Notes on Miss Marple’s Final Cases

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1979

Motive for Murder: wealth and revenge

 

Plot:

1.Sanctuary: Bunch opens the church to find a dying man at the altar. He mumbles his last word sanctuary and the other that sounds like her husband’s name: Julian, the vicar. When a man and a woman turn up and claim the deceased as their brother, Bunch starts to smell a rotten business in the stranger’s death. Particularly, they insist to take his shabby coat which is stained with blood as a memento.

 

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Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire,UK is a filming set for A Murder Is Announced which features Reverend Julian Harmon and his wife Bunch.

2.Strange Jest: The benefactors to Matthew Rossiter’s will Charmian Stroud and Edward Rossiter are running out of time to solve  his late uncle’s riddle. They believe there’s been a buried treasure in Ansteys- the inherited home they love so much. Despite their effort they can’t find it. Being under the pressure to either foot the bill  or sell the property, they turn to Miss Marple for her insights on Victorian idiosyncrasies.

 

3.Tape-Measure Murder: Constable Palk is not supposed to touch anything in a crime scene. Yet he’s picked up a pin on his uniform, having come first to the crime scene. Mrs. Spenlow has been strangled in her home dressed in a kimono.Yet, as the saying goes: ‘see a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.’

4.The Case of the Caretaker: Harry Laxton comes back to his village a wealthy man. The prodigal son of Major Laxton has bought the Kingsdean estate where he spent his boyhood and rebuilt the house after his marriage to Louise, a rich Anglo-French woman. An orphan with considerable fortune, her happiness is put to a test when Mrs. Murgatroyd, the widow of the former caretaker whom lives in a corner of the estate threatens the other. Not long afterwards Louise falls off her horse and never regains consciousness.

5.The Case of the Perfect Maid: St. Mary Mead is buzzing with the enviable Mary Higgins. The Skinner sisters’ perfect maid is everybody’s dream. Is it too good to be true? Miss Marple visit them to find out more.

6.Miss Marple Tells a Story: An old friend, Mr. Petherick, comes with his client to consult the sleuth about Mr. Rhoderick’s case. For he’s been suspected to have stabbed his wife in her bed while they were staying at the Crown Hotel in Barnchester. What would she suggest the solicitor regarding the line of defence in the court?

7.The Dressmaker’s Doll: Alicia Coombe announces to her staff that she has given up the

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Who  is the man in the mir

use of the fitting-room. Nobody hesitates that the decision may come from a menacing-look puppet doll of the dressmaker that seems to occupy the place. Feeling the continual terrors of it, Alicia feels compelled in the end to throw it away. Despite her relief, will it stop bothering her?

 

8.In A Glass Darkly: On his best friend’s invitation a young man stays over at his home Badgeworthy. There he meets the other’s sister Sylvia Carslake and her fiancée Charles Crawley. To his horror, the man happens to see in  the mirror Sylvia’s being strangled in her bed by Crawley.

 

Highlights:

Published posthumously, the six stories of Jane Marple’s show the unwavering wits of Christie’s.  As for the two other stories, The Dressmaker’s Doll and In A Glass Darkly, their inclusion I believe has suggested their having been discovered with the others after Christie’s death in 1976. Other unknown short stories  emerge later on in Greenways;  While The Light Lasts and Problems At Pollensa Bay were released in 1990s.

In 2013 I bought a second-hand copy of 2002’s signature edition. In it there was another short story, A Greenshaw’s Folly. Two years later, however, I happened to get hold some 2006’s facsimile edition in crisp condition a National Trust second-hand bookshop. Interestingly, it does not contain Miss Marple’s finding the murder of Miss Greenshaw.

Having studied about Agatha Christie’s writings in the last four years, I have established a fair assumption that she might have written some at the same time; be they a scene of a play here and details for a short story there. In the meantime, she might have re-read her previously published books and therefore a subplot would have had a new lease of life with different character names and setting.

 

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Bunch puts down the Chrysanthemums she has brought for the church to come closer to a huddled body on the chancel steps

Her ‘recycling’ a setting with a different twist for the plot is noticeable in this collection, too. First, Sanctuary featuring Reverend Julian Harmons and his wife Bunch will jog readers’ minds to A Murder Is Announced (1950). In the novel Bunch is acquainted with Miss Marple, whilst her curious nature in the short story makes her go for a day to meet the sleuth who stays at West’s home in London. It’s likely Tape-Measure Murder might have been drafted right after, punctuated by the naming of Laburnam Cottage in both stories.

 

During the writing, I supposed Christie was aware that she couldn’t omit the trio chief gossipers of St. Mary Mead. Nor should she have put them together in a piece. Hence in Tape-Measure Murder Miss Hartnell lives next to the victim Mrs. Spenlow; Miss Wetherby has her turn to further announce to the world about Lavinia Skinner’s accusing her maid Gladys to have stolen her jewellery and Miss Harmon is in the chemist when Harry Laxton introduces his wife Louise to Bella, his ex-girlfriend and the chemist’s daughter.

Next, there is a main theme running in the stories: jewellery robbery. In the difficult times between the two wars and post-second world war, crimes did occur to gain access to the valuables. With her craft Christie depicts the hardship which continued to engulf the UK right until in the sixties. The plot for At Bertram’s Hotel is based on The Great Train Robbery in 1963.

 

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Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

Christie is adept to a matter close to heart to many of her readers: the ongoing problems of domestic worker issue. I wonder what would have been her opinions about of Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day and The Diary of A Provincial Woman, as the books share the same clinging-on sense of the tradition whilst at the same time they are aware of their financial constraint and labour shortage. Notwithstanding whether Christie had read the two books, she herself ‘empowers’ the likes of Gladys et all as a minor character with various roles. More importantly, Christie seems to stress that some maids may have more than meet the eye.

 

Christie brings in Doctor Haydock for The Case of The Caretaker suggests the possibility of Christie’s working on Sleeping Murder, too. In the former, he infers the murder of Louisa Haxton in his note to the sleuth. In the latter, it is Miss Marple who begs to prescribe him for a trip to a seaside to help Gwenda Halliday.

By the same token is the re-appearance of Mr. Petherick the solicitor (see also The Thirteen Problems). Perhaps it’s the same ‘madness’ to his clients to see a silver-haired woman and furthermore to consult her about the case. Mr. Rhoderick is unconvinced as to how Miss Marple’s twinkling eyes can drop a murder charge looming over him.

But Mr. Petherick himself utters to his old friend: ‘In a case of illness one likes two points of views – that of the specialist and that of the family physician. It is the fashion to regard the former as of more value, but I am not sure that I agree. The specialist has experience only in his own subject; the family doctor has, perhaps, less knowledge – but a wider experience.

In the absence of Miss Marple in the last two stories, Christie puts a stress on the pertaining sense of mystery which parallels to the story theme in The Hound of Death (1932). Her exploration into the unexplained occurrences and baffling phenomena underlines what her contemporaries try to grasp owing to the shocking  change of Europe’s political map and the global economy crises.

Lastly, it’s pitiful but understandable that Christie could be audacious in her dialogues but still adheres to the golden rule of  fiction as an escape. By shifting fears to uncertain future to objects, ie. a mirror and a lively-looking velvet doll she is being non-judgmental to things that might terror people’s mind.

Thus Alicia Coombe can loose her battle  against her illogical thoughts and the male narrator succumbs to the imagery in the mirror. In her frustration Alicia tries to persuade a girl to give the doll back to her and her refusal to do so is then summed up by Alicia’s talking to herself in the last sentence : ‘perhaps…perhaps that’s what she wanted all along… to be loved….’ All of a sudden I felt sympathy to her.

Be that as it may, it beats not In A Glass Darkly. The unnamed narrator takes readers to the summer 1914; the timing being a focal point. It’s universally acknowledged as the last happy memory for Christie’s generation; the great calamity in the Great War is then repeated in the Second World War.

The premonition he sees in the mirror along with the sombre mood of a survivor’s guilt are conspicuous. Did he know who he was afterwards? Can he trust his judgment? Finally, Sylvia’s polite response on his telling her what he’s seen the other day that leaves a lingering thought: ‘I’m sure you did if you say so. I believe you.’

What do you think?

 

Cast of Characters:

In Sanctuary:

-Police Constable Abel

-Inspector Craddock

-The Eccless (husband and wife, claiming to be the deceased’s family)

-Edwin Moss (who takes Bunch’s suitcase)

-The Harmons (Reverend Julian and his wife Diana,a.k.a. Bunch)

 

In Strange Jest:

-Charmian Stroud

-Edward Rossiter

– Jane Helier (Charmian and Edward’s friend)

 

In Tape-Measure Murder:

-Miss Hartnell

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable of St. Mary Mead)

-Miss Pollit (a dressmaker)

-Constable Palk (who comes to a crime scene the first time)

-Inspector Slack

 

In The Case of The Caretaker:

-Miss Bell

-Clarice Vane (Doctor Haddock’s niece, Louise’s friend)

-Doctor Haddock

-Miss Harmon

-Mrs. Murgatroyd (lives in a corner of the Kingsdean estate)

-the Laxtons (Harry and his wife Louisa who live in Kingsdean)

 

In The Case of The Perfect Maid:249824

-Edna (Miss Marple’s maid and Gladys’s cousin)

-Mary Higgins (the perfect maid)

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable)

-The Skinner sisters (Lavinia and Emily)

-Inspector Slack

-Miss Wetherby

 

In Miss Marple Tells A Story:

-Mrs. Carruthers ( a hotel’s guest)

-Mrs Granby (a hotel’s guest)

-Mr. Petherick (a solicitor preparing for the case, Miss Marple’s friend)

-Mr. Rhodes (Mr. Petherick’s client)

 

In The Dressmaker’s Doll:

-Alicia Coombe (a dressmaker)

-Mrs. Fellows-Brown (Alicia’s client who tries on a dress)

-Mrs. Fox ( the cleaner)

-Sybil Fox (Alicia’s assistant)

 

In A Glass Darkly:

-Sylvia Carslake

-The narrator (Sylvia’s husband)

 

 

 

Dulce Et Decorum Est

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I picked up an English essay of my eldest for his school assignment. In the pages there were his teacher’s scribbles containing rooms for improvement.

I didn’t often read his homework, for I trusted him with the responsibilities. Also, I understood English had not been his forte – not because he loved Maths, but I quietly believed that he had not been taught properly about literature at his primary school. Ouch.

I began to read his words…

The following was an excerpt from his analysis on ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen.

‘The second stanza corybantic start of ‘Gas! Gas!’ instantly puts you into the scene. When all the men are struggling to put on their ill-fitting masks onto their faces just in time. Owen then cleverly describes that one man wasn’t able to put his mask in time and died in a horrific way, using the simile “like a man in fire or lime”. He conveys his feelings of being helpless to a victim of gas attack. It is shown when he (Owen) says, and I quote from the poem, “In all my dream before mg helpless sight, He plunges at me guttering, choking, drowning’ displaying through the use of active verbs, that he relives the events almost every night. This is an example of ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ when someone witnesses a person or people who have died before their eyes and thinks that they could not have whilst could not have, even if they tried. He carries on by saying that the victim looked like he had seen the devil and his face was writhed. He finishes by saying that he resents the fact that people believe the lie, “Dulce et Decorum est, Pro Patrio Mori.”

A long quote. It would have been incomplete had I excluded the rest and stopped after the third sentence.

Corybantic. The use of active verbs. The lie told in the Latin words that meant ‘it is sweet

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Wilfred Owen was killed in action a week before the Armistice.

and right to die for your country.’

I agreed with his teacher that ‘corybantic’ is a fantastic word for a twelve year old (at the time he submitted the assignment). To my mind it was  much more than just ‘fantastic.’

At his age, I wished I could have had written such a paragraph that summed up the consequences of a propaganda. Moreover, I was fascinated that we seemed to have shared the hindsight that World War I could have been prevented to occur.

Readers,  he was the boy I mentioned in About Christie’s Fan. Now a teenager, he would reason that his Lego collection was a better companion than a trip with his mother to a museum.  For during the period of reading Christie’s books I used to ramble about the Great War that was far from great to my children. I had taken him and his sisters to various sites in London and England that still bore all the hallmarks of the two world wars. Consequently, he  was used to my talking randomly about the changing map of Europe in the aftermath, No Man’s Land or derogatory terms like ‘the Hunts.’ Personally, trying to make sense every young life taken and wasted from every corner of England was very tough.

During the journeys my children looked bored and inattentive towards their mother’s ‘interest.’ Little did I realise that they might have learnt a thing or two.

After reading his essay I felt somehow having raving mad about the subject proved to be useful. I hoped he began to see to the geometrical aspects of words and their wonderful symmetry, of which were as fine as Fibonacci numbers.

I believe it’s a mum’s jobs to ‘keep raving.’ Keep telling your children what you did, what you observed, what mistakes you made, what you learnt from the ‘saints’ and the ‘rudes’ ones in life. Keep saying your (proper for their age) jokes, your (not too serious) worries and your fears.

Often I thought mine wouldn’t have noticed, but maybe I was wrong.  They had. They had taken in your passion. Your tones of voice. Your viewpoints. Your responses. Your reactions. Your conclusion.

I began to believe my son actually liked English. Perhaps he liked English more than he thought. His promising essay (that then earnt him level 7B) meant  I ought to give him more appreciation to his hard work.

I’d better find more of his essays (while pretending hoovering his room).

 

A Touch of Irak and Gertrude Bell

From The Gate of Shiraz in Parker Pyne Investigates (1934) to her archaeological memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946), to Death Comes to An End (1944), there is ample evidence of Agatha Christie’s being besotted with the Middle East.

Christie takes a photograph of an Assyrian ivory statue in Nimrud, Irak.

Intrepid like-minded English women before her have crossed the Sahara and spent nights in the wilderness of the desert, but none turns the wonders of the ancient cultures of Assyrians and Egyptians into a crime fiction. In her memoir, Christie’s account on her journeys accompanying her husband captures the lives of the people and their customs with great fondness and respect. And if she’d had to choose her favourite place, it would have been Irak. For Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and They Came to Baghdad (1951) become the everlasting memories of her fascination towards the country. In the later book she dedicates it to ‘friends in Irak and Syria.’  What’s more, in Murder Is Announced (1953),  she names the priest’s dog Tiglath Phileser after an Assyrian King. The ‘wise’ and ‘clever’ canine creature helps Miss Marple work out as to the execution-style murder has been carried out in the house of Letitia Blacklock. If there was another woman who would match her  passion, it would be Gertrude Bell. BBC 4’s Book of the Week: Queen of the Desert, which highlights her major role in the formation of the Republic of Irak, unearths an indomitable but intriguing personae ahead of her time. Bell is the choreographer behind the installation of Faisal I of Irak  in 1921. Her  work for the Arab Bureau during the First World War I gathering intelligence for the British Imperial government leads to her post as the Oriental Secretary under  Sir Percy Cox. In the meantime, she reaches out to Faisal. Her excellence in Arabic and Farsi, as well as her wide networking with the tribal leaders and the chieftains, are indispensable to the success of British campaign after the Ottoman Empire relinquishes its power in Irak and Arabia in 1917. At that time Irak is an uncharted territory; for thousands years Arabs have recognised it merely as ‘al iraaq,’ a vast land consists of three former-Ottoman provinces namely Mosul, Basra and Baghdad. In Greek it is called ‘Mesopotamia: ‘between the rivers’ (the Tigris and the Euphrates). Unbeknown to her, there was a secret pact between Britain and France to divide authorities in the region rich in oil but ruled largely by tribal laws. Her plan for Faisal as the Pan-Arab king has been thwarted. Much as she believes such pact is an ill-informed decision, Bell does not step back. She then manages to cajole Faisal into claiming a kingdom in a region he has no bearings and root.   Bell’s involvement in the Near East starts in Tehran. She stays with her stepmother’s sister, the wife of British Minister Frank Lascelles, in her attempt to find a suitor. She falls in love with one there, but Hugh Bell disagrees to their union in marriage. Her heart bleeds when she receives a telegram about his death, eight months after she was back in London. Despite her heartache,  Persian Pictures (1894) is published.  The Desert and the Sown (1907)  follows, enriched by three-hundred photographs she has taken about people, landscape and agriculture of different regions of Syria and Palestine. The Thousand and One Churches (1909), co-authored with William Mitchell Ramsay,is considered as a seminal archaeological work about the first Christian settlement in Turkey. Contrary to Bell, Christie’s interest towards the Middle East is a slow-burning one. Clara Miller brings her twenty-year old daughter Agatha to Cairo for her formal ‘coming-out’ into the society in the winter 1910. Unfortunately, the young Agatha is more into dances and parties, being oblivious to any archaeological artefacts and history. She does not warm up to Sphinx and the pyramids. In her biography (1976) she writes: “Mother tried to broaden my mind by taking me to the Egyptian Museum, and also suggested we should go up the Nile to see the glories of Luxor. I protested passionately with tears in my eyes the wonders of antiquity were the last thing I cared to see.” In 1915, the then-newlywed Mrs. Christie might not have heard about Bell.Nor would she have come across the three books the other had written. Little did Christie realise thirteen years later she would board the Orient Express from London to Baghdad like Bell 36 years before. Her last-minute decision to have cancelled the Caribbean trip had a huge impact to  her life and writing. Due to her leg injury, her journey back to London is accompanied by a twenty-six year old junior archaeologist Max Mallowan. She returns to Irak as his wife in 1931, a year before the country declares itself as an independent kingdom. Mrs. Mallowan brings her  typewriter and the sounds of the clanking keys of her typing is part of life in a dig.   When Murder in Mesopotamia is out in print,Bell has long gone.She dies in the early hours in her Baghdad home two days before her 58th birthday ; in the same summer The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has catapulted the shy Mrs. Christie into the limelight. Christie’s portrayal of the atmosphere in the imaginary Tell Yamrijah  would have thrilled Bell a lot. Just as Christie, Bell is familiar and passionate about the hard work being carried out during an excavation. It would have tickled her that the plot suggests a former spy has been among the members of the team. Had they met, both women would have had a lot to share and discuss. On the one hand, Bell could have told Christie about the flowering Daffodils in her Baghdad’s garden and her friendship with King Faisal. On the other hand,Christie would have intrigued Bell with the usage of lotion cream to recover an intricate Assyrian ivory small statue. When I wrote Notes on They Came to Baghdad during the marathon reading in 2013, little did it occur to me that Irak has left an indelible mark in Christie. A plan to sabotage an international peace conference held in the capital is well under way and it will be unstoppable unless the evidence of it being presented in time. Why  a peace conference, I wondered. The answer perhaps is not a clear-cut one.It seems to me the book challenge the views regarding the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, seen as more phenomenal  and much more popular than the discovery of Ur. Instead of the Valley of the Kings Christie suggests Baghdad:the cradle of civilisation. And therefore peace ought to be where everything begins. What would have Bell had to say  had she been alive to read Christie’s books? First, she might have recalled the depiction of the British agent Carmichael in They Came… among a league of men in  her circle. Next, she might have seen resemblances of her boss Sir Peter Cox in Corbie, and maybe a little of herself in Victoria Jones. Both Bell and Christie might have something in common after all. They have encounters in connection to the Armenian genocide . In Iraq and Gertrude Bell’s The Arab’s MesopotamiaPaul J. Rich quotes Bell catching a glimpse of the horrors  in Damascus. For she has witnessed the Kurds, being ordered by  the Turks, rounding up the Armenians and taking them to different places. Later they are killed.  In the memoir,Christie recollects  her visit to the Yezidi Sheikh of the Sinjar, whom gives shelter to hundreds of Armenians fleeing from the prosecution. Also, the story of the amiable Aristide, the Armenian driver whose taxi is hired for an  arduous journey from Beirut to North Syria.  At the age of seven Aristide is thrown into a deep pit with his family and other Armenian families. Whilst his father, mother, two brothers and sisters are burnt alive, his life is spared. Found and saved by  the Anaizah Arabs, he is then brought up as one of them.  This 15th September will mark 125 years of Christie’s birth. Queen of the Desert starring Nicole Kidman will also be in the cinemas in the UK this autumn. Whilst Christie has been a household name for over eighty years, Bell’s has only  came up in the last twenty years. Alas, the first woman who receives a First in Modern History from Oxford gets her dues.

The Sinking of Lusitania: Is It All German’s Fault?

‘It was 2 p.m on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915. The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed. The women and children were being lined up awaiting their turn. Some still clung desperately to husbands and fathers; others clutched their children closely to their breasts. One girl stood alone, slightly apart from the rest. She was quite young, not more than eighteen. She did not seem afraid, and her grave, steadfast eyes looked straight ahead’   

The Secret Adversary begins with a scene in the aftermath of the shinking liner, in which an American man trusts a stranger, his fellow citizen, with a highly confidential document. Tommy and Tuppence then are involved in the hunt of it, which, if the enemy gets it first, would bring down the incumbent Tory government.

British newspapers condemn the tragedy as ‘The Hun’s Most Ghastly Crime’ and Woodrow Wilson is also quick to state: ‘no warning, that an unlawful and inhumane act will be committed can possibly be accepted as an excuse or palliation of that act.’ Among the deads are 128 Americans.

Likewise, Christie’s aforementioned words are filled with the sentiment against Germans. The pain is still raw  when the book is published in 1922. It is a little wonder the copies have been sold like hot cakes, despite the hardship most people in Britain have experienced in the post-war years.

Over a century later, Saul David, a historian, asks: can the blame be pointed entirely to Germans?

In his article for May’s History magazine he argues that British government should also be held responsible for the loss of 1,198 lives including 94 children (out of 1,959 passengers and crews).

The advertisement on the New York Times on 1st May 1915

On 1st May 1915, the German embassy in Washington D.C. advertises in the New York Times to remind ‘travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage’ that ‘vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or ay of her allies, are liable to destruction’ in the war zone ‘adjacent to the British Isles’ and that any travellers who crossed by such means did so ‘at their own risk.’

1,257 people who have embarked on the Lusitania on the same day from Liverpool ignore it.

Meanwhile, the British Admiralty has issued secret guidelines to merchant skippers: to ‘avoid headlands, near which submarines routinely lurked and found their best hunting’; to steer ‘a mid-channel course’; to operate at ‘full speed’ and to zigzag rather than sail in in a straight line.

Captain William Turner

On 5th May at 10.30 pm The British Admiralty begins to broadcasting a messae at regular intervals to all ships that a U-boat is active in the Irish Channel. Few hours earlier U-20 has sunk a small three-masted schooner off the south coast of Ireland. The next day it sinks two merchant ships off Ireland.

On 6th Mayat 7.52 pm Captain Turner of the Lusitania receives a wireless signal that submarines are ‘active off south coast Ireland.’ Five more warnings are then received.

On 7th May at 8 am he orders the speed to be decreased from 21 to 18 knots, and then to 15 due to the fog.

As the fog is cleared, at 10 am the speed is increased to 18 knots instead of the maximum 21 knots.

At 1 pm the captain orders the fixing of the ship’s position, a laborious process that takes two hours and requires a steady course, constant speed and proximity to land.

At 2.10 pm Kapitanleutnant Scwieger strikes the starboard side of the Lusitania beloow the bridge, causing two explosions.  The Lusitania sinks in 18 minutes.

Kapitantleutnant Walther Schwieger

Watching through his periscope, Schwieger remembers ‘an unusually heavy detonation’ followed by ‘very strong explosion cloud.’ In his diary he writes:

‘The ship stops immediately and quickly heels to starboard, at the same time diving deeper in the bows. She has the appearance of being about to capsize. Great confusion on board, bots being cleared and part lowered to water. They must have lost their heads. Many boats crowded come down bow first or stern first in the water, and immediately fill and sink…Submerge to 24 metres and got to sea. I could not have fired a second torpedo into this throng of humanity attempting to save themselves’ 

If his words are taken into account, is the above prologue possible to occur? Eighteen minutes are very quick from the moment the torpedo hits the ship; there wouldn’t have been enough warning for every passengers, let alone a brief conversation between Jane Finn and Danvers. For Scwieger’s notes imply that 761 survivors are rescued by the boats in the water. And therefore Danvers might have died before he met Finn whilst Finn could not have stood on the ship awaiting the rescue.

Furthermore is the fact that only one torpedo launched. Apologising to the loss of life of the U.S. citizens, the kaiser’s government states that such action is justified in response to the royal Navy’s blockade of the German  coast (causing starvation) and because the Lusitania carries large quantities of war materials in her cargo. The latter is strongly denied  by the British government and its successors.

In 2008  it is confirmed more than 4 million .303 rifle bullets and tons of munitions -shells, powders, fuses and gun cotton- found in ‘unrefrigerated cargo holds that were dubiously marked cheese, butter and oysters.’ Some conclude that these have caused the second explosion, although in 2012 scientific tests at a US government-funded research facility in California challenge the deduction. The second explosion might be a boiler explosion which does not bring about significant damage.

Is Christie a victim of either of a propaganda or trial by the press? What would be her views had she read the contrasting facts?

For all its worth, it has given the desired effect to persuade the American public in favour of the US declaring war on Germany in April 1917.

At the end of the day, it remains that the UK government ought to own up for their part in the unnecessary casualties. As David remarks: ‘A German U-Boat may have fired the fatal shot. But it was British actions that both justified that aggression and helped the torpedo find its mark.’

What do you think?

The Sea of Poppies

seapoppies2I prefer to call them ‘the sea of poppies,’ although ‘Blood Swept Lands of Seas of Red’ is the title of the ceramic art installation which have attracted curiousity of the locals (including yours truly) to the Tower of London.

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It was quite a sight, if not mesmerising. Each ought to represent each fallen soldier in the First World War. 956, 703 deaths is still much more than 888,246 hand-made ceramic flowers nevertheless. And yet I could not help thinking of the men, particularly the likes of Private Peaceful and Mrs. Patmore’s nephew.

I hope Christie ‘up there’ know that the Tommies haven’t been forgotten.

At Dunham Massey

Picture this: A pleasant evening during which a young shy woman plays the piano in front of a group of Belgian refugees and their host, Mrs. Alice Graham Clapp.

Afterwards the pianist meets one of the Belgians, who has come to England with his teenage son. As they converse, it is to anyone’s guess how brief or how long the conversation would have been. It might have been exchanging pleasantries in French and yet there could be some kind of interviews into the sleuthing line of work of an ex-police officer.  Perhaps she also mentions her then husband who is in RAF.

Whatever that has passed between them has left a deep impression in her, whilst it would never occur to his mind that in a few years’ time she would make him  a rising star and an immortal character in English crime literary world.

The recreation room at the Stamford Hospital at Dunham Massey – a common room for soldiers for their pastime activities.

In the recreation room at Dunham Massey, standing in front of the grand piano, I can see  Agatha Christie’s fingers dance on the keys (pray she does not play Handel’s The Dead March like David Lee in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas).

Jacques Hamoir is suggested as the authoress’s inspiration for the appearance  of an egg-shaped head foreign detective in her debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  

Dunham Massey is the home of Countess of Stamford, which is transformed as a convalescent hospital between 1917 and 1919, during which 282 soldiers are treated and cared for.

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The Saloon turned into a Baghdad Ward

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A touch of privacy for a patient in a corner of the ward

I wonder if Christie heard about it, for she used to come to  Abney Hall, the home of her elder sister Madge and her husband James, just 12.3 miles away. Moreover, it could have been a place of great interest for the budding writer, having joined VAD following the  outbreak of the Great War.

Lady Penelope Grey the Countess of Stamford, the driving force behind the premises coined as ‘the sanctuary from the trenches,’ may share a number of similar traits with Mrs. Clapp. Both are widows and generous; after her husband’s untimely death in 1910 Lady Grey manages the Dunham Massey estate herself until her son Roger Grey (10th Earl of Stamford) came of age in 1917. While Roger is required to fulfil his war duties as an aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd, her mother pulls all the stops for the running of the hospital.

And therefore Christie’s inspiration for Emily Inglethorp; a wealthy widow who marries a much younger man in her seventies. In the novel Arthur Hastings describes the former Mrs. Cavendish (whose step son John Cavendish is Hastings’ old friend) as follows: ‘…I recalled her as an energetic, autocratic personality, somewhat inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with  fondness for opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own.’

The crime Christie has plotted round Mrs. Inglethorp’s death speaks volumes of her vivid imagination as a writer and her understanding of human’s strength and weakness. On the one hand, Christie seems to be impressed by the deceased’s half-full glass attitude to life. On the other, despite Mrs. Inglethorp’s age, she would have lived until ninety while her fortune is a magnet for those whom have known her.

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The operating room under the great stairs. On the right clad in white is Lady Jane Grey, Roger’s sister, a VAD nurse, who assisted at an operation.

As I go round, I am curious what would Christie have to stay about the home. She would have been fascinated by the ‘operating room,’ which is situated under the great stairs as there is a pantry nearby for running water and sterilising the equipments (see the right image).

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A poster of VAD recruitment on the ground of the home (left image) and a prose about VAD on the notice board at the recreation room (right).

 

 

 

 

What is more, a lighthearted prose about VAD pinned on the notice board by an anonymous soldier. Also, the magnificent library that has over 3,000 titles and an 18th century Celestial Globe made by Thomas Earnshaw. Given the circumstances, she might not have been able to come as a visitor at that time.

At the end of the tour I step out into a fine afternoon in August with Lady Jane Grey’s words linger in mind: ‘My word, what those poor men suffered.’ By the time the hospital is closed, she has felt very differently about the war from the young girl who saw it in at the age of 16. Just as the wife of a war hero Agatha Christie from the newlywed woman at the beginning of the war.

 

 

Note: all photographs are mine and the boy appeared on one of them is my son.

Agatha Christie and Two Wars

Would Agatha Christie finish writing The Mysterious Affair At Styles, had the Great War not occurred?

It changes her life and her writing. Like so many others, her family life is impacted. She conveys her painful experiences and their circumstances in a number of plots and through her characters.

Agatha Christie’s VAD Identity Card.

After her whirlwind romance to Colonel Archibald Christie, the newlywed Agatha works  at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay and finds the secret of Bromide that will launch her name.

During many walks in Dartmoor she brews the sub-plots that will captivate her readers right until the end. Her meeting with the Belgian refugees paves the way to  the creation of a little man with an egg-shaped head Hercule Poirot.

Archie  comes back and sees his shy wife is rising to fame. The post-war years see he gradually withdraw himself from the public life and from Agatha, playing golf more often. He does not seem to appreciate either Agatha’s allusion of him in Captain Hastings, Poirot’s sidekick.

Furthermore, it concerns Agatha that the civilian life does not suit her husband. He has a job in the City, but he is unhappy. His feeling of ‘not fitting in’ is captured through the likes of Alexander Bonaparte Cust (see Notes On ABC Murders) and the charming but domineering David Hunter (see Notes On Taken At The Flood).

Meanwhile, she maintains her optimism towards their marriage. In 1922, the couple leaves the infant Rosalind in the care of her grandmother Clara and her aunt Madge for a ten-month voyage around the world to promote the British Empire Exhibition.

In the Introduction of The Grand Tour, a collection of Agatha’s letters to her mother, Mathew Prichard writes that the decision to go is a difficult one.

On the one hand, it is driven by Archie’s restlessness and dissatisfaction towards his job. On the other, Agatha is a keen traveller and she sees it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. It upsets her sister, however, that Agatha will not be able to meet her brother Monty on leave from Africa.

The Man In The Brown Suit (1922) is the fruit of the journey. Set in South Africa, the places mentioned is a reminder of the world that is about to change (Machonoland became Rhodesia in 1895, then eventually  Zimbabwe in 1980). The diarist Sir Eustace Pedler derives from Major Belcher, of whom is the member of the expedition.

In Murder In The Links (1924), Agatha incorporates Archie’s hobby into the plot. Also, Hastings finds his ‘Cinderella’; their chance encounter on the train has become the opening chapter.

By the same token, her creation of Tommy and Tuppence Beresford speaks volumes of the different Agatha before her separation and divorce. The adventurous and spontaneous Agatha fails to reach out to Archie. His state of mind is anyone’s guess nevertheless, for most probably it is only his wife who understands the extent of his suffering from the horrors of the war and depression. She does not reveal anything in public, although her discussing mental illnesses in her books may be related to Archie’s ‘issues.’

In Alexander Bonaparte Cust she portrays a traumatised ex-soldier. She puts him upfront as the main suspect. Surprisingly, Poirot sides with him despite the suggestive evidences and therefore Inspector Japp is not amused.

Donald Sumpter as AB Cust in 1992’s adaptation of Poirot series.

Hastings : ‘We know a fair amount about him.’

Poirot : ‘We know nothing at all! We know where he was born. We know he fought in the war and received a slight wound in the head and that he was discharged from the army owing to epilepsy. We know that he lodged with Mrs. Marbury for nearly two years. We know that he was quiet and retiring – the sort of man that nobody notices. We know that he invented and carried out an intensely clever scheme of systemised murder. We know that he made certain incredibly stupid blunders. We know that he killed without pity and quite ruthlessly. We know, too, that he was kindly enough not to let blame rest on any other person for the crimes he committed. If he wanted to kill unmolested – how easy to let other persons suffer for his crimes. Do you not see, Hastings, that the man is a mass of contradictions? Stupid and cunning, ruthless and magnanimous – and that there must be some dominating factors that reconcile his two natures.’   

We know nothing at all… Is it possible, I wonder, whether the sentence is actually Agatha’s thoughts about Archie’s mind? She knows nothing at all that Archie will leave her; knows nothing at all the reason behind his being unsupportive after Clara’s passing and knows nothing at all why their marriage does not work.

 

What she knows of, Tommy and Tuppence will grow old together and Poirot and Hastings’s friendship will last.

 

In the Second World War, Agatha’s son-in-law’s life is claimed. Mrs. Folliat (see Notes On The Dead Man’s Folly) loses her husband before the War broke and her two sons in the process. Three death duties are enough to make her sell the estate. ‘So many things are hard, Mr. Poirot,’ she said, now living in the lodge at the outskirt of her former home.  This seems to mirror what the authoress must have been through when selling Ashfield in 1938.

In spite of the difficult times, Agatha marvels at channelling tragedies to her advantage. For writing is her refuge and her comfort. A vocation.

In the Epilogue of her archaeological memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946) she writes:

‘For after four years spent in London in war-time, I know what a very good life that was, and it has been a joy and refreshment to me to live those days again…Writing this simple record has been not a task, but a labour of love. Not an escape to something that was, but the bringing into the hard work and sorrow of today of something imperishable that one not only had but still has!’