“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.
This was published a good number of years ago but I’ve only got around to reading it now.
Although there is no mention of Munro at all, the book provides useful and entertaining background information about the period when he was writing and publishing. Hattersley begins with the death of Queen Victoria and continues with a panoramic sweep across politics, society, culture and science, ending (inevitably) with the outbreak of the First World War.
The author (who I should perhaps explain for non-UK readers was for many years a Labour MP and served as a member of the government in the 1970s) is particularly good on the politics and personalities of the time. Such knowledge is really indispensable if you want to properly appreciate early satires such as The Westminster Alice. His treatment of the trade union movement and the founding of his own party is similarly well-informed (though less relevant to readers of Munro).
The whole story is told in an engaging and lively way. He has some nice turns of phrase and a good eye for an interesting detail. A highlight was the section on the pioneers of motoring, from which I can’t resist quoting the following, describing one episode in the Automobile Club of Britain’s first attempt at “what, today, would be called a rally”:
Halfway to the summit of the Cumbrian Hills, the Ariel tricycle’s clutch failed and it began to roll backwards – accelerating as it descended towards the valley floor. It was then that the driver discovered, to his surprise, that the brakes only worked when the vehicle was going forwards. He managed to steer successfully to safety with his left hand while turned in his seat to watch the road over his right shoulder. Unfortunately that required him to push his passenger out on to the road. (p. 431)
I even found the section on cricket (a sport I have no understanding of or interest in) readable.
Years ago I read his sort-of-sequel Borrowed Time: The Story of Britain Between the Wars and I remember the chapters on literature in that being a real weakness, so it was a relief to find a more detailed and considered discussion of writers and their works in The Edwardians – one that actually gives the impression Hattersley had read the books and formed his own opinions on them rather than copying sections out of some undergraduate guide to Twentieth Century Eng. Lit.
Possibly he read a little too much Virginia Woolf, though. How else to explain his calling the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic “Harland and Woolf”? Coming from Northern Ireland, I feel I must put on record that it is Harland and Wolff. (One of the founders was a German, which is a little ironic when you consider that one of the big issues of the period was Anglo-German rivalry, particularly when it came to building ships.)
Despite that error (and the bizarre typo that has the Balkan Wars against the Ottoman Empire starting two years late in September 1914), this book is definitely to be recommended.
Recently acquired as part of my research into the context of Saki’s writings: biographies of two prominent politicians of the time: Joseph “Joe” Chamberlain and George Curzon (Lord Curzon).
Both were flamboyant politicians who never reached the absolute peak of the premiership. Chamberlain was a successful businessman and pioneering local politician in Birmingham before he went into national politics. He was first a liberal, then a Conservative, and had an independent personality strong enough to cause splits in both parties when he disagreed with their policies. Curzon showed extreme promise from early in life and as an undergraduate at Oxford inspired a poem which you still find sometimes in anthologies of light verse:
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim once a week.
Understandably, both were (along with the languid, golf-playing Arthur Balfour) favourite targets of satirists and caricaturists. Chamberlain appears in The Westminster Alice as the Red Queen and later as the Mad Hatter; in “John Bull’s Christmas Tree” he is drawn by Francis Carruthers Gould as a monocle-wearing machine gun. Curzon comes up less frequently in Munro’s works. He is “Kedzon” in “Ministers Of Grace” (The Chronicles of Clovis), a nom à clef made from his title “Lord Curzon of Kedleston”. I suspect he is also the butt of Clovis’s quip “My aunt has been known to learn humility from an ex-Viceroy”, Curzon having served as Viceroy of India from 1899–1905 (“The Jesting Of Arlington Stringham”, also in The Chronicles of Clovis).
Hopefully, reading these two books will deliver some more insights into Munro’s political satire.
If you do an online search for images of H.H. Munro, then you are likely to find the following photo:
Taken from https://assets.americanliterature.com/al/images/author/h-h-munro.png
It ought to be instantly familiar to many readers of this website because it was used on the front cover of Penguin Popular Classics’ The Collected Saki. (It happens to be the addition I own myself.)
However, it’s not him – although there seems to be a common misconception that it is:
What more is there to say? Screenshot of https://americanliterature.com/author/hh-munro-saki
I’ll happily admit it’s an error I made myself when I first bought the book.
In fact, this young gentleman is Adrian Allinson (1890-1959) and he was a painter best known for his landscapes. Here’s a self-portrait which shows an unmistakeable resemblance to the photo:
Adrian Allinson – self-portrait
I had never heard of him and he’s not in my Chambers Biographical Dictionary either, but when I looked him up I realised I probably had seen some of his work as he was one of the artists who produced those wonderful tourism advertisements of the interwar period:
Some of his work, while good, is (to my eye) rather conventional:
The Fisher (date unknown)
However, other paintings suggest something more interesting and make me wonder why he isn’t better known:
Static water at Cumberland Place (ca. 1943-4)
All of which is, though, rather outside the chronological ambit of this website. According to Wikipedia, Allinson graduated from art school only in 1910, which makes one wonder why some picture editor at Penguin decided he would make a suitable cover for Munro’s works. Is he meant to be an embodiment of a Sakian dandy such as Reginald, Clovis or Comus Bassington? I can’t see it. (Reginald would never have hidden his Titian-coloured hair under such a hat, surely?) And though painters do feature in Munro’s stories, they tend to be figures of mockery (think Laurence Yorkfield in ‘The Bull’, Mark Spayley in ‘Filboid Studge’, Theophil Eshley in ‘The Stalled Ox’ or Gebhard Knopfschrank in ‘On Approval’). My instinctive feeling is that Munro (who had definite ideas about illustrations of his characters) wouldn’t have been so impressed. And the fact that Allinson was a conscientious objector in the First World War definitely would have made him persona non grata to a man who enlisted to serve in the trenches despite being over-age.
Just to remind you all (should a reminder be necessary!), here’s the ‘real’ Saki (looking decidedly more pugnacious):
Gibson, Brian, Reading Saki: The Fiction of H. H. Munro (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014)
Waugh, Evelyn, A Little Order: A Selection from His Journalism, ed. by Donat Gallagher (London: Eyre Methuen, 1977)
1. Letter no. 9 in the appendix to Brian Gibson’s book is from Munro to his publishers about the choice of an illustration for the cover of The Chronicles of Clovis, which featured a young man in white flannels lazing in a hammock (presumably Clovis himself, in an allusion to ‘The Quest’). ↩
2. A tangentially related speculation presents itself here – would Reginald or Clovis have fought or objected? Evelyn Waugh imagined Comus as “cannon-fodder” in the introduction he wrote in 1947 for The Unbearable Bassington (republished in A Little Order), but the aesthete Perceval Plarsey in When William Came should probably be introduced as contrasting evidence. Maybe there’s another blog post in this… ↩
I did some more digging on the topic of “the City, where the patriotism comes from” (‘Reginald on Worries’) after posting about it last week and it seems that my suspicions were correct. The City (meaning, when capitalised, the financial and business district of London) was very active patriotically, especially at the time of the Boer War:
In December 1899, the City decided to subsidize, equip, train, and send to South Africa a volunteer force to fight in the Boer War […] The lord mayor, Sir Alfred J. Newton, Bart., was the moving spirit behind this enterprise. On December 21 the Court of Common Council of the City of London agreed, at his urging, to provide £25,000 toward the regiment, henceforth to be known as the City Imperial Volunteers, or CIV, which would number 1,000 men. Something like fifty City companies contributed an additional £34,000, while individual City gentlemen found yet another £55,000 for the project. The entire sum of £114,000 was raised within days. Simultaneously three great shipping families, Wilson, Currie, and Evans, announced that they would transport the volunteers to South Africa free of charge. It took only three weeks for the volunteers, all Londoners, all bachelors, many employed in the City itself, and numbering 1,550 in the end, to be registered, medically certified, trained, and sent off to Africa.
The social composition of the CIV suggests that a surprising number of London’s gentlemanly capitalists were prepared to fight and die for empire. Forty-four employees of London’s leading banks volunteered, according to one count, fifty-two according to another, including “a very good percentage of Bank of England officers.” Twenty-one lawyers from the Inns of Court served. Something like two hundred brokers, jobbers, and clerks at the Stock Exchange served as well. “The Stock Exchange has had some very nasty things said about it,” boasted the Financial Times of January 15, but “what other similar body of private individuals in the country has sent anything like so large a proportion?”
It was not only the elite of the City who volunteered, however, but rather a broad cross section of its working population.
Common sense suggests, and research confirms almost immediately, that the empire tugged not only at purse strings but at heartstrings too. Men were unlikely to volunteer for service in South Africa and to risk their lives solely for their profit margins. They fought and died for something better, something larger.
They accepted British rationales for the conflict at face value and repeated them to one another. “We have been forced to the arbitrament of war,” declared the lord mayor to five hundred CIVs at their swearing-in ceremony, ”and we shall not sheathe the sword until our supremacy in South Africa is established – a supremacy which will be universally welcomed as securing in that country equality before the law to all nationalities, and, in consequence, real freedom in its best and only true sense.” Some may have fought, in part, because they believed that British rule in South Africa would benefit the Africans themselves. “In time, by God’s blessing, we may hope to be enabled to extend the benefits of peace, justice and mercy throughout all the dark places of the earth,” said one gentlemanly capitalist. More common was the statement of Lord Gifford to the shareholders of the Bechuanaland Exploration Company: the war would assure “equal rights to all white men.” This would be “true liberty as we understand it.”
But to many in the City the empire stood for more than political principles; it stood for something mystical, based upon blood ties which united the Anglo-Saxon race. “The British Empire is no mere name, no congeries of independent peoples bound together only by the fact that they choose to colour all their lands pink on the map,” boasted the Financial Times of June 1, 1900. Rather the empire was an organic whole, a family, as the “magnificent enthusiasm with which the colonies have thrown themselves into the fight [against the Boers] and have clamoured for the forefront in the battlefield” demonstrated.
On numerous occasions the City turned out as one to greet returning soldiers or sailors from South Africa, suspending business to wave flags and national emblems, to cheer and sing “Rule Britannia” and “God Save the Queen,” above all, it would appear, to drink. When the City learned that Lord Dundonald’s troops finally had broken the Boer siege of Ladysmith, for example, “by one o’clock the whole of the year’s stock of champagne was sold out [at Mabey’s restaurant] and other restaurants enjoyed a similar experience.” Upon the relief of Mafeking, the stock exchange devoted three full days to celebrations. Its members arranged even for a movie camera to record these activities, so that later generations could witness the intensity of gentlemanly capitalism’s patriotic and imperial sentiment.
It’s always a pleasant experience to come across something useful when you’re not expecting it. At the minute I’m reading John Carey’s . While Carey does mention Munro in passing — specifically the stories ‘The Mappined Life’ and ‘The Music on the Hill’ (in relation to the dichotomy of suburban life and respectability versus the wild and pagan) — the sentence that caught my attention was in relation to the characterisation of Hall Pycroft, “The Stockbroker’s Clerk” in the Sherlock Holmes story of that name. “Clerk”, Carey has already explained, was a late nineteenth-century term that covered that broad swathe of “the middle and lower-middle class employed in commerce, banks, insurance and real estate” (58). Such people mostly lived in the newly constructed suburbs and commuted every day to their offices in the centre of cities.
Dr Watson writes:
The man whom I found myself facing was a well-built, fresh-complexioned young fellow, with a frank, honest face and a slight, crisp, yellow moustache. He wore a very shiny top-hat and a neat suit of sober black, which made him look what he was — a smart young City man, of the class who have been labelled cockneys, but who give us our crack volunteer regiments, and who turn out more fine athletes and sportsmen than any body of men in these islands.
Carey notes that “Richard Price, studying middle-class jingoism in the late nineteenth century, has found that there was a disproportionate number of clerks among volunteers for the Boer War” (64).
Is this what Reginald is getting at when he refers in passing to “the City, where the patriotism comes from” in ‘Reginald on Worries’? I’d previously assumed it was a more general cynical hit at big business (whose fondness for Imperial causes was likely not unconnected to the financial benefits the Empire brought with it). But it seems as if there may be a more concrete reference. I should probably check out Richard Price’s essay.
Carey, John, The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, Paperb. ed., 1. publ. (London: Faber, 1992)
Doyle, Arthur Conan, ‘The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk’, first publ. in The Strand Magazine, March 1893. Collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (London: George Newnes Ltd., 1893)
Munro, H. H., ‘Reginald on Worries’, in The Complete Annotated Reginald Stories, ed. by Bruce Gaston, 1st edition (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016)
Price, Richard N., ‘Society, Status and Jingoism: The Social Roots of Lower Middle Class Patriotism, 1870-1900’, in Crossick, Geoffrey, ed., The Lower Middle Class in Britain: 1870-1914, Repr. (London: Helm, 1978)
The London Review of Books website has a review by Katherine Rundell of Alma Classics’ Gabriel-Ernest and Other Tales. The review was originally printed in the LRB’s 11 August 2016 issue. It’s particularly interesting for its discussion of the influence of Saki on Roald Dahl, and contains the wonderful line “[Saki’s] children are nasty, brutsh and short”, which is worthy of the man himself.
One of my favourite conceits in Saki’s stories is the idea of “wolves and wapiti fighting on the steps of the Athenaeum Club.”
The Athenaeum Club in 1830. Credit: Engraved by James Tingle (1801-1858) from an original study (now in the Museum of London) by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, the master recorder of nineteenth-century London. Originally produced for Shepherd’s part-work series “London and its Environs in the Nineteenth Century” (London 1829-1832). Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7355209
The quotation comes from the story ‘On Approval’ (in Beasts and Superbeasts). In it aspiring but penniless painter Gebhard Knopfschrank specialises in “an unusual and unvarying theme”:
His pictures always represented some well-known street or public place in London, fallen into decay and denuded of its human population, in the place of which there roamed a wild fauna, which, from its wealth of exotic species, must have originally escaped from Zoological Gardens and travelling beast shows. “Giraffes drinking at the fountain pools, Trafalgar Square,” was one of the most notable and characteristic of his studies, while even more sensational was the gruesome picture of “Vultures attacking dying camel in Upper Berkeley Street.” There were also photographs of the large canvas on which he had been engaged for some months, and which he was now endeavouring to sell to some enterprising dealer or adventurous amateur. The subject was “Hyaenas asleep in Euston Station,” a composition that left nothing to be desired in the way of suggesting unfathomed depths of desolation.
I recently happened to discover that the idea of painting a well-known place in a state of future ruination is common enough in art. The first reference that I came across to this sub-genre of painting referred to Hubert Robert’s 1796 painting Vue imaginaire de la Grande Galerie en ruines, which depicts part of the Louvre Museum in Paris, its roof collapsed and the artworks half buried under rubble:
Vue imaginaire de la Grande Galerie du Louvre en ruines (Imaginary View of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in Ruins) by Hubert Robert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s another painting (also by Hubert Robert) showing what it actually looked like:
Hubert Robert – Vue de la Grande Galerie du Louvre. Picture credit: Par Hubert Robert — Christian Stukenbrock & Barbara Töpper (2005) 1000 Meisterwerke der Europäischen Malerei von 1300 bis 1850, Hagen: Verlag Könemann, ISBN 3-8331-1310-3, p. 976., Domaine public, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4447576
More relevant to Saki is English painter and architect Joseph Gandy’s ‘Soane’s Bank of England as a ruin’ (1830):
This one can be seen at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. (Soane commissioned it himself.) Unfortunately the artist’s imagined vantage point is too high up for the viewer to be able to discern any wolves, giraffes, hyena or similar wild animals.
Apparently Gandy painted other similar fantasies (the technical term is capricci). I wonder if Saki knew them — and perhaps even drew inspiration from them?
The Athenauem Club is is a private members’ club on Pall Mall in London. Membership is reserved to those who have in some way distinguished themselves in science, engineering, literature or the arts. ↩