The Peace Offering
by Saki
(H. H. Munro)
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a Clovis Sangrail story

The Bystander, 1911

collected in —
The Chronicles of Clovis
The Complete Saki
The Complete Works of Saki

November 2013

  

"The Peace Offering" by Saki is a neat short-story of an amateur stage-play destined for a fall, a creatively contrived disaster. It begins with asking for assistance:

"I want you to help me in getting up a dramatic entertainment of some sort," said the Baroness to Clovis. "You see, there's been an election petition down here, and a member unseated and no end of bitterness and ill-feeling, and the County is socially divided against itself. I thought a play of some kind would be an excellent opportunity for bringing people together again, and giving them something to think of besides tiresome political squabbles."

Asking Clovis Sangrail for help in any project is not assuredly an awful idea, for that young man's creative, ingenuously malicious wit may redound to your advantage. But don't count on it. The Baroness should have known better.

Clovis suggests, as dramatic entertainment, something inspired by Greek tragedy: the Return of Agamemnon. After clearing up not nearly enough of her misapprehensions, the Baroness decides to play Clytemnestra: "Rather a pretty name."

We later-era readers accustomed to Clovis' spontaneous creativity may be forgiven for assuming that any unknown tidbits tossed by Clovis into his conversational spindizzy simply are made up, for effect humorous or distracting or destructive. But that's not necessarily so: I provide references for some of these obscurities in the end-notes below. For example, when Clovis proposes that the entertainment be staged "in the Sumurun manner", this is what he means:

The East at that period was very much in fashion. A series of plays and spectacles with eastern settings had been making a stir on the London stage since at least 1911 when the German director, Max Reinhardt, had brought to the Coliseum a wordless play called Sumurun, adapted from the Arabian Nights. ... In fact Sumurun was the flavour of 1911. 'Saki' (H. H. Munro) brought it into a short story called "The Peace Offering", about country house theatricals. In the story, the play was to be conceived 'in the Sumurun manner', full of 'weird music, and exotic skippings and flying leaps and lots of drapery and undrapery. Particularly undrapery.' In Saki these things become irrestible opportunities for comic disaster; but at the Coliseum all went smoothly. The critic of the Times (20 February 1911) was enchanted ...
Julie Hankey
"From Egypt to the West End"
A Passion for Egypt
Arthur Weigall, Tutankhamun and the 'Curse of the Pharaohs'  (2001)
  

The Trojan War, the fall of Troy, and the Return of the warriors cast long, firelit shadows across our cultural history; and rarely more cleverly funny in such a miniature compass as in "The Peace Offering".

  

  
© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
"The Peace Offering"
online at Short Stories of Saki
by Hector Hugh Munro

a few other references in the story:

"Reel of Tullochgorum" - lyrics

Agamemnon at About.com

Charlotte Corday at Wikipedia
  

  
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