In the story of Mr. Nuttel going to the country to search for the “nerve cure” for his anxieties, Saki lampoons not just the strict etiquette of the previous (Victorian) era, but also its tendency to romanticize the English countryside, tragedy, and illness.
The exact nature of Mr. Nuttel’s condition is never specified beyond being a vague issue of “nerves.” His prescription for “complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise” reads more like justification for taking a vacation. Mr. Nuttel’s anxieties seem all the more inconsequential when positioned in comparison to Mrs. Sappleton’s “great tragedy” (that is, the alleged death of her husband, brothers, and dog in a bizarre accident). The fact that Vera concocts such a macabre tale in response to Mr. Nuttel’s arrival suggests that she, for one, certainly does not take his ailment, nor his prescription for rest and relaxation, seriously.
Romanticizing illness results in romanticizing its cure. Mr. Nuttel is shocked by Vera’s story in part because he assumes the countryside to be the restorative idyll of stereotype, noting, “in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.” Yet in the end the countryside is neither restful nor horrifying; to a young girl starved for entertainment, it is simply boring.
Saki’s most scathing indictment of Mr. Nuttel’s frailty comes when, in his attempts “to turn the talk on to a less ghastly topic” with Mrs. Sappleton, he begins discussing his illness. Saki describes Mr. Nuttel as laboring “under the tolerably wide-spread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure.” The obviously bored Mrs. Sappleton can barely stifle her yawn while listening to Mr. Nuttel. By employing the phrase “tolerably wide-spread” Saki suggests that Mr. Nuttel’s delusion is not just his own, and that, rather, it spreads across society. Mr. Nuttel, then, is but a stand-in for the legions of self-absorbed hypochondriacs (that is, people who are paranoid about or preoccupied with their own health) across British society—some of whom may be reading Saki’s words, and all of whom he is mocking.
In the story, Saki satirizes not only preoccupation with one’s own delicateness but also fascination with tragedy, as, like Mr. Nuttel, contemporary readers may have been too quick to believe Vera’s tale of gothic horror. In “The Open Window,” “nerves” are nothing more than self-absorbed hypochondria, and tragic romance is spun from the musings of a bored teenage girl. The story thus suggests that the maladies of the upper class—both “nerves” and overexcited “Romantic” imaginations—may simply be the result of having too much time on their hands.
The Romance of Hypochondria ThemeTracker
The Romance of Hypochondria Quotes in The Open Window
Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.
"The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced Framton, who laboured under the tolerably wide-spread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure.