Agatha Christie Week: A Post-War Gem



Agatha Christie was born on September 15th, 1890, so to celebrate her 125th anniversary there’ll be a week of entries on her books, on her life, and on a book that influenced her….

 
Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie


published 1948
 


Taken at the Flood
 


At Long Willows Rowley Cloade had just finished making himself a cup of tea when a shadow falling across the kitchen table made him look up.

If for just a moment he thought the girl standing just inside the door was Lynn, his disappointment turned to surprise when he saw it was Rosaleen Cloade.

She was wearing a frock of some peasant material in bright orange and green - the artificial simplicity of which had run into more money than Rowley could ever have imagined possible.
Up to now he had always seen her dressed in expensive and somewhat towny clothes which she wore with an artificial air - much, he had thought, as a mannequin might display dresses that did not belong to her but to the firm who employed her.

This afternoon in the broad peasant patches of gay colour, he seemed to see a new Rosaleen Cloade. Her Irish origin was more noticeable, the dark curling hair and the lovely blue eyes put in with the smutty finger. Her voice, too, had a softer Irish sound instead of the careful rather mincing tones in which she usually spoke.

“It's such a lovely afternoon,” she said. “So I came for a walk.”


observations: What a post-war delight this one is. Ignore the title – a pointless quotation from Julius Ceasar, without even the justification of a Nine-Tailors-like climax, not even a Twenty Foot Drain giving way. But it’s an under-rated look at the aftermath of WW2, and the people who are restless and don’t want to go back to their boring pre-war lives.

There are eyebrow-raisers for modern readers, like this mother-daughter conversation:
‘All these discharged soldiers – they attack girls.’
‘I expect the girls ask for it.’
And Lynn’s attitude (to violence and danger and men’s use of them) doesn’t get any better as the book goes on.

I pointed out in the Guardian a while back the unexpected moment when a maid invites a visitor to join the family, but he ‘negatived this and said he would wait in the study’. It doesn’t sound like a 1948 construction but there it is.

Rosaleen’s brother David is a magnificent character – worrying, violent, unpleasant but with a certain charisma. The TV version of Taken at the Flood is raised to great heights by a startlingly impressive portrayal of him by the actor Elliot Cowan. (Despite the usual mad plot changes.)

There are some standard Christie tropes - impersonation, old men rambling, mysterious strangers - but all are well done, and bring a dark shadow to the sunny village. Also ‘eyes put in with the smutty finger’, above, another of her phrases that I’ve never understood. Help, anyone?

The explanation at the end is very long and complex, but this time it is justifiable and has its own logic: there are some good clues, and a few moments where the reader says ‘yes of course.’

The picture is from the NYPL collection, fashion of the 1940s.



















Comments

  1. I'm featuring your posts over on the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival: http://acrccarnival.blogspot.com.au/

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    1. Great! thanks Kerrie. For other fans - Kerrie's blog at Mysteries in Paradise has is an amazing clearing house of Christie posts, her own and links to others'.

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  2. The smutty finger thing is a bit of a cliché - it means a certain type of smoky, dark blue eye that is considered very Irish.

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    1. Thanks Daniel - it still isn't conjuring up a clear picture to me! I'm not very good on noticing people's eyes as a general thing, which probably doesn't help...

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  3. I've always liked the way Christie portrays David Hunter, too, Moira. It certainly shows the challenges faced when a country tries to get back to peacetime preoccupations. There are people who've been utterly changed by the war, and you can't ignore that. I've always also liked the character of Frances Cloade. She's got interesting depths, she's intelligent, and so on. Christie created several strong and interesting female characters, and I think she's one of them.

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    1. Yes excellent points, Margot, and many of Christie's women were good, rounded, real characters.

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  4. Yes, I've always liked this one, Moira, ever since I read it as a teenager. I think that for some people the war was the best time of their lives and they did struggle to adjust afterwards.

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    1. Yes, and it's always good to read something written at the time, without the benefit of hindsight - many people write about that era, but the contemporary feel of Christie adds something.

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  5. The "smutty finger" refers to the black eyelashes, not the eye colour. See Andy Burnham!

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    1. I really never got that until today, having seen Christie and others use the phrase a few times - I'm so glad I asked!

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  6. Peasant dresses were a thing in the late 40s (a quick Google reveals)!

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    1. I just took a look too - interesting....

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    1. Silver lining: nothing to threaten the embargo...

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  8. The outfit in the image looks quilted. Is it? Or is it just heavy material, or am I just making things up?

    This sounds good, and I am glad I have it to look forward to. It will be a while though. I love your idea of a week of Christie entries, and look forward to them all.

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    1. I think you might be right. It's possible that the character in the book was wearing more of a summer dress, but I thought this image was true to the spirit of the description, that she was not wearing fancy sophisticated clothes.

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    2. I just noticed because I once quilted a jacket (different style) and I remember the boxiness of it. Looking closer it looks like a quilted vest over a blouse OR just the back and front quilted and the sleeves not. Who knows. If it was a jacket, I would love to have one.

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    3. I agree with you - it's a nicely-assembled outfit. I can't sew at all, so no danger of me making myself anything like this...

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  9. Moira, I have not been particularly fond of many of her titles which was more than made up by the stories inside.

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    1. I agree with you Prashant - I'm not sure that she was good at choosing titles. I wonder if her publishers argued with her? Anyway, as you say, the content makes up for that.

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  10. I remember liking this one a lot Moira, definitely one of the best of the darker postwar Poirot with a real sense fo texture to it.

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    1. Yes, definitely an atmospheric tour de force, with some memorable scenes.

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