Sredni Vashtar

by

Saki

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Sredni Vashtar Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Saki's Sredni Vashtar. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Saki

Hector Hugo Munro (best known by his pen name Saki) wrote witty and occasionally macabre stories that satirized the pretensions of Edwardian British society. Born in Burma (then a colony of the massive British Empire), Saki moved to England at age two after the death of his mother, where his strict grandmother and aunts raised him and his siblings. Saki’s father remained in Burma as a member of the Imperial Police. In early adulthood Saki briefly returned to Burma to work a similar job, but after a series of illnesses, he returned to England. There, he started a new career as a journalist and eventually began writing the short stories for which he is best known. Having achieved success as a writer, at age 43 Saki volunteered to fight in World War I, even though he was well over the required age of enlistment. He was killed in action. Many biographers believe Saki was gay, although if so, he remained largely in the closet. Homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time.
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Historical Context of Sredni Vashtar

Saki wrote many of his most famous stories, including “Sredni Vashtar,” during the Edwardian period in England, when King Edward VII was on the throne (1901-1910). This period followed the Victorian era when Queen Victoria was on the throne (1837 to 1901), and like the Victorian era was often characterized as a time of prudish moral standards—homosexuality was outlawed and some editions of Shakespeare were censored to remove content deemed inappropriate for children. The Victorian era was also a time of social progress, however, and saw the abolition of the slave trade and the expansion of the right to vote. Throughout both the Victorian and Edwardian eras (as well as throughout Saki’s writing career), Britain was a colonial power, with an Empire that covered so much of the globe that it was said that “the sun never set on the British Empire.” Saki himself witnessed and participated in the Empire, having been born in Burma and served there for a while as part of the Imperial Police. “Sredni Vashtar” satirizes both the Imperial British and the colonized cultures.

Other Books Related to Sredni Vashtar

Saki’s irreverent short stories were undoubtedly influenced by Oscar Wilde, whose work also took aim at the hypocrisy of respectable British society. Like “Sredni Vashtar,” many of Wilde’s works also climax with scenes of shocking violence, including The Picture of Dorian Gray and Salome. Saki also would have been familiar with the work of Rudyard Kipling, who is controversial today because of the racist themes in works such as his famous poem “The White Man’s Burden,” but who at the time was widely considered the master of the British short story. Saki’s work went on to influence a new generation of writers. P. G. Wodehouse (best known for satirizing the upper class with his Jeeves and Wooster novels) is one of Saki’s most direct successors, but Saki’s influence has been acknowledged by a wide range of writers, including A. A. Milne (creator of Winnie the Pooh), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and Noël Coward (a prolific playwright whose best-known works include Blithe Spirit and Private Lives).
Key Facts about Sredni Vashtar
  • Full Title: Sredni Vashtar
  • When Written: Early 20th century
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1912
  • Literary Period: Edwardian
  • Genre: Satire
  • Setting: Britain in the early 20th century
  • Climax: Mrs. De Ropp goes to investigate the shed where Conradin spends his time, and she is killed by the ferret Sredni Vashtar
  • Antagonist: Mrs. De Ropp
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Sredni Vashtar

The Real Mrs. De Ropp. After the death of his mother, Saki was raised by his grandmother and aunts, who reportedly ran a very strict household. Many aspects of “Sredni Vashtar,” particularly the villainous Mrs. De Ropp, may have been inspired by Saki’s own childhood.