Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Tuesday Night Clubs: Love and Christie

 
 
In the month of Valentine’s Day, the Tuesday Night bloggers, a group of crime fiction fans doing a themed entry each week, could really only go with the theme of 


LOVE


Love logo

As ever, Bev at My Reader’s Block did the splendid logo.


And Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery is collecting the links this month.




A few weeks ago I did a blogpost on Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death, focussing on the strong female character of Sarah – and I mentioned the possibility of making a list of my favourite women characters in the Christie oeuvre. I also wondered who would be on others’ lists – and Brad was quick off the mark, accepted the challenge, and produced his list here. And for his first love-themed entry he chose his favourite Christie couples.

I had already decided for this entry to look at the great Christie women through the lens of their lovelives – which is of course quite different from favourite couples! (am holding off from reading Brad’s post till I’ve assembled my list, mind you.)

So here, in no particular order, are:


 

FAVOURITE CHRISTIE WOMEN IN LOVE





mourning
Mysterious woman, in mourning, in love and doing some sleuthing
 
 
Henrietta Savernake in The Hollow (1946)

I always say that she and this book are for the true Christie aficionados. She is one of Christie’s best and strongest females. She is a sculptor, and Christie totally makes you believe in her artistic talent, which is quite an achievement. The reader is left longing to see some of her creations described in the book. She cheats at cards ‘skilfully’ in a good cause, and can knit a good sweater.

And yet – her connection with the case comes through her long-standing affair with a married man. I think (open to correction) that she is the only character in the oeuvre not to be judged or punished at all for having an affair – it is accepted matter-of-factly.

We, Henrietta’s fans, want to think that a part-time lover suits her best, she wouldn’t want the bother of being married. She certainly wouldn’t be worriting over the joint of mutton like Gerda. There seems little doubt that she does love him very much. But there are two faint questions: her lover doesn’t really seem like a very nice man, why does she put up with him? And, how much does Gerda know at any given point? It’s a mystery.
Supplementary: she only has a tiny role, but the very memorable Mrs Crabtree also belongs on this list. She is John Christow’s favourite patient, and she seems like a stock Cockney character. But there is something more to her, and she sticks in the mind.

Sophia in Crooked House (1949) 

There are a lot of strong and intriguing female characters in this book, from common Brenda to wonderful Magda. Sophia is probably way down most people’s list – she is the young woman who had a very senior job in Egypt during the war, and who wants to marry Charles. When her grandfather dies, Charles comes and tries to find out what is going on. In a household of excitement and drama she is calmly in charge, hilariously organizing her actress mother, and with a clear view of what’s going on. No wonder she is the old man’s heir…

I like her for her straightforwardness in love - she’s no shrinking violet waiting to be wooed. When Charles contacts her, she sends a telegram:
Will be at Mario's nine o'clock. Sophia.
--and after a few awkward moments and some ‘artificial talk’
"Sophia," I said.
And immediately she said, "Charles!"
I drew a deep breath of relief.
"Thank goodness that's over," I said.
"What's been the matter with us?"
"Probably my fault. I was stupid."
"But it's all right now?"
"Yes, it's all right now." 
 How romantic is that?

 
Five Little Pigs
Caroline has loved Amyas since their magical childhood together
 


Caroline in Five Little Pigs (1941) 

Another book full of strong fascinating women (in very different ways…), and Caroline is notable for her love for Amyas the artist, despite his bad behaviour. You do think she should have slapped him, and you also close your eyes at the idea that she went to jail to protect someone else – but she is a memorable, decisive woman, one you can only respect. Her relationship with Amyas is actually very real: what strikes me is that the two of them are so wrapped up in each other that they love their daughter, but have no time for her – and that this might be an almost unconscious reflection of both Christie’s marriages. Christie certainly loved her daughter, but she does seem to have chosen her husbands when it came down to it.

 
Man in Brown Suit
Anne is no-nonsense, sharp, and has great hats



Anne Bedingfield in Man in the Brown Suit (1924) 

I love this book, love this heroine, and have done since the first time I read it as an impressionable and romantic teenager. Her relationship with the eponymous Man, Harry, was terrific then, and I still like it now. She falls in love with him, and is determined to prove his innocence: she sets off for adventures and is brave and resourceful. And in the end gets what she wants. She is a wonderful heroine – and the book is very clever as well as being hilariously funny.


 
Dolcis shoes
Tweed skirts and brogues for nice girls
 


Megan Hunter in Moving Finger (1942)

Another teenage favourite, and if asked then I would have claimed it has a particularly satisfying plot, very well-worked-out, and that Miss Marple is sharp and has sensible things to say. But of course secretly, what really sold it to the very young me was the makeover scene, where Megan Hunter is whisked off to London by narrator Jerry, because he has recognized her inner beauty, and, as we can all see, is in love with her.

The makeover (and oh, Clothes in Books does love a makeover) is wonderful. Jerry is given the killer line ‘It just infuriates me to see you so slack’, and then, half a day’s magic later –
Megan was standing looking at herself in a long mirror. I give you my word I hardly recognised her! Tall and slim as a willow with delicate ankles and feet.. quality and distinction in every line of her…
Is that true love?



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So that’s five great Christie women and their romances, and I could have gone on all day. I can’t believe that I haven’t mentioned Jacqueline de Bellefort (love took her to some pretty unlikely places in Death on the Nile) and Iris and Rosemary in Sparkling Cyanide, sisters facing up to opposite sides of love. Then there is the mystery woman who only appears in the very final pages of Cat Among the Pigeons, and who is remembering someone she loved very much – an ending that if it appeared in a ‘literary’ novel would be justly famous.

But I will end with the note that Megan writes near the end of Moving Finger. It is a masterpiece of a love letter, very short (actually unfinished), one that grabs me afresh every time I read it:
I was reading my school Shakespeare and the sonnet that begins:
So are you to my thoughts as food to life  
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground...
And I see that I am in love with you after all, because that is what I feel…
The perfect ending for Valentine’s Day.


































16 comments:

  1. Love your choices and the urge to re-read more of Christie comes to the surface once more, as I don't really have strong memories of the women you mention in Crooked House and The Man in the Brown Suit. Henrietta doesn't get censured/punished as you say for having loving a married man. A sort of punishment though is her pain over losing the man she loves and the subsequent isolation she probably feels. I love Megan as a character but I have some doubts about Jerrie. His desire to make her over felt too controlling for me and various phrases in the book do put Megan in a dog to owner type relationship with him. Guess the makeover thing makes me feel like he is trying to make her conform to societal standards as well, before he marries her.

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    1. I do know what you mean about Jerry, but I can't get away from the way I felt about this book when younger, I can't cast a more grown-up eye on it.
      I think her women were very good - I too keep thinking of more of them I could write about.

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  2. Ah, you picked some great characters, Moira! Just fantastic! And what I like is that, in their own ways, they're all strong characters. No simpering there! I like Midge Hardcasatle in The Hollow, and the Duveen sisters in The Murder on the Links, too. There are more, but I don't want to clutter up your comment space...

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    1. Yes! so many great women. I would so like you to make your own list on your blog...

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  3. Lovely choices, Moira! I've always been a fan of Henrietta! (See my post today!) The one I haven't re-visited in an age is Anne Beddingfield. I think TMitBS is due for a re-read one of these days soon!

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    1. I loved your lists too. Every time someone mentions their own favourites I want to add them to my list.

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  4. I always liked Mary Dove in "A pocket full of Rye", Katherine Grey in "The Mystery of the Blue Train" and Mary Debenham in "Murder on the Orient Express" The first and last are minor characters but all are strong, independent no-nonsense women. An uncle of mine used to say "the smart ones are always the best"

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    1. Yes! Your 2nd and 3rd are ones I had on my longlist. Hadn't thought of Mary Dove - so many good ones. And Christie did like the smart ones.

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  5. I am surprised that I have read three of those books and I agree that they are very good choices. (Moving Finger, Man in the Brown Suit, and Crooked House) My favorite of those three would be Megan in Moving Finger. Amazing that Christie can do romance so well and still have a good mystery.

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    1. Megan will always be one of my favourites. And I agree - she did a good job of love stories that weren't too predictable or cliched.

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  6. Enlightening and entertaining as always, Moira.

    I've always felt, however, that while excellent at plot and puzzle and social satire, Christie falls short on romance. She seems to make a point of pairing off some young couple at the end; any couple will do. Just give that intrepid and clever "girl", who has come through so much, a manly bosom to lean on as a reward.

    Katherine Grey, from Mystery of the Blue Train, is a wonderful, resourceful protagonist, but in the end lets herself be paired off with the decidedly slimy Derek. And Lynn Marchmont, at the end of Taken at the Flood, chooses her original fiance, Rowley Cloade, when he stops being mild-mannered and proves he loves her by trying to strangle her in a moment of (manly) jealous rage.

    My brother and I agreed you could sometimes spot the murderer if Christie had lined up a fall-back lover for his fiancee to turn to at the end. :^)

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    1. I know what you mean - Lynn and Rowley are particularly problematic. But I think she was trying not to be superficial, to suggest different kinds of relationships are possible. And I think she was better at that than some of her contemporaries.

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  7. Lady Frances Derwent, Egg Lytton Gore...

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    1. Oh yes, and Bundle Brent. Please do your own list on your blog Lucy...

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  8. "Is that true love?"

    Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds. ;-)

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