking, “Who is there?”
Half choked with rage, King Robert fiercely said,
“Open: ’tis I, the King! Art thou afraid?”
The frightened sexton, muttering, with a curse,
“This is some drunken vagabond, or worse!”
Turned the great key and flung the portal wide;
A man rushed by him at a single stride,
Haggard, half naked, without hat or cloak,
Who neither turned, nor looked at him, nor spoke,
But leaped into the blackness of the night,
And vanished like a spectre from his sight.

Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Despoiled of his magnificent attire,
Bareheaded, breathless, and besprent with mire,
With sense of wrong and outrage desperate,
Strode on and thundered at the palace gate;
Rushed through the courtyard, thrusting in his rage
To right and left each seneschal and page,
And hurried up the broad and sounding stair,
His white face ghastly in the torches’ glare.
From hall to hall he passed with breathless speed;
Voices and cries he heard, but did not heed,
Until at last he reached the banquet-room,
Blazing with light and breathing with perfume.

There on the dais sat another king,
Wearing his robes, his crown, his signet-ring,
King Robert’s self in features, form, and height,
But all transfigured with angelic light!
It was an Angel; and his presence there
With a divine effulgence filled the air,
An exaltation, piercing the disguise,
Though none the hidden Angel recognize.

A moment speechless, motionless, amazed,
The throneless monarch on the Angel gazed,
Who met his look of anger and surprise
With the divine compassion of his eyes;
Then said, “Who art thou? and why com’st thou here?”
To which King Robert answered, with a sneer,
“I am the King, and come to claim my own
From an impostor, who usurps my throne!”
And suddenly, at these audacious words,
Up sprang the angry guests, and drew their swords;
The Angel answered, with unruffled brow,
“Nay, not the King, but the King’s Jester, thou
Henceforth shall wear the bells and scalloped cape,
And for thy counsellor shalt lead an ape;
Thou shalt obey my servants when they call,
And wait upon my henchmen in the hall!”

Deaf to King Robert’s threats and cries and prayers,
They thrust him from the hall and down the stairs;
A group of tittering pages ran before,
And as they opened wide the folding door,
His heart failed, for he heard, with strange alarms,
The boisterous laughter of the men-at-arms,
And all the vaulted chamber roar and ring
With the mock plaudits of “Long live the King!”

Next morning, waking with the day’s first beam,
He said within himself, “It was a dream!”
But the straw rustled as he turned his head,
There were the cap and bells beside his bed,
Around him rose the bare, discolored walls,
Close by, the steeds were champing in their stalls,
And in the corner, a revolting shape,
Shivering and chattering sat the wretched ape.
It was no dream; the world he loved so much
Had turned to dust and ashes at his touch!

Days came and went; and now returned again
To Sicily the old Saturnian reign;
Under the Angel’s governance benign
The happy island danced with corn and wine,
And deep within the mountain’s burning breast
Enceladus, the giant, was at rest.

Meanwhile King Robert yielded to his fate,
Sullen and silent and disconsolate.
Dressed in the motley garb that Jesters wear,
With look bewildered and a vacant stare,
Close shaven above the ears, as monks are shorn,
By courtiers mocked, by pages laughed to scorn,
His only friend the ape, his only food
What others left,–he still was unsubdued.
And when the Angel met him on his way,
And half in earnest, half in jest, would say
Sternly, though tenderly, that he might feel
The velvet scabbard held a sword of steel,
“Art thou the King?” the passion of his woe
Burst from him in resistless overflow,
And, lifting high his forehead, he would fling
The haughty answer back, “I am, I am the King!”

Almost three years were ended; when there came
Ambassadors of great repute and name
From Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Unto King Robert, saying that Pope Urbane
By letter summoned them forthwith to come
On Holy Thursday to his city of Rome.
The Angel with great joy received his guests,
And gave them presents of embroidered vests,
And velvet mantles with rich ermine lined,
And rings and jewels of the rarest kind.
Then he departed with them o’er the sea
Into the lovely land of Italy,
Whose loveliness was more resplendent made
By the mere passing of that cavalcade,
With plumes, and cloaks, and housings, and the stir
Of jewelled bridle and of golden spur.
And lo! among the menials, in mock state,
Upon a piebald steed, with shambling gait,
His cloak of fox-tails flapping in the wind,
The solemn ape demurely perched behind,
King Robert rode, making huge merriment
In all the country towns through which they went.

The Pope received them with great pomp and blare
Of bannered trumpets, on Saint Peter’s square,
Giving his benediction and embrace,
Fervent, and full of apostolic grace.
While with congratulations and with prayers
He entertained the Angel unawares,
Robert, the Jester, bursting through the crowd,
Into their presence rushed, and cried aloud,
“I am the King! Look, and behold in me
Robert, your brother, King of Sicily!
This man, who wears my semblance to your eyes,
Is an impostor in a king’s disguise.
Do you not know me? does no voice within
Answer my cry, and say we are akin?”
The Pope in silence, but with troubled mien,
Gazed at the Angel’s countenance serene;
The Emperor, laughing, said, “It is strange sport
To keep a mad man for thy Fool at court!”
And the poor, baffled Jester in disgrace
Was hustled back among the populace.

In solemn state the Holy Week went by,
And Easter Sunday gleamed upon the sky;
The presence of the Angel, with its light,
Before the sun rose, made the city bright,
And with new fervor filled the hearts of men,
Who felt that Christ indeed had risen again.
Even the Jester, on his bed of straw,
With haggard eyes the unwonted splendor saw,
He felt within a power unfelt before,
And, kneeling humbly on his chamber floor,
He heard the rushing garments of the Lord
Sweep through the silent air, ascending heavenward.

And now the visit ending, and once more
Valmond returning to the Danube’s shore,
Homeward the Angel journeyed, and again
The land was made resplendent with his train,
Flashing along the towns of Italy
Unto Salerno, and from thence by sea.
And when once more within Palermo’s wall,
And, seated on the throne in his great hall,
He heard the Angelus from convent towers,
As if the better world conversed with ours,
He beckoned to King Robert to draw nigher,
And with a gesture bade the rest retire;
And when they were alone, the Angel said,
“Art thou the King?” Then, bowing down his head,
King Robert crossed both hands upon his breast,
And meekly answered him: “Thou knowest best!
My sins as scarlet are; let me go hence,
And in some cloister’s school of penitence,
Across those stones, that pave the way to heaven,
Walk barefoot, till my guilty soul be shriven!”

The Angel smiled, and from his radiant face
A holy light illumined all the place,
And through the open window, loud and clear,
They heard the monks chant in the chapel near,
Above the stir and tumult of the street:
“He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them of low degree!”
And through the chant a second melody
Rose like the throbbing of a single string:
“I am an Angel, and thou art the King!”

King Robert, who was standing near the throne,
Lifted his eyes, and lo! he was alone!
But all apparelled as in days of old,
With ermined mantle and with cloth of gold;
And when his courtiers came, they found him there
Kneeling upon the floor, absorbed in, silent prayer.

Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Part First, The Sicilian’s Tale: King Robert of Sicily

Source text taken from: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Tales_of_a_Wayside_Inn/Part_First/The_Sicilian%27s_Tale/King_Robert_of_Sicily

Link

Voltaire of the Suburbs

Cover of The Argosy magazine 1937 edition

In good company! Scan from http://www.philsp.com/data/images/a/argosy_uk_193709.jpg

On the internet, if you dig beneath the pictures of people’s food or cats and the anonymous abuse of figures in public life, you sometimes come across herculean efforts of single-interest obsessiveness like the Fiction Mags Index, which indexes thousands of magazines, including “pulp” magazines, and their contents. It has listings for both “H.H. Munro” and “Saki”, which are interesting because the details given mostly refer to reprints of the stories, usually in American or Australian magazines — information that is (as far as I know) not to be found elsewhere.

My title comes from an (anonymous) article on Munro published in The Argosy in September 1937, which also republished ‘The Mouse’ (from Reginald in Russia). I may have a go at tracking down the article — the title is intriguing, to say the least.

‘The Penance’

Octavian Ruttle was one of those lively cheerful individuals on whom amiability had set its unmistakable stamp, and, like most of his kind, his soul’s peace depended in large measure on the unstinted approval of his fellows. In hunting to death a small tabby cat he had done a thing of which he scarcely approved himself, and he was glad when the gardener had hidden the body in its hastily dug grave under a lone oak-tree in the meadow, the same tree that the hunted quarry had climbed as a last effort towards safety. It had been a distasteful and seemingly ruthless deed, but circumstances had demanded the doing of it. Octavian kept chickens; at least he kept some of them; others vanished from his keeping, leaving only a few bloodstained feathers to mark the manner of their going. The tabby cat from the large grey house that stood with its back to the meadow had been detected in many furtive visits to the hen-coops, and after due negotiation with those in authority at the grey house a sentence of death had been agreed on: “The children will mind, but they need not know,” had been the last word on the matter.

The children in question were a standing puzzle to Octavian; in the course of a few months he considered that he should have known their names, ages, the dates of their birthdays, and have been introduced to their favourite toys. They remained however, as non-committal as the long blank wall that shut them off from the meadow, a wall over which their three heads sometimes appeared at odd moments. They had parents in India—that much Octavian had learned in the neighbourhood; the children, beyond grouping themselves garment-wise into sexes, a girl and two boys, carried their life-story no further on his behoof. And now it seemed he was engaged in something which touched them closely, but must be hidden from their knowledge.

The poor helpless chickens had gone one by one to their doom, so it was meet that their destroyer should come to a violent end, yet Octavian felt some qualms when his share of the violence was ended. The little cat, headed off from its wonted tracks of safety, had raced unfriended from shelter to shelter, and its end had been rather piteous. Octavian walked through the long grass of the meadow with a step less jaunty than usual. And as he passed beneath the shadow of the high blank wall he glanced up and became aware that his hunting had had undesired witnesses. Three white set faces were looking down at him, and if ever an artist wanted a threefold study of cold human hate, impotent yet unyielding, raging yet masked in stillness, he would have found it in the triple gaze that met Octavian’s eye.

“I’m sorry, but it had to be done,” said Octavian, with genuine apology in his voice. Continue reading

Mapping Saki and Borges

Cover of La reticencia de Lady Anne

The cover of La reticencia de Lady Anne

Is it possible to establish a connection between Saki and Argentina? It is indeed. Saki mentions Argentina on two occasions. In ‘The Way to the Dairy’ we find: “The Brimley Bomefields had a collective attack of nervous prostration on the day when she sold out a quantity of shares in Argentine rails”, and then in ‘Fur’ we also find: “Well, old Bertram Kneyght is over in England just now from the Argentine”.

Furthermore, the link between Saki and Borges is even more fascinating. They never physically met each other: Saki died tragically in 1916 and Borges was born in 1899. Different ages, different places. Yet a certain “relationship” between these two authors does reveal itself as true.

Intellectually, Borges grew up in his father’s personal library, a collection full of English books. Moreover, Borges inherited his father’s literary idols such as Swinburne, Keats, Spencer and Shelley. Guillermo Borges translated Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát into Spanish and his version of the famous Persian poem was finally published in Proa, a literary magazine established by his son and Ricardo Güiraldes, in the year 1924. Later on, Borges wrote a poem about Omar Khayyám’s masterpiece. As we know, Saki took his peculiar penname from the Rubáiyát stanzas. In his preface to ‘The Reticence of Lady Anne’, Borges confirms this conjecture: “His name, Munro, belongs to an ancient Scottish family; his penname, Saki, comes from the Rubáiyát (this word in Persian means cupbearer)”.1

Saki and Borges were cosmopolitans. About Saki’s cosmopolitanism, we should recall A.A. Milne’s words: “A strange creature, this Saki, to us many others who were trying to do it too. For we were so domestic, he so terrifyingly cosmopolitan”.2 During his youth, Saki travelled around Europe with his father and siblings. In nineteenth-century Victorian England, it was common for upper-class young adults like Saki, who had recently finished grammar school, to travel to the Continent, visiting museums, recreational resorts and art galleries in France, Germany and Switzerland.  This “educational trip” allowed Hector Munro to absorb entirely the historical, cultural and social Mitteleuropa atmosphere. As Charles Gillen declares: “This tour, too, helped to make Munro the true cosmopolitan”.3 In his adulthood, Saki also discovered Russia and the Balkans as a journalist working for The Morning Post. Yet Saki always returned to London. England was his shelter, far from the madding crowd. Borges asserts:

His life was a cosmopolitan one, but all his work (with the exception of one short story that we will mention later on)4 happens in England, in that England of his melancholic childhood. He never got over that period, whose irreparable misfortune was his literary matter. There is nothing special about this fact; unhappiness is, as they said, one of the elements of poetry. That England he suffered and took advantage of, was that of the Victorian middle class, ruled by boredom, organisation and by the eternal repetition of certain habits. Munro satirised that society with a quintessentially English dry humour.

In 1914, just before the Great War began, Borges and his family moved to Europe because his father’s eyesight had started to fail (Borges would inherit his father’s congenital blindness). In Geneva, a famous eye doctor treated Guillermo Borges while his son “Georgie” went to school. This tour to Europe was also considered essential for an Argentinian upper-class young adult: a chance to gain first-hand acquaintance with the Western culture. Besides, in those days the Argentine peso was strong.

Apparently, Borges was unhappy in Geneva because he couldn’t get used to the misty, damp and cold weather. He summarises his gloomy experience there: “I spent the war years in Geneva; [it was] a no-exit time, tight, made of drizzle, which I’ll always remember with some hatred”.

Later on, the Argentine fiction author Adolfo Bioy Casares (a very close friend of Jorge Luis Borges) became Saki’s first Spanish translator in 1940 with his version of ‘Sredni Vashtar’. It was published by Sur, one of the most important literary magazines in Buenos Aires during the 20th century. Borges and Bioy Casares were fascinated by this tale. Both certainly enjoyed speculative as well supernatural fiction. Borges declares particularly about ‘Sredni Vashtar’: “If we have to choose between two short stories of our anthology (and we are certainly not compelled to that duality), we would focus on ‘Sredni Vashtar’ and ‘The Interlopers’. The first one, as in every good story, is ambiguous: We can assume that Sredni Vashtar was really a god and that the unfortunate child sensed it, but the hypothesis that the child’s cult made a divinity from the ferret is also reasonable, nor is it prohibited to think that the force of the animal came from the child that might have really been the god and didn’t know it. It is fine that the ferret goes  back to the unknown from where it came; not less admirable is the disproportion between the happiness of the freed child and the trivial fact of making toast”.

Bioy Casares, Ocampo y Borges

Adolfo Bioy Casares, Victoria Ocampo (founder of ‘Sur’) and Jorge Luis Borges in 1935.
Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Bioy_Casares,_Ocampo_y_Borges.jpg

The only “discrepancy” between Borges and Saki was another British author: George Bernard Shaw. Borges esteemed him intensely and listed Shaw as one of his four favorite authors (the others were Cervantes, Chesterton and Emerson). Borges once declared drastically, “Shaw seems the only author I’ve read”. On the other hand, Saki couldn’t bear Shaw at all. In fact, he parodied him as “Sherard Blaw” in The Unbearable Bassington. In addition, the title of his book Beasts and Super-Beasts is just a mere satire of Shaw’s four-act drama Men and Super-Men. Bernard Shaw’s socialism and popularity were so unbearable for Hector Munro…

In conclusion, Saki and Borges were both remarkable and irreplaceable storytellers with a unique sense of irony. Borges was also a very fine reader and he explored British literature with a singular mastery. Definitively, Saki was part of his vast group of literary idols.


  1. ‘La Reticencia de Lady Anne’ [1986] was part of Jorge Luis Borges’s famous anthology: “La Biblioteca de Babel” or The Library of Babel. This anthology included many Borges’s preferred authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Gustav Meyrink, Franz Kafka, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Melville, Giovanni Papini, Edgar Allan Poe, León Bloy, Leopoldo Lugones, G.K. Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, etc. This preface in particular was published by Siruela Ediciones (Madrid, Spain).
  2. A. A. Milne, introduction to The Chronicles of Clovis. Online at  https://americanliterature.com/author/hh-munro-saki/book/the-chronicles-of-clovis/introduction.
  3. H.H. Munro (Saki), Twayne’s English Authors Series (TEAS) #102 (Boston, 1969).
  4. Borges is referring to his own selection of stories rather than to Munro’s entire oeuvre.

This is a guest blog post by Juan Facundo Araujo of the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He has both published and given presentations on various aspects of Saki. His currently research is into the depiction of suffragettes in Munro’s work. My thanks to him for agreeing to write something for this blog about Saki and Latin America.