Dress Down Sunday: 1929 book & ‘… a very transparent negligee…’


The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

published 1929 - This is my book of 1929 for Rich Westwood's Crime of the Century meme over at his Past Offences blog



Seven Dials 1929 2

[Excitements in a country house in the middle of the night.]

The Countess's return to consciousness was very different from that of Jimmy Thesiger. It was more prolonged and infinitely more artistic….

“For God's sake, Bill, leave her alone,” said Bundle crossly. “She'll be all right.”And with an expert hand she flipped a good deal of cold water on to the exquisite makeup of the Countess's face.

The Countess flinched and sat up. She …drew the folds of a very transparent negligée closer around her.

“It is coming back to me,” she murmured. “Yes, it is coming back.” She looked at the little crowd grouped around her. Perhaps something in the attentive faces struck her as unsympathetic…

“Have some water,” Bundle said coldly.

The Countess refused water. Jimmy, kindlier to beauty in distress, suggested a cocktail. The Countess reacted favourably to this suggestion. When she had swallowed it, she looked round once more, this time with a livelier eye….

The Countess's negligée, as previously mentioned, was thin - a mere veil of orange chiffon. Through it Bundle saw distinctly below the right shoulder blade a small black mole.

commentary: This was one of the first Christies I read as a teenager (a long time ago), and I loved it then and love it now. It’s one of what Vicki describes as the flapper adventures, and it contains secret societies, exotic adventuresses, and some very untrustworthy people. It’s silly, fun and entertaining – and one of the clever things about it I can’t mention without spoilering….

As a book of 1929 it is splendid for demonstrating what I think of as the ‘un-Julian-Fellowes’ or ‘un-Downton’ effect. As I’m fond of droning on about helpfully pointing out, Christie is full of contemporary details that no current writer could put into a book about the 1920s, 30s or 40s.

A favourite phrase from the book is a young man asking an older woman, Lady Coote, where she lives:
‘Where are you hanging out now?’
Any modern writer who put that into a 20s drama would be hammered for anachronism.

And here is heroine Eileen/Bundle (leftover from The Secret of Chimneys) She is nice: very contemporary, and has a lovely relationship with her father. She is independent – something her father takes for granted:
“Eileen settles her own affairs. If she came to me tomorrow and said she was going to marry the chauffeur, I shouldn't make any objections. It's the only way nowadays. Your children can make life damned unpleasant if you don't give in to them in every way. I say to Bundle, 'Do as you like, but don't worry me,' and really, on the whole, she is amazingly good about it.”
I’m sure not all young women were as lucky as Bundle, but it just wasn’t a big deal, apparently. She drives her car (very fast), dresses in breeches and jumper for adventure (not a negligee as the lady above) and when she is knocked out, her (cloche?) hat protects her from worse injury.

seven dials breechesseven dials cloche
At one point Jimmy, needing to get Bundle away, enters the drawing-room and says
“I say, will you come and see those etchings now? They’re waiting for you.”
This made me look up the story of the phrase ‘see my etchings’ – highly enjoyable but very inconclusive. This usage suggests that it was a known phrase, but had not reached its double entendre moment, as Jimmy says it in front of the married women who would be seen as Bundle’s chaperones. (Was it the Netflix and Chill invitation of its day?)

And Seven Dials is amusing – I loved this when one of the young chaps is going to pretend an interest in politics in order to get invited on a dangerous weekend trip:
“But you know, Bundle, it's too damned risky.” 

“Stuff,” said Bundle. “If George does find him out, he won't blame you." 
“That's not it at all,” said Bill. “I mean it's too damned risky for Jimmy. Before he knows where he is, he'll be parked down somewhere like Tooting West, pledged to kiss babies and make speeches. You don't know how thorough Codders is and how frightfully energetic.”

When Bundle has been knocked out, she enjoys hearing her companion’s shocked and loving tribute (‘Darling Bundle… I love you… what shall I do?’) so much that she pretends not to have come round, staying still and silent so as to hear some more.

Also there is a blissful list of the secret societies operating in London at that time, provided by Superintendent Battle for Bundle:

The Blood Brothers of St. Sebastian.
The Wolf Hounds.
The Comrades of Peace.
The Comrades Club.
The Friends of Oppression.
The Children of Moscow.
The Red Standard Bearers.
The Herrings.
The Comrades of the Fallen.

Anyone looking for a name for their thriller could do worse… or you could make one of those tables, where you could pick a word from two different columns to make a new secret society name.

TracyK has also chosen this book for her 1929 contribution - see her review over at Bitter Tea and Mystery.

The doughty young women in black and white are from a girls’ adventure annual of 1927.

The negligee is a 1920s one from the NYPL – they have a collection of ‘loungewear’ to gladden the heart, from smoking caps to teagowns to moustachioed fellows in solid robes. We think this generation invented loungewear. Ha.

The second picture down is there because I couldn't do a 1920s Christie and NOT show a lovely evening dress for the fancy dinner party which of course features. 

More Agatha Christie all over the blog, click on the label below.


  1. Oh, this is a fun one, isn't it, Moira? And you are absolutely right about the way Christie shows us those lovely contemporary details. I really enjoyed that example of language that you used; it's exactly the sort of thing Christie did. And the social commentary is great, too, I think. I do like Bundle's character as well (and the nickname - Bundle! - you have to love it!). Glad you chose this one.

    1. So glad you are a fellow fan (but not at all surprised) - I think I will read this one every couple of years for ever and ever, and always enjoy it.

  2. Thanks. Moira. Must get this one off the shelf. I need cheering up at the moment . . . You can no doubt guess why!
    Love the list of secret societies.

    1. Yes to this for recommended entertainment value, and yes to reasons not to be cheerful. Onward and upward...

  3. Oh, I love this book. Christie's inter-War thrillers are enormously enjoyable, a breathless mixture of spirited 'Gels', decent chaps,secret societies, and souped up roadsters bombing along the country lanes of England. Val McDermid thinks that there is a strong element of tongue-in-cheek in them, and I tend to agree. These sorts of things were normally the domain of writers like Sapper, Dornford Yates and their ilk, but Christie has a much lighter touch and a much more interesting main character. The end of the book tends to suggest that there are more adventures ahead for Bundle, but this never came to pass. I wonder if she felt that an aristocratic heroine was not in tune with the straitened times ahead with the Great Depression just round the corner. If so it's a shame, as I can see elements of the earlier Simon Templar stories, with derring do mixing with a cheery insouciance. I could see Bundle fitting in very well with the thriller heroes of the '30s, having a very good war where she becomes something high up in the intelligence community, becoming a best-selling thriller novelist and finally snuffing it aged 106, having adventures right up until the end.

    Two points:
    1) I've always loved the fact that her father is the Marquess of Caterham. I'm not sure why, but the fact that it's Caterham makes me howl.

    2) The Herrings? Do they attend meetings with fish masks over their faces. Are they Red Herrings?

    1. Every time I read this one I wonder if I won't like it so much, and every time I love it.
      I think my favourite line comes when Bundle tells her father 'you will be losing me', meaning she will be getting married. And he replies 'don't tell me that you're suffering from galloping consumption.' He was such a good character, only AC could afford to waste a character like that and not use him again... she calls him at the end 'the egoist' and implies he might be off with a young woman. Such possibilities. As you say - he could have been backgrounds in the Adventures of Bundle.

  4. Lovely post, Moira. I liked all of the parts of the book that you quoted from. This is one of those books that gets better and better afterwards when you think about it. Some books are just the opposite. Thanks for linking to my post.

    1. So glad we both enjoyed it! Have you got a 1944 book at the ready...?

    2. I have 3 choices and I want to read them all ... which isn't going to happen. Fire Will Freeze by Margaret Millar; The Opening Door by Helen Reilly (gorgeous Dell Mapback cover); or The Book of the Dead which you have already done and is one of the few Elizabeth Daly books that I have not read.

  5. Soz - surely you must have covered every Christie book there ever was about 3 times each by now? (Fingers crossed, eh.......almost has me wishing for a Mitford post)

    1. No there are LOTS more to go. The war is relentless.


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