Tuesday Night Bloggers: Christie Tropes



The Tuesday Night Bloggers is an international blogging club consisting of The Passing Tramp, Bev Hankins, Brad Friedman, Helen Szamuely, Jeffrey Marks Moira Redmond [that’s me, Clothes in Books] and Noah Stewart.


We are named after an Agatha Christie collection, and our first project is to do a Christie-related post every Tuesday night for six weeks. These are the
links to previous entries -Curt at Passing Tramp is masterminding this, and providing a clearing house for links to the pieces at his blog, here.



Disguise
She could be anyone….



This week's entry is looking at

SOME PET AGATHA CHRISTIE THEORIES IN THE BOOKS:

- but of course, you must always beware of red herrings

  • An unhappy couple are better divorced. And if one party still loves the other – well, they should step aside in favour of their partner’s happiness. 
  • All impersonation is easy: if you dye your hair, or grow a beard*, or wear a big hat, no-one will recognize you. You can marry the same person twice without their realizing it, if you really put your mind to it.
*men only 
There is no end to the mysteries of this one: fake tan, wide-legged trousers, glasses, doing your hair differently – all will change your look completely.
 
disguise 2
And who are you my dear? Do we know you?

  • Every family has a young ne-er-do-well – however often you send him off to the colonies with £50, he will pop up again at the worst possible time. (Reading Christie’s autobiography, it is obvious that this is a direct report of her caddish brother Monty.)
  • People get a bit depressed if they’ve had the flu, and might easily commit suicide.
  • No one (and by no-one, I mean ‘none of us posh people who are in charge’) looks at the servants. No-one recognizes them, nor knows names, nor where they came from. Same applies to companions and governesses. No wonder some of them may turn to murder. Or not be who they seem to be. 
* just like Downton Abbey this week, though no murders yet.
  • Children have no respect for parents and no desire to please them or follow in their footsteps. They are all very dismissive of everything to do with their parents. This may be to do with Christie’s own daughter Rosalind, with whom she had a tricky (though loving) relationship – as said before on the blog, abandoning her for a year when she was a toddler to go jaunting off around the world, well that probably didn’t help matters.
  • There is an occasional other trope: the hapless child who works hard to get the respect and love of an unrewarding parent.
  • When challenged with a crime, in full Poirot or Marple gather-the-suspects mode, a murderer will always confess all, and explain how and why he or she did it. This despite the fact that they have just spent 100 pages going to enormous lengths to cover it up, to lie, to protect themselves. They will have merrily killed more people – accidental witnesses or blackmailers – in order to keep the secret. But just accuse them firmly enough and they will graciously admit everything.
  • Mistakes and accidents by murderers aren’t as common as you think. Can’t say too much. But sometimes you have to look past the assumptions. In an entry on Patricia Wentworth’s The Silent Pool, I said this:
Here’s a tip, should you ever be visiting the strange and remarkable world of Patricia Wentworth. If someone has a very distinctive piece of clothing or accessory, something brightly-coloured and obvious, on no account borrow it. You will be murdered. The experienced crime fiction reader can see it coming a mile off.
'The victim was killed by mistake!' is a frequent cry in murder stories generally. Let’s just say that with Christie there might be an extra step…


So that's my list. Part of the reason for writing this is that I am so hoping that other keen Christie fans will have their own tropes to suggest in the comments below.

The specially mysterious pictures are from blog favourite Perry Photography and used with her kind permission: you can see more of her pictures at Flickr, or at her website weddingsinitalytuscany. Her wonderful photos have featured on the blog many times before.

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




Comments

  1. Great stuff Moira - the first three in particular I have always thought myself but very interesting about the hapless child, hadn;t really thought of that but it's definitely there! Does the obsession with piisons count?

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    1. Yes poisons really were her thing weren't they? She had a very clinical (appropriate word!) attitude to them, I think because she had professional knowledge. It seems so unlikely doesn't it? I'm always impressed that she went back into pharmacy during WW2, when presumably she needn't have.

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    1. Thanks Lucy - really hoping you, of all people, might have something to add...

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  3. And there's a vivid portrait of Monty in The Sittaford Mystery.

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  4. Oh, these are absolutely wonderful, Moira! You've nailed these, and they're all right there, woven throughout Christie's work. If I were wearing a hat, it'd be off to you.

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    1. Here's hoping you'll do a similar post with your own favourite tropes Margot...

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  5. Love this, Moira. I am always struck by how readily people tuck into boxes of chocolates when they are not sure where they came from (or the label is forged). In fact, are there ANY unpoisoned chocs in AG's writing?

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    1. That's a great question, Chrissie, we must search out the unpoisoned chocolates. I feel that liqueur chocs are always particularly dangerous.

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  6. Wonderful stuff, Moira, although I wouldn't be so quick to pass off the "growing a beard" disguise as just for men! Early on, there's a wonderful example of . . . well, I'm sure you will remember in a bit! I think I could summon up some more Christie tropes if I had the time, but for now I would suggest that (SPOILER ALERT) Captain Hastings and Ariadne Oliver have earned their loyal place at Poirot's side; other than those two, Poirot hasn't been as lucky with his "Watsons."

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  7. Knew I'd got one... or two!

    The strong young woman who marries a weedy man and runs his life. There's one in After the Funeral - with a twist.

    The beautiful woman with strings of admirers - who can't keep a man! Triangle at Rhodes, Evil under the Sun.

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    1. Yes, excellent. She did like describing weird married relationships didn't she? - I think she did them really well, and convincingly.
      And your 2nd one was going round in my head for the list, but I couldn't pin it down as neatly as you did.

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  8. This is great! I've particularly noticed the hapless child and I do like how you point out that the murderers obligingly confess at the end.

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    1. Thanks Bev, she did clever character drawing, and clever misdirection. I often think she doesn't get enough credit for that (not among us of course!) - she used clichés and stereotypes to mislead the readers.

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    2. Yes, she was good on unflattering psychological types. ;-) And "human nature is much the same everywhere" - something few people want to hear.

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    3. Yes - sometimes they seem so English, yet her huge international popularity can't ALL be because people want to read about the UK - they must be recognizing the types of people she writes about...

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  9. Now you're just being incredibly mean to me I think....

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    1. If you do a post on hardcore noir tropes I promise I will read it...

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    2. We're simply going to have to have an Elmore Leonard month!

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  10. Witty and wise post!

    "All impersonation is easy: if you dye your hair, or grow a beard*, or wear a big hat, no-one will recognize you. You can marry the same person twice without their realizing it, if you really put your mind to it."

    This is a common, convenient view of Golden age mystery--it makes everything so much easier! The forgetful person who married the same person twice without realizing it will always stick in my craw though. Lord knows I'm a tolerant mystery reader, but Agatha went a bridge too far on that one.

    Christe's fellow female mystery writer at The Bodley Had had a father who abandoned the family when she was about a year old and ran off to Argentina. Such a handy place, that new world!

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    1. Yes, me too, I can go along with quite a lot of the disguise ones (I am very bad at recognizing people in casual situations) but when it's the long-term impersonations I start shaking my head. As well as 'married twice', there's 'went away for a few years and then just came back to the place he grew up in and no-one recognized him'. Hmmm.

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  11. Did Agatha Christie ever use the old notion that middle-aged women were invisible?(like governesses and servants)I can't remember.

    I loved what you wrote about Patricia Wentworth. She was a great companion for me this last winter via audio books. Her books are wonderful to listen to - better than reading them.




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    1. I tease, but I am a big fan of Patricia Wentworth, I do enjoy her books.
      And yes you are right about older women - I had that in mind at one point and forgot - apart from impersonation, she often uses the idea that one older lady is exactly the same as another, and they can easily pass for each other.

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  12. Moira, these are some very interesting theories in Christie's novels. I particularly liked the one where children have no respect for parents. I need to pay closer attention to underlying themes in the books I read.

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    1. I sometimes think I miss underlying themes altogether Prashant, I'm always impressed by other people spotting them. But sometimes I can notice something....

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  13. Moira, I envy your ability to do this. Possibly, I just haven't read enough Christie recently to see these things, although I think it really comes back to the fact that I read for the moment and uncritically (which makes it very hard to write decent reviews). That was more true when I was younger but still...

    Impersonations and disguises have never worked well with me in mysteries, and it comes down to the author's writing style and ability to entertain to overcome such plots... for me. And of course, Christie does that very well.

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    1. Thanks Tracy - I'm sure you could do it for some of the writers or genres that you love. And yes - impersonation is always a stumbling block, sometimes you just have to put your critical faculties to one side. Mind you, I am really bad at recognizing people in normal life (even without disguises) so I shouldn't really criticize.

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