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The Reticence of Lady Anne, Saki 30th of January, 2007 POST·MERIDIEM 08:31

In a break from our normally scheduled programming, a short story from Saki.

Egbert came into the large, dimly lit drawing-room with the air of a man who is not certain whether he is entering a dovecote or a bomb factory, and is prepared for either eventuality. The little domestic quarrel over the luncheon-table had not been fought to a definite finish, and the question was how far Lady Anne was in a mood to renew or forgo hostilities. Her pose in the arm-chair by the tea-table was rather elaborately rigid; in the gloom of a December afternoon Egbert's pince-nez did not materially help him to discern the expression of her face.

By way of breaking whatever ice might be floating on the surface he made a remark about a dim religious light. He or Lady Anne were accustomed to make that remark between 4.30 and 6 on winter and late autumn evenings; it was a part of their married life. There was no recognized rejoinder to it, and Lady Anne made none.

Don Tarquinio lay astretch on the Persian rug, basking in the firelight with superb indifference to the possible ill-humour of Lady Anne. His pedigree was as flawlessly Persian as the rug, and his ruff was coming into the glory of its second winter. The page-boy, who had Renaissance tendencies, had christened him Don Tarquinio. Left to themselves, Egbert and Lady Anne would unfailingly have called him Fluff, but they were not obstinate.

Egbert poured himself out some tea. As the silence gave no sign of breaking on Lady Anne's initiative, he braced himself for another Yermak effort.

“My remark at lunch had a purely academic application,” he announced; “you seem to put an unnecessarily personal significance into it.”

Lady Anne maintained her defensive barrier of silence. The bullfinch lazily filled in the interval with an air from Iphigénie en Tauride.  Egbert recognized it immediately, because it was the only air the bullfinch whistled, and he had come to them with the reputation for whistling it. Both Egbert and Lady Anne would have preferred something from The Yeoman of the Guard,  which was their favourite opera. In matters artistic they had a similarity of taste. They leaned toward the honest and explicit in art, a picture, for instance, that told its own story, with generous assistance from its title. A riderless warhorse with harness in obvious disarray, staggering into a courtyard full of pale swooning women, and marginally noted “Bad News,” suggested to their minds a distinct interpretation of some military catastrophe. They could see what it was meant to convey, and explain it to friends of duller intelligence.

The silence continued. As a rule Lady Anne's displeasure became articulate and markedly voluble after four minutes of introductory muteness. Egbert seized the milk-jug and poured some of its contents into Don Tarquinio's saucer; as the saucer was already full to the brim an unsightly overflow was the result. Don Tarquinio looked on with a surprised interest that evanesced into elaborate unconsciousness when he was appealed to by Egbert to come and drink up some of the spilt matter. Don Tarquinio was prepared to play many rôles in life, but a vacuum carpet-cleaner was not one of them.

“Don't you think we're being rather foolish?” said Egbert cheerfully.

If Lady Anne thought so she didn't say so.

“I daresay the fault has been partly on my side,” continued Egbert, with evaporating cheerfulness. “After all, I'm only human, you know. You seem to forget that I'm only human.”

He insisted on the point, as if there had been unfounded suggestions that he was built on Satyr lines, with goat continuations where the human left off.

The bullfinch recommenced its air from Iphigénie en Tauride . Egbert began to feel depressed. Lady Anne was not drinking her tea. Perhaps she was feeling unwell. But when Lady Anne felt unwell she was not wont to be reticent on the subject. “No one knows what I suffer from indigestion” was one of her favourite statements; but the lack of knowledge can only have been caused by defective listening; the amount of information available on the subject would have supplied material for a monograph.

Evidently Lady Anne was not feeling unwell.

Egbert began to think he was being unreasonably dealt with; naturally he began to make concessions.

“I daresay,” be observed, taking as central a position on the hearth-rug as Don Tarquinio could be persuaded to concede him, “I may have been to blame. I am willing, if I can thereby restore things to a happier standpoint, to undertake to lead a better life.”

He wondered vaguely how it would be possible. Temptations came to him, in middle age, tentatively and without insistence, like a neglected butcher-boy who asks for a Christmas box in February for no more hopeful reason than that he didn't get one in December. He had no more idea of succumbing to them than he had of purchasing the fish-knives and fur boas that ladies are impelled to sacrifice through the medium of advertisement columns during twelve months of the year. Still, there was something impressive in this unasked-for renunciation of possibly latent enormities.

Lady Anne showed no sign of being impressed.

Egbert looked at her nervously through his glasses. To get the worst of an argument with her was no new experience. To get the worst of a monologue was a humiliating novelty.

“I shall go and dress for dinner,” he announced in a voice into which he intended some shade of sternness to creep.

At the door a final access of weakness impelled him to make a further appeal.

“Aren't we being very silly?”

“A fool,” was Don Tarquinio's mental comment as the door closed on Egbert's retreat. Then he lifted his velvet forepaws in the air and leapt lightly on to a bookshelf immediately under the bullfinch's cage. It was the first time he had seemed to notice the bird's existence, but he was carrying out a long-formed theory of action with the precision of mature deliberation. The bullfinch, who had fancied himself something of a despot, depressed himself of a sudden into a third of his normal displacement; then he fell to a helpless wingbeating and shrill cheeping. He had cost twenty-seven shillings without the cage, but Lady Anne made no sign of interfering. She had been dead for two hours.

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 31st of January at 11:34
Ste, yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone better at short stories than Saki. And he’s in the public domain!

[One older comment for this entry.]

K-los, waren wir nie wieder … Siberia is hell, frozen … !Diego, Diego, Diego! 23rd of January, 2007 POST·MERIDIEM 01:31

An unassuming Canadian had his Amazon reviews posted to the front of Metafilter a few days ago, and since they now provide syndication feeds for individual reviewers’ reviews, I subscribed to it. Whence this, on an album of covers by Il Divo,  and on Romance-speakers’ move to Northern Europe, an awesome diversion into whimsy in an unexpected place:

“Regardless of the weather, these romanciers introduced tenderness and warm compassionate mannerisms into the Teutonic milieu of Northern Europe, a social climate literally indistinguishable in its sexual violence from the Klingon empire.

This requires some explication of Klingon history. It wasn’t until the 14th century that the Klingon homeworld Qo’noS was inundated with the technologically advanced Hur’q. The invading Hur’q even went as far as to steal the sacred sword of Kahless the Unforgettable, a messianic Klingon responsible for the spiritual warrior creed of the Klingons, but also many of the brutal love rituals, such as glaring at one’s husband/wife with the most hostile expression possible, and also the ritual of at some point drawing blood with a large curved knife with a demon carved on the handle (a Klingon angel). The Klingons eventually repulsed from Qo’noS the Hur’q, and managed to reverse-engineer their transportation technology. This explains how such a crude, boorish race of sweating club-wielders could move into space, dilluting what had previously been a gentleman’s game, similar to the one played by our friends in Southern Europe.”

Not that I have a lot of consideration for knowing the minutiæ of Star Trek, mind.

And as so often here, something completely different. Some scary photos of how. fuсking. cold. Siberia is in winter. I can see a big part of the attraction of Israel, despite the violence, for the one-time inhabitants of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, at least.

Word of the day: la boca is Spanish, cognate with la bouche, also meaning ‘mouth.’ Maradona’s first early football club, Boca Juniors, was named for that barrio in Buenos Aires located at the mouth of the river Riachuelo where it empties into the Rio de la Plata, where the Spanish New World tradition of prosaic naming came into play.

Last comment from Ste on the 30th of January at 10:00
Interesting, a lot of the romances are stories of people bucking the excepted norms of arranged marriage in favour of the Romeo and Juliet infatuations. The notion of love tearing down class barriers, of royalty marrying a member of the peasantry.

It’s possible that these stories are expressions of dissatisfaction with the status quo, written by people who were prevented from being with the object of their infatuations by the societal norms. The basic requirement would seem to be a social structure that allows at least casual contact between two people who for some reason would normally be prevented from persuing a relationship, historically this has pretty much always existed.

Certainly courtly romance is the product of the troubadours, but I think the global appeal of a romantic story speaks to something deeper. There are romantic stories from all over the world from all eras of history, but it is possible and quite likely that these stories were told in a different form, with the romantic slant being exaggerated centuries later.

For example, the story of Theseus and the Minotaur works pretty well without Ariadne falling in love with Theseus, if you tell the story with Ariadne as a humanitarian who decides that feeding people to a monster is wrong and decides to help.

In the same way the Odyssey works as a story on it’s own, you could fairly easily rework the "keep the home fires burning" part about Penelope fending off suitors for twenty years and remaining faithful until her husband returned to a story of a woman who was holding on to the idea that her husband was alive to protect the birthright of her son.

However, the fact that these stories lend themselves to romantic adaption so well, does seem to suggest that in some form or another romantic notions did exist in literature previous to the silk shirt generations.

Although, I’ve only read translations of these stories, which have certainly been tainted by modern romantic sensibilities, so I could be wrong.

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