‘The Open Window’ by Saki or Hector Hugh Munro: Short Story Analysis
‘The Open Window’ is penned by British writer Hector Hugo Munro, better known by the pen name Saki, one of the greatest short story writers of the late Victorian and Edwardian era. The setting of the story is the British countryside. Framton Nuttel, a gentleman with a nerve disorder, calls at the house of Mrs. Sappleton. Poor Framton Nuttel, however, is taken on a wild goose chase of a story by Mrs. Sappleton’s self-possessed niece Vera who makes him believe in the supernatural just for the fun of it. Vera appears in quite a few of Saki’s short stories, mostly humorous pieces like this one. Nuttel is driven to desperation and hysteria when he sees what he thinks to be three ghosts walking into the Sappleton house through the French window. The gentlemen are indeed living. The tale of them being spirits was just an unbelievable horror story created on the spur of the moment by Vera, the precocious fifteen-year-old teenager.
When you read this story without realizing the genre of Saki’s short stories, you would seriously think that you are reading a tale of the macabre or a ghost story. We learn only at the end that Vera had lied and had made up the whole story of the tragedy of the death of Mr. Sappleton, his two brothers-in-law, and the spaniel. When you realize that as a reader, just like poor Framton Nuttel, you too have been conned, you marvel at Saki’s genius as a humorist whose writings are even compared to O. Henry’s work as well as Dorothy Parker.
Vera greets Framton Nuttel, who has come with a letter of introduction from his sister, who had stayed at the rectory in the rural retreat four years before. He is at the place to meet Mrs. Sappleton, but the woman is busy in her room and sends her niece Vera to entertain Nuttel. It is then that Vera tells Nuttel the macabre story of the death of the hunting party and how they in the house used to keep the French window open so that one day, Mr. Sappleton with his hunting party would come back as ghosts. She adds a more horrifying note to the story stating that Framton Nuttel had arrived on their third death anniversary. All this is an innovative fabrication to frighten Nuttel out of his wits just for a lark. And he quickly takes the bait.
Vera is a self-precocious and self-assured young teenager whose specialty was to create macabre stories at short notice. She fabricates two false descriptions in this short story, the one about the death of the hunting party and the information about Framton Nuttel horror-filled night spent in a grave in India along the Ganga or Ganges River. Vera gets a kick out of fabricating these wild stories. However, she makes sure she will never be caught off her guard. Observe that before Vera spins the hunting party’s tale, she indirectly asks Nuttel whether he was new to the place, and if he knew her aunt at all. When she is sure he is psychologically disturbed and utterly unknown to their area, she takes it upon herself to frighten Nuttel with the astonishing story of the hunting party’s death. On seeing the arrival of the ‘ghosts’ or the hunting party, Nuttel runs away for his life. Vera covers up the bolting of Nuttel by fabricating another wild story saying that Nuttel was afraid of dogs. She says this to Mr. and Mrs. Sappleton, who are taken in by what she says. To see the way Nuttel ran for his life on seeing the hunting party specters coming back from hunting is priceless.
The story is highly realistic, with a mix of a Victorian and Edwardian touch to it. Since it is Victorian, we realize it has a conclusive beginning and end. It works on the psychology of how people with nerve problems don’t evaluate what they are seeing and jump to conclusions too quickly and are highly suggestive. Nuttel was a highly suggestive man; it took only one story to make him frightened to the point of hysteria. The story is well defined, and Vera’s character and narration of the story are exceptional. Her added points about the white raincoat carried by Mr. Sappleton and the singing of ‘Bertie why do you Bound’ by the youngest brother-in-law were very insightful additions to the overall macabre tale which Vera tried to impart to the suggestive Nuttel.
Those who have read the short story will realize that the portions where Mrs. Sappleton talks about her husband and their hunting party are laugh out loud moments. Vera knew that Mrs. Sappleton was obsessed with the hunting party’s arrival and would converse about them the moment she came down from her room. The mundane conversation about ducks, lack of birds, and hunting was making Nuttel very uneasy. Mrs. Sappleton was talking about the reality that Nuttel was thinking to be part of her delusionary mind because of her husband and brothers’ death. Vera is present through it all, and when she sees the hunting party approaching, she pretends to look terror-stricken, looking outside the open French window, which made the stricken Nuttel look outside. What he saw broke his nerve and made him bolt out of the house.
There are a few takeaway points which I would like to dwell on before concluding my analysis:
- Nuttel knew no one in the rural retreat where he took refuge for a cure of his nerves. His sister knowing how he would not socialize, hands him letters of introduction to make friends more easily there.
- Nuttel’s sister had been to the rural retreat four years before and stayed at the rectory. She had found most of the people there to be very nice.
- Nuttel was someone who couldn’t mix in society and was not sociable. Thus, when he meets Vera, he does not speak much; in fact, Vera does most of the talking.
- When Mrs. Sappleton was going on talking about the hunting party, duck, and spine shooting, Nuttel, in a beseeching manner, indirectly begs her to stop prattling all this nonsense because he was a sick man who needed rest. The tale of Nuttel’s ill health doesn’t move Mrs. Sappleton. She is most concerned only about the arrival of the hunting party.
- ‘Bertie, why do you bound’ is a line from a 1909 song ‘Bertie the bounder’. It is sung by Mrs. Sappleton’s youngest brother to tease her.
- Vera fabricates another story that she tells Mr. and Mrs. Sappleton. She claims that Framton Nuttel had conveyed to her that once he was in India and was chased by a pariah dog pack. She was undoubtedly very good at making up tall stories, which Saki very beautifully describes as ‘romance at short notice’.
It is always a pleasure to analyze the short stories of Saki. This short story was not only a lesson that I learned in school in the sixth grade, but I have taught this story to many of my students over the years. I have certainly come full circle with this story ‘The Open Window’. I love short stories; it is my favorite kind of fiction writing. I have penned a book of short stories on LGBTQIA themes. The collection is titled The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. You can check it out on Amazon, and I’m sure you will like the collection. I have reviewed a few other Saki stories in the past on my blog, and you are free to check them out. I hope to review more of Saki’s short stories soon.
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