A reading of a classic short story
The 1911 short story ‘Sredni Vashtar’ contains many of the ingredients we find in Saki’s best fiction: it challenges the idea that children are innocent and free from designs or cunning (or, indeed, evil), it pricks the pomposity of adults and their conservative treatment of children, and it suggests a kinship between children and animals, something we can also observe in Saki’s earlier story, ‘Gabriel-Ernest’. But ‘Sredni Vashtar’ might also be considered a darker version of the familiar trope found in children’s fiction: the idea of the child having a wish granted. It might also be viewed as a satirical take on religious practice and observance. The story is shot through with Saki’s celebrated wit, and deserves closer analysis. You can read the story here.
First, a brief summary of the plot of ‘Sredni Vashtar’. Conradin, a young boy of ten, has a deadly disease. He lives with his cousin and guardian, Mrs De Ropp, whom he dislikes. He likes to spend his time in the garden shed among the two living companions he likes: a hen and a ferret. The latter has become more than a pet: Conradin has made him the basis of his own personal religion, and he worships the ferret as a god, giving it the name ‘Sredni Vashtar’ and bringing it offerings of stolen nutmeg. The shed has become his own private church. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a Shakespeare sonnet
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 34 continues the marvellous heights of Sonnet 33, and is similarly worthy of close analysis and discussion, not least because this sonnet, beginning ‘Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day…?’, continues the sun/cloud imagery introduced in the previous sonnet.
Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
‘Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak,
That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:
The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s cross.
Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of an underrated short story
‘Second Best’, which was first published in 1914, is not among the front rank of D. H. Lawrence’s short stories. Yet its neglect remains puzzling. It is a disturbing and powerful story about growing up and coming to terms with life’s realities, although molophiles (that’s our coinage for fans of moles) may want to look away before reading our summary and analysis of the story. You can read ‘Second Best’ here.
‘Second Best’ is an easy enough story to summarise. Two sisters, Anne (14) and Frances (about 23), are playing in the grass, talking about Frances’ longstanding will-they-won’t-they courtship with Jimmy Barrass, who, we learn now lives in Liverpool and has become a Doctor of Chemistry. While the sisters are talking, they spot a mole in the grass. Anne picks it up, and when it bites her, she strikes it with her sister’s walking-cane, killing it. As the two sisters are walking home, they bump into Tom Smedley, a young man who is fond of Frances. They tell him about the mole they killed, and Tom tells Frances that moles are pests. Frances goes away and kills a mole, taking it to Tom as a gift. Tom is unsettled by this, but agrees to court Frances, and Frances resolves to settle for her ‘second-best’ choice, Tom, abandoning her hopes of marrying Jimmy. Read the rest of this entry