Pepys & Saki

The Diary of Samuel Pepys offers a window on many aspects of the 17th century. His entry for this day in 1666 includes a comment about dropping into the Pope’s Head for “an exceeding pretty supper” and “excellent discourse of all sorts” among “a set of the finest gentlemen that ever I met withal in my life.” The group included William Croune, a prominent member of the Royal Society, who told Pepys and the others of an experiment he had witnessed earlier in the evening, “the blood of one dogg let out, till he died, into the body of another on one side, while all his own run out on the other side.” After noting the details of this first ever blood transfusion, Pepys goes on to say that the news inspired the diners to “many pretty wishes” and speculations, “as of the blood of a Quaker to be let into an Archbishop, and such like.”

Saki (H. H. Munro) died on this day in 1916, killed at the age of forty-five by a sniper on the front lines during WWI. Many of Saki’s stories satirize higher class Edwardian society, in a style that has been described as “sinister Wodehouse.” In “The Remoulding of Groby Lington,” the reclusive title-character muses on the possibility that, as his nephew’s caricature of him suggests, he has begun to resemble his pet parrot:

What, after all, did his daily routine amount to but a sedate meandering and pecking and perching, in his garden, among his fruit trees, in his wicker chair on the lawn, or by the fireside in his library? And what was the sum total of his conversation with chance-encountered neighbours? “Quite a spring day, isn't it?” “It looks as though we should have some rain.” “Glad to see you about again; you must take care of yourself.” “How the young folk shoot up, don't they?” Strings of stupid, inevitable perfunctory remarks came to his mind, remarks that were certainly not the mental exchange of human intelligences, but mere empty parrot-talk. One might really just as well salute one's acquaintances with “Pretty polly. Puss, puss, miaow!”

When the parrot dies, and Groby is given a pet monkey, he takes on a simian personality — at first a playful prankster, soon a house-guest so irritated by the party that he throttles the pianist in “a chatter of ape-like rage.”

 


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.