"Agatha’s no Dickens"

The Spectator doesn't believe that the National Trust needs to preserve Agatha Christie’s holiday home:
http://life.spectator.co.uk/2016/11/national-trust-really-need-preserve-agatha-christies-holiday-home-nation/

"...a half-baked museum to a writer who arguably will be forgotten in 100 years anyway. As much as we may love Poirot, Christie’s not exactly Dickens, is she?"


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Comments

  • I respectfully disagree with the writer of the Spectator's opinion. Agatha Christie's record breaking success and the beauty of Greenway (even the author of that article admits that the property is nice looking) make it worth preserving.

    As much as I love Dickens, Christie did outsell him and everybody else except the Bible and Shakespeare. Christie created memorable characters that people still enjoy reading about today.

    It also seems a bit premature to assert that Christie will be forgotten in 100 years. Literary reputations change tremendously over time and authors who were flops one generation can suddenly become hits in later generations (and viceversa). During Shakespeare's lifetime, one critic, Robert Greene, "attacked Shakespeare for thinking he could write as well as university-educated playwrights" (Wadsworth, Frank W. "Shakespeare, William." World Book Encyclopedia, 1985). Boy was Greene wrong! Today, Shakespeare is still read and performed while those university-educated playwrights are mostly forgotten by people who do not study English literature. Charles Dickens wasn't always as highly regarded as he is today. Literary critics of Dickens' works shortly after his death asserted that while Dickens was a great entertainer, his characters were extremely shallow and his works lacked any real literary merit. Time has proven those critics wrong. Herman Melville's Moby Dick was panned by the critics when it was first published (partly because when it was published in England, the publishers accidentally forgot to print the last chapter of the book, leading some of these critics to complain the novel lacked a proper ending). Today, Moby Dick is hailed as Herman Melville's masterpiece. It is too early to tell where Christie's literary reputation will head 100 years from now, but it is possible that later generations of literary critics may appreciate her works more than contemporary literary critics do.

    Even if Christie were forgotten 100 years from now, her house could still provide people from later generations a glimpse into what life was like in the 20th century. As the Queen of Crime, Christie's home could also serve as a springboard for illustrating the development of mystery novels during the Golden Age of detective fiction.
  • P_Lombard said:
    It is too early to tell where Christie's literary reputation will head 100 years from now, but it is possible that later generations of literary critics may appreciate her works more than contemporary literary critics do.

    Even if Christie were forgotten 100 years from now, her house could still provide people from later generations a glimpse into what life was like in the 20th century. As the Queen of Crime, Christie's home could also serve as a springboard for illustrating the development of mystery novels during the Golden Age of detective fiction.
    It's possible that literary critics may appreciate her books and see her as a great writer in the future and in later generations, unlike today where many, including many contemporary mystery writers who thinks A.C. is not a good writer and see her characters as shallow, one-dimensional and stereotypical. Two mystery writers in particular who are now deceased, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell didn't think much of Christie unlike one other fellow mystery writer by the name of Carolyn Hart thinks the world of Christie's books. A lot of critics say Christie's strength was in plotting and for the majority of that often lacked creating solid characters. Now if this was true, how hard is to come up with a great plot? How hard is it to construct a good mystery? To come up with clues and red herrings to throw readers off track? How hard is it to come up with a plot, with a story that holds the reader's attention with tension and suspense, keeping the readers up until the solution of the mystery where all the clues make sense and where they're put into their proper place? It's NOT easy!! I'm writing a mystery short story right now and I testify to the fact that to construct and plot a mystery isn't smooth sailing! In an interview with Director Billy Wilder who directed the 1957 film Witness For the Prosecution, he said, "For every 500 great dialogue writers, there are 5 great constructionists (plotters). That's the toughest job in the world." SO TRUE! To be a great plotter is rare. There are many plots but how many are exceptional? How many are a class act? How many are tightly and neatly constructed, clean and symmetrically written? 

    I think Christie will not be forgotten because like Alfred Hitchcock both were revolutionary and innovative at their craft, their genre, and the mediums that they worked at. As Hitchcock will always be known as the Master of Suspense, Christie will always be the Queen of Mystery . . . . and I don't think these titles will be stripped away. Look, Frank Sinatra is STILL called "The Voice". These titles are not taken away no matter the number of people that follows after them. Directors are continually looking up to Hitchcock's artistic and technical skills, borrowing his plots and camera tricks. He's so popular in the mainstream. One of his films Rear Window is constantly being referenced in many films, re-told in comedies, and remade as parodies. Many mystery writers look to Christie's ability to construct well-crafted puzzles and memorable characters--I for one do! And when you look at books like The Ten Little Indians (And Then There Were None) the concept of killing people off one by one are constantly being used in films today and has even carried itself over into the horror genre. This particular motif is so used today many forget or don't know where it originally came from.  As long as the mystery genre isn't forgotten and considered a thing of antiquity, Agatha Christie will not be forgotten and will continue to head the list of mystery writers. 


    “People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they?”  ― A Murder Is Announced 
  • I'm currently reading P.D. James' book Talking About Detective Fiction, and when Christie is mentioned, James doesn't appear to have a lot of good things to say about her. It plucks my nerves to hear all these negative critiques of this woman. In one part of the book, James says, "Her (Agatha Christie) style is neither original nor elegant but it is workmanlike. It does what is required of it. She employs no great psychological subtlety in her characterisation. . . ." Now how in the world is Agatha Christie not original? NOT original?!?!?! Read The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, The Ten Little Indians, Murder On The Orient Express, and A Murder Is Announced -- they are about as original as you're going to get; no one pulled the kinds of tricks that are demonstrated in these books. And look at Ten Little Indians -- killing off each person one by one is so overused today that we forget where it originated from. So please don't tell me that Christie wasn't original! Read Five Little Pigs and you'll see the way Christie elegantly constructs her sentences and the allusions she pulls from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, other literary references, and works of art. She elegantly constructs her characters and the plot beautifully. James says that Christie doesn't employ subtle psychological characterization. Hercule Poirot is all about psychology and if that is the case then that is what Christie focused on in her mysteries. I wonder if she read ALL of Christie's books. Christie was unique, original and always made her work fresh, though at times she recycled and reused some plot tricks at times but even with this she made stories in which she re-used those plot tricks refreshing.

    Then James says, "Agatha Christie hasn't in my view had a profound influence on the later development of the detective story. She wasn't an innovative writer and had no interest in exploring possibilities of the genre." Sorry P.D. James but I have to disagree with you. Christie was very much an innovative writer and she did have an interest in exploring possibilities of the genre. She didn't write the same type of stories the same old way. Look at Five Little Pigs where she beautifully constructs this murder in retrospect which is different to Sleeping Murder, another murder in retrospect. The former surveys the past through written accounts, whereas, the latter surveys the past with personally asking face-to-face questions and interviewing those who knew the victim(s). She could have made all her murder-in-retrospect mysteries the same but she didn't. There was always something new. Christie was industrious and she worked hard at her craft and keeping things fresh. To say that Christie wasn't interested in exploring possibilities of the genre sounds as if she's saying that Christie remained with the status quo and was content with writing the same thing and never changing up. Read Crooked House and she made the solution to the mystery so shocking her publishers wanted her to change it. And not many mystery writers (probably not any) pulled what Christie did in that book. Read Witness For The Prosecution (the short story) and read this perfectly constructed story with its shocking ending. Read the play version of the same story and you see how creative she was in coming up with another shocking ending totally different from the short story, and it's still shocking! Read some of her thrillers/spy stories. Read Endless Night, for it is a psychological crime study. Anthony Berkeley Cox who wrote his well-known mystery The Poisoned Chocolates Case said regarding Endless Night, “The old maestrina of the crime-novel (or whatever is the female of ‘maestro’) pulls yet another out of her inexhaustible bag with Endless Night, quite different in tone from her usual work." If it's quite different in tone from her other books then she IS exploring other possibilities of the genre. She pursued many avenues within this genre, not sticking to the status quo -- the same ol, same ol'. In regard to Agatha Christie, P.D. James seemed ill-informed of Christie's work, or at least not seeing that there was more to Christie than what appears at the surface. And that's how her books were. Scratch the surface and you'll see there is more to Christie than meets the eye. 

    Ruth Rendell, another writer who wasn't keen on Agatha Christie considered Christie's books ignorant of the gritty realities of life and had a sentimental world-view. Again, did Ruth Rendell make this comment after reading ALL of Christie's books -- did she read all of them before saying such a thing? Again, in P.D. James' book, she observes the fact that Christie was no-holds-barred when it came to who would be the murderer(s): "And with a Christie mystery no suspect can safely be eliminated . . . . With other mystery writers of the Golden Age, we can be reasonably confident that the murderer won't be on the attractive young lovers, a policeman, a servant or a child, but Agatha Christie has no favorites with either murderer or victim. Most mystery writers jib, as I do, at killing the very young, but Agatha Christie is tough, as ready to murder a child. . . ." Christie was realistic because in real life anyone can resort to murder whether it be a child, a police officer, an elderly old woman, or the quiet, peaceful and content man/woman down the street--it happens every day! Anyone can have evil enter into their heart and it doesn't discriminate. It's stuff like that which shows the "gritty realities of life". Christie doesn't have to resort to gore, and foul language because she was all about the human heart and all the evil that can surface from it. Doesn't sound sentimental to me! Lastly, read After The Funeral. The murderer and the motive are anything but sentimental! 



    “People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they?”  ― A Murder Is Announced 
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States mod
    Thanks for your terrific posts– I like to ask one question: How many people has Agatha Christie made happy?  The answer is in the hundreds of millions.
  • Dr.SheppardDr.Sheppard Oxford, UK ✭✭✭

    Like the previous comments above I find the Spectator article out of kilter with the public view of famous authors. Alex Marsh obviously listened to the visitor guides as he took the tour around Greenway, but seems to have been rather bored with what he had the opportunity to enjoy – recalling details about the wooden loo seat rather that the history behind the hundreds of items that four generations of the family have collected. The history of the house itself makes it worth saving; my favourite being the freeze in the library. I ask myself why Alex decided to pop into Greenway on his way to The Ferry Boat Inn on the opposite side of the River Dart from Greenway; was it a friend or family member that was keen to visit Greenway – somebody with a little more taste that Alex.

  • Again in P.D. James' Talking About Detective Fiction, here's one of the most ridiculous statements that I've ever heard concerning Agatha Christie's books and this is the most ridiculous of them all! I don't know what it is about her dislike of Agatha Christie but if I didn't care much for an author I wouldn't keep downing on his/her work and criticizing it. She says regarding Christie's books that "the violence is necessarily there but it is so muted that it is sometimes difficult, reading an Agatha Christie, to remember exactly how the victim died" (pg. 166). I haven't read After The Funeral in a long, long time but I still remember the horrific way Cora Lansquenet died. And what about Hercule Poirot's Christmas and all the blood when Simeon Lee's throat is cut? And with The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, how can you ever forget the body in the trunk and the way the character dies? I don't see how anyone can forget these shocking deaths that Christie wrote about in her books. 


    “People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they?”  ― A Murder Is Announced 
  • CrookedQuinCrookedQuin California, United States ✭✭✭
    @ChristieFanForLife I wonder why PD James does not like Christie. I can't see why one would detest Agatha that much as to constantly criticize her. You are right, the deaths of the victims are memorable, and the way they were committed are embedded in my mind. The schemes from the murderers are so fantastic in Christie's books, and cleverly plotted and clued. I've only read one PD James novel, The Skull Beneath the Skin, so I can't judge her writing, but the plot had so many plot devices and points that harken back to Christie's novels it makes me hard to believe she would dislike her so. 
  • @CrookedQuin:

    I think when P.D. James started out in her career as a writer, she was often compared to Agatha Christie. It's possible that she grew to detest it. P.D. James is more often into the "literary" style and the language and not much into the ingenious plotting that Christie demonstrated. But that's what's so fascinating about the mystery genre. There are a number of ways to go about with the story, the writing, and its execution. Every mystery doesn't have to be written in a literary style and every mystery doesn't have to be written mainly focused on its plotting. 


    “People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they?”  ― A Murder Is Announced 
  • Both Rendell and James' books leave the reader harrowed. There is no emotional closure - quite often the killer is sympathetic and we feel bad about the end, or the waste of lives encompasses not just the victim but a lot of other people who do not get justice or closure. You finish the books feeling that the world is a bad, frightening place. Agatha Christie's books, for the most, are escapist literature - you finish the book feeling that justice triumphed, several people were helped along the way, and the world (or at least the little world of the book) is a better place at the end than it was at the beginning. This idealistic design was considered shallow by many writers in the latter half of the 20th century. However, why should it be? Real life is hard enough, what with wars and mass killings and cruelty, reckless ruin of natural sources (including climate) and greediness, not to speak of the personal problems and tragedies of each one of us - so why shouldn't we be allowed to escape into books? And why should an author be considered shallow because she helps us to do it?  True, Agatha Christie's Characters are sometimes sketchily drawn - but they are real. We read her books and think "I know a character like that". And her dynamics are real - I'm thinking of how the murderer in "A Murder is announced" started with what seemed like a harmless deception, got deeper and deeper into danger of exposure and ended with three murders - It feels plausible. So whoever criticizes her, she is a unique artist in her field. And as for people who started writing 40 or 50 years after her calling her unoriginal - get a life!
  • ChristieFanForLife ChristieFanForLife ✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2016
    Both Rendell and James' books leave the reader harrowed. There is no emotional closure - quite often the killer is sympathetic and we feel bad about the end, or the waste of lives encompasses not just the victim but a lot of other people who do not get justice or closure.
    Do you think all mysteries written today should be dark, gritty, in-depth, and as close to reality as possible (ex: more time should be spent in the novel describing the dead body, in full and the horror of it all AND that the solutions would and should actually work in real life -- they should be realistically probable) as Rendell and James' books? Or do you think that there should be more of the classical, traditional mysteries written in the way where justice and order prevails, where more focus is on the puzzle and where the dead bodies isn't described in full detail (ex: from After The Funeral:  "It's not a very easy case to understand, Mr Entwhistle. Say someone watched the Gilchrist woman come out of the house at about two o'clock and go along to the village and the bus stop. This someone then deliberately takes the hatchet that was lying by the woodshed, smashes the kitchen window with it, gets into the house, goes upstairs, attacks Mrs Lansquenet with the hatchet - and attacks her savagely. Six or eight blows were struck." Mr Entwhistle flinched - "Oh, yes, quite a brutal crime." AND from Hercule Poirot's Christmas: There had clearly been a terrific struggle. Heavy furniture was overturned. China vases lay splintered on the floor. In the middle of the hearthrug in front of the blazing fire lay Simeon Lee in a great pool of blood... Blood was splashed all round. The place was like a shambles)? It seems that anything written in the classical, traditional style today are considered pastiches, parodies, or homages to the Golden Age Mysteries. Just the other day I came across an article titled "What Happened To The Old-Fashioned Detective Story?" and this stuck out: 
    "But today, no one's satisfied with anything less than a serial killer [. . . .]. In these old whodunits, no one drew pentagrams in blood and invoked Beelzebub on full-moon nights and went out with a specially desecrated hatched. Regular people killed for property, passion, revenge. That's the way it still is in the real world. Except that that's not exciting enough anymore for us. We need identifiable derangement to excite us. . . ." 

    In my opinion, every mystery doesn't have to be so realistic to the point where the dead body is described in full detail and where the solution is something an actual person could do in real life. Is it possible for mystery writers today to write a mystery in a way where the fun and joy of solving a murder is back for the reader and where the mystery focuses mainly on the puzzle and not so heavily focused on realism and the psychological? 


    “People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they?”  ― A Murder Is Announced 
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