Monday, 21 May 2012

Smoke Mirrors and Murder - The Box 2

the book:

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

published 1961   Chapter 17




[Mark Easterbrook, narrating, is going to a séance which will also involve The Box]

Thyrza Grey, wearing a plain dark wool dress, opened the door, said in a businesslike tone: “Ah, here you are. Good. We’ll have supper straight away.”…

Bella waited on us. She wore a black stuff dress and looked more than ever like one of the crowd in an Italian primitive. Sybil struck a more exotic note. She had on a long dress of some woven peacock-coloured fabric, shot with gold. Her beads were absent on this occasion, but she had two heavy gold bracelets clasping her wrists…

[Thyrza] went to a cupboard in the wall and took from it what appeared to be a kind of long overall. It seemed to be made, when the light caught it, of some metallic woven tissue. She drew on long gauntlets of what looked like a kind of fine mesh rather resembling a “bullet-proof vest” I had once been shown. “One has to take precautions” she said…

[Thyrza] went over to what I had taken to be a radio cabinet. It opened up and I saw that it was a large electrical contrivance of some complicated kind. It moved like a trolley and she wheeled it slowly and carefully to a position near the …inert figure on the divan.

Observations: Following on from yesterday, another use of The Box in a book published four years later. The hero is investigating a claim that people are being killed for money, but using supernatural means: so he is pretending he wants to get rid of his wife. He has brought one of her gloves, and the scary evening is a combination of the traditional séance (the 'inert figure' is Sybil in a trance), a witches’ blood sacrifice, and The Box – “the big box-like machine had started to emit a low hum, the bulbs in it glowed… could there be physically-produced rays of some kind that acted on the cells of the mind?” Obvious nonsense – but the pretend victim is definitely starting to feel ill…

Of course as this is Agatha Christie, nothing is quite what it seems.

Links up with: Lots of Agatha Christie – click on the label below to see them all. In this entry we mention that despite the unreality of her world, she is good for sociological observation of the 20th century – The Box has disappeared totally, and is very hard to research, but everything was grist to AC’s mill, so we have this record of it. Evelyn Waugh’s version of The Box features in the book in yesterday’s entry.

The picture is from an alarmingly spooky collection of spirit and séance pictures held at the UK’s National Media Museum.




2 comments:

  1. "despite the unreality of her world, she is good for sociological observation of the 20th century"??

    Agatha Christie is one of the best for "sociological observation of the 20th century". So what makes her world "unreal"? To me it makes her world more "real" than the world found in books that only deal with adultery among the middle classes.

    And the good thing about the detective genre was that you needed a large cast of characters of all types and backgrounds. (Though I admit they did fall down somewhat when it came to servants.)

    Love The Pale Horse! Christie had an early boyfriend who became a spiritualist.

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  2. I think 'unreal' in the sense that carefully planned and covered-up murders are rather rare - I remember the surprise I felt as a young person when I realized that yes people did get murdered, but it was nothing like a detective story. Whereas adultery in the middle classes probably was quite common... But of course I agree with you that if you want to know details of life in her milieu during those years she is unmatchable, and her going on for so long means there are excellent opportunities for comparisons.

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