Today in Literary History – December 18, 1870 – Saki (H.H. Munro) is born

H.H (Hector Hugh) Munro, who wrote comic novels and short stories under the pen-name Saki, was born on December 18, 1870. His father was an Inspector General for the Indian Imperial Police and Munro was born in Burma which was then part of the British Raj.

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Munro was educated in England and began his writing career as a journalist. He was a foreign corespondent for British newspapers, reporting from the Balkans, Russia and France.

Bit by bit he started to publish satirical and humorous short stories in various newspapers under the pseudonym Saki.

There is some disagreement on why he chose that name. Some say it is from a cupbearer in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam; others say Munro meant an allusion to South American monkey.

Many of Saki’s best stories centre on the rather louche and indolent pair of upper class toffs, Reginald and Clovis, with their practical jokes and risqué wisecracks. Munro was clearly influenced by Oscar Wilde (Munro was gay but closeted) and he in turn influenced P.G. Wodehouse.

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Munro was deeply patriotic and a firm believer in the British Empire. He even returned to Burma for two years, serving in the Burmese Police Force (as George Orwell would decades later) before contracting malaria.

When the First World War began Munro was 43 years old, past the age to be called up for service, but volunteered anyway. He refused a commision and began the war as a simple trooper, rising in rank to lance-sergeant.

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Saki was killed by a German sniper in November, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. One of his companions was smoking at night while they were hiding. Munro’s last words are said to be “Put that bloody cigarette out!”

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