Sunday, 18 December 2016

Xmas Book of 1960, and a Christmas Pudding



 Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. You can see some of the past pictures  in this entry, and find (endless!) more Xmas books via the tags at the bottom of the page. Today's book is doing double duty... 


The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie



published 1960
 


 
 
Adventure Xmas pud 3
 


[Hercule Poirot is talking to the cook at a country house on Christmas Day]

Mrs Ross was the queen of the kitchen quarters…

‘A good Christmas pudding should be made some weeks before and allowed to wait. The longer they’re kept, within reason, the better they are. I mind now that when I was a child and we went to church every Sunday we’d start listening for the collect that begins “stir up O Lord we beseech thee” because that collect was the signal, as it were, that the pudding should be made that week. And so they always were…. And so it should have been here this year. As it was, that pudding was only made three days ago… However, I kept to the old custom. Everyone in the house had to come out into the kitchen and have a stir and make a wish. That’s an old custom, sir, and I’ve always held to it… The young gentlemen, Miss Bridget and the London gentleman who’s staying here, and his sister and Mr David and Miss Diana – Mrs Middleton, I should say – all had a stir they did.’

 
commentary: This is my book of 1960 for Rich Westwood’s Crime of the Century over at Past Offences. I didn’t feel there was any other choice possible given that the blog is full of Christmas books this month…

It isn’t Christie’s sharpest or most deadly book, but it IS very seasonal and enjoyable, and she says at the beginning that the title story is an exercise in nostalgia. Hercule Poirot goes for a traditional family country-house Christmas (having first, or course, checked that there is central heating – very sensible of him) and gets caught up in some crimes and some seasonal jollity. The most surprising and shocking thing in the story is not any of the nefarious goings-on, but - SPOILER - that Poirot gets kissed under the mistletoe, and enjoys it.

I think we can all guess from the extract above that the Christmas pudding is under deep suspicion, and that there are plenty of possible malefactors.

There is something very 1960 about the description of one young woman:
‘Sarah has got in with what they call the coffee-bar set. She won’t go to dances or come out properly or be a deb or anything of that kind. Instead she has two rather unpleasant rooms in Chelsea down by the river and wears these funny clothes that they like to wear, and black stockings or bright green ones. Very thick stockings. (So prickly, I always think!) And she goes about without washing or combing her hair.’

Adventure Xmas Pud 1960


It made me think of Lady Montdore from Love in a Cold Climate who was ‘rather cheered up by the idea that some poor ladies have to live in Chelsea.’ If only some of them had bought property there back in the day…

The other stories in the book – Christie says they are a menu

Adventure Xmas Pud 1960 2

of main courses, entrees and a sorbet – are enjoyable enough, not bad stories at all. The Under Dog contains both that Christie favourite, gold mines in Africa, and also a green chiffon evening dress – which Poirot can examine because, as the maid says, ‘we all know that Frenchmen are interested in ladies’ dresses’.

Altogether a light and easy Christmas read.

The wonderful top picture is Making the Empire Xmas Pudding from the UK National Archives.

Beat girl outfit from Kristine.

Green dress picture from the NY Public Library




















10 comments:

  1. I've always liked this adventure, Moira. It is, as you say, light and enjoyable. And I like the way Poirot interacts with the young people in this story. I won't say more because of spoilers, but I do like it.

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    1. Yes, I think we feel the same way. Not a rigorous cold crime at all, but none the worse for that!

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  2. This story highlights Christie's fondness of taking an old story and revamping it if the need arose. It appeared under the same title way back in 1923, was reprinted as CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE in a couple of collections back in the '30s, was slightly revamped and retitled as THE THEFT OF THE ROYAL RUBY, and finally completely rewritten and retitled again for this novella length version back in 1960!
    This longer version is the best of the bunch, not only because there is more to it, but because the element of nostalgia is obviously more deeply felt in the 70 year old author than it is in the 33 year old one (although in novels like AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL she showed herself to be quite suspicious of such feelings).

    The description of Sarah reminds one that although this was 1960, the '60s hadn't really arrived yet. Although Royal patronage for young ladies to be presented at court had been abolished by 1958, her elders are still wondering why she doesn't 'come out properly' or be a deb. Things hadn't really changed yet.

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    1. Thanks for the history. I agree that it works well with more details and nostalgia... Christie is somewhat unpindownable in her views.
      The Beatniks trying to lure away the debs turn up in Nancy Mitford too.

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  3. She weaves in the dressing case Archie gave her before they were married, and seeing the ancient Mesopotamian version in a museum.

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  4. This story always made me feel like a little boy in that I kept crying out, "Where's the blood? Where are the bodies?" It always seemed like a cheat coming from Christie, at least as far as detection goes. Maybe if I re-read it in my, ahem, advancing years, I will accept it for what it is and enjoy it more!

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    1. When you are as old as I am, Brad, you will manage a bit of affection for it!

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  5. I will have to look out for this one, and maybe read it next year.

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    1. It would make a good seasonal read for you Tracy...

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