Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28

...with a generous side of legs:


H. H. Munro – “Saki”

A master of the short story, H. H. Munro (1870-1916), known by the pen name Saki, was a British writer whose witty, mischievous and sometimes macabre stories satirized Edwardian society and culture. At their best, they were the highest of high camp. He was born in Burma, when it was still part of the British Empire, but at age two, upon the death of his mother, was sent by his father to England to be raised by his spinster aunts and grandmother.

Munro was homosexual, but at that time in the United Kingdom, sexual activity between men was a crime. Especially after the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde (1895), that side of Munro's life had to be kept secret. His pen name, however, was a strong hint: Saki was a term for a cupbearer, a beautiful boy, an object of male desire. Munro kept a houseboy (hint) throughout most of his life, and many of his stories included coded references to homosexuality. In a series of stories, the suspiciously close characters, dandies Reginald and Clovis, engage in dialogue and activity that allow the more astute reader to read between the lines.

According to biographer A.J. Langguth, regarding Saki’s same-sex activity: “(His) average in his best months was an encounter every second day; when he was busy or traveling, every third day.” Maybe that’s why his stories were so short.

Most of Saki’s short stories were first published in newspapers, then collected and later published in anthologies. He also worked as a journalist and served as an enlisted man in WW I. He was killed by a German sniper’s bullet in the Battle of the Somme on November 13, 1916, at age 45, and after his death, his sister destroyed most of his papers. It was widely reported that his last words were, “Put out that bloody cigarette.”

A sampling of Saki’s epigrams:

“I'm living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.”

“I always say beauty is only sin deep.”

“Think how many blameless lives are brightened by the blazing indiscretions of other people.”

“To have reached thirty is to have failed in life.”

“Being too tasteless or too poor, which may very well be the same thing, is no excuse for wearing a cravat that does not match your frock coat.”


Queers in History (2009), Keith Stern


Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990), ed. Wayne Dynes

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