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Saki’s Comic Genius: The Case of ‘Filboid Studge’

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle pays homage to the master of English comic fiction

Saki’s short stories have everything going for them. For one, they’re short: a few years before Virginia Woolf penned her series of very short sketches about modern life, such as ‘A Haunted House’, ‘The Mark on the Wall’, and ‘Kew Gardens’, Saki – no modernist, but decidedly modern – had reduced the short story form to three pages which contained everything the story needed to contain, with no filler but more wit per page than just about any other English writer, with the possible exception of P. G. Wodehouse (who must have been influenced by Saki). He’s also good on two things which it’s difficult to be good on, as the late Christopher Hitchens observed: children and animals. A number of Saki’s stories touch upon the weird or macabre, while others settle for making us laugh. Many manage both. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ‘To A Lady With An Unruly And Ill-Mannered Dog Who Bit Several Persons Of Importance’

‘To A Lady With An Unruly And Ill-Mannered Dog Who Bit Several Persons Of Importance’ is a long title for what is not that long a poem. Its author was Sir Walter Raleigh – not the Elizabethan and Jacobean explorer and poet (who didn’t introduce tobacco and potatoes to Europe), but the Professor of English Literature named Sir Walter Raleigh (1861-1922). Raleigh was, notably, the first person to hold a Chair in English Literature at the University of Oxford. Raleigh was also a successful poet, as ‘To A Lady With An Unruly And Ill-Mannered Dog Who Bit Several Persons Of Importance’ demonstrates.

Your dog is not a dog of grace;
He does not wag the tail or beg;
He bit Miss Dickson in the face;
He bit a Bailie in the leg.

What tragic choices such a dog
Presents to visitor or friend!
Outside there is the Glasgow fog;
Within, a hydrophobic end.

Yet some relief even terror brings,
For when our life is cold and gray
We waste our strength on little things,
And fret our puny souls away. Read the rest of this entry

The First Modern Ghost Story: Kipling’s ‘Mrs Bathurst’

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle analyses one of Rudyard Kipling’s most baffling stories

I agree with Neil Gaiman: Rudyard Kipling was at his best in the short story form. The generous 800-page Fantasy Masterworks volume of Kipling’s ‘fantastical tales’ which I own (The Mark of the Beast And Other Fantastical Tales (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)) showcases the work of a writer who possessed not only a staggering imagination but narrative ingenuity which we rarely see in writers of short stories. Of all Kipling’s short stories, ‘Mrs Bathurst’ is one of the most ingenious. It is also one of the most genuinely chilling.

But ‘Mrs Bathurst’ is not among the more famous of Kipling’s stories, so it’s worth providing a brief summary here. I say ‘providing’ but ‘attempting’ may end up being a more accurate word, since this tale is difficult to summarise. A group of men who work for the railways in South Africa or in the marines sit about telling stories to each other. One of their number, Pyecroft, begins telling the others about a man, Vickery, a warrant officer who deserted the service in mysterious circumstances. Read the rest of this entry