6. Wives and Mothers - Preface

^ 6. Wives and Mothers

In the work of Agatha Christie, crime usually takes place in an enclosed community, such as a large family. The relationships between its members are therefore
of great importance as far as 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface investigation is concerned. As the status of women and their attitude to children changed considerably during the twentieth century, it is worth exploring whether this development is reflected in Christie’s 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface detective stories, as well.

In the early twentieth century, the roles of a woman and a man still conformed to the traditional Victorian values. Husband was a head of the family, exercised 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface the greatest authority and мейд all the important decisions. Wife was subservient to her spouse and she had to obey him (Murray 3). Such a woman is, without doubt, Anne Protheroe.
Her husband 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface, Colonel Lucius Protheroe, is the wealthiest man in the village who asserts his authority everywhere and is used to the fact that the people, including his wife, carry out his orders without 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface question. Being self-centred, severe and mean, it is hard to get on
with him. Anne finds it difficult to endure his bad temper but being a refined woman, she suppresses her feelings 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface and does not confide in anybody. Thus, the villagers perceive her as “a quiet, self-contained woman whom one would not suspect of any great depths
of feeling” (^ Murder at the 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface Vicarage 38). This portrayal is also reinforced by Anne’s attitude to her stepdaughter. The girl hates her stepmother and Anne soon gives up trying to change the situation. She grows indifferent to 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface Lettice and does not care about her feelings any more.

However, her personality changes completely when she falls in love with a village painter, Lawrence. Up to this moment Anne has 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface not acknowledged that she has suffered
in the marriage with Lucius, but on meeting Lawrence, she loses her self-control. Once her feelings are aroused, she wants to preserve her love 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface at all costs and even plans to leave
her husband although she would be deprived of all the possession. Anne is under Lawrence’s control and starts acting unwisely. To set herself 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface free, she finally kills
her husband.

The desperate plight of a woman married to a dominant and ruthless man is also depicted in ^ The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Similarly to Anne, Mrs Ferrars is 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface a woman
of ladylike manners and tries to stay detached. Her husband is a drunkard, who mistreats her, and Mrs Ferrars bears the pain as best as she can until she finds 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface another man she cares for. To escape from the unhappy marriage and settle down with a man she loves, Mrs Ferrars poisons her husband.

The emotional detachment of the two 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface heroines corresponds to the upbringing
of the time. Agatha Christie herself was raised in such a way. According to Janet Morgan, author of Christie’s biography, “Agatha was one of a generation that knew 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface the value
of discreet silence” (207). This attitude is also commented on in her detective stories.
For example, old Miss Waynflete speaks about the way she was brought up: “I never showed my feelings 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface. We were taught that as girls – a most valuable training. That, I always think, is where breeding tells” (^ Murder is Easy 204).

As far as upper-class mothers from the early Christie’s 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface works are concerned,
the relationship with their children also seems to be deprived of affection which marks
the traces of Victorian upbringing. Even the approach of Agatha Christie herself to her 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface daughter Rosalind is described as “warm and loving but, ultimately, detached” (Morgan 108). A similar attitude is also reflected in the behaviour of Mrs Ackroyd, an elderly lady looking for her 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface daughter, Flora. She represents an impoverished upper-class widow,
to whom money and respectability means everything. Thus, her single aim is to find
a suitable man who would provide for her and Flora 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface. She is therefore horrified at the idea that Flora might marry a man of no status and possessions: “Just think of it! […] A private secretary – with practically no means of his own” (Murder of 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface Roger Ackroyd 199).
When Ralph, stepson of Mrs Ackroyd’s wealthy brother-in-law, appears on the scene,
Mrs Ackroyd becomes enthusiastic about the marriage. However, as her relative is rather careful with 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface money, she remains preoccupied with the question of Flora’s settlement.

Mrs Ackroyd seems to be an oversensitive woman who suffers incessantly.
She makes a fuss on every possible 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface occasion and is always carrying a handkerchief in case she might start crying. However, she never uses it, as this behaviour is only a mask
she wears to make people do what 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface she wants. Mrs Ackroyd also excuses her faults
by constantly making a victim of herself. In addition, trying to be a lady, she finds it inappropriate to speak openly about certain matters and it 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface is difficult to make her speak
to the point. Thus, when Mrs Ackroyd feels guilty because she interfered in her brother-in-law’s private affairs, she cannot deal with the incident herself 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface but invites the local doctor
to settle the situation. However, she would never confess having searched Mr Ackroyd’s desk. Thus, she says in her lady-like manner that “men are so 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface secretive” that “[o]ne is forced to adopt little subterfuges in self-defence” (Murder of Roger Ackroyd 137).

Trying to be perceived as an attentive lady who does not mean 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface to do any harm,
she behaves hypocritically. When Ralph is suspected of murder, Mrs Ackroyd does not support him: “Not for a moment did I think dear Ralph had anything to do with 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface poor Roger’s death. I don’t think so. But then I have a trusting heart – I have always have had, ever since a child” (Murder of Roger Ackroyd 122). Obviously, even at this moment 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface,
Mrs Ackroyd does not notice her daughter’s despair and concentrates only on their profit as she tearfully adds: “What would happen to the estate, I wonder, if Ralph was found 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface guilty?” (Murder of Roger Ackroyd 122). Mrs Ackroyd is therefore portrayed as
a disagreeable woman and her character is ridiculed. Christie openly makes fun of her attempts to imitate the manners of the aristocracy 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface which is typical of her writing as “she is certainly not in love with a Lord” (Light 80) and in her detective stories she depicts the fall of this class as already 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface mentioned in the chapter entitled People Who Run the Village Life.

Another upper-class mother is Mrs Willet. Unlike Mrs Ackroyd, she is very efficient and intelligent. She prefers organizing everything by herself 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface and knows how
to make people believe what she wants. For instance, as Mrs Willet does not want
the villagers to know the reason why she and her daughter 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface settled in Sittaford, she briskly finds an answer to every possible question they may ask. Similarly to Mrs Ackroyd and Flora, we are shown the lack of affection in the mother and daughter relationship 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface. Violet
is a weak girl who obeys her mother. The detachment they keep is reflected in their conversation. Violet only gives brief answers to Mrs Willet’s questions, such as “Oh! yes 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface, Mother” (^ Sittaford Mystery 147).

The family patterns described above correspond to the Victorian views of British society but as Alison Light claims, Christie’s “fiction is particularly keen to despatch patriarchs and matriarchs […] Her 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface families are usually replaced at close by the modern couple, an ideal relationship, more instrumental, de-sentimentalised, and without fuss” (100). This tendency goes in line with the new perception 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface of marriage that is seen
as a companionship rather than a contract between a man and a woman. Christie takes delight in writing about the young couples and the most famous are her detectives Tommy 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface and Tuppence Beresford who appeared for the first time in the novel entitled The Secret Adversary (1922) and in contrast to other detectives, such as Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface, Christie described them at several stages of their lives, including their retirement in Postern of Fate (1973).

As for her earlier novels, the author introduced the vicar Leonard Clement and
his wife, Griselda. Their marriage 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface is portrayed as more or less harmonious and they are fond of each other. Griselda is not a reserved woman who obeys her husband. She is very much his companion, who 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface loves him and is always teasing him. For example, Mrs Clement knows well that she is a hopeless housekeeper and that her husband is not particularly pleased with the way their household is 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface run, however, instead of making apologies she makes fun of the situation: “Think how lucky you are not to be torn to pieces […] Or burnt at the stake. Bad food 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface and lots of dust and dead wasps is really nothing to make a fuss about” (Murder at the Vicarage 9). Nevertheless, when she realizes she is expecting a child she decides to be 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface a great mother and wife and even buys “books on Household Management and […] on Mother Love” (Murder at the Vicarage 377). Griselda reappears later in The Body in the Library and we can see that she 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface became a caring mother who keeps a watchful eye on her child and always plays games with him (235).

In the 1960s Christie depicted a similar cheerful companion, Rhoda Despard.
She 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface lives in the village of Much Deeping with her husband, a retired army officer. Rhoda’s children already go to school but being full of energy, she finds other things to occupy 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface herself with during the day, such as her dogs that are always ill or the household.
The marriage of Rhoda and Hugh is also based on tolerance and understanding. However, Hugh represents 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface the head of the family and Rhoda sometimes relies on his decision making. For example, when she wants to join a village séance, he forbids her to go and
she reluctantly 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface obeys. Yet, Hugh does so only to protect his wife as he thinks that witchcraft might turn into something dangerous.

Christie’s modern couples mark the change of the family structure 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface in the twentieth century. In the 1960s we rarely come across the large families living under one roof. The modern households are smaller and there is a strong tendency towards a nuclear family pattern 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface (Marwick 60-61). However, the traditional differentiation of the roles within
the family prevails in Christie’s detective stories. The wife does not go to work, she runs the household and looks 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface after the children while her husband is a main breadwinner. This also reflects the situation of the 1960s. Although the number of married women who entered work has increased by more than 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface 10 per cent during the first half of the twentieth century (Halsey 107), the majority of them still stayed at home. In the novels studied, Christie also comments on the growing number of working women 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface, however, the view of the situation is negative. For instance, in Hallowe’en Party, Rowena Drake, a woman who is in charge of the important village events, openly criticizes these tendencies: “I must 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface say that mothers and families generally are not looking after their children properly, as they used to do. Children are sent home from school alone, on dark evenings, go alone on 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface dark early mornings” (Hallowe’en Party 46). Although this view cannot be taken as evidence, one can claim, however, that Agatha Christie is very conservative, which is demonstrated by her answer to 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface an Italian questionnaire:

Asked about the cause of women’s increasingly active role, Agatha attributed it to ‘the foolishness of women in relinquishing their position
of privilege obtained after many centuries of civilization 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface. Primitive women toil incessantly. We seem determined to return to that state voluntarily – or by listening to persuasion, and therefore forfeiting the joys of leisure and creative thought and the perfecting of home 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface conditions.’ (Morgan 350)

In the late period of her career, Christie introduced another wife and mother, yet this figure is completely different from the women mentioned above. It is Marina Gregg,
a Hollywood 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface star, who took up and converted a residence in St Mary Mead that originally belonged to Mrs Bantry. At first, it seems that Marina embodies all the qualities
of the 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface celebrity stereotype as she has been married for five times, is extremely beautiful and very gifted and yet, she does not believe in herself and needs to be constantly reassured of her great talent 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface. However, this time, Christie does not satisfy herself with such a basic description. Contrariwise, Marina’s character is depicted in detail. She is a woman who strives for love and happiness 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface. However, the life she leads does not make it possible. She does not live in the real world. Being constantly surrounded by fans and photographers, Marina always seems to play a 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface role of an “unspoilt and natural” (Mirror Crack’d 24) actress. As her life is a whirlwind of various events and changes, she behaves accordingly when looking for security and affection. She often becomes 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface fond of something but her enthusiasm soon fades away. Marina buys the Gossington Hall to settle down with her husband, Jason Rudd. She overflows with feelings and is overjoyed to have 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface found home where she “can be quiet and happy” (Mirror Crack’d 33). However, her loving husband does not believe it will last long.

Marina seems to have everything in the world and 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface people admire her. Yet, there is one thing she desires and will never have – a child. She is obsessed with the idea of having children. However, due to problems with conception, Marina becomes desperate 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface.
To overcome grief and fill an empty place in her life, she decides for an adoption.
She takes in three children. Nevertheless, she soon realizes they cannot replace what
she has been really 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface striving for – a child of her own. It is one of Marina’s children who describes the state of her mind: “She wanted children. But she didn’t want us! Not really 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface.
It was just a glorious bit of play-acting […] We’d done very well as little stopgaps, but she didn’t care a damn for us really” (^ Mirror Crack’d 154). This 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface is evidenced by the fact that when Marina suddenly finds out she is going to have a baby, she provides for her adopted children and sends them away, never trying to meet 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface them or inquiring about them.

All her life, Marina has nourished the idea that only a child of her own could make her happy. However, as she falls ill with 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface German measles, the baby is born mentally afflicted. Marina never fully recovers from the tragedy. The village of St Mary Mead is only one of the destinations where she wants to bury 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface the past. However, here she accidentally meets a person who brought the misery on her. Marina cannot suppress
the feeling of hatred she has nursed all those years. Heather Babcock is a 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface “woman who had destroyed her happiness and destroyed the sanity and health of her child” (^ Mirror Crack’d 220). Marina poisons Heather and later on, this time to protect herself, she kills two witnesses 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface. Yet, in spite of the crimes she committed, Marina is not judged as a murderer. Her life has been filled with sorrow and she does not deserve to be punished. She killed
a woman 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface who represented the source of her ordeal because she did not have time to calm down. She acted on the spur of the moment and thus, she took revenge. It was 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface this unforeseen event that triggered off the rest of the disasters. To save her from imprisonment and other suffering, her husband poisons her in the end.

Christie’s attitude to marriage and 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface children corresponds to the changes
of society. However, the characters she introduced can be usually regarded as flat because they are “unalterable” and “can be expressed in a single sentence 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface” (Forster 73-74). Apart from Griselda who is given more space to develop, Christie frequently provides us with
a bare minimum and does not let us uncover the psychology of the protagonists. Yet, it has been 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface shown that during her career, the author also ventures to deal with more complicated themes in her books and as far as Marina Gregg is concerned, she offers us a complex characterisation 6. Wives and Mothers - Preface of the heroine.

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