Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday: The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat

Writers of short fiction choose their words with great care and precision. Because they use few words to tell their stories, each and every word becomes more weighty, in a sense. In The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat (1911), a pithy short story by Saki, words are especially significant. I learned about the existence of this short story on Mel's blog, The Reading Life, where I'm often first introduced to sundry short stories.

As I read The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat, there were a few words that I thought I'd investigate for Wondrous Words Wednesday. Hosted by Kathy from Bermudaonion's Weblog, I enjoy this meme immensely; it's the consummate meme for wordsmiths, readers, dictionary fiends, and others who care deeply about words. My word discoveries this week enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the story.

1. snuggery: a small, cosy, comfortable room or place. The British spelling of 'cosy' seems more appropriate here, as this word is chiefly British. (Do my British book blogging friends read in their snuggeries? It sounds quite lovely, to curl up with a book in the snuggery!)

In the story there are several references to the snuggery, about which Jocantha Bessbury, the protagonist, announces her "simmering satisfaction", near the start of the story.

"She was very well pleased, for instance, with the snuggery, which contrived somehow to be cosy and dainty and expensive all at once."

"And as with the snuggery, so with the rest of the house, and as with the house, so with the other departments of Jocantha's life; she really had good reason for being one of the most contented women in Chelsea."

Married and comfortable, Jocantha is pleased with herself and her lot in life, and only wonders if her cat, Attab, may be more content than she is.

The snuggery takes on greater meaning in the context of the story, in both a literal and figurative way. Jocantha is very content, until she leaves the confines of her snuggery, of her small place. This word is perhaps the most important word of the entire story.

2. thraldom: slavery, thrall; the state of being under the control of another person.

I know I've come across this word before, maybe even on this meme, but I didn't remember it. In this sentence, Jocantha imagines the future of boy with the "beautifully-brushed" hair who has caught her eye.

"He would exchange that humdrum thraldom in due course for a home of his own, dominated by a scarcity of pounds shillings, and pence, and a dearth of most of the things that made life attractive or comfortable. "

In the story, Jocantha may discover that she is in a state of thraldom herself, bound to the comforts of marriage and home, to domesticity, to the cozy but confining "snuggery".

3. "Yellow Peacock"

In the story, Jocantha, starts to feel sorry for others, and decides to find a lonely girl in a tea-shop who she will then give two tickets to a performance of the "Yellow Peacock". I became curious, then suspicious, about the name of the play in the story; had it been an actual play in theaters? Luckily, I quickly discovered some relevant matters on Wikipedia's page of Theatrical Superstitions. First of all, peacock feathers are never supposed to be brought onstage, as a costume element, prop, or set piece. Actors and directors have blamed peacock feathers for all kinds of theater mishaps, including collapsing sets. The color yellow is also suspect. Yellow is considered to be quite unlucky. This belief dates from the days of religious plays, when yellow was the color worn by actors who played the devil.

The fact that the play in the story is called "Yellow Peacock", a less than fortuitous name for a play, makes this story, which is mocking in tone, even more comical.

I highly recommend The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat, which is about four pages long and can be read online. For a review of this story, please visit The Reading Life.

What wondrous new words have you encountered during recent reading?


  1. I just love the word snuggery, and I am going to be finding ways to use it from now on! Thanks for sharing this, Suko!

  2. Now, how interesting! I didn't know either of the first two words, and it would never have occurred to me to look for the play title. Actually I knew about the peacock superstition, but not about yellow -- as far as I knew, the color violet/purple is considered unlucky in theater. Never heard about yellow. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Zibilee, I like the word 'snuggery', too (even though it's mentioned in mocking tones in the story). I will wear my snuggie in the snuggery--how does that sound?

    Scribacchina, other colors are considered to be unlucky in theater as well; interestingly, that includes the color green, even though the waiting area for actors is called the green room.

  4. I love learning new words! Snuggery is a great one. Never seen that word before or the word thraldom. So 2 new words today, wwoohoo! Now I need to remember to use them today.
    Sounds like a fun story too!
    Natalie :0)

  5. We like to be nice and snug but we don't normally have snuggeries!!

  6. here's mine

  7. You are quite the detective! I probably wouldn't have thought to investigate The Yellow Peacock. I love snuggery - it's such a fun word!

  8. Snuggery is a great word! Trust you to track down the origins of The Yellow Peacock, such a Saki-esque thing to do, naming a play for bad luck (it has been too long since I read him; thanks to you and Mel, I'll have to fix that).
    Great stuff, Suko!

  9. I want a snuggery! I love theater superstitions and those are both new to me. We're going to see Shakespeare's Scottish play next month!

  10. What a great cover for The Happy Cat!

  11. Snuggery ... wonderful word. The others I hadn't heard before. I like this meme too and always forget to play. Must write myself a note!

  12. I love your post, Suko. Searching in each book which book is the most important is very interesting !
    I'll try to read this shortstory !

  13. what a lovely post !! Love it !! I wish i had a "snuggery"..It's fascinating to know the etymological origins of words.I love Saki's writing ..this one goes to my TBR.

  14. Snuggery - what a great word. Meggings is my favourite recent discovery - leggings for men.

  15. This meme is fun and leads to word discoveries and more. I hope some of you will read this story by Saki. It's short and worth the time.

    Petty, meggings is a fun/funny word.

    I appreciate all of the kind words!

  16. snuggery - love it, you just might see that pop up on my site ;-D

  17. I want a snuggery, too... what a great word! Thanks for including the story link. I'll read it this afternoon.

  18. I like 'snuggery', it even sounds cozy lol :)
    I'll have to check out The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat, I always enjoy a good short story.

  19. Ladies, 'snuggery' is a great word. I imagine saying things like, "get thee to a snuggery". Thanks for stopping by! :)


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