H.H. Munro [pseudonym Saki] (1870-1916), prolific Scottish author of the Edwardian era, often referred to as the master of short stories and compared to O Henry and Dorothy Parker.
The name 'Saki' is Farsi for 'cup-bearer', and is thought to be taken from either the ancient Persian poem The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam or possibly from the New World Saki monkey Pitheciidae, both being referred to in his acerbically witty and sometimes macabre stories.
Hector Hugh Munro was born 18 December, 1870 in Akyab, Burma, son of Scotsman Charles Augustus Munro, an inspector-general in the Burma police and his mother, Mary Frances (née Mercer) who died in a tragic accident in England with a runaway cow in 1872. He had a brother Charles and sister Ethel (who like Hector would never marry).
After the death of Munro's mother, the children were sent to Broadgate Villa, in Pilton village near Barnstaple, North Devon to be raised by aunts who frequently resorted to corporal punishment. It is said that they were most likely models for a few of his characters, notably Sredni Vashtar. Undoubtedly the days of his youth would provide much fodder for his future career. Leading slightly insular lives Munro and his siblings were initially educated under tutelage of governesses. At the age of 12 young Hector was sent to Pencarwick School in Exmouth and Bedford Grammar School.
In his early 20s, Munro went to Burma in 1893 to join the Colonial Burmese Military Police (an occupation which George Orwell would later pursue as well) until ill-health caused him to return to England a year later. Munro would then embark on his career as a journalist, writing for various publications including the Daily Express, the Bystander, The Morning Post, the Outlook and his Lewis Carroll-esque "Alice in Westminster" political sketches for the Westminster Gazette. He often satirised the then Edwardian society with veiled and cruel innuendo, sometimes bitter and often unconventional.
"I might have been a goldfish in a glass bowl for all the privacy I got". "The fashion just now is a Roman Catholic frame of mind with an Agnostic conscience; you get the mediaeval picturesque-ness of the one with the modern conveniences of the other".
Munro's first book, a historical treatise called The Rise of the Russian Empire was released in 1900. His collection of short stories Not-so-Stories came out in 1902.
From 1902 to 1908 Munro worked as a foreign correspondent for The Morning Post in the Balkans, Russia and Paris. He would publish The Chronicles of Clovis (1911) a collection of his short stories and Unbearable Bassington (1912) shortly after. The heartless and cruel Reginald and Clovis are two of his most famous heroes. He deals with the theme of what would happen if the German emperor conquered England in When William Came. (1914) Beasts and Super-Beasts was published the same year.
World War I started and while he was officially too old, at age 44 Munro volunteered as a soldier, enlisting in the 22nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. He was offered a commission but refused, saying he could not expect soldiers to obey him if he did not have any experience. He wrote a number of short stories from the trenches and promoted to Lance Sergeant (full Corporal) in September of 1916.
Just a month later, on 16 November 1916, while serving near the French town of Beaumount-Hamel, Hector Hugh Munro was fatally shot by a German sniper's bullet. According to several sources his last words were: "Put that damned cigarette out!" It is alleged that Munro's sister Ethel had destroyed his personal papers.
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.
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