?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

In my earlier posts about Christie I remarked that her strength was in her plots, not her characters. The same idea came up in the comments to those posts. I would say that Miss Marple is more of a person than Poirot--I love both of them for what they are, but it's not like they grow or develop much or have any particular internal life. They are static sleuth-characters typical of the era in mystery, and probably much more sophisticated than most of their peers.

However. Preserve me from the "lower-class" characters in Christie, particularly the servants. They're not even human. (I once mentioned this to an acquaintance, who argued that the "Oh, ma'am" simpering servant-girl was accurate for the time. Maybe in front of Ma'am she was--I'm sure she didn't want to lose her job--but the characters behave with equal slack-jawed imbecility when there's no one around to pretend to.)

I'm not going to hold this classism against Christie too much, because (a) she was obviously a product of her time and place, and (b) she was obviously writing stock characters, so it's unfair of me to complain about her writing stock characters.

Also, it's too late now to change her attitudes, if any.

But it's worth noting that at least two of her contemporaries, Ngaio Marsh and Patricia Wentworth, did a much better job at presenting working class characters as real people. I always used to wonder if the fact Marsh was a New Zealander was a factor in that. I have no idea how to explain Wentworth. Except that I think she also wrote romances, which are carried by characters rather than the strict puzzle plots Christie excelled at. Maybe that was it?

And now it also occurs to me that Christie also wrote romances as Mary Westmacott (I haven't read any of them) so that probably isn't it, either.

Perhaps I'll chalk it up to "different writers are good at different things."*
__________________________________________

*Edited to add: By "different writers are good at different things," I mean that Wentworth and Christie wrote at about the same time, and in the same genres, and Wentworth is far better at creating characters. I know very little about Wentworth as a person or what social class she belonged to, but as neonorne points out below, it's possible Christie's problem was not so much that she couldn't write characters, as that she couldn't see the "servant class" as people. Maybe Wentworth was just better at seeing people as people, or maybe there were reasons she could. I've read Christie's biography but not for years, so I can't even guess which interpretation is likelier to be true.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
14th May, 2010 12:52 (UTC)
Or, different writers have different world views, political understanding and social sensibilities...

Accurate for the time my ass... My mother was born in 1917, into a poor working class family. She had to leave her home at 14 to earn her living as a house maid. The stories she has told.... of the insufferable, inconsiderate patronising attitudes of her employers, their snobbishness, their idea that since she had to leave school so early she had no intelligence and no sensibilities what so ever.

It marked her forever, she could never forget it. And this was a young girl who, in the seven years of schooling she was able to get, was always at the top of her class. Who had a teacher that gave her private lessons in her home and begged her parents to let her continue school, because she was so bright and had so much promise...

But her parents just couldn't afford it. They had seven children and could barely keep body and soul together. They needed her income. And for an uneducated girl of 14 during the great depression, without any kind of connection - what else was there to do but to go into domestic work?

So yeah, my tolerance for the depiction of domestic servants as mentally retarded or naive, about-to-be-naughty children, is fairly low, I must admit.

But you're right, too late to reform Christie now, and teach her to respect the working classes - so no need to put any energy into raging against her. It's just another reason why I can't be bothered to pick up any Christie books.
coneycat
14th May, 2010 12:56 (UTC)
Or, different writers have different world views, political understanding and social sensibilities...

True, and thank you for that blistering and on-target comment. In your shoes I would probably take Christie books out of the library just to throw them against the wall.
neonorne
14th May, 2010 12:53 (UTC)
Or, different writers have different world views, political understanding and social sensibilities...

Accurate for the time my ass... My mother was born in 1917, into a poor working class family. She had to leave her home at 14 to earn her living as a house maid. The stories she has told.... of the insufferable, inconsiderate patronising attitudes of her employers, their snobbishness, their idea that since she had to leave school so early she had no intelligence and no sensibilities what so ever.

It marked her forever, she could never forget it. And this was a young girl who, in the seven years of schooling she was able to get, was always at the top of her class. Who had a teacher that gave her private lessons in her home and begged her parents to let her continue school, because she was so bright and had so much promise...

But her parents just couldn't afford it. They had seven children and could barely keep body and soul together. They needed her income. And for an uneducated girl of 14 during the great depression, without any kind of connection - what else was there to do but to go into domestic work?

So yeah, my tolerance for the depiction of domestic servants as mentally retarded or naive, about-to-be-naughty children, is fairly low, I must admit.

But you're right, too late to reform Christie now, and teach her to respect the working classes - so no need to put any energy into raging against her. It's just another reason why I can't be bothered to pick up any Christie books.
neonorne
14th May, 2010 12:55 (UTC)
(And I'm sorry, I first tried to post this without being logged in. Discovered that too late. It's possible it entered some screening queue of yours. If so, just ignore it. Sorry again)
coneycat
14th May, 2010 13:00 (UTC)
I suspected it was a comment from someone I knew, and I hoped you'd come back and let s know who.

And it's such a great comment that I'm leaving both copies where they are. It deserves to be said twice. (Also, yeesh, in your shoes I would be kicking Christie books and others like them.) Closest I've ever some to a story that addresses this issue is the movie Gosford Park. As a reader of the mysteries of that era, it was a good reality check to see the servant characters depicted as real characters.
neonorne
14th May, 2010 13:08 (UTC)
Thanks for the praise. :blushes: And Yes! I love the Gosford Park movie!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

mongoose
coneycat
Shelley McKibbon

Tags

Latest Month

September 2015
S M T W T F S
  12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930   

Page Summary





Site Meter


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by S. Howell