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While answering another question, I read Saki's short story The Reticence of Lady Anne" from his Reginald in Russia collection. Inasmuch as a story this short can be said to have "plotlines", there are two parts of this story (spoiler alert!):

  • The main plot is Egbert trying to resolve an argument with his wife, who maintains an icy aloofness and refuses to reply to anything he says. At the end of the story, it's revealed that she's been dead for two hours.
  • A subplot introduces two pets, the singing bullfinch and the Persian cat. At the end of the story, the cat, "carrying out a long-formed theory of action with the precision of mature deliberation", apparently eats the bird.

Is there any symbolic or thematic connection between these two plotlines? It feels like there should be, otherwise why put them both together in the same story, but I can't make the link.

  • The Caged bird may serve as a metaphor for Lady Anne, as the first line likens the room to a dovecote. In addition, the Bullfinch's implied death is simultaneous with the reveal of Lady Anne's own death. The Bullfinch sings the tune of Iphigenie en Tauride twice and is described as "something of a despot" at the conclusion. This play/opera references two characters, Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, who died before the play/operas so there might be a potential link to Lady Anne (who died before the story). Hopefully my observations are helpful to someone else. – TomDot Com Aug 25 at 23:49
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(Couldn't fit this into a comment….)

I think that, in this story, the cat primarily serves the function of atmosphere (that of having something else in the room rather than just Egbert and Lady Anne); otherwise the (already very short) story would be even shorter, and boring. I don't think any deeper symbolism needs to be looked for: while, as far as "philosophy" goes, there is no doubt a certain spirit and attitude towards things that pervades Saki's stories, it appears he wrote primarily to entertain. But also:

  1. This picture of family life (the couple had a bird and a cat, and presumably no children) says something about them. (Some reviewers have expressed the opinion that Saki was disdainful of childless women.)

  2. Many of Saki's stories (e.g. Tobermory) have the idea of animals (and cats in particular) being superior and more intelligent than, if not most people, definitely the kinds of people Saki was contemptuous of (as here he is of their artistic taste and intelligence). So here, making explicit the superiority of the cat (the line about "superb indifference", the cat refusing to act as a vacuum cleaner, and finally the fact that the cat, which thinks of Egbert as “A fool”, seems to know of the death already, unlike him, and is only waiting for his exit) expresses the character of the couple better.

  3. The punchline becomes stronger: The penultimate sentence, “[The bird] had cost twenty-seven shillings without the cage, but Lady Anne made no sign of interfering” sets up the idea that while a lady like that might well ignore her husband after a quarrel, to ignore the loss of an expensive purchase— now that is truly unusual and demands an explanation, and this expectation is answered by the final sentence: “She had been dead for two hours.”

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