Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Upon his death, his sister dutifully destroyed his papers

A sunny morning posting, meant to bring lightness to the stride into midweek, is possibly not the place to reflect upon the solicitous fastidiousness of friends and family toward one's reputation, when it can reflect only upon society to efface the preserved core of its creation. Only just now, in glancing into internet resources on a writer I've enjoyed for thirty years, without whom a good deal of Noël Coward, Norman Douglas, Dorothy Parker and David Sedaris would be unthinkable - and conducting that glance for the sole purpose of documenting the year of publication of a story I was savouring quite merrily in the last couple of days - was I drawn to this not-uplifting fact on the sorting out of H.H. Munro, Saki, an inevitable flowering of Edwardian mores if ever there were one. 

Of course I was not surprised; the custom of eradicating the traces of the deceased gay man not being foreign to my family or my friends', and probably not foreign to yours, I wouldn't draw unusual attention to it in this entertaining writer's case, given the mordant delectability of what he published, himself. His trifle, The Lumber Room, was published in 1914 and can be read in its entirety, on line; and there is even a grievously unsatisfactory audiobook ren-dering to be heard, upon which I remark only as a student of Gresham's Law. How uncannily the flashier medium will eviscerate the good, time after time, by sheer facility of absorption. This is not a story for a shrill comedienne, but for the quiet corner and the slow cigar.

Leave it to the deliciously sentimental wit, then, of a Milanese haberdasher to bring out the substance of Saki's creation in The Lumber Room, in this natural image of the indomitable anarchy of boys, even at their most expensively suppressed. In the dis-tracted idiosyncrasies of their loopy little march, laden or not with thousands of dollars worth of decorous togs, mischief and tease seem to percolate implicitly.

Their private papers, un-doubtedly, will exhibit an inveterate propensity for the lark of sweet subversion; and there will be generations to feel restored by that original voice, whether or not their papers sur-vive. But again, we will cherish true affections as the wellspring of their play, and leave our copy open of their story to be found.

The Lumber Room is a classic account of the rascally revenge on repressive spinster aunts, which any fellow will naturally have to carry on his con-science throughout his life. But his revenge is delicious, even so: arriving in the shape of a frog in his bowl of breakfast gruel, which he interjected there, himself, to strain the disbelief of elders. His undoing of the discipline he bargained for, earns our respect as impressively more clever than anything we ever devised, and for a moment, we bask in his glory. We feel a modern twinge, at this tweaking of his aunt, knowing her villainy arises from some other complaint; but this is not an under-standing privy to the boy. His triumph comes only fair and square.

But now, with two post-ings in a row on the play of the personality in the levying of justice, a course-correcting comment would not be untimely. Should Saki's young hero, Nicholas, have allowed the denial of a frog in his breakfast, against the exception of his nature?

H.H. Munro [Saki]
The Complete Works 
  of Saki
  The Lumber Room
Noël Coward, introduction
Doubleday & Company. 1976©


  1. I heard only last week of a man's ashes that were buried in an unmarked grave because the family were so ashamed of him.

  2. I find this information just impossibly hard to contemplate, but of course I thank you for your visit and the contribution of any comment.

  3. I was reading Maffat's biography of Forster a few days ago (who's Maurice launched a thousand relationships) and learned that the latter was intent making sure letters he had written did not see the light of day. Internalized homophobia is very unattractive- I must say- and not just for sisters.

  4. Daniel, yes, Forster was just terribly unfortunate, and although I do subscribe to the appreciation that a matter of this significance would have shaped his literature in general, I just have to think it much too high a price for the world to have had to pay, for the excellence of "Passage to India," say, that we did not have a more brilliant version in every way.

    I'm noticing the price this information imposes upon an entry intended to celebrate the happy and not terribly harmful irreverence of youngsters. Now, very very often Saki is almost too mordant, too snarky, and although this story certainly wove in that direction its imagery of fun plotting and - very like him - precocious dialogue made it irresistible to my delinquent delight. So I wave the pennant of play, in case anyone is interested.


  5. Nothing makes me as angry as shame. Inducing shame on someone seems an equivalent to killing (you "only" die twice - ugh!). By burning someone's letters one lets a path into a mind disappear. I somehow find that one of the most important thing in life is leaving paths open.

  6. And I'm thinking of victims of shame here, not silly family being ashamed for the wrong reasons.

  7. Linnea, I thank you for sharing this expert "medical opinion." I hope you find that it is embodied in the posting for Thursday, immediately following.

    Taking probably the overly long view of Huizinga's "homo ludens," I have to be optimistic that genuine play is the very best defense, in the long run, against the many ignominies of sanctity. Mr Sligo, above, is only too right, of course, that to permit this to be brought upon oneself is, by implication, to inflict it upon others. Of course this is troubling, for the pseudonymous blog.