A glimpse into Agatha Christie’s legacy on the occasion of her 130th birthday and how she emerges as an incredible feminist icon.
Sasha Shinde, Writer
Illustration by Kranti Gagdekar Chhara
At first glance, Agatha Christie was not a remarkable person at all. She wasn’t someone who commanded attention wherever she went; she could slip past you in her carefully constructed persona, and you would never be any wiser. Agatha Christie was not a remarkable person at a glance.
For all his fame, his own creator called him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep” after writing stories about him for long time.
Her first novel was published in 1920. From then on, she wrote, and wrote, and wrote; 80 novels and short story collections, 19 plays have been credited to her under her name, with six more novels published under a pen name (Mary Westmacott). She created the most famous detective in crime fiction since Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, a hundred years ago. But we are not here to celebrate him. For all his fame, his own creator called him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep” after writing stories about him for long time. Instead, let’s talk about Miss Marple.
First appearing in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, Miss Jane Marple was the unlikeliest of people to become a detective; a woman, an old woman at that, unmarried, with her hobbies being knitting, gardening, and gossiping. Miss Marple is modelled after Christie’s grandmother and her grandmother’s friends. Her character personifies the quintessential British archetype of the ‘spinster’. Miss Marple uses this to her advantage, though, often catching bits of information that people let slip because they think of her as a harmless old lady.
She is perhaps defined best in her own words in A Murder is Announced, “Really, I have no gifts—no gifts at all—except perhaps a certain knowledge of human nature.” And this keen knowledge of human nature often lead her to solve the mystery, or a part of it before the Inspectors and Detectives, who did not ask for her assistance in the first place, figured it out.
‘Well, my dear,’ said Miss Marple, ‘human nature is much the same everywhere, and, of course, one has opportunities of observing it at closer quarters in a village.’
-The Thirteen Problems, The Thumb Mark of St Peter
Miss Marple had a general disdain for everyone and everything, and a pessimistic view on life, but she was annoyingly right most of the time, as Christie herself stated.
Miss Marple had a general disdain for everyone and everything, and a pessimistic view on life, but she was annoyingly right most of the time, as Christie herself stated. As pointed earlier, Christie does put Miss Marple into a box, not crediting her intelligence for her deductive prowess, instead citing intuition or ‘feeling’. Regardless of this, she revels in the intuition, an aspect considered feminine, as opposed to logic or reason. Miss Marple is certainly a polarising character, traditional and unconventional, even when she was first conceived of, in equal measure.
Another fascinating character is author Ariadne Oliver, a caricature of Christie herself. A successful middle-aged novelist, she is the creator of Finnish detective Sven Hjerson (based on Hercule Poirot), whom she refers to as idiotic but popular. Appearing in six novels with Hercule Poirot, she believes that Scotland Yard would be better off run by a woman.
“Men are so slow. I’ll soon tell you who did it.”
Perhaps Christie would not be an apparent choice as a feminist for many. Her struggle was more subtle; getting divorced in the 1920s, remarrying an archaeologist, travelling the world, and writing all the while, creating a male detective who rivals only Sherlock Holmes in popularity, creating Miss Marple who doesn’t resemble any other detective figure I’ve known, weaving in mystery and intrigue in narrative akin to a magician with the humanity of the individual characters intact, and becoming arguably the best-selling author of all time.
“I do not argue with obstinate men. I act in spite of them.”
-Agatha Christie, The Mystery of the Blue Train
Agatha Christie was representative of real women, and so were her characters.
Agatha Christie was representative of real women, and so were her characters. Many unassuming individuals would have written her off, and walked past her not knowing any better. But as someone who has had the privilege to read her books, scratch her brains trying to figure out the murderer before Miss Marple, or even Poirot could, I can say this with conviction; Agatha Christie was extraordinarily remarkable in a way that only she could be.
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