‘Bertie’s Christmas Eve’ by Saki

Saki, 1911

Bertie’s Christmas Eve by Saki, 1911

The magic trick:

Third-person narration that editorializes with humor

If you’re ever wondering who influenced P.G. Wodehouse’s odd brand of comedy, here is your answer. And it’s not just the name of the protagonist. It’s the narration. It’s third person, but with a subtle edge of editorializing. The narrator never gets outright mean in the mocking of the Steffink family, but nor is it particularly subtle. Mostly, though, the story is just pretty silly. And that’s quite a trick on Saki’s part.

The selection:

It was a few minutes to midnight when the party reached the cow-house and made its way in by the light of Luke’s stable lantern. For a moment every one stood in silence, almost with a feeling of being in church.

“Daisy–the one lying down–is by a shorthorn bull out of a Guernsey cow,” announced Luke in a hushed voice, which was in keeping with the foregoing impression.

“Is she?” said Bordenby, rather as if he had expected her to be by Rembrandt.

“Myrtle is–”

Myrtle’s family history was cut short by a little scream from the women of the party.

The cow-house door had closed noiselessly behind them and the key had turned gratingly in the lock; then they heard Bertie’s voice pleasantly wishing them good-night and his footsteps retreating along the garden path.

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