In the process of a murder investigation every human being in the village, in the community, or just within the family can be accused of being a murderer. Female characters may seem to be incompatible with the killer because of their outer appearance and feminine behavior, but the novels selected prove quite the contrary. This chapter deals with the overall female representation in the novels, focusing on the murderous tendencies of the individual women characters. Ladies, housewives, mothers, maidens, secretaries, widows, crones, spinsters, working women, all kinds of female representatives rank among the central characters of the four novels discussed and it is out of them that both the criminals and the victims of the crime are constituted. The slayer endeavors to be as invisible as possible and takes advantage of the anonymity and the people’s indifference in the community that neglects the small details which finally leads the investigator in Christie’s Murder is Easy, to the murderer. In principle, female criminal characters and women suspects represent unconventional people, either because of their dissatisfaction with the contemporary situation and their role in society, or because of some passion or frustrated love relationships. The authors discussed always give the explanation for such a behavior and interpret the outrageous tendencies. Sometimes the deviant obsession drives the woman to hurt the hateful object and actually to commit the crime, but in some cases women become only the victims of people’s opinions and thoughts and it is up to the Great Detective to locate the evidence and save the innocent.
The lovelorn affection, dishonorable parting, determined fight for the improvement, or domestic violence and displeasure label the women criminal tendencies by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ruth Rendell, and Frances Fyfield. The individual movements of the particular detective author explored are pronounced in the following sub-chapters identifying the specific features of female criminality.
4.1Christie’s Feminine Slayer
The range of “Christie’s murderers include young mothers and a 12-year-old girl… It is at least arguable that the idea of one’s own husband as a murderer, or the woman next door, is potentially as disturbing as locating the pathological ‘out there’ on the mean streets” (Light 82). Murder is Easy is a village mystery where several people happen to die and nobody suspect anyone of those murders except an elderly lady, Miss Pinkerton, who anticipates a certain relation among the dead people and puzzles out the mystery of murder series. She travels to London and meets Luke Fitzwilliam, a former police officer, on the train: “Oh dear – very interesting. Really, it’s quite a coincidence – I mean, that you should be travelling in this carriage. Because, you see, this business I’m going up to town about – well, actually it is Scotland Yard I’m going” (MIE 17). Unfortunately, she gets killed in a car accident before she can report anything. Weeks later when reading about the death of the elderly lady and of a certain doctor from the same village, Luke recalls the conversation on the train and at that point he starts to investigate.
The murderer can be anyone from the village and Luke has a disadvantage of not knowing the people from the rural community. According to Alison Light, the slayer behaves very professionally and at the first sight nobody can suspect him or her: “in fact niceness can itself provide a motive… The sweet old lady in the old people’s home may be a hardened killer” (Light 82). Luke slowly proceeds step by step towards finding the real killer of the people in the village although his investigation gets complicated since Christie produces an intricate slayer, as Light puts it: “in Sayers or Allingham it is often quite clear from page one who are the really nice people who will never turn out to be murderers, yet it is precisely the nice people in Christie who make the cleverest killers – Peril at End House, Murder is Easy, and Curtain all provide examples” (Light 82). The first allusion to the actual murderer in the novel is made in the beginning of the text, intentionally according to Father Knox’ rules, when the author introduces Miss Waynflete, who plays an honorable and respectable elderly lady and who “kindly got him [Tommy] some odd window-cleaning work” (MIE 62), but that job becomes fatal for Tommy. Nobody suspects Miss Waynflete’s evil tendencies since she appears to be an ordinary elderly lady who cares about other people in the village. Rowland also discusses female criminals in one of her chapters ‘Feminism Is Criminal’, where she claims that any potential ‘occult’ in the feminine is usually reserved for crones (Rowland 161). Miss Waynflete seems to belong to this category. At first she seems to be a very decent elderly lady:
Her thin form was neatly dressed in a tweed coat and skirt and she wore a grey silk blouse with a cairngorm brooch. Her hat, a conscientious felt, sat squarely upon her well-shaped head. Her face was pleasant and her eyes, through their pince-nez, decidedly intelligent. She reminded Luke of those nimble black goats that one sees in Greece. Her eyes held just that quality of mild inquiring surprise (MIE 70-71).
The male detective protagonist thoroughly questions Miss Waynflete and concludes that “Miss Waynflete differed from Miss Pinkerton in having more logical mind and better process of thought” (MIE 73) which again points out at the cleverness of the murderess and the ability to mock people by pretending to be someone else. At the end of the text, Bridget reveals her true identity and thinks: “She’s like a goat. God! How like a goat she is! A goat’s always been an evil symbol! I see why now! I was right – I was right in that fantastic idea of mine!” (MIE 291). The symbolism draws attention to the picture of a goat that associates with the Satan and his personification of evil power. Miss Waynflete reminds both Bridget and Luke of some kind of a goat which discloses her evil part of her character. The crone characteristic of Honoria Waynflete is revealed by Bridget; the “slender-built” makes her a “frail creature,” however, “her strength was the strength of the insane. She fought like a devil and her insane strength was stronger than the sane muscled strength of Bridget” (MIE 299).
Alison Light declares that “the idea of the social mask is, of course, much older than class societies, but in the whodunit it is robbed of emotional and moral force, retaining only a sense that theatre, however artificial, is a surviving form of collectivity” (Light 84). The ‘social mask’ representing the theatrical scene of the novel defines the characteristics of the murderer who must cover her acts to stay in anonymity. Luke Fitzwilliam decides to reveal his true purpose of visiting Wychwood and first goes to Miss Waynflete since he thinks she might have guessed the motive of the killer or his/her identity. Miss Waynflete pretends to be very helpful and agrees with Luke’s intentions when he wants to look around the place: “Do you mind if I go round and have a try myself?” asks Luke. “Not at all. I think it is a very good idea” (MIE 176), answers Miss Waynflete and Luke goes to climb up to Amy’s room to see if the murderer could do that. In addition to the pretending role of the murderer, another two characteristic features closely connected with the slayer are represented by the carefulness and premeditation. To commit a crime without being caught means to be very cautious and accurate in the procedure. Miss Waynflete possesses this, as seen from Mrs. Church’s description her: “Miss Waynflete is a very nice lady, but very particular about brass and silver and everything being dusted and the mattresses turned” (MIE 192). Moreover, her intelligence gives her another advantage and a chance to commit a crime without being suspected by the ordinary people in the village.
Miss Waynflete represents a very peculiar and unusual woman. When visiting Miss Waynflete for the second time, Luke finds more details about the village people and relevant issues relating to the case. First he fails to realize the connections between the slayer and Lord Whitfield, paradoxically Miss Waynflete draws his attention to the clue herself which makes her even a greater criminal who is not afraid of anything and can tell any lie: “‘You know that I was engaged to him once,’ she said unexpectedly” (MIE 184), which surprised Luke. She then narrates the love affair and her attempt to educate and support Lord Whitfield in his career and about the social difference between them. Knowing about the little canary from Lord Whitfield, Luke returns to Miss Waynflete and wants to know the truth. Miss Waynflete, being a great actor, keeps silent for a minute while “the colour rose in her cheeks and one hand went to her breast” (MIE 252), she assures herself that Luke knows only some facts about the canary episode and invents her own version: “It was like this. I had a little canary [which I was fond of it]. Gordon was jealous of the bird […] Gordon snatched the bird from me and wrung its neck” (MIE 252-53). She then explains how frightened she was and that she could never forget that incident hence they canceled the engagement. At the end of the chapter she triumphantly advises Luke to run away with Bridget since they are both in danger and claims that Lord Gordon Whitfield is the murderer, which concludes her revenge act in the play.
Even the perfect murders had to be properly solved as the genre required it then. Bridget eventually pieces all the clues together and explains why the murders were committed since she knows Lord Whitfield, being his secretary and knowing “it worried him even to kill a wasp,” so she excludes him from the list of potential murderers. Miss Waynflete seems a very proud and revengeful woman, so when being rejected by Lord Whitfield “must have hurt her pride horribly” (MIE 314) and considering all the crimes it was very easy for her to commit them without any serious suspicion. She possesses some kind of evil described by Luke when walking with her one evening. He wonders why she enjoys “the strong wind blowing, turning back the leaves viciously on the trees” (MIE 315) and the storm which might come at any minute. The real murderer is revealed when the true story with the little canary is told by Lord Whitfield. He was disgusted when his fiancée, Honoria Waynflete, once fed her canary with sugar but it pecked her violently and she wrung its neck without hesitation. Miss Waynflete displays a number of controversial aspects and qualities; she is an ordinary spinster, an intelligent and logical thinker, a revengeful and ruthless woman and a frustrated and discriminated individual. Gender differences are exquisitely depicted here. For example, the murderess is about the same age as her former fiancé, Lord Gordon, but she is treated as an elderly lady, while he is considered middle-aged and at his prime, and he consequently plans to get married to his much younger secretary, Bridget.