Found among the Haining Archive at Jot HQ is this typewritten letter dated 6thJune 1984 from the Classical historian H(ugh). W. Stubbs (1917 – 2012) of Exeter University, who was the model for J. K. Rowling’s Professor Binns in the Harry Potter novels. While at Exeter University in the early eighties reading French, Rowling had chosen Ancient History and Culture as a supplementary subject and had attended some of Stubbs’s soporific lectures. Though not a charismatic speaker, Stubbs was far from boring as a person. In the letter he dilates on the joys of Saki, among other topics.
Most of the letter is taken up with Haining’s 1983 edition of stories by Saki and with the editor’s Preface in particular, but Stubbs is also good value on supernatural literature in general, as well as philology and folklore. There are also a few acerbic asides on Chips Channon ( ‘ that horrible man ‘ ) on the horror anthologies ( ‘ a singular repulsive series ‘) edited by Christine Campbell and on the American academic Langguth ( ‘ abysmally ignorant ‘ ). Stubbs himself seems to have taken a keen academic interest in the supernatural genre. He tells Haining that in the 1950’s he corresponded with Peter Penzoldt, author of a pioneering study, The Supernatural in English Fiction(1952).
On Saki Stubbs answers various points made by Haining. Firstly, he tackles the famous Saki story ‘Sredny Vashtar’.
‘Are you aware that Sredny Vashtar is as near as makes no difference, Bulgarian for “ Happy Resurrection” . This might tie in with the Purple of the Balkan Kingstheme. ( In Serbo-Croat, with which I think S. was less familiar, it seems more to suggest “ Central Rising”,. Which might be taken as vaguely phallic is S. had been interested in such things: which, part from a few vaguely homosexual themes cryptically inserted ( his own pseudonym, and the word Joyeuse in Bassington) he doesn’t seem to have been. )’
Stubbs also suggests that Saki’s ‘Westminster Alice’, ‘was perhaps influenced by a Boer War satire entitled Clara in Blunderland (1902) which he had encountered on ‘secondhand bookstalls’. This book, published pseudonymously by ‘ Caroline Lewis’, but actually the work of three male writers, poked fun at leading politicians like Balfour (as Alice) and Campbell-Bannerman ( as Crumpty-Bumpty). It was reprinted in 2010. In addition he feels that the Saki character ‘Courtney’,‘ a sexless, if not homosexual, creature ‘was modelled on the politician F. E. Smith, later Lord Birkenhead. One of the final observations made by Stubbs concerned Saki’s apparent lack of interest in sport.
‘… rare among Edwardian authors, he never seems to mention the word “cricket” , and football only when the unfortunate Chetrof ( what a name!—“chetif”?) is flogged for “ missing a footer practice” (shades of Greyfriars—which was just about starting then!).