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Saki is the acknowledged master of the short story. His writing is elegant,
economical, and witty, its tone worldly, flippant irreverence delivered in
astringent exchanges and epigrams more neat, pointed, and poised even than
Wilde's. The deadpan narrative voice allows for the unsentimental recitation of
horrors and the comically grotesque, and the generation of guilty laughter at
some very un-pc statements.
Saki's short stories have been much reprinted as well as adapted for radio,
stage, and television, but his novels, The Unbearable Bassington and When
William Came , are almost unknown, his journalism and travel writing forgotten,
and his plays rarely performed. Sandie Byrne argues that his reputation has
been unfairly overshadowed by his predecessor Oscar Wilde, contemporary George
Bernard Shaw, and successors P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh.
In a well-meaning introduction to the Penguin Complete Saki , No:el Coward
reinforced the received image of Saki's work as celebrating an Edwardian or
even Victorian milieu of privilege, luxury, and affectation; comedies of
manners and light satire. Byrne shows that Saki's writing was no nostalgic
evocation of a lost golden age, and that he was rarely concerned with the charm
and delight Coward describes. His preoccupations were with England, the values
of Empire, and the dangerous beauty of the feral ephebe. The threat to the
first two of these triggered his alleged metamorphosis from cosmopolitan cynic
and dandy-about-town to patriotic, even jingoistic, NCO, in a manner worthy of
his blackest humor.