Saki’s eastern Europe

Even many years ago, before I started seriously studying Saki, I was struck by the presence of central and eastern Europe, the Balkans and Russia in his stories. ‘Reginald in Russia’ is a very obvious example, but there are so many other stories set in that part of the world: ‘The Wolves of Cernogratz’, ‘The Easter Egg’, ‘The Name-Day’, ‘The Interlopers’ (just to name a few that spring to mind straightaway).

‘Wratislav’ is a particularly interesting example. Although it is clearly set in Vienna, as the reference to the Graben (one of the main shopping streets) makes clear, this setting has no real bearing on or importance in the story. Indeed, it is quite incongruous, given that it begins with a comment by Clovis (how he came to know two aristocratic Austrian families is left unexplained)[1] and ends with a play on the English saying ‘Conscience makes cowboys of us all’.

Cover picture of Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination

Image taken from amazon.com

I had therefore contemplated writing up something about the topic. As it turns out, someone has already gone some way down that path. Vesna Goldsworthy’s Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination, however, is not specifically about Saki but looks at the works of a number of writer. According to the blurb:

Through much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, writers and filmmakers in Western Europe and America have found in the Balkans a rich mine of images for literature and the movies. Bram Stoker’s Transylvania and Anthony Hope’s Ruritania are among the best known of these images. In this pioneering book, Vesna Goldsworthy explores the origins of the ideas that underpin Western perceptions of the “Wild East” region of Europe. She examines Western and East European letters, diaries, personal interviews, and a wide range of Balkan-inspired literature. She shows how the lucrative exploitation of Balkan history and geography for Western literature and for the entertainment industry has affected attitudes toward the countries of the region and the West’s political involvement.
I haven’t read it (yet) so I can’t comment on exactly what she has to say about Saki, but after examining the table of contents on amazon.com, I can tell you that there is a section called “Saki’s Lost Sanjak” (referring to the story ‘The Lost Sanjak’ in Reginald in Russia) in a chapter entitled “War and Diplomacy in the New Ruritania: Comic Visions of the Balkans”. Other writers dealt with include E.M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw, Evelyn Waugh as well as – of course – Anthony Hope, whose The Prisoner of Zenda is the key text in this genre (and a pretty good read if I remember correctly).

  1. I don’t have the facilities to check at the minute, but I wonder if Clovis was just inserted when the story came to be collected in book form? It’s possible: the same happened with ‘Tobermory’. (In the original, Bertie von Tahn gets most of Clovis’s dialogue.