‘The Romancers’ by Saki or H. H. Munro: Short Story Analysis
‘The Romancers’ is an Edwardian satirical short story penned by British writer Hector Hugh Munro who wrote under the pen name of Saki. Saki is considered one of the most prolific short-story writers of his day, and his satirical prose is regarded as works of great humor. In this short story, Saki satirizes the way people make up stories to get what they want or need. They would rather lie brazenly about themselves and their situations to get what they want, usually money or getting out of a problem. Such people take a particular delight in lying about themselves and idling their time rather than working hard, being truthful, or even being frank and coming to the point. In this short story titled ‘The Romancers’, two tall-tale tellers meet in London’s Hyde Park. One wants money but does not want to work for it. The other is a thirty-six-year-old gentleman who is well-off but has preconceived and highly romanticized notions of himself. They get into a rather useless conversation because they both exchange a pack of lies. They leave each other in the end, knowing that both were liars. The question that Saki leaves us with is: Which of the two were the greater liar and tall-tale teller? We shall find out through this analysis. If you are interested in my analyses of Saki’s works, you can check them out here.
One of the men is desperate for money. Saki describes him as looking like a professional cadger. A cadger is a person who tries to get something free by telling lies and false stories about himself and his situation. The cadger in this story is not named but is called the greybeard. It is obvious by his unkempt appearance that the gentleman spent most of his earnings and borrowed money on alcohol. He finds the well-off gentleman on a bench in Hyde Park watching a pair of snow geese rather contemptuously. This well-off gentleman goes by the name of Morton Crosby. He is a conceited gentleman probably from the upper-middle-class section of society, a stuck up with no compassion toward his fellowmen. When the cadger tries to start a conversation with Crosby, Crosby tries to put him off, knowing full well that the greybeard was a cadger. Crosby is conceited and a habitual liar. Instead of terminating on a note of negation, the conversation turns into a pack of lies concerning Crosby’s family lineage.
Saki was fond of satirizing and mocking the elite and upper-middle-class members of London’s society as he does here in this short story called ‘The Romancers’. The title is apt because both men romanticize their situation with lies to get what they desire: the cadger some money, probably around five shillings, while Crosby gets a kick or adrenaline rush by telling a false story of his family line. It is evident by now that the greater liar between the two is Crosby. Crosby is from the influential section of society, and to see him being so cold and willing to lie so easily does not speak well of Briton’s high society during Saki’s time. Crosby’s insensitivity to the needs and the person of the cadger is at once smart and shrewd, but as one reads the text, one feels compassion for the cadger. We think this way because he seems like a better man of the two; at least he was not bombastic and tried to come to the point as quickly as he could. If permitted, one could say, then the cadger was the more genuine lair of the two.
At least the cadger was lying because he needed something. Crosby was lying to waste time and confuse the cadger, and indirectly humiliate him. There is a particular order that is followed in the cadger’s questions to Crosby, which can be listed as follows:
- The strange world questions.
- The topic about Crosby being a professed Christian.
- The issue about the lack of poverty in Afghanistan.
- The distressing circumstances act.
- The benevolence of the people of Yom to always give a beggar charity.
- The declaration that Yom’s people were unable to take or give charity during November and December.
In each of these six parts, the cadger tries his best to introduce his poor financial condition to Crosby, whose name he does not know. He is obviously lying about his circumstance. But we don’t get a chance to hear much about the cadger’s story as Crosby outdoes the cadger or the greybeard by telling a fanciful tale of his own. Another good short-story writer whose writing style is similar is the American writer O. Henry. I have analyzed his short story ‘Hearts and Hands’ here. Crosby concocts a tale that he was a Muslim from Eastern Persia belonging to the upper Islamic privileged classes. He points out the difference that although he resided in Eastern Persia, his father was an Afghan from Yom in Afghanistan, and so was he.
As you can see, this is all a pack of lies on the part of the very British Crosby who has made a very good jumble of the Middle East in his family’s lineage. However, the cadger is unfazed and tries his level best to coax the charitable nature of this so-called Yom resident to loan him money. The cadger appeals to the charity of the resident from Yom. He is compelled to do so because of Crosby himself declaring in a highly bombastic voice, the charitable works of the people of Yom from Afghanistan. I want to highlight here that there is no such place as ‘Yom’ in Afghanistan. However, in Saki’s time, the British were at war with Afghanistan, which the cadger reported and is funnily one of the few truthful things he mentions in this short story titled ‘The Romancers’.
Crosby as a character is sarcastic and has a false high opinion of himself. He has a very skewed way of looking at the world and has an answer for every little detail mentioned by the cadger, which contradicts what he is alluding to. However, Crosby does note certain important facts:
- That the world’s strange happenings did not move him as he has seen already too much in his thirty-six years of life.
- Crosby feels that marvelous tales that are true are no longer in fashion and that fiction book writers were doing a better job. He claims he would rather read The Hound of the Baskervilles thrice than hear what his neighbors have to say about their lordly way of living. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a novel penned by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle starring the evergreen detective Sherlock Holmes. It is a classic thriller.
- He professes to be an Afghan and not a Christian so that the cadger may give up speaking to him about his money issues. Crosby tells the cadger that he would have loved to narrate the story of Ibrahim and the eleven camel loads of blotting paper, but he had forgotten the end. He would have liked to tell the cadger about a Chinese philosopher who mentions that being without money was one of three important blessings. However, Crosby proclaims that he has forgotten the other two blessings mentioned by the aforementioned Chinese philosopher. Both the stories are lies but make good satirical subtle humor.
- In Yom, it was a custom to be charitable, but one had to go through a specific protocol.
One can see the inanity of Crosby’s statements. But isn’t this what people do regularly: tell lies and fake news, or concocted stories and half-truths about themselves? It has escalated now in this world of instant messaging and photograph uploading, but the idea is the same, to lie about who or what one truly is. And it is mainly done by the rich, but when the poor, like the cadger, try to do the same, they are punished for it. Both were lying to each other, but Crosby’s lies were worse because he was in a better position than the cadger and could have acted better.
The story ends with the cadger almost making a mark and catching Crosby in his own lies when Crosby says the people or residents of Yom never gave charity or received charity from anyone during November and December. This was a mistake or a slip of the tongue on the part of the hasty and overconfident Crosby because the fact is that they were in October. Crosby shrugs when the cadger points out this fact. Taking advantage of the fact that the cadger knew that the East’s traditions were different from British customs, Crosby states that November in Yom or Afghanistan had already begun. Crosby walks off, leaving the cadger flummoxed but quite sure that Crosby was not telling the truth, proving the adage that people who lie do not approve of each other. This is because of the old saying ‘two of a trade never agree’ or ‘two of a trade seldom agree’.
I enjoyed re-reading and analyzing this short story by British writer Saki or Hector Hugh Munro. I have his entire collection in my possession and hope to re-read his stories again so that I can review and analyze them for you. Saki is indeed one of the best short story writers of satire which can genuinely help and enlighten literature students. If you find it difficult to introduce your children to more refined literature and make them read the classics, you can check out my how-to book titled Classics: Why and how we can encourage children to read them on my bog’s products page. I hope to analyze more short stories by Saki soon.
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