Mrs. Packletide's Tiger Background

Mrs. Packletide's Tiger Background

Just before the final essential, insightful and revealing conversation between Mrs. Packletide and Louisa Mebbin which brings this story to an end, a character identified only as Clovis makes a suggestion to the title character that she throw a “primeval dance party” at which all the attendees would be required to show up wearing animal skins. She dismisses the suggestion as just crossing the line of good taste. It is the sort of conversation and the sort of suggestion and the sort of rejection typical of those who enjoy the privileges afforded by active membership in the world of London socialites. It is the only appearance by Clovis in the story who is relegated to one single line of dialogue and anyone reading the story out of the context of its original publication would easily enough dismiss the strange appearance and rapid disappearance of this character who suddenly shows up without any reference without a thought or, if they gave any thought, as an example of sloppy writing.

In fact, this character too inconsequential even to be considered a minor character is quite significant to the publication of “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger.” For that short story is but one of many which comprise the author’s third collection of short stories, The Chronicles of Clovis, published in 1911. Clovis is the unifying character of these stories, but his substantiality varies widely from one to the other. He is a teenager who enjoys the advantages of belonging to the British upper class, but views most of its membership with disdain and a well-developed penchant for ironic commentary. In some stories he is a major figure as an observer while in others his presence if far less significant. And then there are a few such as “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger” where his appearance seems designed purely for the purpose of allowing the tale to be lodged into the collective whole.

Clovis was a very popular figure at one time and did much to facilitate the movement of Saki (the pen name of Hugh Hector Munro) into the forefront of Edwardian short fiction. His superfluous quality in “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger” is perhaps reflective of his actual status at the time, but it was a different age with different standards of humor, so the world will never know for sure. What is quite certain is that the formerly lofty status of Clovis as a defining figure of early 20th century British society could not have anything less to do with the qualities of this short story. What makes it well worth reading and humorous to modern readers long out of touch with Edwardian sensibilities are those same aspects that make nearly every other short story by Saki a worthwhile investment of time. The author’s mastery of gently ironic tone, stunningly effective economy of language and insight into the nether regions of human psychology all make the story of a shallow British socialite with more money and time than good sense a remarkably entertaining and subtly insightful experience. And, as always, a close study of the sheer volume of detail, event and character that Saki is able to pack into a shockingly fast read (in this case just over 1300 words) is worth the cost an entire class on the fine art of writing a short story.

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