LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Sarah wondered very much whether Carol Boynton would keep her appointment that night. On the whole she rather doubted it. She was afraid that Carol would have a sharp reaction after her semi-confidences of the morning.
Nevertheless she made her preparations, slipping on a blue satin dressing-gown, and getting out her little spirit lamp and boiling up water.
She was just on the point of giving Carol up (it was after one o’clock) and going to bed, when there was a tap on her door. She opened it and drew quickly back to let Carol come in.
The latter said breathlessly: “I was afraid you might have gone to bed…”
Sarah’s manner was carefully matter-of-fact. “Oh no, I was waiting for you. Have some tea, will you? It’s real Lapsang Souchong.”
commentary: I did a blogpost on this book during the recent Tuesday Night Club’s Foreign Crime session, but thought there was more to say about Sarah, the heroine. She’s not one of Christie’s standout females - in my opinion they come in The Hollow, Crooked House, Five Little Pigs, Man in the Brown Suit, The Moving Finger …. (Hmm, I feel a list coming on. And would love to know others’ favourites. Margot? Chrissie? Kate?)
But she is an interesting character. She’s a doctor, just qualified, and very interested in medical news and psychology. She has come, alone, on a trip to what was then called the Near East after breaking off her engagement ‘before she went back to start working in earnest.’ She will end up in Petra when a murder occurs.
Level-headed career women are not as uncommon in Christie as some commentators would have you think: about this very book Robert Barnard says ‘how Christie did dislike professional women!’ But, for example, in Five Little Pigs alone there is a governess and an archaeologist, both happy. However Sarah IS unusual in both being committed to medicine and open to the idea of marriage. Christie herself was ‘educated at home’, certainly was well-read and at home in the world, but lived at a time and in a milieu where she never expected to work. But in the end she did: she worked in a chemists’ dispensary during both world wars, and her books were the result of tremendous hard work and commitment.
And those books reflect the world rather than trying to change it: yes, many of her young women are in jobs they dislike, jobs (shop assistant, companion, secretary) where they are treated badly and patronized, and understandably they would like to leave those jobs, and so will welcome marriage. But that must have reflected the bitter reality for many women at that time.
And then, many of her young women are adventurous and independent: the heroines at least are not shrinking violets. Sarah is scrappy and mettlesome: She ‘was of too imperious a temperament herself to brook a calm assertion of autocracy [by a partner]. Like many high-spirited women, Sarah believed herself to admire strength. She had always told herself that she wanted to be mastered. When she met a man capable of mastering her she found she did not like it at all!’ And, no spoilers, her final choice (and you definitely feel it is her choice) will not be bossing her around.
She’s a nice counter-example to a couple of rather discomfiting passages concerning Lynn in Taken at the Flood, which some of us have to skim over…
She makes some interesting comments to an older lady who makes anodyne remarks about women who succeed:
“It’s nice when any human being is able to accomplish something worth while! It doesn’t matter a bit whether it’s a man or a woman… I do hate this differentiation between the sexes. ‘The modern girl has a thoroughly business-like attitude towards life.’ That sort of thing. It’s not a bit true! Some girls are business-like and some aren’t. Some men are sentimental and muddle-headed,. Others are clear-headed and logical. There are just different types of brains. Sex only matters where sex is directly concerned.”--the reader suspects these might be Christie’s own thoughts on the matter. And fair enough.
In the previous entry, I used some of the wonderful 1930s pictures of Petra from Matson collection at the Library of Congress. So as well as the robes, I included a few more.
Bedouins of Petra
Ascent to Hubta Stairs.
‘Two visitors finishing their lunch.’