Agatha Christie: Female Genius, Underrated

Agatha Christie’s detective fiction is not a leisurely fantasy but a clever commentary on social class. Why is that not recognised?

Agatha Christie’s “cosy, conservative Englishness”?

“Much of Christie’s work seeks to bolster the rigid class system,” argues Christine Ro in her Ploughshares essay.

Raymond Chandler’s “realistic portrait of a corrupted city”?

Whodunit vs hardboiled thriller

One of the reasons for the striking discrepancy in the assessment of Christie’s and Chandler’s literary works is the difference in their respective subgenres: the whodunit and the hardboiled thriller.

Christie’s vs Chandler’s representations of class

1. Old money vs the nouveaux riches

2. Upper class vs working class

“[o]ne rarely finds much social breadth in this [detective] fiction. Servants appear, but rarely as developed characters” (28).

According to Ginger S. Frost, women in the nineteenth-century England“were not to leap too many social barriers. Middle-class prescriptive literature emphasised the dangers of interclass love. One writer in the 1890s insisted that all cross-class matings ended in ‘trouble and humiliation and shame’” (81).

For instance, “[a]ny woman working in a bar or hotel, particularly as a barmaid, was suspected of being a prostitute, or at best a woman of easy virtue” (Frost 82).

in the 1930s, films, together with popular novels and magazine stories, portray sexually emancipated women, and even some gold diggers, sympathetically. Unlike the earlier heroines of popular literature, who face threats to their virtue or whose illicit sex leads to death or ruined lives, the sexual activism of the new heroines does not necessarily prevent them ending up happily married […]. (101)

3. Little Man vs Noble Knight

Light argues that, because of his status “as a foreigner, Poirot cannot be a gentleman. He is, however, a bourgeois and proud of it. […] Like so many of the anti-heroes of the period, Poirot is ‘a little man’” (78).

As Knight argues, Christie “alters Doyle’s pattern towards a passive problem-solving that rejects romantic male heroism as a protecting force. Hercule Poirot is a fussy, unheroic figure. His physical vanity is foolish but his brain works well: what is of value in him is not tied to masculine stereotypes” (108).

“Parallel with the idea of chivalric honor runs another form of reimagining the medieval past of more appeal to those whose social status did not allow them to identify with knights and ladies” (6).

Despite still not widely accepted as a historically and socially relevant author, Christie’s novel certainly proves to be far more than “a leisured-class fantasy” (Ro).

Bibliography

Creative Writing student in Nottingham. Published by The London Magazine, Ambit, Firewords, Poetry Society, The Moth, Acumen, etc. On Twitter as @VitovaDenisa

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