Posts Tagged ‘Saki’

‘The Unbearable Bassington’ by Saki, Master of the Back-Handed Compliment


‘The Unbearable Bassington’ by Saki (1912) – 244 pages

Somehow in my vain attempt to become acquainted with all of the world’s great literature, I had left out Saki. I have now corrected that omission.

‘The Unbearable Bassington’ is for those of us who love literature not only at the story level but also at the sentence level. What Saki manages to do with his sentences is amazing. In nearly every one of his sentences, Saki is arch, droll, supercilious, coy, mischievous, and whatever else you want to call it.

Saki is a master of the backhanded compliment.

Their one child had the brilliant virtue of never saying anything which even its parents could consider worth repeating.”

His talent lay so thoroughly in the direction of being uninteresting, that even as an eyewitness to the massacre of St. Bartholomew he would probably have infused a flavor of boredom into his description of the event.”

Sir Julian Jull had been a member of the House of Commons distinguished for its high standard of well-informed mediocrity.”

Few people talk as brilliantly to impress a friend as they do to depress an enemy.”

There is no fear that I shall degenerate into that fearsome thing – a cheerful talkative husband.”

A close-cut peaked beard lent a certain dignity to his appearance – a loan which the rest of his features and mannerisms were continually and successfully repudiating.”

I found these facetious lines entertaining and great fun to read.

‘The Unbearable Bassington’ is Saki’s only novel which was written shortly before World War I in which Saki, who was already over-age and who refused an officer’s commission so became an ordinary trooper, was killed in combat.

The two main characters in ‘The Unbearable Bassington’ are the lady Francesca and her wayward son Comus.

Fate had fashioned him with a certain whimsical charm, and left him all unequipped for the greater purposes of life.”

Francesca realizes that her son Comus, “the young lord of misrule”, will never amount to anything substantial, so his and her only hope is for him to marry a rich woman. Besides unless they can come up with some money, they will lose their beautiful house with all its luxurious furnishings. This story is about Francesca and her pursuit of an advantageous marriage for her son.

She saw him as he was, the beautiful wayward laughing boy, with his naughtiness, his exasperating selfishness, his insurmountable folly and perverseness, his cruelty which spared not even himself.”

This is a drawing room comedy or tragedy. With Saki it is difficult to tell the difference between the two.

I suppose the rap on Saki is that he is so enamored of his wicked sentences that they get in the way of the drama and flow of his story. But ‘The Unbearable Bassington’ was fun while it lasted.


Grade:   A-





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