Agatha Christie: Investigating Femininity

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ripamenterg.gq/2433.php In these stories, financiers and businesses seem respectable but their integrity is sham. In reality they are imbued with criminality. Christie repeatedly makes the link between the worlds of high finance and big business and the pursuit of criminal activity. Whilst the rest of her extensive oeuvre does not focus so directly on business or commerce neither does it contradict the position taken in these six works.

Paradoxically there might be reason for expecting Christie to treat private enterprise with kid gloves: her writings lightly suggest a partiality towards the Conservative Party. When Christie began her writing career the Conservatives were the main British party of the status quo, with the mantle of the main party of social change passing from the Liberal Party to the Labour Party.

Whilst an author eager for sales would be wise not to broadcast her political preferences too overtly, there are nonetheless quite a number of indicators in her work which suggest that Christie identified with the Conservatives more than with Labour, as might be expected from a member of a family of Devonshire gentlefolk. Nonetheless her soft spot for the Tories seems rather clearer than her stances on many other issues. McLean is an establishment figure whose premiership must be preserved at all costs Christie, c.

A clearer identification with the Conservatives is seen in The Rose and the Yew Tree , a psychological novel centring around a Conservative election campaign for a Cornish seat in and first published two years after that election. Their Labour opponents in the constituency are not even sketched Christie, a. A newspaper, the X-Ray News , threatens to reveal the truth.

Even his name connotes a hard line, hard left dogmatism.

Agatha Christie

The X-Ray News fills with stories of the wife being a depraved nymphomaniac. It could be argued that the story hardly casts the party of the Right in a favourable light, but on the other hand there is no indication that corruption extends beyond the former Prime Minister. Moreover the very fact that Poirot sees it as imperative to whitewash a swindler of the Right in order to defeat a demagogue of the Left is, by Christie standards, curiously lacking in ambivalence.

The suspicion that Christie had a soft spot for the Conservative Party is powerfully reinforced by her apparent disdain for Labour. On top of her unfavourable depiction of Mr Everhard, Christie displays a startling degree of anti-Labour bias in The Secret Adversary first published in The crisis is resolved partly by a split in the Labour Party between its right wing and its left wing, Christie siding with the former.

The ideas that workers with grievances are putty in the hands of self-seeking demagogues and that their grievances are generally the result of misunderstandings are ones to which Christie returned from time to time. Conservatives tend to voice support for the private sector. Yet, whilst it seems reasonably clear that Christie identified more with the Conservatives than with Labour, she nonetheless wrote six works of fiction which fashion a clear link between private enterprise and lawlessness.

These works indicate that she privileged the creation of dystopias over conservative nostrums. Neither, I would argue, does her view of private enterprise. In a trio of Christie short stories of the early s financiers emerge as criminals. Hastings believes in making speculative investments, and is gently pushing Poirot to invest in the Porcupine oil fields, which promise astonishing returns. Poirot is adamant that he only makes prudent investments. In reality Pearson is a gambler and debtor, and he arranges to have Wu Ling abducted in order to steal the document, have a Chinese accomplice impersonate Wu Ling and receive the money for the sale of the document for himself.

Pearson only aspires to diddle his company, but his oriental sidekicks go too far, killing Wu Ling and dumping his body in the Thames. The twist in the tale is that they were not stolen on board since in reality they never reached the ship. They were stolen beforehand by Shaw, who substituted fakes for the Bonds when they were still at the Bank Christie, a. He vanishes from home, prompting fears that he has been kidnapped. In reality he has been embezzling money from his company on a grand scale, prompting the collapse of the Bank shortly after he vanishes.

Davenheim disappeared of his own accord having created a new identity for himself. Christie thereby links the criminality of the senior partner with the failure of the institution Christie, b. These three short stories have elements in common. In each of them, the perpetrator is someone high up in the company who ignobly tries to pin the blame on someone lower in the capitalist pecking order. Furthermore in each story the miscreant also poses in some fashion as someone of a lower social class. Pearson embarrasses Poirot over a Chinese meal by impersonating an old sea dog; Shaw poses as a liner passenger in order to dispose of the fake Bonds; Davenheim adopts the identity of a lowly felon.

Christie thereby projects social class as a system prone to deception. As Alison Light has observed, exactly what social position is occupied becomes less important than the possible bogusness of it Light, At the same time those at the pinnacle of the class hierarchy may abuse their class positions by incriminating lesser mortals. All in all this hardly constitutes a glowing endorsement of the class system with which Christie has been crudely associated.

This focus reflects the particular dysfunctions of British capitalism at the time she wrote them. John Stevenson observes that the wealth-owners of the inter-war years acquired their prosperity disproportionately from commerce and finance. They made their fortunes from processing wealth rather than creating it. Accordingly the wealthy were becoming a predominantly metropolitan class Stevenson, — Furthermore in Britain in —45 the self-made entrepreneurial millionaire was the exception rather than the rule Stevenson, There is no suggestion that Messrs Pearson, Shaw or Davenheim are self-made.

The experience of war fostered an exaltation of the state. During the war the state had taken over some of the largest industries, generating a mood in which permanent public ownership of key industries seemed imminent. In the event there was no nationalisation, but according to some accounts other aspects of socialism fared better, such as the pursuit of equality and the enlargement of social welfare.

The period after the First World War was therefore an epoch in which financiers were in the doghouse from the outset Mowat, 17— This animosity was reinforced by scandals which served to fan the flames of resentment towards financiers, principally the affair of Horatio Bottomley, which showed that their misdeeds were not mere chicanery but actually criminal. Bottomley had been a celebrity populist campaigner during the war in favour of the war effort. Her financier-criminals may not seek celebrity, yet she individuates them from their companies and the discovery of their crimes must ultimately lead each of them to personal infamy.

Whilst these three short stories show that Christie hardly gave the financial sector a bill of clean health, the novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe first published in allowed Christie to explore the villainy of the magnate in fuller form. The story begins with Poirot visiting his dentist. Within the hour, the dentist is murdered. Poirot investigates, and eventually uncovers the murderer as a Mr Anthony Blunt.

Significantly, therefore, Christie sees capitalist enterprise as pulling the strings of government. If I was ruined and disgraced — the country, my country was hit as well. We are democratic in England — truly democratic. We can grumble and say what we think and laugh at our politicians. But if I went — well you know what would probably happen. Christie, —7. By this stage Blunt has masterminded three murders. Nonetheless Poirot concludes that he is not concerned with nations but with private individuals who have the right not to have their lives taken away.

We can discern in the disagreement between Blunt and Poirot a clash between collectivism and individualism, or between utilitarianism and an emphasis on individual rights. Howard Raikes would not resonate today, the contemporary left having softened its desire to replace capitalism in response to several decades of neoliberal hegemony see Nicol, The overt partiality of these two public servants is rather striking.

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No less striking however is the way in which Christie deftly emphasises the common ground between Raikes the Marxist and Blunt the magnate: both are condemned for their lack of concern for the individual. Ultimately, however, this equidistance disintegrates, as Blunt heads for the gallows as murderer whilst Raikes is imagined as the victor in the struggle for a completely new society to replace capitalism. This is despite the fact that Blunt in his public persona stands for everything Poirot holds dear Christie, The ending of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe therefore clearly anticipates some form of socialism replacing the capitalist system.

To be sure, in the wake of the slump of the s the political elite shifted in favour of economic activism. Within the Labour Party, however, the move towards state intervention was particularly marked, borne out of the perceived failure of the second Labour government to bring about economic revival. The late s witnessed a powerful intellectual trend — the revival of British socialism Morgan, An intellectual head of steam was generated by disappointment with MacDonaldism and the s slump, and a volume of publications appeared arguing for a more radical Labour programme.

Durbin, for instance, believed that economic freedom was not possible in an economy based on the profit motive, and that a central planning authority was necessary. Similarly Dalton sought a Supreme Economic Authority, responsible to the Cabinet, to plan the fight against poverty, insecurity and unemployment Foote, , — In Britain therefore in the era of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe , socialism based on economic planning and a dominant public sector seemed an ever more serious alternative to capitalism.

Robert Barnard has proposed that the ambivalence of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe — Poirot lauding Blunt yet not exempting him from criminal responsibility — means that the reader can attribute no opinion to Christie as author, one way or the other, on the subjects of politics or international finance Barnard, 57— High finance may be pursued with integrity or it may spawn the abuse of power.

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Yet, I would argue, contra Barnard and Ackershoek, that the very fact that Christie chooses not to exempt the world of high finance from the dysfunctional worlds which she creates, means that she is taking a stance. In particular to associate the practice of capitalism with murder as she does in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe — and not just one murder but serial murders — is really rather uncompromising and goes way beyond the frauds committed in her three earlier anti-financier stories.

The bigger picture is that despite identifying more with the Conservatives than with Labour, she repeatedly invents stories in which — contrary to Tory nostrums — the high echelons of capitalism present fertile soil for the exercise of the most serious forms of criminality. In the post-war period Christie altered the nature of her corporate villains.

The broad theme remained unchanged: respectable business conceals base criminality. However, in place of the single financier-perpetrator out on a frolic of his own, Christie explored the idea of the business itself as a criminal conspiracy. There is an emphasis therefore on collective rather than individual evil. It may be that Christie found the idea of a criminal collective more alarming since evil is diffuse and not dependent on a single wrongdoer.

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Christie's books depict women as adventurous, independent figures who renegotiate sexual relationships along more equal lines. Women are also allowed to disrupt society and yet the texts refuse to see them as double deviant because of their femininity. This book demonstrates. MERJA MAKINEN is Principal Lecturer in English Literary Studies, Middlesex University, UK, and former Programme Tutor for the MA in Popular Literary Fictions.

Yet an emphasis on businesses-as-collectives also reflected a changed social era. In the post-war period there was more emphasis on the efforts of government to regulate the economy. The cult of the entrepreneur-as-celebrity took something of a back seat. The s was the era of nationalisation: the private sector was at a low ebb and took some time to restore its previous legitimacy. In that period financiers and tycoons for a time adopted a lower profile. This reflected changing class relations. Between the wars, many thought the polarisation between the social classes remained acute: indeed, during the Second World War, the social research organisation Mass Observation found that the political change which people most commonly wanted to see after the War was a reduction in class distinctions.

The rise of the Labour Party and trade unions contributed to a more pervasive sense of class Stevenson, These divisions were blurred only mildly by a degree of social mobility and the growth of mass consumerism Stevenson, This desire to soften class differences chimes with the way in which Christie tracks social change through the servants in her novels.

From the outset, therefore, Christie chronicles nostalgia for a bygone sense of hierarchy. The social democratic consensus which became established after meant that a rather more moderate form of capitalism came to the fore, tempered by cross-party agreement in favour of full employment, a welfare state and a substantial public sector. By the same token financiers did not suffer the same notoriety as they had in the wake of the First World War.

Collectivism had come to the fore, affecting the perception of the business world. Against this backdrop it made good sense for Christie to free herself from the notion of the singular black-sheep financier villain and explore instead the idea of business organisations devoted to the pursuit of crime. One such exploration, The Pale Horse , is the story of an organisation which murders individuals for profit.

Agatha Christie: investigating femininity

Clients attend a shabby office, meet a disbarred lawyer and make a large bet with him that an inconvenient relative will live beyond a certain date. If he or she dies, the client must pay up. The client then visits a former public house, The Pale Horse, where he or she encounters the inhabitants, three female mystics. They perform incantations and will the victim to perish.

Quite a bit of outsourcing is therefore involved in the business. The lawyer points out that the making of a bet is perfectly legal and above board, and that the notion of causing death by mystic incantations would be ridiculed in court. The outsourcing nonetheless handily shifts attention from the murderer to those in the organisation with lesser culpability. Christie may possibly have gained inspiration from the true-life serial killers of the day who murdered for profit. John Haigh, the acid bath murderer, who predominantly targeted wealthy couples for financial gain, was executed in These figures may well have furnished inspiration to Christie since both chose victims other than family members and killed for profit.

Miss Marple stays there in order to recapture happy girlhood memories. Yet the hotel proves to be a front for organised robberies on a massive scale, one of the biggest and best crime syndicates known for years. A prestigious capitalist establishment, the epitome of respectability, thereby slides into criminality. There is a rude contrast between the hotel scenes and the robbery scenes, yet in reality the hotel business and the crime business turn out to be one and the same enterprise, so the bright line which Christie fashions between these two narratives is itself illusory. Christie may have drawn inspiration from the Great Train Robbery of , a conspiracy to rob the Glasgow-to-London mail train by a gang of sixteen men.

The crime necessitated considerable planning, yet the perpetrators were apprehended and were tried, convicted and sentenced in The incongruity is not only striking but alarming: nothing is what it seems and our confidence in the integrity of business is undermined. These are the sort of comments which Christie frequently reserves to describe successful business leaders.

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Inspector McNeil says that he does not believe there is a Master Criminal involved: he insists that there is more likely to be a Board of Directors, headed by a chairman, planning everything centrally Christie, 30— Faced with the growing organisation the police debate at some length whether it might over-expand, with repeated comparisons being made to businesses which fail having committed the same error Christie, Lee admits to having been a very wicked man and to having got up to all manner of misdeeds in South Africa Christie, a: According to another character Lee was not exactly a crook, but sailed pretty near the wind with no morals to boast about Christie, a: The idea of a successful businessman who somehow sails close to the wind without actually committing illegality became a Christie trope.

In Crooked House the victim is Aristide Leonides, another extremely rich head-of-the-family figure. The impression is thereby given of a legislature kept busy having to criminalise all the unethical business stratagems of Leonides only to find that he had moved on to novel sharp practices. Perhaps more importantly from the point of view of legal scholarship they evince a perception of a fuzzy line between lawful yet unscrupulous business dealings on the one hand, and criminality on the other.

Capitalism is also criticised through the way in which losing a fortune from dubious investments provides a motive for murder. We have seen how Christie frequently likens the world of business to the world of crime. In one of her late era novels, however, she is able to come up with a more positive vision of private enterprise. Whilst profitability is an absolute prerequisite, education is the essence.

This prioritisation is underlined towards the end of the novel when, murders solved, the headmistress Miss Bulstrode encourages the young, original-minded Miss Rich to become her successor. This also constitutes a remarkably feminist ending by the standards of the s, since Miss Rich has had a child out of wedlock. Miss Bulstrode chides Miss Rich to become a better tradesman and to market her ideas. Christie thereby fashions her own middle way, in which a calling nobler than moneymaking drives successful business endeavour.

Bradney reminds us that it should be a pressing concern for the legal academy which kind of individual seeks to live lawfully and which kind rejects law Bradney, I believe we see Miss Marple acknowledging such assumptions and quickly disregarding them through the manner of her speech. Such a conclusion does not require extensive universal intellect, merely intuition about human behaviour and more specifically, female living. Therefore Christie powerfully places the elderly woman at the centre of the novel and St.

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Yet, Miss Marple is not ashamed of her ability and effectively plays her detective role to suit her own needs and desires rather than satisfy the expectations of society. Consequently, I believe she is able to manipulate gender and genre stereotypes in order to strengthen her position as a woman in society and in crime fiction. Therefore, she blurs the peripheries between the two, creating a liminal space where gossip and intuition meet scientific classification Makinen I argue Christie was emphasizing how difficult it was for women to be perceived as both domestic and intelligent.

By merging domesticity and intelligence through the figure of Miss Marple, we witness a renovation of the associations of such gendered terms. However, Christie stresses that domesticity and intelligence can exist simultaneously. Consequently, Len reasserts how domestic knowledge is no less important than worldliness, that human nature is the same wherever you go, implying that knowledge is interchangeable and is not determined by gender. I acknowledge one could form a conservative opinion on the presentation of gender, based on the physical depiction of Miss Marple, as a nosy, elderly woman spying on village neighbours.

However, I believe Christie is asserting how a particular, elderly, female physicality need not indicate submissiveness or exclusion from the public sphere. Miss Marple demonstrates how femininity can be performed through appearance, a theory Judith Butler would expand upon in the s.

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Such a physical description conveys how Miss Marple consciously and purposely exudes stereotypical elderly femininity through her clothes and speech. Though elderly and female, she is not mentally fragile and is constantly in control of the situation, the men around her and her own deductions. Though Christie displays traditional female characteristics through Miss Marple, such as her quiet, modest, domestic lifestyle, I argue she engaged with them in order to expose them as a charade, rather than make simply utilising conservative undertones to justify modern overtones.

Consequently, Christie breaks down fixed theories relating to gender, which dominated cultural thought and were projected through traditional crime fiction. Passive background characters, such as Mrs Hudson in Conan Doyle or helpless victims such as Laura Fairlie in Wilkie Collins, are rejected by Christie through the creation of her female detective, female criminal and other proactive woman.

Therefore, Christie liberates silent female spaces, conditions and positions; she frees women from their fated roles, making her radically forward thinking. The female servant, Mary, works in the vicarage for Griselda and Len. Moreover, Christie grants agency to women by allowing them to be recognised as deviant criminals and villains, making them physically and aggressively active.

By , when the novel was published, female independence was on the rise, or at least the desire to be autonomous was increasing. Many people felt that the resolve offered in crime fiction offered a welcome escape during a period of inter-war uncertainty and social unpredictability.

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However, though the crime is resolved in The Murder at the Vicarage , Christie bravely engages with anxieties regarding gender and rather than rectifying those uncertainties, I believe she explodes conventions and shows gender to be a fluid conception rather than a fixed construction. Anne Protheroe is the active female murderer whilst her lover, Lawrence Redding, merely assists in the action, placing the gun in the correct flower pot.

Anne murders the husband to whom she has been unhappily married for years and therefore defies the traditional female role of adoring wife. We quickly realise Anne possesses and active and indomitable nature. However, I believe Christie was liberating femininity from its conventional associations of passivity and inactivity, she was giving them the freedom to act as they desire, however deviant those actions may be.

Clearly, Christie engages with notions of female criminality being associated with sexuality.

However, she challenges ideas of sexuality being punishable by making Anne not only sexually liberal for most of the text, but independently responsible for her own actions. Furthermore, Griselda is an illuminating and complex portrayal of the modern woman within the crime fiction genre. Therefore, we can see Christie projecting cultural anxieties about women who were becoming increasingly self-confident and undomesticated.

I believe such a resolution challenges the position from within, thus making it a more revolutionary attack. Griselda not does merely reject her predetermined role; she goes even further by embracing motherhood and marriage, then questioning its limitations. Consequently, I argue that while she eventually chooses to embody the traditional role, Griselda negotiates a new, more modern concept of wife and mother where she is aware of her choices. By actively choosing her own husband, she has dictated her own destiny, taken control of her womanhood. It closes the gap between specifically gendered roles within crime fiction by presenting us with a socially active and intelligent female detective, an unabashed female murderer and a woman who is fully aware of the trappings and illusions within marriage and motherhood.

I believe Christie was battling for a female presence within crime fiction, literature at large and society as a whole, which, to a certain extent, she was able to achieve due to her popularity and success. The Murder at the Vicarage depicts women who are intelligent and explosively independent, regardless of age or class. No doubt critics, writers and readers alike will continue to differ regarding the extent to which Christie challenged or conformed to traditions of gender within her genre.