A reading of H. H. Munro’s miniature masterpiece
‘The Open Window’ is one of Saki’s shortest stories, and that’s saying something. Few of his perfectly crafted and deliciously written tales exceed four or five pages in length, but ‘The Open Window’, at barely three pages, outstrips even ‘The Lumber-Room’ or ‘Tobermory’ for verbal economy. It is so brief it has almost the air of a parable about it, except that it’s far from clear what the ‘moral’ of the story is, or even if there is one. Saki uses language so deftly and to such effect, that it is worth unpicking and analysing ‘The Open Window’ (which can be read in full here) a little.
Although on first glance it seems different from some of Saki’s better-known stories, such as his classic werewolf tale ‘Gabriel-Ernest’ and his story about a polecat worshipped as a god, ‘Sredni Vashtar’, ‘The Open Window’ follows the same essential setup as many of Saki’s other stories, in having an adolescent character whose supposed innocence (supposed by the adult character, that is) turns out to be guile, cunning, and the mischief in disguise. But whereas Nicholas in ‘The Lumber-Room’, Conradin in ‘Sredni Vashtar’, or Gabriel-Ernest actively seek to cause harm to their adult antagonists (or, in the case of Nicholas, to refuse to help an aunt who has got herself trapped in the water tank), Vera’s only weapon is her imagination. Yet this alone suggests that she shares some kinship with Conradin in ‘Sredni Vashtar’, whose cousin and guardian dislikes her ward’s imaginative streak. Read the rest of this entry
A critical commentary on Poe’s short story
‘Hop-Frog’, like many of Edgar Allan Poe’s best stories, carries the force of parable. It is a curious mixture of revenge, horror, and spectacle, about a dwarf who exacts spectacular brutal vengeance on a cruel monarch. The story was first published in March 1849; by the end of the year, Poe would be dead. You can read ‘Hop-Frog’, on which we now offer a few words of analysis, here.
In summary, ‘Hop-Frog’ is about a king who keeps a jester who is also a ‘dwarf’ and a ‘cripple’, who has been given the name Hop-Frog on account of his unusual way of walking which was actually ‘something between a leap and a wriggle’ (owing to his disability). Hop-Frog, and Trippetta, a young dwarfish girl noted for her dancing, had been given to the king as presents by one of his conquering generals, who had brought them back from a ‘barbarous’ part of the world the king’s generals had invaded. Hop-Frog and Trippetta have grown close, thanks to their shared status as slaves at the royal court, and look out for each other. One day the king orders a masquerade to be put on for his amusement, and forces Hop-Frog to drink wine and be ‘merry’. When Trippetta begs with the king to leave her friend alone, the king violently pushes her to the floor, and then furiously throws wine in her face. Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on a classic Poe story
‘The Cask of Amontillado’ is one of Poe’s shorter classic tales. It was first published in 1846 in a women’s magazine named Godey’s Lady’s Book, a hugely popular magazine in the US in the mid-nineteenth century. (The magazine had published one of Poe’s earliest stories, ‘The Visionary’, twelve years earlier.) ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ is one of Poe’s ‘revenge stories’, and the way he depicts the avenger’s psychological state is worthy of closer analysis. You can read the story here.
First, a quick summary of the plot of ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, which is our way of saying ‘those who wish to avoid spoilers please look away now’. The story is narrated by the murderer, Montresor, who takes revenge on a fellow Italian nobleman, Fortunato, during the carnival season. Fortunato, drunk and dressed in motley, boasts that he can tell an amontillado from other sherry, and so Montresor lures his rival down into Montresor’s family catacombs, saying that he has some amontillado for Fortunato to taste. Read the rest of this entry