The Reticence of Lady Ann & Sredni Vashtar
Life has taken a sudden interior turn but the literature of the lockdown may have already been written. A century ago writers throughout the supposedly civilised world realised their once familiar, domestic world had changed profoundly and began to describe it in singular unsettling ways. The best word for what they found and how they described it is the German one ‘unheimlich’ whereby the familiar or homely is suddenly strange; a unique word for which we have in English the unsatisfactory ‘uncanny’.
In his essay of 1919, Freud used the word ‘unheimlich’ to describe the disquieting, unsettling short fiction of his time. As has been noted by the critic Mark Fisher and others however, he structured his inquiry into the unheimlich on the stories themselves, unable to create a theory which superseded them. These stories have endured. We have collected together the best of them — the funny, the horrific and the simply disturbing — to offer insight and commentary on the strange world we have been living in.
Saki is the great forgotten humourist of the early 20th century. More scabrous than Wilde and less forgiving than Wodehouse, he despised the trappings of the upper-bourgeoisie he was part of. These gems reveal his hatred of the claustrophobia with chilling humour.