She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for the 66 detective novels and more than 15 short story collections she wrote under her own name, most of which revolve around the investigations of such characters as Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence. She also wrote the world’s longest-running play The Mousetrap.
Born to a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon, Christie served in a hospital during the First World War before marrying and starting a family in London. Although initially unsuccessful at getting her work published, in 1920, The Bodley Head press published her novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the character of Poirot. This launched her literary career.
Hercule Poirot is a fictional Belgian detective, created by Agatha Christie. Along with Miss Marple, Poirot is one of Christie’s most famous and long-lived characters, appearing in 33 novels, one play, and more than 50 short stories published between 1920 and 1975 and set in the same era.
Poirot has been portrayed on radio, on screen, for films and television, by various actors, including John Moffatt, Albert Finney, Sir Peter Ustinov, Sir Ian Holm, Tony Randall, Alfred Molina and David Suchet.
Here is how Captain Arthur Hastings first describes Poirot:
- “He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible.
- The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandified little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.”
This is how Agatha Christie describes Poirot in The Murder on the Orient Express in the initial pages:
- “By the step leading up into the sleeping-car stood a young Belgian lieutenant, resplendent in uniform, conversing with a small man (Hercule Poirot) muffled up to the ears of whom nothing was visible but a pink-tipped nose and the two points of an upward-curled moustache.”
In the later books, the limp is not mentioned, which suggests it may have been a temporary wartime injury. Poirot has dark hair, which he dyes later in life (though many of his screen incarnations are portrayed as bald or balding), and green eyes that are repeatedly described as shining “like a cat’s” when he is struck by a clever idea.Frequent mention is made of his patent-leather shoes, damage to which is frequently a subject of (for the reader, comical) misery on his part. Poirot’s appearance, regarded as fastidious during his early career, is hopelessly out of fashion later in his career.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time.
Her novels have sold roughly 4 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works rank third, after those of William Shakespeare and the Bible, as the world’s most widely published books. According to Index Translationum, Christie is the most translated individual author, and her books have been translated into at least 103 languages.
And Then There Were None is Christie’s best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. In 1971, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot operates as a fairly conventional, clue-based detective, depending on logic, which is represented in his vocabulary by two common phrases: his use of “the little grey cells” and “order and method”. Irritating to Hastings is the fact that Poirot will sometimes conceal from him important details of his plans, as inThe Big Four where Hastings is kept in the dark throughout the climax. This aspect of Poirot is less evident in the later novels, partly because there is rarely a narrator so there is no one for Poirot to mislead.
As early as Murder on the Links, where he still largely depends on clues, Poirot mocks a rival “bloodhound” detective who focuses on the traditional trail of clues that had been established in detective fiction by the example of Sherlock Holmes: footprints, fingerprints and cigar ash. From this point on he establishes himself as a psychological detective who proceeds not by a painstaking examination of the crime scene, but by enquiring either into the nature of the victim or the psychology of the murderer. Central to his behaviour in the later novels is the underlying assumption that particular crimes are only committed by particular types of people.
Poirot’s methods focus on getting people to talk. Early in the novels, he frequently casts himself in the role of “Papa Poirot”, a benign confessor, especially to young women. Later he lies freely in order to gain the confidences of other characters, either inventing his own reason for being interested in the case or a family excuse for pursuing a line of questioning.
Poirot is also willing to appear more foreign or vain than he really is in an effort to make people underestimate him. He admits as much:
- “It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say – a foreigner – he can’t even speak English properly. […] Also I boast! An Englishman he says often, “A fellow who thinks as much of himself as that cannot be worth much. […] And so, you see, I put people off their guard.”
In the later novels Christie often uses the word mountebank when Poirot is being assessed by other characters, showing that he has successfully passed himself off as a charlatan or fraud.
After solving a case Poirot has the habit of collecting all people involved into a single room and explaining them the reasoning that led him to the solution, and revealing that the murderer is one of them.
Among Poirot’s most significant personal attributes is the sensitivity of his stomach:
- “The plane dropped slightly. “Mon estomac,” thought Hercule Poirot, and closed his eyes determinedly.”
He suffers from sea sickness, and in Death in the Clouds believes that his air sickness prevents him from being more alert at the time of the murder. Later in his life, we are told:
- “Always a man who had taken his stomach seriously, he was reaping his reward in old age. Eating was not only a physical pleasure, it was also an intellectual research.”
Poirot is extremely punctual and carries a turnip pocket watch almost to the end of his career. He is also fastidious about his personal finances, preferring to keep a bank balance of 444 pounds, 4 shillings, and 4 pence.
Poirot was in the Brussels police force by 1893. A brief passage in The Big Four furnishes possible information about Poirot’s birth or at least childhood in or near the town of Spa, Belgium or in the village of Ellezelles ,Belgium .
Christie strongly implies that this “quiet retreat in the Ardennes” near Spa is the Poirot family home. Christie is purposefully vague, as Poirot is thought to be elderly even in the early Poirot novels, and in An Autobiography she admitted that she already imagined him to be an old man in 1920. At the time, of course, she had no idea she would be going on writing Poirot books for many decades to come.
Christie wrote that Poirot is a Roman Catholic,and gave her character a strong sense of Catholic morality later in works. Christie wrote little of Poirot’s childhood though in Three Act Tragedy she writes that he comes from a large family with little wealth.
The character of Jane Marple in the first Miss Marple book, The Murder at the Vicarage, is markedly different from how she appears in later books. This early version of Miss Marple is a gleeful gossip and not an especially nice woman. The citizens of St. Mary Mead like her but are often tired by her nosy nature and how she seems to expect the worst of everyone. In later books she becomes more modern and a kinder person.
Miss Marple never married and has no close living relatives. Her nephew, the “well-known author” Raymond West appears in Vicarage, his wife Joan (initially Joyce), a modern artist, in The Thirteen Problems. Raymond overestimates himself and underestimates his aunt’s mental acuity. Niece Mabel, widow of the mysteriously dead Geoffrey Denham, stars in the 1927 short story “The Thumb Mark of Saint Peter”. Miss Marple also employs young women from a nearby orphanage, whom she trains for service as general housemaids after the retirement of her long-time maid-housekeeper faithful Florence. In her later years, companion Cherry Baker, first introduced in The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, lives in.
Miss Marple solves difficult crimes because of her shrewd intelligence, and St. Mary Mead, over her lifetime, has given her seemingly infinite examples of the negative side of human nature. Crimes always remind her of a parallel incident. Acquaintances may be bored by analogies that often lead her to a deeper realization about the true nature of a crime. Although she looks sweet, frail, and old, she fears neither dead nor living. She also has a remarkable ability to latch onto a casual comment and connect it to the case at hand.
- #See# : Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (younghvwzt.wordpress.com)
- Hail to Hercule! (leeduigon.com)
- poirot and marple – fan favorites (xoxoxoe.blogspot.com)
- My hero: Agatha Christie by Sophie Hannah (guardian.co.uk)
- Perfume for Hercule Poirot : On Fictional Characters and Fragrance (boisdejasmin.typepad.com)
- Dreaming of the Orient Express – by Booktopia’s Christopher Cahill (booktopia.com.au)
- Brief Book Review: The Secret Adversary (anytimeyoga.wordpress.com)
- Favorite Fictional Detectives (thefirstgates.com)
- After The Funeral – Agatha Christie (blueloft.wordpress.com)
- Reaching the end (simpleacademy.wordpress.com)