Saki’s first book of short stories, Reginald (1904), turns out not to be a books of short stories, despite leading off the Modern Library Short Stories of Saki. You knew this; I did not. The Reginald “stories” are newspaper humor pieces, jokes, satire, goofing around. The Modern Library edition compresses the “book” into 42 pages with no strain on the eye or margin.
The vehicle for Saki’s jokes is his young aesthete Reginald, who if taken seriously is a lunatic, but what fool would take him seriously.
None of the rest of his family had anything approaching Titian hair or a sense of humour, and they used primroses as table decorations.
It follows that they never understood Reginald, who came down late to breakfast, and nibbled toast, and said disrespectful things about the universe. The family ate porridge, and believed in everything, even the weather forecast. (“Reginald’s Choir Treat”)
Draining the fun from that passage, I note that “weather forecast” is pretty cheap, but a joke that still looks like a joke. “Primroses” has lost any humor it might once have had. Almost requires a footnote. Oscar Wilde was so obsessed with lilies that they became a trademark of English aestheticism. I assume that helps me place the “primroses” joke, but who knows. “[S]aid disrespectful things about the universe” is larger than a joke. A statement of purpose.
People may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die. (“Reginald on Christmas Presents”)
I give this as an example of something disrespectful, although one could argue the point.
“To have reached thirty,” said Reginald, “is to have failed in life.” (“Reginald on the Academy”)
That’s Reginald as Wilde. Saki was of course in his early thirties when he wrote that line.
I found every one talking nervously and feverishly of the weather and the war in South Africa, except Reginald, who was reclining in a comfortable chair with the dreamy, faraway look that a volcano might wear just after it had desolated entire villages. (“Reginald”)
That volcano is in what I think of as P. G. Wodehouse mode, which I suppose I should begin calling the Saki mode. Christopher Morley, in his introduction, says of Saki that “[a]unts and werewolves were two of his specialties” (p. vii), which werewolves aside sounds awfully like Bertie Wooster.
A character who is not Reginald, and hopes to reform him:
And like every woman who has ever preached repentance to unregenerate youth, she dwelt on the sin of an empty life, which always seems so much more scandalous in the country, where people rise early to see if a new strawberry has happened during the night. (“Reginald’s Choir Treat”)
That might be my favorite line in Reginald. Cuts two ways, don’t it?
Saki’s next book seems, despite its title (Reginald in Russia), to contain short stories, which is close to but not really a shame.