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On this day in history in 1870, was born Saki.
Saki, the pen name of H H Munroe, was an author whose dismissive wit satirised the pretensions and stupidity of early Twentieth Century society. Ironically he died at the Battle of the Somme, an engagement costing nearly half a million lives, organised by the upper class generals whom he satirised.
Hector Hugh Munro was born on 18th December 1870 at Akyab, Burma), the son of Charles Augustus Munro, a Burmese police official, and Mary Frances Munro, nee Mercer. When he was 2 years old, his mother died, trampled underfoot by a runaway cow. He was brought up in Exmouth by his Puritanical aunts in an austere atmosphere of religious sobriety. He would later use the material of wild animals and unsympathetic guardians in the story Sredni Vashtar, in which a boy keeps a pet polecat which he trains to kill his domineering aunt.
Munro was educated at Pencarwick School, Exmouth and Bedford Grammar School. In 1893 he joined the Burma Police, remaining for only 3 years, when ill health obliged him to retire. He returned to London, where he worked as a freelance journalist for several newspapers including the Daily Express and the Morning Post. In 1900, he published The Rise of the Russian Empire, a historical work based on Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This work was not the success that he had hoped and he turned instead to writing short stories, featuring sophisticated characters who lampoon the conventions of Edwardian society. Using the pen name Saki, he wrote about the characters that he saw about him.
In one story, an overbearing lady mistakes a mischievous young lady for a governess she was expecting. The alleged governess takes the opportunity to pervert regular lessons by having the children act out unseemly and unsuitable historical events, resulting in a chaotic scene, much to the embarrassment of her haughty employer. Parents and guardians are frequently the target of Saki’s humour. Parents who give ‘peace toys’, figures of poets and intellectuals, when the children were hoping for toy soldiers are seriously miffed when the brood ingeniously turn them into objects of aggression. An aunt locked in a small room is left unaided when her charge logically deduces from her pleas for help, that she is not his aunt at all, but the devil. One of Saki’s characters, Clovis, delights in upsetting the routines of his older acquaintances. His speciality is the unrest-cure, opposite of a rest cure, where his victim is given to believe that he is the only one who can prevent a fiendish plot which will overthrow the social order.
In 1914, at the start of the First World War, Munro enlisted as a private soldier. In 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, while taking cover in a shell crater, he was killed by an enemy sniper. His last recorded words, addressed to a colleague were "Put that damned cigarette out!" Munro died on 13th December 1916 and is buried at Thiepval Military Cemetery, France.
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