Young and severe in her black dress, Elinor sat in front of Mrs Welman’s massive writing-table in the library. Various papers were spread out in front of her. She had finished interviewing the servants and Mrs Bishop. Now it was Mary Gerrard who entered the room and hesitated a minute by the doorway.
‘You wanted to see me, Miss Elinor?’ she said.
Elinor looked up. ‘Oh, yes, Mary. Come here and sit down, will you?’
Mary came and sat in the chair Elinor indicated. It was turned a little way towards the window, and the light from it fell on her face, showing the dazzling purity of the skin and bringing out the pale gold of the girl’s hair.
Elinor… thought ‘Is it possible to hate anyone so much and not show it?’
observations: I was astonished to find this book was published in 1933. That’s because it wasn’t, despite what it says on the copyright page of my paperback. The correct date of 1939 makes much more sense - for a start there’s a reference to discussing possible husbands for Princess Elizabeth (the current Queen) which is less strange when she was 13 than when she was 7.
But the real giveaway is a reference to more relaxed divorce laws, the result of a 1937 Act of Parliament. A couple tied together by the insanity of one partner, unable to divorce – this used to crop up often enough in books of the first part of the 20th century, and it is agreed in the book that the new law was much kinder and more sensible. Mind you, in the closing pages of Sad Cypress, an important character is told ‘you are going to a sanatorium’: ‘that’s all arranged… Quiet place. Lovely gardens.’ This is shown as being a kind thought – perhaps like going to a spa today – and there is no suggestion this person is being bundled away, but it comes over very oddly indeed.
Another classic theme comes with the fishpaste sandwiches as a possible vehicle for poison – detective story fans find it difficult to take the snack seriously in real life, as it was such a favourite in books. We cannot be the only household where anything being offered around is accompanied with the words ‘Sandwich Mrs Bickleigh?’
Sad Cypress has an excellent plot, unlikely but fairplay, and the character of Elinor is beautifully done – Christie has her set ideas on the relations of men and women, but inside the clichés you get a stamp of conviction and the voice of experience. There is even a joking reference to Aunt Agatha’s Advice Column for tips on romances - is it a strange choice for her to have used her own first name?
Links up with: Agatha Christie has featured many times – click on the label below.
The picture is from a treasure trove of photos of utility clothes, taken by the Ministry of Information and recently released by the Imperial War Museum. Sorrel in Theatre Shoes thinks she will be reduced to wearing a utility dress to a first night, and tries to be brave about it...