Dress Down Sunday: Appointment with Death

 
published 1938

 

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES




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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.”

 
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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.

 
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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.’


























Comments

  1. I love that comment that Sarah makes about sex roles, Moira! And I've no doubt Christie would agree. I always thought Christie did a solid job of exploring women's roles in the rapidly-changing world. As you say, she herself was not expected to work. But she did, and I think she understood the challenges that women faced (and still do) when it comes balancing goals, work, home, etc.. And as for Christie's standout females? Lots to think about there, so thanks. I may just have to do a post about that. Oh, and I know what you mean about Lynn Marchmont...

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    1. Would love to hear your list Margot! I know you are just as interested as I am in the portrayal of women down the ages in our favourite genre. And in Lynn and her problems...

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  2. I'll have to give your idea of a list of Christie's standout female characters some thought. Good idea for a list.

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    1. Yes do, would love to know your thoughts...

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  3. Hmm . . . You only asked your women friends for a list? I'm hurt, Moira. All in all, the women in Christie are more varied and vibrant. I would be hard-pressed to create a list of men, but a top-ten list of female characters would be a cinch. Some of them, sadly, appear in the worst books, like Katherine Grey and Rosalie Tamplin in Blue Train. But those characters make re-reading such books more worthwhile!

    We should do a group post or a Verdict of Us All entry!!! :)

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    1. You are absolutely correct to call me on that Brad, and no offence intended! I would be very interested indeed to hear your list and think you have a great plan for Verdict...

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  4. You've got me thinking here, Moira. Will have to give it some thought. Yes, The Hollow. Don't forget Miss Lemon who is perfectly content and aspires to invent the perfect filing system. And of course there was the surplus woman question in the 20s. There simply weren't enough men left to go round. Many women had no prospect of marrying and HAD to have a job.

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    1. I hadn't thought of Miss Lemon. And I have a soft spot for Ariadne Oliver too. I hope you will make a list...

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  5. Lots of women worked in the 19th century and before WWI.

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    1. Indeed, but not particularly in Christie's milieu.

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  6. I'm very fond of those '20s Christie heroines like Bundle Brent and Frankie Derwent-fast driving flappers with a core of steel. However, the heroines that seem closest to Christie's heart were those like Anne Beddingfield. Sensible, determined women who have a desire for adventure but also appreciate the stability of a loving partner. You think of Christie travelling the world in her youth, being one of the first British people to surf, and it does feel like a bit of idealised self-portraiture. She was, in some ways, straddling two worlds. Born during the Victorian era, but becoming a young woman in the post-War world of the '20s, it's not surprising that her attitudes don't always seem consistent. Interesting to contrast her with Sayers and Allingham, who were slightly younger and less privileged. They both had determined, capable women marry their heroes, but both are slightly different in character.

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    1. yes, interesting points. I'm thinking this out as I go along - but Sayers and Allingham both had very idealized marriages for their heroes (whatever unhappy or more realistic unions we saw along the way), and you can't imagine that in Christie, I just don't think she'd have written in that slightly-embarrassing wish fulfilment way. I wonder what Mr Ariadne Oliver was like...

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  7. There is something very cold-eyed and cynical about Christie. The painful end to her first marriage had a profound influence on her as a writer (and possibly as a person). It's not that she didn't believe in happy marriages, but she was aware that they required effort on both sides. Even Tommy & Tuppence feel like a real couple, in that they complement one another.

    I suspect that Mr Oliver was probably related to the second wife of Dr Watson. You know that they're there, but you don't get any real clues about who they are. When the Beeb did the full adaption of all the Sherlock Holmes stories on Radio 4 a few years back, I was rather pleased that they introduced an entire subplot in one of the stories about Watson's second marriage, with Hannah Gordon as the lady in question.

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    1. Yes! It's so funny when people (who plainly haven't read her) think she is 'cosy' with soft views of people. There is little romance in her...
      Hannah Gordon is perfect for Mrs Watson.

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  8. Looking forward to getting to this one. It is about 8 books away from where I am now in the Poirot stories.

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    1. I hope you will get on with your Christie reading, TRacy, as I want to hear what you have to say...

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  9. Christie wrote a play based on this book which is well worth a read. She dropped Poirot, as she did in several of her dramatizations, and instead it is Sarah that solves the crime. And I hope it is not too much of a spoiler if I reveal that the solution is not the same as in the book either. (Another thing Christie also did on other occasions when adopting her novels into plays.)

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    1. Oh that's interesting, I had no idea there was a play, and Sarah would make a great sleuth. I wish someone would revive some of the plays, I'm sure there would be an audience.

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