Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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6The Bonds of Womanhood

Female characters from all the four novels analyzed compile the bonds of womanhood helping each other in various situations with a tenderness and affection to each other. “The canon of domesticity required women to sustain the milieu of task-oriented work that had characterized earlier family organization” (Cott 71). Women’s roles in the household remain fundamental, they support their husbands and take care of the whole family; but their ambitions and desires gradually emerge, which makes them feel unhappy and they need someone who would listen to them. Therefore, they form the bonds of female friends who uphold each other during their difficult periods. With the development of the technological facilities and gadgets, women may spend less time on the household chores and need to be engaged in different tasks; this is the moment where women begin to work and adopt male-oriented tasks, though other problems evolve from the newly structured and oriented society. Christie, Sayers, Rendell, and Fyfield perform the bonds of womanhood in the four texts, using distinct shapes of the communions which are represented by the female protagonists and their understanding, willingness, or sometimes disagreement towards other women.

6.1Christie’s Conventional Women

In Murder is Easy, Christie introduces in principle a large female community in Wychwood-under-Ashe; the reasons why it is rather female-oriented society were discussed above. It seems significant that women in such a society become important members and the connections among them create an interesting structure within the community. Christie portrays habitual and robust heroic women who tend “towards a renegotiation of traditional roles. Her works promote female self-expression, but finally do not trouble conventional social structures” (Rowland 158). Some prominent female characters in her novel are portrayed as elderly ladies, but a notable exception of a young woman with unconventional qualities can be found. However, the author strongly suggests that her female characters present rather the traditional woman within society: “The potentially disturbing impact of professional women on conventional family patterns is typically resolved by the forthright independence of Christie’s women finding true happiness within the world of family rather than employment” (Rowland 158). I would furthermore add that the traditional society generates the sorority which sticks together.

The need of women to associate with somebody or something shows, for example the case of Miss Pinkerton and later Miss Waynflete who both own the same Persian cat, Wonky Pooh, which keeps them a company. While talking to, or rather listening to Miss Pinkerton, Luke concludes that such an elderly lady must belong to some community of other elderly ladies who gossip all the time and it gives them pleasure of life. He assumes that “they’ll know how to deal with her [in Scotland Yard]. Probably get half a dozen old ladies a week coming in burbling about the amount of murders committed in their nice quiet country village! There may be a special department for dealing with the old dears” (MIE 19) although Luke must admit that “most of these rambling old dears are as sharp as nails in some ways” (MIE 92) and “what old ladies fancy they see is very often right” (MIE 238). Miss Pinkerton, even tough she is a minor character, who briefly appears at the beginning, constitutes a representative of the bonds of womanhood that countenances their members in the gossip. The art of gossip predominantly belongs to female characteristic features and when Luke wants the vicar to gossip, he grudgingly mentions the two doctors in the village, one of them already dead. Another man, Major Horton, also describes women in the village as a bunch of talkative and gossipy creatures when he refers to his leisure activities: “Can’t stand fuss. Too many women in this place. Difficult to get a decent game of golf” (MIE 152). The few men who live in the village must then cope with the bond-of-womanhood phenomenon, which in general dominates the community.

Another characteristic of the womanhood is the language. Luke often experiences that there appears something significant between two women talking to each other that he cannot understand since they talk in their own language of expressions and gestures. While talking to Bridget, “he was puzzled. Her replies were given in an even tone, without emphasis or even much interest. But behind what she said, there was, he felt convinced, something not put into words” (MIE 66), and he fails to receive the proper answer. This information channel that stretches between two women better than between a man and a woman makes the case rather complicated since Luke must not only search for the murderer, but must also understand the female code to gain the little clues they suggest. He constitutes the real detective that must solve the mysterious murders and wants to master the bar to success. When he feels that “there was some understanding between the two women from which he was excluded,” it annoys him, but he promises “himself to get to the bottom of it before long” (MIE 76). All the members of the female world are represented by elderly women, who rather choose to retire in the household and play decent ladies from the village, except Bridget. These women also dislike each other, as Thomas points it out, “that’s the worst of women – always down on their own sex” (MIE 151). Not only solidarity exists among them, but also the opposite characteristics – rivalry, envy, and jaundice which create from them the worst enemies ever and they could be capable of killing for their desires and needs. For example, Miss Waynflete eagerly explains to Bridget how she has always hated her and the majority of the community as well and, therefore, she killed Mrs. Pinkerton and others because of her hatred and exclusion from the higher society, besides preventing her secret from revealing the truth.

6.2Sayers’ Spinsters

Strong Poison concentrates on the position of women in society as human beings with their own mind and also feelings, represented by their intellectual characteristics as well as love requirements. The so-called minor characters in the novel and “the feminine cultures of office secretaries and domestic servants provide crucial evidence for a detective working against the male logic of the police” (Rowland 29) and they also profile the bond of womanhood, which supports the investigation itself. In the inquiry, female subordinates forming the circle around Miss Climpson, must penetrate in the case and fetch even the slightest clues to solve the complicated situation of Harriet Vane. Another considerable issue concerning the womanhood is revealed throughout the story while Miss Climpson makes her progress in the search of the will and meets Miss Booth who practices spiritualism. Sayers “problematisies the gendering of the detective and seeks to recover feminine forms of representation” (Rowland 30), which outlines the basic conception of the bonds of womanhood.

Lord Peter Wimsey comes to understand Miss Climpson’s women’s organization when he enters her office and sees only women in the building. Miss Climpson is like a charity worker, dedicated to giving jobs to women who cannot find anything and she employs

mostly elderly, but a few still young and attractive [women …]. There were spinsters with small fixed incomes, or no incomes at all; widows without families; women deserted by peripatetic husbands and living on a restricted alimony, who, previous to their engagement by Miss Climpson, had had no resources but bridge and boarding-house gossip” (SP 54).
The women association gives them the opportunity to fulfill their ambitions and to incorporate into society. These women are presented as anxious to work and reliable to fulfill the tasks since they have nothing else to do and to care for. However, women are still underestimated, according to an elderly clerk who Peter talks to before meeting Mr. Urquhart: “It seems to me a very clear case. But juries are very unreliable, especially nowadays, with women on them. We see a good deal of the fair sex in this profession, and very few of them are remarkable for possessing the legal mind” (SP 82). Sayers considers that women must strive to achieve their professional role in society and stresses repeatedly that they can obtain concessions in the male world if they join together.

The same characteristic that is connected with the bond of womanhood in Christie’s Murder is Easy also emerges in Sayers’ novel in terms of gossip. Mrs. Bulfinch becomes one of the investigated persons and since both Chief Inspector Parker and Lord Peter Wimsey are acquainted with the women and know their feminine chattiness, they suggest to her not to discuss the matters during the questioning because “sometimes ladies get talking, and one thing leads to another, and in the end they remember incidents that never took place at all” (SP 121). This characteristic renders that women are the same and they can boast about their discursiveness, which is sometimes annoying, but on the other hand, it could be sometimes really helpful. Besides gossiping, women are also very talented liars and actors and when Lord Peter Wimsey needs Mrs. Murchison to find the will in Mr. Urquhart’s office, she is ready to pretend that she “left out a whole paragraph on the first page” (SP 169) of some important document and, therefore, must stay in the office and retype it. This is not really an innocent feature, however, it also puts women in one group and forms the bond of womanhood, as the majority of them are excellent actors.

The last issue analyzed here is related to Miss Climpson’s investigation and her experience with Miss Caroline Booth who gets involved in spiritualism. Miss Climpson finds herself being much more knowledgeable in this area, since “if there was one subject in the world about which Miss Climpson might claim to know something, it was spiritualism” (SP 203). Women practice spiritualism since they can get together and also can talk to their dead relatives, instead of having just a cup of tea and tattle. Such a practice involves only particular people who are gifted with the capability to exchange a few words with the dead. The method how to communicate with the spirits is through a medium, which means that the dead people deliver messages. People who try to contact their dead relatives prove that there exists some sort of life after death. Miss Booth also belongs to that privileged group of women and she exercises with Miss Climpson the spiritual techniques to get into contact with their dead friends. For other people, especially women who refuse to join such a group, the spiritualism is considered to be something evil and strange: “I must caution you against having anything to do with Mrs. Craig of her friends. I have no doubt Miss Booth is an excellent woman, but I do not like the company she keeps. Nor do I approve of spiritualism” (SP 220), says Mrs. Pegler, which might again refer to women’s rivalry, as mentioned before. Sayers’ women figures clearly correspond with Christie’s female characters and their bonds of womanhood, which display both positive and negative aspects.

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