This twisted ballet of Edwardian sensibilities is darkly hilarious, and Gorey breathes new life into Saki’s drawing-room nightmares. Saki’s black humor shines in the dark delicacies “Sredni Vashtar,” “The Stampeding of Lady Bastable,” and “The Open Window.”
Like Saki, Gorey had a love of macabre humor, particularly set in the dramatic Victorian and Edwardian periods. His drawings incarnate the grim, merciless caricature of the English elite.
My favorite is the story “Tobermory,” which concerns the titular cat who discomfits house-party guests when he acquires the ability to speak. Gorey, a devout cat lover, must have enjoyed drawing this twisted tale. As a cat lover myself, I think Saki captured the spirit of how a cat would talk, if he could. He tells the ugly truth about the superficiality of the aristocrats, and he has little use for small talk: “It was obvious that boring questions lay outside his scheme of life.”
This makes him a threat to the partiers because he is the only one willing to scratch (if you’ll pardon the pun) beneath the surface and capable of exposing their dirty laundry and has no vested interest in status to keep him quiet.
So, of course, they set out to kill him.
When Mr. Appin, who taught Tobermory to speak, protests, the others suggest he experiment with less-independent animals “who are under proper control.”
The rich, absurdly disastrous ending both lampoons the artifice of the elite and the dangers one faces when speaking truth to power.