Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Year: 1911
The Chronicles of Clovis for free download at Project Gutenberg
THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS is a collection of twenty-eight short stories. The longest tale stretches to a whopping ten pages, but most of them are more in the three- to five-page range. Clovis, an affluent young man with a troublemaker’s spirit, serves as a unifying force throughout the majority of the stories, whether he acts as instigator, storyteller, or avid listener.
I bought the book for two reasons. First, it contains “Sredni Vashtar,” one of my favourite short stories. Second, the mouldering old Penguin I snagged at the Children’s Hospital’s latest Book Market is absolutely gorgeous. It looks like it’s about to fall apart, but the binding is solid and the book feels wonderful in the hand. Reading it was always a sensual pleasure (in the literal sense), even if it sometimes left something to be desired on an intellectual level.
It’s not that THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS is poorly written or unworthy of deeper thought; it’s just that it’s so bloody hateful. Saki is a satirist who writes in the Wildean mode. He’s concerned with upper class characters who care little for anything but their own pleasure. They’re quite happy to run roughshod over everyone else, provided it adds a little fun to their day.
The result is a set of stories about a classist, self-centered, altogether unpleasant group of people whose behavior is coded as funny. As I read, I discovered that my already low tolerance for this kind of thing takes a nosedive when there’s a humorous bend to it. The stories I loved, like “Sredni Vashtar” and “The Hounds of Fate,” are dark and cruel without much in the way of an amusement factor. The ones I loathed, like the anti-Suffragist “Hermann the Irascible – A Story of the Great Weep,” are clearly meant to offer hilarious social commentary.
To be fair, it’s entirely possible to read these stories as a condemnation of this sort of behavior; a sort of, “damn, rich folks can be stupid about their privileges” type of deal. I think the inclusion of “Hermann” proves Saki held with at least some of the attitudes his characters espouse, though. In this story, King Hermann of England “helps” women see they’d rather not have the vote by making it mandatory that they vote in every single election for every single kind of public official. By the end, they’re clamouring for a return to the old ways.
OMFG, y’all. O. M. F. G.
And yet, I couldn’t dislike THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS. I hated so much about the things it chose to be, but Saki’s evocative prose and his careful (if morally frustrating) delineations of character were often enough to see me through. I didn’t always like the book, but I usually enjoyed it--perhaps because I had a wonderful time scowling at it.
It’s worth noting, too, that there are many women herein, and outside of “Hermann,” I don’t think Saki treats them as appreciably more repugnant or flawed than any of his male characters. Everyone, regardless of gender, possesses a great number of faults, many of which spring from their vast privilege. Some of this privilege is gendered, but I feel like most of it has to do with social standing. Many, though not all, negotiations take place between people of the same gender. Problems arise when the characters are unable to reconcile their own faults with everyone else’s.
Basically, THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS is worth reading for the prose and the satisfaction of growling profanities at the dodgier bits, but don’t expect something progressive from it. It’s a product of its time and is often disgusting by modern standards.
3.5 stars – enjoyed it very much
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