Notes On While The Light Lasts

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1997

Motive: Wealth, jealousy and rage

Highlights:  This book comprises nine short stories appeared in different magazines in the UK between 1924 and 1932; two of them then became an entree and a main course in The Adventure of Christmas Pudding (1960 – see the Notes).  Twenty-one years after the authoress’s passing, HarperCollins UK decided to republish the other seven stories with their respective context and reflections on Christie’s work explained by Tony Medawar, one of her ardent fans. As a result, his insights on her work and the extent of personal life exposed in the stories provide the new readers with a flavour of Christie’s complicated plot and her writing style in plain English.

Christmas Adventure and The Mystery of Baghdad Chest are the original versions of The Adventure of Christmas Pudding and The Mystery of Spanish Chest the above mentioned 1960’s book. For they have the same plot in which the Belgian detective solves a delicate matter of jewel theft and the framing of Major Rich for the stabbing of his best friend. Although the details are not altered, in The Mystery of Baghdad Chest Arthur Hastings accompanies Poirot in the investigation and therefore it is written in a first-person account style.

Moreover, in Christmas Adventure, central heating system is not invented yet; Poirot seems to be contented with the sound of crackling fire amidst the cold in December. He needs no persuasion to spend Christmas among strangers while catching a gang of thieves; he gets a generous commission after all. All the same, it is the tradition of a homemade Christmas pudding and the joy of solving a dilemma in love; the latter is a touch on the part of the authoress known by many of her fans.

In The Mystery of Baghdad Chest, Hastings’s thoughts and accounts set the tone of the story. For instance, his little frustration concerning the Belgian’s pride about his reputation and the way he responds to the English stiff upper-lip attitude. And how about Poirot’s remarks of his missing the other dearly in Christmas Adventure?  ‘….Sometimes, when we were together, this friend made me impertinent, his stupidity enraged me; but now he has gone, I can remember only his good qualities….’ he says to Evelyn Haworth.

What fascinates me is Christie’s decision to change  ‘Baghdad’ to ‘Spanish’. On the one hand, the former is a cradle of civilisation, which also speaks volumes about her interest in archaeology and her long-standing appreciation to its study immortalised in Come, Tell Me How You Live (see the Notes) . Why Spanish then, I wonder? Was it because of her travelling to the country?

Isle of Man, UK

In The Edge, The Lonely God and While The Light Lasts romance and crime blend, which make a good contrast to a blackmailing case in The Actress and the ghostly feeling in The House of Dreams. What is more is Christie’s aptness capturing substantial changes in English society and various moral dilemma that emerge in the aftermath of the Great War. While The Light Lasts tells readers about a woman having to face a husband she thought had died, The Edge pinpoints the practicality of adultery as an excuse for the bleak economy of Great Britain that hit both the Upper Class and the Lower one. Likewise, Jake Levitt sees an opportunity having come across a famous personality in The Actress.  In a nutshell, the respective protagonists in these stories find themselves in catch twenty-two; whichever option they choose bear their distinctive consequences.

The least favourite story is The House of Dreams. I cannot understand what the recurring dream of a man’s means and later how it relates to his being unlucky in love. To many he is perceived as a failure despite coming from an old family background with dwindling wealth.  Be that as it may, I respect him sticking to his principle.

Among the stories, Manx Gold becomes my most favourite one. Myles Mylecharane, the dead protagonist, intrigues me most and therefore my choice as The Most Fascinating Character. Juan and Fenella must go on a treasure hunt in Isle of Man to prove their worthy of inheriting their eccentric uncle’s four chests of gold.

Within Wall perhaps Medawar’s least favourite story, owing to its ‘somewhat ambiguous’ plot and the symbols Christie has used in the story. ‘”The golden apple within their hands” – whose hands, and what does the ‘golden apple’ symbolize?”’ he writes in the afterword.

To my mind, rather than imagining a far-fetched thing, I believe that first of all, the answer is in the riddle. Second of all, if he had understood the legend of The Apple of Hesperides he would have learnt what the ‘golden apple’ signifies. Third of all, had he pondered the last paragraph in the story, he would have realised the extent of Christie’s subtleness on love.

‘Within a wall as white as milk, within a curtain soft as silk, bathed in a sea of crystal clear, a golden apple doth appear’

The riddle for Alan Everald from his daughter

Be that as it may, I cannot help feel a sympathy towards Jane Haworth – her love to someone else’s husband. A love not consummated but manifested in a way whereby the struggling painter can work as he wishes and supports his family. Frankly speaking, perhaps only a few men who can understand Haworth’s stand on the matter.

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson is Agatha Christie’s favourite

Lastly, the use of the title from a line in Tennyson’s war poem in the closing story is undoubtedly clever. If anything, it serves as a bitter reminder of the war shadowing the lives of ordinary people. When a man is found dead from gunshots in a dark shed at a tobacco estate in South Africa, it is quickly dismissed as a suicide. For it has been perceived that his state of mind is imbalanced filled with memories of the war. That is disturbing; the fact that society becomes judgmental instead of helping the men who served their country.  The question is: will a troubled head make someone want to take their life? Most significantly is the realisation that the crimes people can get away having targeted the right victims. It recurs in ABC Murders (see the Notes) in which the killer is almost successful to have blamed an innocent man for the dead bodies found with an ABC railway map near them.

To conclude, this collection of short stories is the window to Christie’s world. It is highly recommended to anyone who wishes to study the authoress’s writing style and the significance an era can add to story.

 ‘While the light lasts I shall remember, and in the darkness I shall not forget.’

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson

Plots , Cast of Characters and The Twists in the order of appearance:

  1. The House of Dreams (published in Sovereign magazine in January 1926)

Plot:

John Segrave is attracted to Allegra Kerr, having met her through Maisie Wetterman, his boss’s daughter.  Nonetheless, he understands Maisie’s feelings for him; it seems to be being the son-in-law of a City financier is a plausible option regarding his financial difficulty. Yet his heart has set for Kerr, of whom then refuses his proposal on the grounds of insanity in her family.

Meanwhile, he has had unusual recurring dreams of a white house standing on a high ground. A strangely beautiful place he wants to enter.

What is the relationship between Segrave’s dream and his love to Kerr? What becomes of them?

Cast:

Allegra Kerr (Maisie’s  friend)

John Sergrave (the son of Sir Edward Segrave, an old family who has lost its wealth)

Maisie Wetterman (Rudolf’s daughter)

Rudolf Watterman (a City financier, John’s boss)

The unnamed doctor in West Africa

The Twist: John Segrave dies in West Africa

2. The Actress (published in the Novel magazine in May 1923)

Plot: Olga Stormer, a well-known actress, reads a blackmail letter and thinks of a plan to rid of the sender.  She asks her manager to phone a junior actress who wants to be Stormer’s understudy. She also replies the letter, in which she agrees for the blackmailer to come over to her flat at one night.

As planned, Jake Levitt enters her flat, thinking of his having had Stormer in his hands. What he does not expect in the least is to find a body of a woman beneath the black velvet curtains hanging at the window. ‘Oh, my Gord! You’ve killed her!’ cries Stormer’s maid later.

What will Levitt do next?

Cast:

Jake Levitt (the blackmailer)

Miss Jones (Olga’s secretary)

Olga Stormer (the actress, a.k.a. Nancy Taylor)

Syd Danahan (Olga’s manager)

The Twist: the body is Margaret Ryan, the would-be understudy, who has the same colour of hair and style like Stormer’s

3. The Edge (published in the Pearson’s Magazine in February 1927)

Plot:

When a woman comes across the handwriting of a woman’s with a different name in an inn, her suspicion of the other’s character is vindicated. More importantly, she realises it is the way to win over the heart of the other’s husband, of whom she dearly loves. An affair is something he cannot tolerate –if she chooses to speak about it.

Yet she lets the other know of such knowledge and the two women meet to establish an understanding of the situation. She holds her tongue for a while, but when the news of their going abroad reaches her later she changes. ‘I advise you to tell your husband yourself….otherwise, I shall,’ she says to the other while they have a walk at The Edge – the cliff beneath them.

As they part, the other turns her head and waves a hand gaily to her, then she runs on gaily, lightly, as a child might run, out of sight….

Cast:

Clare Halliwell (an orphan, Gerald’s childhood friend)

Sir Gerald Lee (the owner of the Grange, a mile away from Halliwell’s cottage)

Nurse Lariston (a nurse at a mental ward)

Vivien Lee (nee Harper, Gerald’s wife)

The Vicar

A hotel receptionist at County Arms in Skippington

The Twist: Clare Halliwell survives

4. Christmas Adventure (published as The Adventure of Christmas Pudding on The Sketch on 12th December 1923)

Plot: A murder hunt is initiated following the appearance of a great detective. Nancy Cardell is to die and Poirot will find her in the snow. Oscar Levering agrees to be ‘the murderer’ and leaves his boot prints for the detective to see.

Meanwhile, Poirot opens a note for him written by an illiterate hand: ‘Do not eat any plumpudding.’ Be that as it may, he eats a slice of it during the Christmas dinner. That before Rogers Endicott roars: ‘Confound it, Emily! Why do you cook put glass in the puddings?’

It is an extraordinary glass: a ruby stone.

Cast:

Annie (the maid)

Daisy, the kitchen maid in Downtown Abbey Series, which reminds me of Annie the maid.

Charles Pease (Eric and Johnnie’s school friend)

Emily Endicott (the elderly aunt)

Eric Endicott (Nancy’s younger brother)

Evelyn Haworth (Emily’s older niece, who is engaged to Oscar)

Granges (the butler)

Jean Endicott (Emily’s niece)

Johnnie Endicott (Nancy and Eric’s sibling)

Nancy Cardell (Emily’s niece)

Oscar Levering (Evelyn’s fiancé)

Roger Endicott (the eldest nephew of Emily’s)

The cook 

The Twist: The note Poirot has received was written by Annie

5. The Lonely God (published in the Royal Magazine in July 1926)

Plot:

In the British Museum the statue of a little ‘lonely god’ has two ‘worshippers’; a man and a woman who meets one another at the spot and fall in love. He, the moment he has seen her looking at the god in her black skirt and she, when he shows her a handkerchief that is not hers. Then he manages to take her for tea and proposes.

There is no more from her but a letter of apologies saying that she would never be able to marry him.  Feeling dejected, he channels his despair onto a canvas after reading a fairy story in a magazine by chance. A great painting of a Princess surrounded by her court, her reclining in a divan with the face turns away. Yet her eyes fix at a little grey stone idol in a dark and shadowy corner. A Lonely Princess looking at a Lonely Little God is hung in the Academy and the mysterious side of it draws more attention from the public.

Will she ever see the painter again?

The British Museum where Frank Oliver and the Princess in disguise meet.

Cast: Frank Oliver (the man) and the unnamed Princess

The Twist: the lonely princess wishes the little god to help her

6. Manx Gold (published in the Daily Dispatch in May 1930 as five instalments of stories)

Plot:

Myles Mylecharane’s grandfather has made a fortune from smuggling; four chests of gold hidden in Isle of Man. His grandson writes to his great nephew Juan and niece Fenella before his death, stating that he has left them the gold as long as they can find them. Meanwhile, there are two other relatives who also have been informed about the treasure by the lawyers and therefore have the same chance.

With the clues given, how fast the duo can find all of the treasure before the other two?

 

Cast:

Ewan Corjeag (Fenella’s distant relative – the competitor)

Fenella Mylecharane

Juan Farakar

Dr Richard Fayll (Fenella’s other distant relative – the competitor)

Mrs. Skillicorn (Myles’s housekeeper)

The Twist: Ewan Corjeag has fallen off the ladder outside Myles’s house and dies as a result of his head having hit a stone.

7. Within A Wall (published in the Royal Magazine in October 1925)

Plot: A struggling portrait artist, Alan Everard is a genius and he will be reluctant to carry out a commission for a rich people’s resemblance on canvas.  When he finds out that his daughter’s godmother gives his wife, Isobel, a cheque of £100 for the child, it enrages him. For he knows Jane Haworth is poor.

Then she dies. It even astounds him to realise that for the last four years Haworth has given money to his family. Why?

Cast:

Alan Everard (the portrait artist)

George  (the narrator, Alan’s friend)

Jane Haworth (Alan’s daughter’s godmother, of whom he make a sketch)

Isobel Loring (Alan’s wife)

Mrs. Lempriere (a reputable art critic, a friend of Alan’s)

Winnie Everard (Alan and Isobel’s child)

The Twist: Jane Haworth dies from influenza and pneumonia a month after she gives the last cheque

8. The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest (published in the Strand Magazine in January 1932)

Plot:

A small dinner party at Major Rich turns as a murder investigation the next day when the body of his friend, Clayton, is found the Baghdad Chest, a piece of furniture the major brought back from the East. Marguerita Clayton, the deceased’s wife, makes a plea to Poirot to prove the major’s innocence. ‘You mean – why I’m so sure? Well, but I know. I know Major Rich so well,’ she replies in response to the sleuth’s question ‘why did Major Rich not kill Mr. Clayton?’

Will Poirot want to believe the woman’s instinct?

Cast:

Lady Alice Chatterton (Poirot’s acquaintance who introduces him to Mrs. Clayton)

Burgoyne (Major Rich’s valet/manservant)

Mr. Clayton (Marguerita’s husband)

Major Jack Curtiss (Clayton’s friend)

Marguerita Clayton

Major Rich (the Claytons’s friend)

The Spences (Major Rich’s friends)

The Twist: Burgoyne notices that the screen that cuts off the draught in Major Rich’s bedroom door has been moved to the left and obscured the chest. The door opens to the room where the party took place.

9. While The Light Lasts (published in the Novel Magazine in April 1924)

The 1909 stamp of Rhodesia while it is still under the British Empire

Plot: It is hot and humid at a tobacco estate outside Rhodesia, South Africa. Deidre Corzier accompanies her husband on a tour around the plantations. Of all places, she thinks of her first husband who was killed in the War.

In a shed where the dry leaves are hung, the pungent smell is overpowering. She is about to leave the shed when a voice calls out her name. She stops dead because there is only one who would have said it in such a way.

Tim Nugent, her first husband, has not died after all.

Cast:

Deidre Corzier (George’s wife)

George Corzier (Deidre’s second husband)

Tim Nugent (Deidre’s first husband)

Mr. Walters (the manager of the tobacco estate)

The Twist: Tim Nugent seems to have committed suicide at the tobacco estate

The Most Fascinating Character: Myles Mylecharane

Eccentric but ingenious, Mylecharane is an uncle Fenella has only seen on two occasions. As one of his four remaining relatives he has instructed his lawyer to give her a letter after his death. It reads as follows:

My dear Fenella and Juan (for I take it that where one of you is the other will not be far away! Or so gossip has whispered),

You may remember having heard me say that anyone displaying a little intelligence could easily find the treasure concealed by my amiable scoundrel of a grandfather. I displayed that intelligence  and my reward was four chests of solid gold – quite like a fairy story, is it not?

Of living relations I have only four, you two, my nephew, Ewan Corjeag, whom I have always heard is a thoroughly bad lot, and a cousin, a Doctor Fayll, of whom I have heard very little, and that little not always good.

My estate proper I am leaving to you and Fenella, but I feel a certain obligation laid upon me with regard to this ‘terasure’ which has fallen to my lot solely through my own ingenuity. My amiable ancestor would not, I feel, be satisfied for me to pass it on tamely by inheritance. So I, in my turn, have devised a little problem.

There are still four ‘chests’ of treasure (though in a more modern form than gold ingots or coins) and there are to be four competitors- my four living relations. It would be fairest to assign one’chest’ to each – but the world, my children, is not fair. The race is on the swiftest – and often the most unscrupulous!

Who am I to go against Nature? You must pit your wit against the other two. There will be, I fear, very little chance for you. Goodness and innocence are seldom rewarded in this world. So strongly do I fel this that I have deliberately cheated (unfairness again, you notice!). This letter goes to you twenty-four hours in advance of the letters to the other two. Thus you will have a very good chance of securing the first “treasure” – twenty-four hours’ start, if you have any brains at all, ought to be sufficient.

The clues for finding this treasure are to be found at my house in Douglas. The clues for the second “treasure” will not be released till the first treasure is found. In the second and succeeding cases, therefore, you will all start even. You have my good wishes for success, and nothing would please me better than for you to acquire all four “chests,” but for the reasons which I have already stated I think that most unlikely. Remember that no scruples will stand in dear Ewan’s way. Do not make the mistake of trusting him in any respect. As to Dr Richard Fyall, I know little about him, but he is, I fancy a dark horse.

Good luck to you both, but with little hopes of your success,

Your affectionate Uncle,

Myles Mylecharane’     

Those lines, long they appear to be, tells readers a lot about this enigmatic character. I love the letter.

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