Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Romana Juriňáková

Finding the Model of Independent Conservative Woman in the Works of Agatha Christie

Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: Stephen Paul Hardy, Ph.D.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Author’s signature

I would like to thank to my supervisor, Stephen Paul Hardy, Ph.D.,

for having patience with me and for giving me his valuable advice.


1.Introduction 5

Agatha Christie as Conservative Political Thinker 7

2.Typology of Women in Agatha Christie's Detective Novels 16

3.Female Characters in The Mysterious Affair at Styles 19

4.Female Characters in the Secret Adversary 21

5.Female Characters in the Evil Under the Sun 24

6.Female Characters in The Hollow 26

7.Female Characters in The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side 29

8.Female Characters in the Sleeping Murder 30

9.Conclusion 32

10.Bibliography 35

11.Résumé 38

12.Resumé 39

  1. Introduction

Agatha Christie is probably one of the most famous pioneers of detective genre and certainly a successful one. Although, during the times in which she lived and wrote majority of her work, she did not get the respect and praise she had deserved. Her work was often considered a “low-brow” literature and she was perceived more as a creator of great puzzles than as a respectful literary author. Edmund Wilson, literary critic, once wrote in his essay called “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” that: “Yet I did not care for Agatha Christie and I hope never to read another of her books“ (Wilson). This is only an example of a great deal of criticism she received. The things which were often pointed out by critics were that her characters are superficial; her plots are often very unrealistic, the detective characters have too-good-to-be-true relationships with police allowing them to solve mysteries on their own, and also the reader has a little chance to know more about main character's inner emotional life. Another thing is that Christie's work interested people despite the criticism and drew them away from the high quality intellectual literature of that time. The critics considered detective literature only a consumable genre of a low quality. But the thing is that she is brilliant in her field, creating great puzzles and forcing us, as the readers, to look at them from a wrong point of view until the end, so we are always surprised by the solution. If her work would really be of such a low literary significance and value, she would not be one of the most translated and best-selling authors of all time. Agatha Christie indeed knew what she was doing and which readership it was targeted onto.

The aim of this thesis is to investigate into the work of one of the greatest authors of detective genre, Agatha Christie, also called “the queen of death” or “the queen of crime fiction”. The thesis focuses particularly on the female protagonists in her novels through examination and close reading of some of her selected literary works. The aim is to find the ideal model or prototype of a conservative woman and to prove that generally all main female characters, however independent they are, find solace and happiness in traditional values, including marriage, family life, motherhood, etc.

Many main protagonists in her work are women from various social backgrounds, with various social roles and professions; from housewives, spinsters to beautiful actresses, women artists, courageous young adventuresses, or practical and successful business women from high society circles. Maybe we can divide them into two general very simplified categories: those female characters that have no own identity, only through being the wives of their husbands, and those women who are independent and are seen as equal to male characters or a serious competition for them. Women in Christie's novels often cross the lines between these two categories. Female characters can be murderers as likely as male protagonists. Even one of the Christie's most famous detectives, an amateur sleuth Jane Marple, is a woman, solving the mysteries on her own relying on her own wits.

“General studies tend to emphasise the ideological element in crime fiction or its sociological insight” (Merrill). Considering this fact, in finding the ideal prototype of a conservative woman, the thesis also examines Christie´s political views, since Agatha Christie is considered a conservative thinker and author, and tries to find relations between her opinions and the depiction of women in her work. Another critic, Johan Harri, tells about Agatha Christie that: “I believe that the great unappreciated aspect of her work is that she was an intensely and relentlessly political thinker“ (Harri). She often expresses her dislike with totalitarian regimes or ideologies of any kind, for example with Nazis in her Passenger to Frankfurt or for Bolshevism in The Secret Adversary and she also mocks exalted idealists, who become victims of totalitarianism. She is suspicious towards new modern young generation and she longs for old school traditional conservative values. Therefore Christie creates characters that are reinventing existing social classes into something modern but still acceptable for the old conservative generation. Rather than pure literary analysis, this thesis should comprise also a certain sociological aspect.

In the first chapter after the introduction the thesis examines Agatha Christie's political statements, views, and representations, and also the way she portrays and pictures female characters in her work; what attributes she gives them, what values she propagates through them, etc. Then, the third chapter focuses on the women in the selected novels generally – what types of female characters can we find there, and deals with the question, whether we can somehow divide these personalities into categories possessing some certain common attributes or stereotypes. Each following chapter of the thesis therefore deals with two detective novels from Agatha Christie's early work, through the most well-known novels from the middle, to her latest literary pieces, according to the chronological order of publication, not the actual year in which she had finished them. It is because these two facts do not always correspond together. The analysis is focused more on the particular major female propagators and their personalities than on the plot itself. There are two detective novels picked from the each period of her work, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and Secret Adversary (1922) from the earliest period, well-known Evil Under the Sun (1941) or The Hollow (1946) from the middle, and The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side (1962) and Sleeping Murder (1976) from the latest published novels. They also give us a picture of how the image of a modern conservative woman looks like according to Christie, how it has developed from the beginning to Christie's latest work or whether it has developed at all.

  1. Agatha Christie as a Conservative Political Thinker

Agatha Christie's main purpose of her detective fiction was to entertain people. But there may be another, as a few critics claim, probably lesser visible aspect to her work, and that is political propaganda. Johann Hari, a British journalist and political commentator, in his critical essay explains the political background depicted in Agatha Christie's work very accurately when he compares Christie's presented political views to the Burkean conservatism: “At a time of massive social transformations in areas as fundamental to individual identity as gender, family and class, Agatha offered the soothing balm of Burkean conservatism“ (Hari). Edmund Burke together with David Hume and other well-known figures is considered an important representative of conservatism. According to First Principles Journal explaining conservatism briefly this political philosophy stands on moral principles used in a higher merit and applied onto politics in practice. Burke promotes moral prudence in practical politics. His political principles are based on moral natural law which creates also the principles by which he evaluates whether rulers use their power to protect society or to misuse it for their own benefits. He claims that moral principles are not something distant and abstract, but are reflected in practical politics in concrete situations. This makes his politics rather ethics than political philosophy. Burke emphasised the importance of history for the society as an important source of knowledge and prudential wisdom and he despises ideologies, similarly as Christie does. She did not liked philosophies which could offer space for some abstract ideological thinking and create exalted political idealists. Hari claims that she once explained that her greatest anxiety comes from idealists who want to make us happy by force. He says that: “The minute a character is described as an idealist in one of her novels, you've found your murderer“ (Hari). It is not necessary to go deeper in the description of the conservative political philosophy, because we would get into the philosophical sphere, which is not needed in our case. As every political philosophy, also conservatism can be interpreted in many ways and adjusted to fit various ideologies or philosophical ideas. The important thing for us is that Agatha Christie propagates similar values in her work as conservatism stands on. Hari continues: “She offers an eternal England, a natural order that will always act spontaneously against evil to restore its own rural sense of calm. There is a clear natural order to Christie’s world, and – in true Burkean style – it is only disrupted by greed, wickedness or misguided political ambition“ (Hari). And this is certainly true. We can observe this for example in fact, that in Christie's world the central administrator of justice, whose main goal is to resolve the conflict and bring justice into the case is not the police as an official establishment with the main purpose to protect people and social order, as it could be expected. The justice is brought by an individual, the character of the detective: either a professional one, like Hercule Poirot who is a former member of the police himself, an amateur sleuth like Miss Marple, or amateur detective adventurers like Tommy and Tuppence. Although the detective cooperates with the police, he is the one who has the right realistic and sober view of the whole situation, not the police. He is often also a psychologist, an expert on human mind and human character and can often accurately evaluate and predict characters' behaviour. Poirot often utters remarks about how the mind of a criminal works and relies sometimes more on his knowledge of human psychology than on particular clues which can be misleading. It is not expected from the police to bring justice into the case; they often let themselves become misguided by false clues and accuse the wrong person with an absolute certainty, which sometimes often places them in a very ludicrous position. “Christie's sleuths, that is, enter the narrative fully formed; their function is not to develop in response to events but only to analyse those events in order to distil apparent chaos into logical order” (Dingley). Order is the most important for Christie, whose world „is a comfortingly orderly world, where all loose ends can be tied into neat bows“ (Dingley). Detective is the one, whose clear mind and detached view help to fulfil his responsibility, which is to advocate the moral principles among the participants in the plot and put everything back in the previous order; not only the case itself but often characters' personal lives as well.

However, when we look at Christie's work chronologically, we can see some development in her view on the social order reflected in it. At the beginning the murder usually takes place in a “country house” representing a small fracture of the image of the whole society, offering a safe place for the characters playing a role in the plot: “The reader following a crime in the country house is struck by two incongruities: the serene Garden of Eden topography invaded by the murderer, and the seemingly harmonious world which is torn apart by passion, greed, violence, suspicion, and murder.” (Maida 182) The typical examples can be seen in Christie´s early novels like The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) or The Secret of Chimneys (1925) where majority of the plot is happening in a manor. As Hari argues in his essay, she is slowly moving away from the calm rural surroundings into the urban areas and continually with this movement becomes the previous belief system less and less credible (Hari). She moves away from her image of a “country house” which stands in an opposition to the dangers of modern capitalism. We can observe this change for example in The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side, as Bargainner concludes: “a supermarket; Gossington Hall being bought by a film star; modern plumbing; electronic cookers...” (Bargainner 68). St. Mary Mead was changing reflecting the social change taking place there. Or thinking about the situation in which Tommy and Tuppence find themselves at the beginning of their investigations: “Young people in their twenties were being demobilized from the armed forces of after the First World War and finding it difficult to settle down to civilian life. Many were unable to find jobs, or were having to act like door-to-door salesmen” (Osborne). This is a similar situation in which we get to know Tommy and Tuppence, afterwards finding job in investigating. Furthermore, her plots are set, mostly, in the heart of upper middle class society and social structure and class plays a great role in Christie's world. She realizes that the society is changing constantly from the Roaring Twenties since her first detective novel was published, during the war and especially after the war, but she refuses to believe it completely or to accept it. The social class is important for the order to be maintained in the society, but it is necessary to bring some essential changes into it and reinvent it. We can observe this when we consider the fact, that especially in the early novels it was merely detective's responsibility to put everything back in order and he was always successful in managing to achieve this. However, there are examples when he makes some sort of exceptions or compromises, as in Murder on the Orient Express, when Poirot lets all the twelve executioners leave without a legal punishment, leaving them to live their lives with feelings of guilt. And finally, in Curtain: Poirot´s Last Case, Hercule Poirot takes justice in his own hands and commits a murder. It is a big shift in the original typical structure of the plot when the administrator of justice becomes the murderer himself.

Interesting thing related to Christie's political views is her attitude towards feminism and a question of new social roles of women in the modern society. A not very careful reader might likely give her a label “feminist” but Agatha Christie would surely not be very impressed. Of course we can find in her work many themes concerning basic issues of feminist supporters, but Christie was sceptic towards new ideologies and certainly managed to maintain the traditional social values and moral principles. Christie once said reacting on women taking more and more places in labour: “the foolishness of women in relinquishing their position of privilege obtained after many centuries of civilisation. Primitive women toil incessantly. We seem determined to return to that state voluntarily“ (Harri). Although the female characters in her detective novels are often very independent in their social position or in terms of work, it seems that she defines certain strict boundaries for what is still suitable for women in society, and what is not. As Susan Rowland claims in her book From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell: “Her works promote female self-expression, but finally do not trouble conventional social structures“ (Rowland 158). Christie condemns feminism as another ideology based on different principles that she proclaims dangerous to the moral structure of conservative values. Her female characters are strong and very capable, but Christie makes sure that they still preserve the true conservative values, often finding happiness not in the work and gaining large amount of money and fame, but in marriage or parenthood: “Christie's characters speak of marriage as the goal and destiny of all womankind. Many of her female characters are employed, but whenever they have the chance, they throw up excellent jobs and careers for the sake of a man and a home. If they work after marriage, it is almost invariably because their husbands are invalids, wastrels, or deceased” (Vipond). However, the relationship in the marriage must be equal and balanced. Christie depicts marriage mostly in a very pleasant light but there are cases when she portrays it very unfavourably, and that happens when the marriage is not equal: if one of the pair is too dependent on the other one, or if one of the pair is too dominant. A good example of an unequal and thus unhappy marriage is between Gerda and John Christow in The Hollow. Gerda is so dependent on her husband, that she has no own identity, only through the idealised image of John. She blames herself even when the mistake is John's. He is not satisfied in their relationship either because he perceives her as woman who is plain and a little stupid, therefore not desirable enough. The opposite example may be a successful business woman Rosamund Darnley in Evil Under the Sun, when she gives up her fashionable dressmaking career for the sake of marriage with words: "I've wanted to live in the country with you all my life" (Evil Under the Sun, ch. 13). An example of an equal and happy marriage is between Tommy and Tuppence. Christie however does not overly romanticise the relationships. Tuppence says what the marriage means to her in The Secret Adversary: “Marriage is called all sorts of things, a haven, and a refuge, and a crowning glory, and a state of bondage, and lots more. But do you know what I think it is?" and then she replies: “A sport!” (Secret Adversary 328). And this is exactly the impression we get about relationship between Tommy and Tuppence; they are fond of each other but not too clingy and both are distinctive strong characters. When it comes to having children, Tuppence's reaction when she finds out that she is expecting is: “I’ve got something better to do. Something ever so much more exciting. Something I’ve never done before“ (“The Man Who Was No.16”). Susan Rowland also comments on Tuppence reaction to her pregnancy that her “vigorous personality allows the novel to represent pregnancy as a continuum if self-fulfilling adventures within traditional feminine domesticity” (Rowland 158). It is not a burden for her forcing her to give up the detective “career” but an opportunity for a new life adventure. We must not forget that there are also female characters who are not married and do not even have bright prospects to ever marry a man. A typical example which automatically comes to reader's mind is Miss Marple. She is practically an old maid but we, as readers, do not have an impression she would therefore be incapable or an inferior character. Rowland says that “Christie's typical strong heroines resemble Miss Marple in reinventing existing conventions to their own advantage” (Rowland 159). This is certainly what Miss Marple does; she reinvents the fixed social convention for her own benefits and resembles an image of a very distinguished admirable character. She is not depicted as a retired women sitting at home all the time and knitting. She has a lot of friends, travels and often looks for the clues on her own, not getting them from the second hand. Christie does not prefer only a certain type of women. Perhaps she created the character of Jane Marple and made her the most important protagonist in a great number of her novels to point out that whatever is the social status of a woman, she still has a plenty of space for self-expression.

Another important aspect related to female gender is also sexuality and eroticism and their depiction. Agatha Christie remains strictly conservative on this issue. We are unable to find any explicit erotic scenes and descriptions in her work as we can find in other detective fiction. By not expressing sexuality directly she manages to portray women as dignified characters but at the same time she does not underestimate the reader and she is aware that the reader is able to guess and connect these relations in the plot on his own. Moreover, we can notice that many female characters which are portrayed with a strong sexual potential creating excitement among male protagonists are actually the ones, who are not supposed to be admirable or respectable. They are often annoying, egoistical, self-cantered and arouse negative feelings among other characters. Sexual arrangements and affairs often end up in committing a crime with the character creating social tensions becoming the victim of murder. A few examples are Arlena Marshall in Evil Under the Sun, Elsa Greer in Five Little Pigs or Veronica Cray in The Hollow.

Agatha Christie lived and wrote majority of her work during a time of big social changes, including the change of previous Victorian depiction of women which needed to be re-established. The new modern world required women who were capable of great things, to work equally to men and find a new place in the modern society. Basically, the tradition social roles and social classes needed to be reinvented. We can find many parallels between her life, best illustrated in An Autobiography, and the fictional characters in her work. Therefore we can also assume that her work reflect her personal opinions as well as political ones. Christie's writing was not as important for her as her role as a wife. As we can find out from her autobiography, her second husband Max Mallowan did not even know that she was writing for a long period of the time they were married. Getting a career as a writer and becoming reclaimed literary author was not her main goal in life, it was rather an accident, because the first novels she submitted for publication were returned without success several times. As Susan Rowland says: “Christie seems to be unusual amongst all the authors for regarding her writing as very much secondary to her identity as a wife” (Rowland 7). She still managed to maintain her personality as well as her own income. Christie was raised to be a good and proper mother and wife, but she also experienced many adventures and turns of fate, including her first unhappy marriage with Archibald Christie. We can assume that thanks to her real life experiences she was capable to identify at least a little with majority of female characters she had created.

  1. Typology of women in Agatha Christie´s Detective Novels

As Vipond in her essay accurately observes, some of the male characters in Christie's plots often express their views about women using many generalizations, like “women tell a lot of lies” or “poison is a woman´s weapon” (Vipond). However, these remarks does not reflect Christie's view and opinions: “Such statements were simply instantly and broadly recognizable clues which helped her readers to categorize the characters“ (Vipond). Their purpose is to help the reader create a more accurate picture about other characters, mostly male protagonists.

There can surely be found certain types of Christie's characters, both male and female, and there also exist common patterns in their behaviour. Mary S. Wagoner describes Christie's art of creating characters: “Christie peopled her mystery tales with figures whose manners, dress, and speech invited readers to label them according to their social identities and personal quirks. These characters rarely, perhaps never, reveal new dimensions of human nature. Instead they suggest that an understanding of individuals, whatever social microcosms they occupy, is merely matter of recognizing what types of people they are” (Wagoner). The reader could get an impression that the characters are flat. In fact, it was Christie's purpose to create characters that possess a great number of stereotypes, like gossipy elderly women, or egoistical beautiful actresses. Actually, analysing social stereotypes is the main mean of detecting the murderer for Jane Marple. She often compares the protagonists of the plot to someone from the past, or someone she once knew, and finds similarities between them. And of course, she is always successful with her conclusions that are standing mostly on stereotypes of human behaviour. Moreover, as Bargainner argues in one of his chapters in The Gentle Art of Murder, many of the characters are developed around one central personality trait. It is supposed to help readers predict their behaviour or as Bargainner claims, Christie sometimes adds them a contradictory attribute to create false impressions (Bargainner 39). Before we get to direct analysis of female protagonists from particular selected detective novels, we can generally divide them into few categories sharing similar attributes.

The first general category of women which Christie presents in her work are those, who are very capable, intelligent, smart, independent and have enough courage to take the risks in many aspects of life. Firstly, in this category belong young adventurers, which are plucky, boyish and sometimes cheeky, driving sport cars, smoking and often very beautiful. The examples are young adventurers such as Tuppence, Gwenda Reed in Sleeping Murder trying to find solution to the mysteries arousing in her personal life, or Victoria Jones in They Came to Baghdad who plays the main investigator of the case and becomes accidentally involved into the sabotage plot. Then there are successful wealthy women with a career of actress, movie star, businesswomen or women artist etc. A few examples are famous movie actress Marina Gregg from The Mirror Crack´d From Side to Side or Rosamund Darnley mentioned before. The interesting thing is that these independent and often successful characters perceive the main goal in their life to find happiness in marriage or having children. Therefore also mothers and grandmothers can be counted in this category. Poirot expresses several times his fondness and respect for women who have children; in a short story called The Adventure of the Western Star he says: “Bonne mère, très femme!”, which means: “Good mother, very feminine!” (Western Star). In the conclusion, we can say that all types of women from Christie's novels who were successful in their self-expression belong to this category.

There is another category opposed to the first one. Here belong women who have no real sense of self-worth and are unable to make a stand against any kind of oppression, either from the side of a man or someone else; mainly wives who have no own identity, only trough the man they “belong to”. They are also part of representation of how the happy equal marriage should not look like. The example can be Gerda Christow mentioned before or Ginevra Boynton in Appointment With Death, who is unable to break away from her tyrant mother as an opposite to Nadine Boynton, who is not afraid of the her mother-in-law's dominance trying to persuade her husband to do the same. These women are unable to find a way to their happiness by self-expression or the negative oppressive forces prevents them in pursuing their true love.

Of course, we cannot always rely on this division because the characters often cross the lines between them. As it has been said, they are sometimes given contradictory character traits and attributes to mislead reader's conclusions and force the reader to create false impressions. The following analysis and observation of particular selected female characters should help us find out if there exists any ideal prototype of a conservative woman and how it should look like according to Christie.

  1. Female Characters in The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the first written and published of Christie's detective novels. The plot is set at the typical country house at Styles Court manor. Mrs. Cavendish is wealthy old women and owner of the manor. Hastings describes her as “an energetic, autocratic personality, somewhat inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own” (Affair at Styles 3). It is also mentioned that her first husband was so much under her influence that after his dead he left the manor and majority of his wealth to Mrs. Cavendish, which was a little unfair to his two sons, leaving them with much smaller sum. However, she is very generous towards them and they take their step-mother as their own mother. Emily Cavendish has also a protégée, Cynthia Murdoch, a young orphan brought up by her as another sign of her charitable generousness. There would be nothing interesting or remarkable in her personality if she would not have been married to a twenty years younger man, Alfred Inghlethorp. We can see that the character of Mrs. Cavendish is strong and creating respect in other people, for example when Hasting observes the way in which Cynthia is always obedient to Mrs. Inglethorp. It seems that although she is a generous woman, her generousness costs some price, and that is keeping other people under her influence and being the most dominant. This is proved when Poirot comments after her death that nobody seems to care for her death very much: “No, you are right... it is not as though there was a blood tie. She has been kind and generous to these Cavendishes, but she was not their own mother” (Affair at Styles 26).

Another remarkable female protagonist is Mary Cavendish, John's wife. Although we can assume that Hastings´s description is a little exaggerated as he often allows his romantic emotions run away with him, he says that “I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any other woman's that I have ever known; the intense power of stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilised body” (Affair at Styles 6). She is certainly a fascinating woman possessing all kinds of attractions, not only physical ones. She had seen a great part of the world while her father was still alive and she admits that she hates monotony in life, which was the main reason she married John: “he was simply a way of escape from the insufferable monotony of my life” (Affair at Styles 104). When she finds out she is not happy in her marriage and in the “prison” of Styles she decides to leave him to be free. Hastings realizes that “I seemed to see her for a moment as she was, a proud wild creature, as untamed by civilization as some shy bird of the hills” (Affair at Styles 105).

Cynthia Murdoch is one of the “young fresh things” and character full of young spirits often playing a role in Agatha Christie´s plots. Although she is very young and still under the protection of Mrs. Inglelthorp, she is also clever and skilful in her work at dispensary. Poirot describes her as a very pretty woman as well as smart: “oh, yes, she has brains, that little one” (Affair at Styles 91). She creates the impression of a very admirable character with a promising future.

The female characters in The Mysterious Affair at Styles possess a few stereotypes; the old wealthy woman controlling other members of the family, the young girl full of enthusiasm but still not experienced enough, and smart admirable wife acting a little foolish because of her jealousy. Mrs. Inglethorp can be, despite her dominance, perceived as a character trying to reinvent the traditional social conventions for her own benefit and pursue of happiness, by marrying a younger man despite the public condemnation of their relationship. Cynthia Murdoch represents a young girl evolving into a smart and magnetic personality, doing her work excellently and finding happiness in an unexpected turn of events - finding her love. And lastly, Mary Cavendish is independent though a little impulsive woman, realising at the end that her desire for freedom is not as important for her and that true happiness lies in her marriage with John.

  1. Female Characters in The Secret Adversary

The Secret Adversary was published in 1922 and takes place in post-war England several years after the sinking of Lusitania when Europe is under the threat of Bolshevists' interests lead by a puzzling character of Mr. Brown. Nobody has ever seen him, but guess who takes orders from him directly: Marguerite Wandermeyer or Rita, a female member of the criminal organization surrounded by merely masculine company. She is also the person who creates a real terrifying fear in Tuppence: “For the first time Tuppence felt afraid. As if fascinated, she watched the long cruel line of the red curving mouth, and again she felt that sensation of panic pass over her” (Secret Adversary 58). Rita is the most interesting and fascinating character in The Secret Adversary and also the first really enigmatic female character in the early novels of Agatha Christie in comparison to the rather dull characters in The Mysterious Affair at Styles published earlier. She is described as a cruel and powerful woman, able to create fear in a great number of people. It is a very unusual position of a woman in the society to be such a powerful character and one of the leading figures of the criminal world that is rather a masculine “privilege”. She is an example of the kind of woman in Christie's world, who is considered by men not only as an equal partner (she is the right hand of mysterious Mr. Brown, a dangerous villain led by his utopic visions), but at the same time she is a dangerous rival for them (for Tommy Beresford). On the other hand, despite these personality traits, Rita still possesses a few exclusively feminine attributes. Despite her external cruelty we can observe a sensitive side to Rita. For example, she decides to give Tuppence only a sleeping-draught instead of killing her without hesitation and we can assume that she is not capable of killing someone cold-bloodily. She is also likely led by her feeling and emotions. Boris Ivanovitch, a member of the conspiracy, comments on her account: “You are a clever woman, Rita; but you are also a fool! Be guided by me, and give up Peel Edgerton (another name for Mr. Brown),” (Secret Adversary 62) on which she replies that she takes orders only from Mr. Brown. He holds her firmly in his grasp and whether she realises it or not, she let herself to be lead by feelings. It seem that they have met before sinking of Lusitania and there are indications that they had a more intimate relationship once; for example when Tuppence asks her about Mr. Brown, Rita admits she knows who he is and adds: “I know. I was beautiful, you see—very beautiful—“ (Secret Adversary 82) It is obvious that they have known each other for a long time, although we do not know where they had met for the first time. As a beautiful woman with “electric blue eyes” Rita is aware of her own beauty (Secret Adversary 82). She expresses this awareness explicitly when she replies to Boris: “ seem to forget that I am commonly accounted a beautiful woman. I assure you that is all that interests Peel Edgerton,” (Secret Adversary 62) and is capable to use her beauty for her own benefits. The main motive for her acts is obtaining large amount of money. Boris Ivanovitch remarks on her account: “Money—money! That is always the danger with you, Rita. I believe you would sell your soul for money.” (Secret Adversary 62) And this is undoubtedly true; money is the reason why she decides to betray Mr. Brown, the one whom she fears the most, when Tuppence offers her £100.000. But this does not bring her happiness and Christie decides that this would later cost Rita Wandemeyer her own life being killed by the man she loves.

There is also another female member of the gang, Anette, who later admits that she is Jane Finn, the girl who was supposed to carry the secret treaty on the board of Lusitania in 1915. Mr. Danvers gives the treaty to this young, only 18-year old girl, to deliver it to London, because she is more likely to be saved from the sinking ship, of course, because she is a woman. There exists this unwritten social rule that it is a privilege of women and children to be saved from a dangerous situation on the first place. Although her character is unknown and blurred for a long period of the plot, we later find out that she is another female member of the criminal gang. But although she is basically a criminal, Anette is still perceived as a weaker and more delicate element in the masculine environment. Mr. Carter expresses a kind of “underestimation” for her when he says: “H'm, she must belong to the gang, then; but, being a woman, didn't feel like standing by to see a personable young man killed” (Secret Adversary 117). The fact is that she is the one who helps Tommy escape from the imprisonment. Honestly, reader could not expect some man to be the rescuer of the main protagonist, it is a role for a woman to be lead instinctively by her affection and help the main character, despite the fact that they both stand on the opposite sides of the crucial conflict.

It is definitely true that although this piece of Christie's work is still strongly traditional, we can notice first signs of movement towards modernism, and one of these signs is the use of modern and free-thinking women as leading characters. It can be concluded that there is no doubt Rita Wandemeyer is an eccentric woman possessing a powerful charisma which makes her character very attractive and appealing to the reader, although she is not the advocator of the moral principles. However, despite her appeal and strong self-expression, she is not considered to be a depiction of a woman ideal, because she suffers the consequences of her greed. Jane Finn, once standing on the side of the criminal world finds her happiness and accepts Julius´s proposal for marriage.

  1. Female Characters in Evil Under the Sun

It seems that Poirot “brings” murder everywhere with him, even when he is off duty on a well-deserved holiday. In Evil Under the Sun published in 1941, a beautiful and intriguing actress Arlena Marshall is discovered dead. In this case, Arlena is a part of a relationship triangle and creates sexual excitement among male visitors of the island since her arrival. The best way to describe her personality is perhaps Rosamund Darnley´s description: “She? She's the world's first gold-digger. And a man-eater as well! If anything personable in trousers comes within a hundred yards of her, it's fresh sport for Arlena! She's that kind.“ (Evil Under the Sun, ch.2) She possesses a charisma which is appealing to men, but only on a very superficial level concerning her beauty. She is a successful woman with the past full of scandals and using men for her personal turns of mind is a routine for her. Nobody seems to care much for her death or maybe we can conclude that others are even a little pleased with it. The novel shares very similar plot with another Christie´s novel Death on the Nile: “In each case the murder victim is a wealthy woman who appears to have taken a handsome young man from his fiancée or wife, though in reality the supposedly estranged couple are plotting this woman's death for financial reasons” (Merrill 88). This is also a briefly explained solution of the case. Arlena is deceived by Patrick whom she wanted to seduce, while he was preparing a plan to obtain her money with his wife Christine. She becomes a victim of her dishonest interests.

There is also another major female character in the Evil Under the Sun creating a kind of parallel to Arlena Marshall, and that is Rosamund Darnley. She is a fashionable dressmaker and businesswoman, and even Poirot expresses his admiration with this woman: “As he has since admitted, he admired Rosamund Darnley as much as any woman he had ever met” (Evil Under the Sun, ch.2). She is pretty, wealthy and successful comparably to Arlena, and Rosamund is aware of it: “Yes, I'm really the perfect type of the successful woman! I enjoy the artistic satisfaction of the successful creative artist (I really do like designing clothes) and the financial satisfaction of the successful business woman” (Evil Under the Sun, ch.2). These two women certainly possess some common attributes. They both succeeded in maintaining their self-expression and fulfilled their potential relating to their careers. The difference is that Rosamund is not as self-centred and egoistical as Arlena and possesses a true worth of traditional values. For example, when she is having a conversation with Hercule Poirot, she complains about not having a husband. She also mentions: “I remember once meeting a charming husband and wife. They were so courteous and delightful to one another and seemed on such good terms after years of marriage that I envied the woman. I'd have changed places with her willingly” (Evil Under the Sun, ch.2). It seems that she thinks she failed in this way when she continues: “And yet, all the same, I'm nothing but a wretched old maid! That's what I feel today, at any rate. I'd be happier with twopence a year and a big silent brute of a husband and a brood of brats running after me. That's true, isn't it?” (Evil Under the Sun, ch.2). Although she admits that there are people who could envy her, wealth and success did not bring her true satisfaction in life. She fulfilled her potential in career but did not manage to fulfil her potential as a woman and feels that the only way to reach this is to enter into an equal and respectable marriage.

In Evil Under the Sun there can be found also another woman playing a major role in the plot – Christine Redfern. She is the wife of Patrick Redfern and although it looks at the beginning as if they lived in a very unhappy marriage, at the end the reader finds out that the situation is exactly opposite. Actually, their relationship is strong; Christine is Patrick´s true love and also an accomplice in crime. Patrick is only playing a “drama” by pretending to be infatuated with Arlena Marshall to get closer to her wealth for “fabulous opportunities”. Although Christine is a criminal, “she and Rosamund Darnley were the only bearable people on the island in Linda's, opinion“ (Evil Under the Sun, ch.3).

In the conclusion, Arlena is another example of a female character, which pays for her greed with her own life. Her murder points out that her principles are in contradiction to those of traditional ethical society professing moral values and therefore disrupting the fine balance of natural order of life which Christie presents. Secondly, Rosamund Darnley is rewarded in the end, ending up with her old love Kenneth Marshall and fulfilling her long-time desire, finding true happiness in giving up the business and adopting domestic duties. And thirdly, although Christine Redfern is one of the murderers, she is a woman who is happy in her marriage and is an equal partner to Patrick, even in crime.

  1. Female Characters in The Hollow

The Hollow is one of the more well-known detective novels from the middle period of Christie's work, published in 1946. Agatha Christie says in her An Autobiography that this novel is in some ways rather more of a novel than a detective story“ (Autobiography 489). The characters are very well developed in this one. The first noticeable female character is Gerda Christow. She is described as clumsy and very awkward person, considered by others as slow and incapable. She is not only in love with her husband John, but she praises him, creating a serious inequality in their relationship. As a wife she is too clingy and dependent on her husband on the expense of her own identity. Although she was always acting politely, others are inclined on doing things instead of her, emphasising her incompetence; Lady Angkatell remarks: “she is so nice--really it seems odd sometimes that anyone so nice as Gerda should be so devoid of any kind of intelligence” (The Hollow, ch.1). Gerda lacks the physical as well as mental attractiveness and that is probably the main reason, why her husband tries to find satisfaction in other women.

Henrietta Saversnake is kind of parallel to Gerda. She is a free spirit with artistic talent, fond of driving cars. However, possessing all these attractions, she is not proud or arrogant: “She is very tactful and asks the right kind of questions, and being a sculptress they respect her, especially as she doesn't just carve animals or children's heads but does advanced things like that curious affair in metal and plaster that she exhibited at the New Artists last year” (The Hollow, ch.1). Being an artist is the main mean of self-expression in her life. Gerda also inspired her masterpiece “The Worshipper” which is very symbolic as its face is “blind, dumb, devoted” (The Hollow, ch.4). There is a conversation about Henrietta asking Gerda for a knitting pattern of her sweater, probably out of politeness. It results in conclusion between Lady Angkatell and Midge that the sweater looks on Henrietta much better than it does on Gerda: “Well, of course, it would. That's just the difference between Henrietta and Gerda. Everything Henrietta does she does well and it turns out right” (The Hollow, ch.1). This emphasises the enormous gap between these two personalities. Another thing pointing out the enormous differences in characters of Gerda and Henrietta were their relationship with cars. John was aware that “Gerda, God help her, had never been able to begin to drive a car!” while Henrietta “loved cars. She spoke of cars with the lyrical intensity that other people gave to spring, or the first snowdrop” (The Hollow, ch.4). Her love for cars is very unconventional for women at that time, since driving a car was more a masculine privilege. Henrietta is in love with John and he loves her in return, but she does not want to bind herself in a relationship.

And thirdly, there is Veronica Cray, a character with a most striking stereotype. She is a prototype of beautiful but egoistical self-centred actress not used to get easily over situations, when she does not successfully get what she wants. Her presence in the house creates a great excitement: “She was lovely--not quietly lovely, not even dazzlingly lovely--but so efficiently lovely that it made you gasp!” (The Hollow, ch.8). She was once engaged to John Christow, but he refused to be, as Henrietta puts it, a “little tame husband” in her life and she chose the career of actress over domestic life. When they accidentally meet again, Veronica does not hesitate to seduce him.

Gerda, Henrietta and Veronica are three completely different female personalities all connected in a romantic subplot with John Christow. All of them were in love with him. All of them had the motive to kill him. Gerda is a prototype of woman too dependent on her husband, unable of self-expression and lacking her own identity. Maybe we could assume that killing John was the only mean of her self-expression, although a very desperate one. John realized that “He could, he felt, at a pinch explain to Henrietta. He could never explain to Gerda” (The Hollow, ch. 9). Henrietta´s liberal attitude to her relationship with John enabled her to help to cover Gerda's crime because she felt that John would like her to do so. Veronica Cray is another extreme, relying on her beauty and charm; extremely egoistical in a way she wanted John to abandon everything for her. His rejection is unbearable for her ego. Although she is successful and beautiful woman, she lacks the moral principles, which makes her not very admirable character. The character most likely to find true happiness in life and be the ideal model of a woman can by Henrietta. The problem is that her creative independent spirit and love of art as a main mean of self-expression prevents her from seeking the happiness in a relationship. Although another female protagonist, Midge Hardcastle is not a very distinctive character in The Hollow, she is the heroine who saves Edward from his attempt to kill himself, later finding true happiness in marriage with him. She is another representative of a woman seeking the main fulfilment in life, traditionally, in a domestic sphere.

  1. Female Characters in The Mirror Crack´d From Side to Side

The main female protagonist is a famous movie diva Marina Gregg. She praised and admired more because of her fame and acting success than for her beauty: “She's not so young any more, but she'll always be a wonderful actress” (Mirror Crack'd, ch.2). And naturally, being a famous star and having a lot of money automatically creates envy in a lot of people as well as a lot of enemies, including Lola Brewster – a rival actress as well as once Marina´s rival in love. Nobody is therefore surprised by the fact that Marina was nearly poisoned by someone unknown, or at least it seems so at the beginning. The reader later finds out several interesting facts about her past when Miss Marple has a chat with Mrs. Bantry; Marina was once “natural and unspoiled” but she has suffered a nervous breakdown recently. Although Marina had a successful career, motherhood was an important goal in her life: “she'd always longed to have a child - she's even half-adopted a few strays - anyway this was the real thing. Very much built up. Motherhood with a capital M” (Mirror Crack'd, ch.3). Unfortunately, the child was born handicapped because Marina suffered from German measles during the pregnancy, and this completely broke her down. Although she seems always polite to other people and is “all charm and smiles”, a careful reader might find out that she is actually a little ruthless and egoistic. Her brokenness and unhappiness is the only thing that her world is spinning around. Another female character, Heather Babcock, is a local newsmonger poking her nose into everyone´s business familiar with all the gossip. She is another protagonist full of stereotypes; she is gossipy and subsequently she suffers the consequences of her sharp tongue. After Marina finds out during their conversation that Heather is the person responsible for accidentally infecting her with German measles, there is no other choice for her than to punish her. She cannot bear the woman who is the cause of the greatest unhappiness in Marina's life: “A tragedy she had never forgotten, that she had not allowed herself to forget“ (Mirror Crack'd, ch.23). Marina is an example of how the maternal feeling can be the cause and the main motive for such a desperate and terrible act like murder. She is just another example of a female character unsatisfied in her life, because money and fame did not bring her the same satisfaction as motherhood would have brought.

  1. Female Characters in Sleeping Murder

Although the Sleeping Murder is last of the Miss Marple's cases published in 1976, the main character investigating the clues is Gwenda Reed. She is “young married woman of twenty-one, on her travels” (Sleeping Murder, ch.1). The marriage between Gwenda and her husband Giles is certainly more unconventional, because his arrival to England is not certain and his job may require an amount of travelling. They have to count with the fact, that there can come times when they will have to spend some period of time separated by a distance. Nevertheless, “they both thought it would be nice to have, somewhere, a permanency” (Sleeping Murder, ch.1). The job to find a suitable house, which was usually a man's task, is now to be fulfilled by Gwenda. When she finally finds a lovely suitable home, however, she begins to be haunted by strange feelings: “a wave of irrational terror sweep over her” (Sleeping Murder, ch.1). Though she experiences weird feelings about the house, she tries to remain rational and rely on her common sense rather to let her feelings to overcome her. She is haunted by her past, when he witnessed a murder of her late stepmother Helen, and is brave enough to take a risk and investigate into the case than to foolishly run away. When her husband Giles finally arrives, he believes her every word and becomes very supportive. They reach a stage when they come too close to the truth and someone tries to kill them. After this, obviously traumatic experience, Gwenda “shook herself, came out of her imaginings, and returned to practicality. Giles would be home and want his tea” (Sleeping Murder, ch.24). She is practical and a very down-to-earth person.

We can observe hints of Christie's more liberal remarks, when she for example makes clear that Helen Kennedy was not a nymphomaniac and says that her murderer, Dr. Kennedy, was strict and old-fashioned about giving her liberty and not allowing her to go to parties. Christie using such a controversial incestuous relationship as a central conflict in her last published novel can be perceived as a result of her movement away from using strictly conservative characters at the beginning. Although the relationship between Gwenda and Giles is also depicted in a more modern manner, Christie still sticks to the image of country house as a safest place to find happiness in one´s life: “There's just the house. And the house is fond of us” (Sleeping Murder, ch.25).


Because majority of Christie'´s work is created during a time of big social changes, including the change of social roles and reinvention of the social class, her female protagonists often challenge existing social conventions about women's place in the society in many aspects: Christie did reveal that she herself had the somewhat "traditional" attitude to sex roles which was typical of her class and status“ (Vipond). Although they are modern, independent and willing to take risks in life, women who find truly happiness in life are those, who still manage to preserve traditional moral principles and virtues. The ideal of independent conservative woman is a female character finding satisfaction not in the mundane or material things; like money, fame, or beauty, but in the equal relationship and marriage, or raising children. The most accurate representative is Rosamund Darnley, giving up her business because it does not compare to spending her life with the man she loves.

Of course the characters cannot always be classified into a group possessing only certain limited number of attributes. Although they possess many stereotypes or are developed around one distinctive central personality trait, they often cross the lines: “the independent young flapper heroines wanted to settle down to marriage and children, and the silly ditherers often turned out to be made of steel“ (Vipond). There are women constantly failing to find happiness in their marriages, either it is because they are too dependent on their husbands or they have to fight for his attention with another woman. There are also successful wealthy women, who managed to build up their career and succeeded in maintaining their self-expression in art or business, but they failed to find their true love, or other circumstances prevented them from having children, and therefore they still lack the true happiness in their life.

We can generally observe, that female protagonists, who are too egoistical, self-centred, or igniting sexual desires among men who are in this case often married, are likely to become the victim of the hatred and jealousy. Moreover, they never manage to find the true happiness, because they are usually trying to find it at wrong places. Christie has probably an issue with the actresses as she often describes them in this unpleasant light. That is probably because actresses frequently think too highly of themselves. The fact is that we can find a lot of them in Christie´s work, providing only a few examples of Veronica Cray, Arlena Marshall or Marina Gregg. All of them represent the image of unsatisfied egoistical women constantly failing in finding their true satisfaction in life because their scale of life values is usually arranged in wrong order.

The heroines from Agatha Christie's world do not disdain building a career and many of them achieve great things and are considered as equal partners in the masculine society. Others are used as a mean to highlight the harmful effects of social criticism and some of the social conventions: “Agatha Christie's work remains surprisingly provocative. Some say her books are formulaic, her characters class-ridden, her style undemanding.” (Morgan) She points out that the rooted social classes need to be reinvented as the society is change and the change is inevitable, but she claims that this is possible without giving up traditional social values and moral principles.

We can also observe some development in her work, but mainly in a setting of the novel. She moves away from the original safe image of the “country house” to more diverse and exotic localities, like Baghdad or Egypt, which she had a change to visit with her second husband Max Mallowan. However when it comes to development of female characters in her novels, there are only minor differences to notice, as Christie sticks to the conservative moral values throughout her whole work.

It seems that Christie despises any kind of extremes; she puts on one side the overly emotional women and on the other side women hard as a rock, emphasising that both of the extremes are bad. She is able to create unconventional plots and unconventional characters, but those who are really satisfied in the modern world according to her are those, who preserve the traditional conservative values. Therefore she promotes women who are able to find a way to their self-expression, women who own a strong and independent characters able to survive in the course of the social change, but at the same time preserving the traditional moral values and finding true happiness not in obtaining a large amount of money, or public attention, but often willingly giving them up for the sake of happy marriage and family life.


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