In the short story, Reginald on the Academy, Saki writes:

“To be clever in the afternoon argues that one is dining nowhere in the evening.”

What does this mean?

(EDIT: Some additional context is provided by the preceding 5 lines:

“I suffered in that way just now,” said Reginald plaintively, “from a woman whose word I had to take that she had met me last summer in Brittany.”

“I hope you were not too brutal?”

“I merely told her with engaging simplicity that the art of life was the avoidance of the unattainable.”

“Did she try and work it out on the back of her catalogue?”

“Not there and then. She murmured something about being ‘so clever.’ Fancy coming to the Academy to be clever!”



Without more context it could mean

  1. People want their dinner guests to be dull and staid, to avoid offense. Being clever in the afternoon risks having no one be willing to have you as a guest. (Invitations to formal dinner parties generally had more lead time, against this, but he may not be too serious.)
  2. Someone who is going to a dinner party will want to be witty, charming, and sparkling at it, rather than being clever for people he merely meets in the afternoon, but someone who tries to impress those people has no one he will want to impress at dinner.
  • 1
    This isn't English SE where the meaning of a phrase can be analysed without context. The point of Literature SE is rather to analyse meaning in context, in this case a story which the OP has helpfully linked to on Project Gutenberg. – Rand al'Thor Aug 22 '20 at 15:17
  • I actually think these are both reasonable answers, as there's not much more context in that particular Saki story at least. – ShreevatsaR Oct 6 '20 at 7:02

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