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Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born along the Devon coast in the town of Torquay, England, on
September fifteen, 1890. She was the youngest of three children in an upper-middle class home.
Due to the age gap between the siblings, her elder brother and sister were away at boarding school
while she was growing up.
Agatha was schooled home, at Ashfield, a large Victorian mansion, by a governess, her mother and
occasional part-time tutors -a lifestyle later reflected in her novels. It was characteristic of the
period when mainly only boys went to school, although Agatha’s mother, who was not one to
follow convention, had sent her elder sister Madge to school. Moreover she encouraged young
Agatha to write poetry and short stories – some were even published in The Poetry Review.
At the age of 16, Agatha was sent to finishing school in Paris for two years, where she studied
singing and piano – her first formal education. Agatha was an accomplished pianist but shyness and
stage fright prevented her from pursuing a career in music.
After finishing school, Agatha spent three months in Egypt with her mother, who had become
restless since her husband died. So she started to travel, often taking her youngest kid with her. At
that time Agatha's life-long love of travel begun.
In 1914, Agatha married Archibald Christie, who was a fighter pilot. While her husband was at
World War I, Agatha Christie worked as a VAD nurse (Volunteer Aid Detachment nurse) in the
Torquay Town Hall, which had been converted into a Red Cross hospital, nursing casualties of the
War. After two years working with patients, Christie went to work in the hospital's dispensary
where she learned basic chemistry and a knowledge of medicines, herbs and poisons. That helped
her to write her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It came into existence while she was
working in the hospital. It was not published until after the war in 1920 though. It featured the
Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who became known for his eccentricities, waxy moustache and
quick mind. He was a featured character in thirty of Christie's novels.
When Archie was posted to the Air Ministry, they had to move away from Devon to a small flat in
London. It was here that their only child, a girl called Rosalind Hicks, was born on 5th August
Agatha and Archie moved back out of London to Sunningdale in Berkshire, where after living in a
mansion flat, they bought a house in 1924 and named it Styles after Christie's first novel.
However in 1927 Agatha’s mother died, and this was followed shortly after by the collapse of her
marriage to Archie Christie, who declared he was in love with another woman.
Archie and Agatha Christie were divorced in 1928. It was a traumatic time for Agatha, and she even
wrote to her publisher requesting that all future books should be published with a change of name.
However the publishers felt that Agatha Christie was a name that the public had now got used to,
and too valuable as a trademark to give up.
During this traumatic time, Agatha Christie disappeared for 10 days on 3rd December 1926. Her car
was found abandoned on a slope. There was no sign of her. For 10 days the country was fascinated
by her disappearance and a nationwide manhunt was started. Agatha was eventually found staying
at a hotel in a nearby town under the name of Mrs Teresa Neele, which was the name of the woman
that Archie Christie had admitted having an affair with. Agatha claimed that she suffered amnesia
after a nervous breakdown, following the death of her mother and the end of her marriage. Agatha
Christie, however, never made any mention of this event afterwards, not even in her autobiography.
Her daughter Rosalind Hicks said in the 1980s that her mother did not mention the disappearance as
she had no memory of it.
Christie slowly rebuilt her life and in 1930 she visited Baghdad for a second time and it was here
that she met and fell in love with Max Mallowan, a young archaeologist.
On 11th September 1930 Agatha Christie married Max Mallowan, and she became Agatha Christie
Mallowan. She kept her name 'Agatha Christie' in public due to readership recognition, however,
privately referred to herself as Mrs. Mallowan. They were to stay married until her death in 1976 .
In 1932 Agatha Christie published the first of six psychological romance novels under the
pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. It remained a well guarded secret and it wasn’t until 1949 that the
Sunday Times revealed that Ms Westmacott was actually Agatha Christie.
The 1930s were one of Agatha Christie’s most productive times for producing novels - fourteen
Hercule Poirot novels, two Jane Marple novels, two Superintendent Battle books, a book of stories
featuring Harley Quin and another featuring Mr. Parker Pyne, four non-series mystery novels, a
Mary Westmacott book, and two original plays
During the Second World War, Agatha worked part time in London’s University College Hospital’s
dispensary. Her writing was limited to the evenings, although she was still able to produce 12
completed novels.
It was during World War II, that Agatha Christie wrote the two novels Curtain and Sleeping Murder,
which were intended as the last cases of her two great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple,
respectively. Both books were sealed in a bank vault for over thirty years, and were only released
for publication by Agatha Christie towards the end of her life.
Agatha Christie accompanied her husband Max Mallowan on his archaeological expeditions for
nearly 20 years, and her book Come Tell Me How You Live describes her days on the archaeological
digs in Syria.
To honor her many literary works, Agatha Christie was awarded as a Commander of the Order of
the British Empire in 1956.
In 1957 Agatha became the President of the Detection Club and in 1971 Agatha Christie received
the Order of Dame Commander of the British Empire, making her Dame Agatha Christie. Her
husband had been knighted Sir Max Mallowan in 1968 for his archaeological work.
Agatha Christie, who had been in poor health for several years, died peacefully at home on 12
January 1976, aged 85, of natural causes.

Agatha gained much success with her plays and novels and is often regarded as the Queen of Crime.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Christie is the best-selling writer of books of all
time and, with William Shakespeare, the best-selling author of any kind. Only the Bible has sold
more than her roughly four billion copies of novels. According to UNESCO (United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Christie is the most translated individual author,
with only the collective corporate works of Walt Disney Productions surpassing her. Her books have
been translated into at least 103 languages.
Christie's stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run: it opened at the
Ambassadors Theater in London on 25 November, 1952 and as of 2011 is still running after more
than 23,000 performances. In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of
America's highest honor, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year Witness for the Prosecution
was given an Edgar Award by the MWA for Best Play. Most of her books and short stories have
been filmed (Murder on the Orient Express, 4.50 From Paddington and Death on the Nile for
instance), and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.
During lifetime Agatha Christie published 83 books including novels, romances written under the
pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, short stories, poetry and the scripts for her plays.
2. Influences on her writing:

-) Childhood and Imagination

Agatha Christie spent much of her childhood alone as her two elder siblings were away at boarding
school. She was always a very shy child who didn't go to school. Her mother who was in favor for
education for girls sent her sister to boarding school, kept her youngest kid, however, at home.
Furthermore Agatha had an extremely creative and vivid imagination. Later she admitted in her
autobiography, that she was always over burdened with imagination due to her lonely and bored
Growing up she therefore created a host of imaginary friends and creatures to keep herself amused.
Her games were based on make-believe, and from as early as she could remember, she always had
companions of her own choosing. Her first recollections were “The Kittens” – Clover, Blackie and
three others; then there was Mrs Green who had a hundred children including Poodle, Squirrel and
Tree. They accompanied Agatha on all her adventures in the houses big garden.
At about the age of 9, Agatha invented a school and a set of friends who attended the school. There
were seven girls of varying ages and characters.

-) The society

Agatha Christie was born in the era of Victorian England. Christie’s inspiration came from the
world she knew. She was a person who listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was
seen. Her social settings, her characters and her dialogue were always accurately observed. She
made notes in dozens of notebooks, jotting down ideas and potential plots and characters as they
came to her. Christie spent her time working out all the details and clues in her head before putting
pen to paper. It was often the most everyday events and casual observations which triggered a new
Christie wrote about the society she was born into and a large number of her books were set in
country houses such as Ashfield, the Victorian mansion she spent her childhood in. Servants play
invariably a part in her plots. Agatha grew up with them – they were not a particular luxury at the
time – it wasn’t a case of only the rich having them - the only difference was that the rich had more.
As a family, they were comfortably well off with three servants which was considered the minimum
at that time. In her novels they were blending into the background, but usually a source of
Agatha also reflected many contemporary events that were occurring at the time of writing her
books. Her decision to make her first detective, Poirot, a Belgian, was a reflection of the fact that
the district she lived in, was an influx of Belgian refugees, following the invasion of Belgium by the

-) Knowledge of poisons and herbs

During the First World War Agatha Christie worked as a nurse in the local hospital nursing
casualties. After about two years she went to work in the hospital dispensary where she spend the
next two years. Christie didn’t enjoy dispensing as much as nursing, which she felt she had a real
vocation for. She studied for her apothecaries examination, however, and in the process learned all
about drugs, poisons and their effects.
There were a total of 83 poisonings in her books.
-) Other detective books

Agatha Christie grew up reading many books, including detective stories, e.g by Gaston Le Roux
(Phantom of the Opera). They had an impact on her later writing. It was The Mystery of the Yellow
Room by Gaston Le Roux that first sparked the conversation between herself and her sister Madge
about writing a detective novel. The sisters talked about the book a lot, discussed their views and
agreed it was one of the best. Agatha told Madge she would like to try writing a detective story, and
her sister told her she didn’t believe she could do it because they were so difficult to write. The seed
was though planted.
In her autobiography Agatha Christie admitted to write in the Sherlock Holmes tradition, with an
eccentric detective (Poirot) and a stooge assistant (Hastings). Agatha, however, wanted her
detectives to be significantly different.

-) Her travels

As a relatively young child, the Christie family spent some time in the South of France whilst their
house in Devon was rented out over the summer. At the age of 15, Agatha’s mother decided that
they should both go to Paris where Agatha was enrolled in the school where Madge, her older sister
had gone. Her ability to speak fluent French helped in her choice of the Belgian, French speaking
detective, Hercule Poirot; and her third book, Murder on the Links, was also set in France.
Agatha Christie’s beloved Devon also features heavily as the background setting for many of her
novels, including The Sittaford Mystery and Then There Were None.
Right after her divorce from Archibald Christie, she went alone on a trip to Baghdad on the Orient
Express; Christie loved trains and they suited her gift for observation. She spent several weeks
touring the region and the atmosphere of Egypt left a lasting impression on her. Later during her
marriage to Max Mallowan, she spent long periods in the Middle East, whilst Max worked on
archaeological digs.
Agatha’s life was transformed when she met her second husband. For the next 30 years she
accompanied him on archaeological digs in the Middle East, sleeping on site in the exhibition
house. She loved the simplicity of desert life and threw herself into the investigation of ancient
civilizations. She developed the photographs on the early excavations and later photographed the
digs herself.
Agatha Christie continued to write her detective novels on location and many of her most loved
novels were written by direct observation of the life on her travels. They inspired not only Murder
on the Orient Express, but also Murder in Mespotamia, Death on the Nile, Death Comes as the End
and Appointment with Death.
Looking back on her life as an author she said that whilst the characters that she created were
fictitious, the settings were always real.
3. Murder on the Orient Express:

-) Plot

After Hercule Poirot solved an important case in Palestine, he boards the Orient Express in Istanbul.
For the time of the year the train is unusually crowded and in the middle of the first night the
American, Samuel Edward Ratchett is murdered. While Poirot is asked to solve the case, the train
gets stuck in a snow bank so that nobody can leave. The telegraph strikes and the police can't be
informed. At first Poirot refuses to investigate but eventually gives in. The clues and circumstances
of the murder, though, are very mysterious: Ratchett was killed with twelve stings. Some of them
appear to have been inflicted by a right-handed person and some by a left-hander, several conducted
forcefully, others flimsily. Poirot finds several more clues in the victim's cabin and on the train,
including a linen handkerchief embroidered with the initial "H", a pipe cleaner, and a button from a
conductor's uniform. All of these clues suggest that the murderer or murderers were somewhat
sloppy. Each clue, however, seemingly points to another suspect.
By reconstructing parts of a burned letter, Poirot discovers that Mr. Ratchett was a criminal from the
U.S. named Cassetti. Five years earlier, Cassetti kidnapped the three-year-old American girl Daisy
Armstrong. Though the Armstrong family paid a large amount of money, Cassetti murdered the
little girl and fled the country with the money. He was later caught but his resources allowed him to
get himself acquitted.
The evidences point in wildly different directions and after meditation on the clues, Poirot
assembles the twelve suspects in the restaurant car. He presents two possible explanations of the
murder. The first option is that a stranger – some gangster enemy of Ratchett – boarded the train at
the last stop, murdered Ratchett for reasons unknown, and escaped unnoticed.
Poirot's second explanation is rather more sensational: All of the suspects are guilty. Poirot's
suspicions were first clouded by the fact that all of the passengers on the train were of so many
different nationalities and social classes and that only in the "melting pot" of the United States a
group of such different people would form some connection with each other.
Poirot reveals that the twelve other passengers on the train were all connected to the Armstrong
family in some way and several of the suspects brake down in tears as the truth is uncovered.
In the end the first explanation is pronounced as the correct one.

-) Themes

a.) The justice of a jury

In Murder on the Orient Express the jury system is interpreted rather unusual, at least by Western
standards. Ratchett is sentenced to death and later killed by a self-appointed group of twelve; the
same number of people that are in a jury. Subject of the novel is the idea of a jury and it's justness
(the jury is a symbol of justness). The Armstrong family justified killing Ratchett. Their
construction of a jury, however, is nothing like the state intends it. They didn't rely on any sort of
law or other things to form their “jury”.
The system puts the responsibility of one man's death on the shoulders of many, rather than one.
This is what the state does; it assigns a jury that decides the fate of a man, but there is control over
who is selected to be on the jury. If they were composed of the victims family members and friends
the jury would certainly be prejudiced.
The novel constantly questions what a jury is and how "just" this system is, especially when a jury
is self-appointed. The final argument of the novel, analog with Poirot and all the characters is that
Ratchett's murder was "just". The jury they formed and the consensus of twelve, was right and fair.
b.) The insufficiency of law
(What is the significance of law in the novel?)

Most murder mysteries examine justice - its violation through the act of murder and its restoration
through the work of a detective who solves the crime and ensures that the murderer pays for his or
her deed. Murder on the Orient Express deals with the issue of justice but it bends the formula by
making the victims of murder people who committed murder themselves.
Law is presented as wholly insufficient in Murder on the Orient Express. Prohibition laws are
discussed when Poirot searches Hardman's suitcase for evidence. His suitcase is lined with bottles
of liquor and he tells the men that Prohibition hasn't ever worried him any. Hardman and M. Bouc
even discuss the speakeasy (the hidden, illegal bars during prohibition). Hardman is planning on
concealing his alcohol by the time he gets to Paris, "what's left over of this little lot will go into a
bottle labeled hairwash." Prohibition has not curbed the drinking habits of Hardman.
The insufficiency of US law is exemplified by the fact that Ratchett is able to give US cops, "the
slip." By means of enormous wealth and the "secret hold he had over various persons" he was
acquitted from the crime. The book suggests that a murderer in America can go free if he has
enough money and connections.

c.) The morality of murder

(What set of morals are endorsed by the book?)

Because Ratchett escapes justice in the United States, the Armstrong family is determined to kill
him and prevent him from hurting any more children. One of the main themes of the novel is the
morality of murder; is it all right to kill a man, even if law has acquitted him? Is it ever all right to
kill a man? The novel suggests, at least by Poirot and the passenger's standards, that murder is okay
under the right circumstances. If the crime is hideous, there are twelve people who agree that a
person is truly guilty and that person is still free and therefore it is fine to kill him.

-) Motifs

a.) Class

There is a strict class structure in most of Christie's novels and especially in Murder on the Orient
Express. Although the cabin is made up of "many different classes and nationalities," it is strictly
divided into working class and aristocratic passengers. Class doesn't only represents one's financial
well being, but also the emotional. The servants are presented as much weaker characters than the
non working-class passengers. Hildegarde Schmidt, Greta Ohlsson, Antonio Foscarelli and
eventually Mary Debenham all break into tears by the novel's end. None of the other characters get
so upset about the situation, perhaps because they do not have to. If they loose their jobs, it is not
such a big deal, as they are independently wealthy and most are not required to work. Mary
Debenham even tells Poirot she does not tell people she was associated with the Armstrongs
because she is worried about getting a job.

b.) Americans
Americans, at least the two that admitted to be one, are comedic characters in the novel. Both
Hardman and Mrs. Hubbard use improper slang, are kind of obnoxious and think their country is
the best. Mrs. Hubbard tends to call people "folks," tells people that Europe needs Western ideals
and Hardman, who constantly speaks in awkward slang tells M. Bouc that “Europe would needs to
wake up”. Poirot agrees that America is a place of progress, but it is clear this progress isn't always

c.) Identity

One of the greatest motif in Murder on the Orient Express is that of identity. In the first two sections
of the book the passenger's identities are assumed to be correct, but in the third section their real
identities are being revealed. The motif adds to the surprise of the book. As Poirot admits, there are
no standard ways of investigating this case, so he and the reader are forced to first accept the
evidence as truth. There is no way to see if they are lying or not. Most of the passengers tell the
truth about their names, but not their professions or association with the Armstrong family.
Countess Andrenyi attempts to change her name, Helena to Elena and Linda Arden makes up an
entirely fictitious character to play while on board the train.

-) Symbols

a.) Ratchett

Ratchett becomes the symbol of pure evil in the novel and this close association of both is
purposeful. Christie wants the reader to have no sympathy for him.
From the minute Poirot sees Ratchett in the hotel restaurant, he knows that he is a bad man. Poirot
describes Ratchett as a "wild animal" and tells M. Bouc that when Ratchett passed "he could not rid
himself of the evil that had passed him". To the Armstrongs, Ratchett is evil as well. In the evidence
gathering stage, when Poirot tells each of them about the crime and Ratchett's involvement, all of
the passengers are outraged. The name Ratchett becomes synonymous with evil and terror.

b.) Daisy Armstrong

Daisy Armstrong is symbolic of goodness and innocence. The three-year-old child, kidnapped and
brutally murdered for money by an evil man, is the picture of purity. When each of the passengers
speaks of the Armstrong case or specifically of Daisy, they can hardly contain their grief and anger
that such a young, perfect life was taken. It is the duty of the Armstrong family to defend the good
and murder evil and it is their duty to defend Daisy and other young children like her by killing

c.) Food

Food is a symbol of society, sophistication and calm. M. Bouc, Dr. Constantine and Poirot always
sit down at meals after every part of the investigation. Even after just having viewed Ratchett's
dead, bloodied body, Constantine and Poirot go to the dining car and eat a full meal with M. Bouc.
While eating his lunch, Poirot considers the case. When he is finished, he tells M. Bouc and
Constantine that he knows Ratchett's true identity. Christie is careful never to leave out a meal,
where and when Poirot is eating. In a time of great disorder and panic, food and the process of
eating is ordered and sophisticated.
-) References to actual history:

→ Lindbergh kidnapping case

The Armstrong kidnapping case from Murder on the Orient Express is based on the actual
kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son in 1932, just before the book was written.
Agatha Christie was inspired by circumstances of the case when she described the kidnapping of
baby girl Daisy Armstrong in her novel.
Charles August Lindbergh Jr. was the son of the the aviator Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow
Lindbergh. The boy, who was 20 months at the time, was abducted from his family home in New
Jersey on the evening of March 1, 1932. Over two months later, his dead body was found near the
Lindbergh's home. The toddler had a massive skull fracture, which was determined to be the cause
of death.
After an investigation that lasted more than two years, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested and
charged with the crime. In a trial, Hauptmann was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
He was executed by the electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison.

-) Autobiographical references:

→ Agatha Christie and the Orient Express

Another real-life event also helped inspire the novel: Agatha Christie first travelled on the Orient
Express in 1928. Just a few months later, in February 1929, an Orient Express train was trapped by
a blizzard, remaining stuck in the snow for six days.
Christie herself was involved in a similar incident in 1931 while returning from a visit to her
husband's archaeological dig at Nineveh. The Orient Express train she was on was stuck for twenty-
four hours. Due to rainfall and flooding sections of the track were being washed away. Her
biography quotes a full letter to her husband detailing the event. It includes descriptions of some
passengers on the train, who influenced the plot and characters of the book: in particular an
American lady, Mrs. Hilton, who was the inspiration for Mrs. Hubbard.

-) A Unique Mystery:

Murder on the Orient Express is unique in that the action is confined to two rail cars during a two-
day period. It's a sort of variation on the classic mystery device of the "locked room." On the
surface, this would seem dull, but not with Christie's writing. The interesting characters, all
believable despite (or maybe because) their mannerisms give the plot its interesting twists.
Although set in the 1930s, Murder on the Orient Express is as readable today as it was when it was
written. The glamour of the Orient Express train still enchants most of the readers and the actions
and motives of the characters transcend time.
4.) The Mousetrap:

The Mousetrap was initially performed as a radio play in 1952 and was broadcast by the BBC with
the title Three Blind Mice. The radio play had been commissioned in 1947 by Queen Mary, who
was a Christie fan. The forty-five minute play was based on a short story on which Christie had
been working on; however, audience reaction was so positive that Christie went back to work on the
script, elaborating on it, and with its first performance on October 6, 1952, The Mousetrap became
a stage play. After a seven-week tour, the play opened in London at the Ambassadors Theatre on
November 25, 1952. The play later transferred to St. Martin's Theatre in London on March 23, 1974
and has been running there ever since. The Mousetrap has broken several records for its continuous
theatrical run since its opening, and it is estimated that more than four million people had seen the
play by the time its twenty-five year anniversary was celebrated in 1977. After another twenty years
of performances it is safe to speculate that an additional three to four million people have probably
sat in the dark and tried to puzzle out the identity of the murderer. Performances of The Mousetrap
continue to benefit from tourists who seek out the play both for its artistic value and for the joy of
being part of a theatrical tradition. Christie signed over the royalties from the play to her grandson
at its opening in 1952. It is thought that he has become a multimillionaire from the royalties of this
one property alone.

●) Plot:

The Mousetrap begins with the murder of a mysterious woman in London. The action takes place in
a guest house thirty miles from London where a house full of suspects have gathered and where a
second murder is about to be committed.

Act I

Scene 1 – Late afternoon

A woman has been murdered in London. A young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston, have started a
guest house in the converted Monkswell Manor. Their first four guests arrive: Christopher Wren,
Mrs. Boyle, Major Metcalf and Miss Casewell. Mrs. Boyle complains about everything, and Giles
offers to cancel her stay, but she refuses the offer. They become snowed in together and read about
the murdered woman in the newspaper. An additional traveler, Mr. Paravicini, arrives stranded after
he ran his car into a snowdrift.

Scene 2 – The following day after lunch

Mrs Boyle complains to the other guests, first to Metcalf and then to Miss Casewell, who both try to
get away from her. Wren comes into the room claiming to have fled Mrs. Boyle in the library.
Shortly afterwards Mollie and Giles get a call from the police, that makes the guests uneasy. Mrs.
Boyle suggests that Mollie should check Wren's references. Detective Sergeant Trotter arrives on
skis to inform the group that he believes a murderer is on his way to the hotel, following the death
of Mrs Maureen Lyon in London. When Mrs Boyle is killed, they realize that the murderer is
already in the house.

Act II

Ten minutes later, the investigation is ongoing and each character is being supected. Mollie and
Giles get into a fight, and Chris Wren and Giles argue over who should protect Mollie. Suspicion
falls first on Christopher Wren, an freakish young man who fits the description of the supposed
murderer. However, it quickly transpires that the killer could be any one of the guests, or even the
hosts themselves. The characters re-enact the second murder, trying to prevent a third. At last,
Sergeant Trotter assembles everyone in the hall with the plan to set a trap for one of the suspects.
The murderer's identity is reaveled near the end of the play. In a twist ending, it is becomes clear
that the murderer is Sergeant Trotter, who is not a policeman at all but an insane killer seeking to
avenge his brother's death; that Miss Casewell is actually his sister who came looking for him; that
Mollie Ralston taught the children as students when she was a teacher; and that Major Metcalf is, in
fact, an undercover police detective, looking for the murderer.

●) Themes:

→ Appearance and reality:

At the heart of any mystery lies the question of what is real and what is not. This is particularly true
of The Mousetrap, which relies on disguise to confuse the audience. The detective in the mystery
genre is suppose to be the outsider, a member of the cast with whom the audience can most closely
identify. But in this play, the appearance of the detective does not fulfill the audience's expectations,
since the reality is that the detective is the murderer. Christie is playing with a genre which the
audience thinks is predictable in its basic form, forcing them to use analytical skills beyond the

→ Death:

Death provides both the opening of this play and the connection between acts. Death, though, is
almost the least important aspect of the play; solving the murder is the important element. Christie's
first victim is unknown to the audience and the second is a complaining, obnoxious woman, whom
the audience gladly sacrifices in the struggle to discover who the murderer is. Thus, death becomes
almost abstract, a necessary action to advance the plot but not an action which causes the audience
any grief. The result is that death, rather than assuming a central position of importance in the play,
becomes only a necessary device which the author uses to entertain. Christie provides a complexity
to the theme of death that requires the audience to look beyond the obvious.

→ Justice and Injustice:

This play can also be described as a search for justice. The two murder victims are responsible for
the death of a young child and the abuse of his siblings. The murderer has decided that justice has
not been provided through social and legal means and so decides to conduct justice himself. The
difficult question for Christie is how to make the murderer sympathetic without sacrificing law. She
does this by making the initial murder an innocent child who suffered greatly. The first victim is the
foster mother who was responsible for the child's death. The second victim is the magistrate who
placed the boy in foster care. Christie gives the second victim a poor personality. Moreover she
makes the murderer friendly and attractive, but emotionally and mentally disturbed. The audience is
accordingly sympathetic to him and uncaring about the victims. In the end, justice has the
appearance of having been served: the deranged young man is taken away to be treated and a
sympathetic potential victim has been saved.

→ Order and disorder:

To establish a place for murder, Christie creates a scenario that dismisses order from the stage and
instead establishes disorder. She does this first with the snow storm that strands all the guests. The
second step is to remove any chance of communication with the outside world; the phone lines are
cut and the house is isolated. Next the detective's skis have disappeared and the audience realizes
that the detective is stranded and unable to seek help. Finally, the guests and their hosts begin to fall
apart and the audience starts to suspect any or all of them to be a murderer.

→ Punishment:

Modern audiences are used to expect punishment as a response to crime. But for Christie,
punishment depends more on circumstances than on the crime itself. The murderer has conducted
his own idea of punishment to his two murder victims and the audience is given enough reason to
dislike the victims and like their murderer. The plot makes clear that the murderer is also a victim
and so his removal to a treatment center at the play's conclusion is a solution the audience agrees
with. They are encouraged to turn all their sympathy to the young man who was more victim than

→ Revenge:

Like punishment, revenge is the motivating force behind the murderer's decisions. He is seeking
vengeance for his brother's death and the injuries he has suffered. The two murder victims are
unsympathetic characters, while the murderer is portrayed as both likable and emotionally unstable.
All of these elements lead the audience to recognize and sympathize with the young man when he is
unmasked at the play's conclusion.

→ Sanity and insanity:

Insanity is offered as both a euphemistic reason for the murderer's actions and a justification for the
murder of two people. Throughout the play the murderer is referred to several times as a homicidal
maniac. The definition of maniac is a madman, a lunatic, someone who is violently insane. After
delinquent is unmasked as Georgie (Sergeant Trotter), the audience, who has come to like the young
man, is quick to accept that he is insane. Indeed the conclusion reveals that he is not going off to
prison, but instead, he will be locked in somewhere for treatment. His insanity is justified by the
circumstances of his childhood. Lastly it is a solution with which the audience is comfortable.

●) Historical context

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap opened in theaters during a period marked by post-World War II
rebuilding, a new monarchy, food shortages, and the threat of communism. After the war the people
had to deal with the realities of rebuilding the country. Whole sections of the nation had been
destroyed in bombings and London, in particular, was undergoing a rebirth. Furthermore food was
in such short supply that 53,000 horses had been consumed in the previous year to feed a population
that now exceeded fifty million people.
In contrast to the difficult realities outside the theater's door, inside the Ambassadors Theater the
atmosphere is different. On stage, the only concern about food is that caused by the snow storm. No
one will go hungry, and indeed, the conversation frequently focuses on food, the preparation of
meals, and the guests satisfaction with what is offered at the table. Monkswell Manor is entirely
satisfying according to at least one guest. The house is untouched by the bombing that destroyed
London only thirty miles away. The furniture is comfortable and stylish and although the house is
difficult and expensive to heat (a universal complaint about British homes), Giles keeps piling on
the coal.
Of course a short distance away in London all that burning coal added to the growing problem with
automobile emissions is causing smog, that endangers the health of its urban population.
Nevertheless, at Monkswell Manor smog is not a problem. A snow storm that has reached blizzard
proportions may prove to be more of a danger to those inside the house than the smog that exists in
In fact, the stage setting of The Mousetrap effectively removes the audience from the real world
outside. Christie creates an escape from the problems that plague England. At a time when other
writers are lamenting the lost innocence of a world and creating a literary tradition that reflects the
ruins of London, Christie is still offering an escapist literary journey for her fans.
5.) 4.50 from Paddington:

▪) Plot:

Elspeth McGillicuddy comes from Scotland to visit her old friend Jane Marple. On the way, she
becomes witness of a woman being strangled in a passing train. Only Miss Marple believes her
story as there is no evidence of a crime.
The first task is to ascertain where the body could have been hidden. Comparison with the train
timetable and the local geography lead to the grounds of Rutherford Hall as the only possible
location. Miss Marple calls upon a friend, Lucy Eyelesbarrow, who is a professional housekeeper
renowned for her efficiency and organizational skills. Lucy agrees to take a position at Rutherford
Hall in order to search the body.
Rutherford Hall was built by Josiah Crackenthorpe, salesman of tea biscuits. His son Luther, now a
semi-invalid widower, had displayed spendthrift qualities in his youth. To preserve the familie's
fortune, Josiah left his considerable wealth in trust, the income from it to be paid to Luther for the
rest of his life. After Luther's death, the capital is to be divided equally among Luther's children.
Although Luther Crackenthorpe is the present occupant of Rutherford Hall, he cannot sell the house
as per the terms of his father's will. The house itself should be inherited by Luther Crackenthorpe's
eldest surviving son, Edmund, who, however, died during World War II. Furthermore his youngest
daughter, Edith, faded away four years before. The remaining heirs to the estate are Cedric, a
bohemian painter and lover of women who lives on Ibiza; Harold, a banker; Alfred, the black sheep
of the family and a man known to engage in shady businesses; Emma Crackenthorpe, a spinster
who lives at home and takes care of Luther; and Alexander, son of Edith. The characters are
completed by Bryan Eastley, Alexander's father and Dr. Quimper, who looks after Luther's health
and is quietly romantically involved with Emma.
Lucy uses golf practice as an excuse to search the grounds. She eventually finds the woman's body
hidden in a sarcophagus amongst Luther's collection of dubious antiques.
The police eventually identifies the victim's clothing as a French manufacture. Emma tells the
police that she has received a letter claiming to be from Martine, a French girl whom her brother
had wanted to marry. He had written about Martine and their future marriage days before his death
in the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. The letter purporting to be from Martine claims that she was
pregnant when Edmund died and that she now wishes their son to have all of the advantages to
which his parentage should entitle him. The police concludes that the body in the sarcophagus is
that of Martine, but this proves not to be the case, when Lady Stoddart-West, mother of James
Stoddart-West, a schoolfriend of Alexander's, reveals that she is Martine. Although she and Edmund
had intended to marry, Edmund died before they could do so and she later married an SOE officer,
settling in England.
The whole family gets ill and Alfred suddenly dies. Later, the curry made by Lucy on the fateful
day is found to contain arsenic. Some days later, Harold, after returning home to London, receives a
delivery of some tablets that appear to be the same as the sleeping pills prescribed to him by Dr
Quimper, but who had told him that he wouldn't need to take them anymore. One by one, the heirs
to Josiah's fortune are being eliminated.
Lucy arranges an afternoon tea visit to Rutherford Hall for Miss Marple. Mrs McGillicuddy is being
invited as well. She is instructed by Miss Marple to use the toilet as soon as they arrive, but is not
told why.
Miss Marple eats a fish paste sandwich when she begins to choke. It seems she has a fish bone stuck
in her throat. Dr Quimper moves to assist her. Mrs McGillicuddy enters the room at that moment,
sees the doctor's hands at Miss Marple's throat, and cries out 'but that's him - that's the man on the
train!' Miss Marple had correctly concluded that her friend would recognize the real murderer if she
saw him again in a similar pose.
It transpires that the murdered woman had been married to Dr Quimper many years earlier. Being a
devout Catholic, she refused to divorce him. So he decided to murder her to be free to marry Emma,
thus inheriting Josiah's fortune, once he had eliminated the other heirs.

▪) Major Themes:

This book has Miss Marple give voice to Agatha Christie's view on the death penalty when she
remarks, "I am really very, very sorry that they have abolished capital punishment because I do feel
that if there is anyone who ought to hang, it's Dr. Quimper." Capital punishment in Britain was not
finally abolished until 1969 (1973 for Northern Ireland), but there were many periods when the
death penalty was temporarily suspended by the Government while Acts of Parliament for abolition
were pending. One of these "temporary abolitions" happened in February 1956 but ended in July
1957. So, the death penalty had been temporarily stopped when Christie wrote 4.50 From
Paddington but was reinstated about the time the book came out.

What is special about this book is the fact that Miss Marple tries to track down a murderer despite
not having a body or any evidence that such a murder has even happened. When the police cannot
find any evidence of a body, neither on the train or along the railway line she is the only one to
believe her friend Elspeth's claim. Miss Marple takes it upon herself to investigate.
Miss Marple is growing even older and perhaps physically weaker. At first she is not certain if she
can manage to take on the task of catching a murderer yet again. Her natural curiosity, however,
triumphs over bodily weakness.
6.) Style:

➔ Plot devices:

-) Clues and red herrings:

Clues and red herrings were Agatha Christie’s greatest device for misleading and confusing the
reader. The key to solving the murder is to determine what is a real clue, and what is a red herring.
Quite often the vital clues are given at the beginning of the book, but they are so underplayed that it
is easy to miss them amongst all the other clues and red herrings which are presented.
Christie’s red herrings are sometimes linked to unrelated minor crimes, which the reader is lead to
believe might be connected.

-) “Locked Room” scenarios:

In the “Closed Community” or “Locked Room” scenarios, Agatha Christie carefully limits the
number of suspects by having them confined - such as in a country mansion or a train. This way she
restricts the number of people who could be the murderer.
This device allows the reader to play detective for themselves – the murderer has to be one of the
people present. Christie was careful not to cheat her readers in these scenarios - all the evidence is
there and no other suspect will turn up at the last minute.

-) The disguise:

The disguise is frequently used in Agatha Christie’s stories; on the one hand there are characters
who alter their physical identity and on the other there are those who adopt a completely fake one.
The murderer would often pick an identity which was beyond suspicion, in order to set up the
ultimate murder or to stalk their prey. In some cases, a character disappears completely and then
comes back in a different guise. In other crime stories, the murderer impersonated a long lost family
member to gain the trust of others.
In some of Agatha Christie’s earlier novels, characters often feel that a suspect looks familiar and
she uses this to indicate that the individual might be in disguise. In later novels ,however, she
becomes more subtle when she uses this device.
There is frequent debate, though, about the credibility of such devices – sometimes a wig or a false
beard has everyone involved convinced that the character is someone completely different.

-) The least likely suspect:

It is vital for a good murder mystery story that the murderer approaches unnoticed, both to the
victim and to the reader, who is trying to solve the case.
Quite often, it is the least likely suspect whom Agatha Christie has as her murderer.
Often a watertight alibi leads the reader to believe that the suspect is completely innocent, only to
have the alibi disproved at the last minute.
At other times, it is an individual whom you would expect to be completely above suspicion, such
as a policeman or detective. In other of her crime novels, Agatha has the murderer being a child, the
narrator, or even all of the possible suspects.
-) Servants:

At a time when many large houses still had a team of domestic staff to keep the place running, there
were often servants in the background of Agatha’s stories.
These servants were usually seen and not heard, and therefore usually ignored. Still their evidence
is often vital because they overhear and see things that others might not simply because they melt
into the background.
It is interesting to note, though, that Christie’s murderers were rarely from the domestic staff; unless
of course the murderer was in disguise as a servant!
Agatha did on occasion though break the rules and have the murderer be a servant – after all, who
better to commit the ultimate crime than someone who blends in to the background?

-) Intuition:

Agatha Christie’s detectives often seem blessed with a sense of intuition, although their theories
never really come out of thin air. It is usually a primary intuitive insight which focuses the detective
onto a possible suspect, despite any alibis that he or she may have. Quite often a discovery is made
as a result of a random occurrence or something unconnected.
The style of intuition varies with each of Agatha’s detectives. Miss Marple’s intuition is often more
about the psychology of people – the understanding of human nature helps her to solve the crime.
She often comments on how an individual reminds her of others she knows, and how those people
would behave.

-) The big reveal:

The most obvious and consistent plot device is that Agatha Christie doesn’t reveal the whole truth
until the end of the book, keeping the reader hooked and absorbed until the end. Until that final
piece of the jigsaw is in place, the whole picture isn’t revealed.
Moreover there are fake revelations along the way, causing the reader to believe that it’s all over,
but there are always a couple more chapters to go.
7.) Language:

The simplicity of the language Agatha Christie uses is one of the key points. She believed that
economy of wording was particularly important in detective stories; that the reader did not want to
hear the same thing repeated three or four times. Therefor she used a limited vocabulary.
Furthermore she also used very simple everyday language, and repeated it, rather than trying to
introduce new words and phrases. She also relied heavily on dialogue throughout her books. In
addition, the solution often depends upon the reader’s interpretation of something that a character
says. Therefore by keeping her dialogue very simple and straightforward, and not challenging the
reader with the vocabulary, she leaves us free to focus on the plot.
8.) Miss Jane Marple:

Miss Jane Marple has a wealth of experience of people, how they behave and how they think. She
lives in an English village, St. Mary Mead, and being absorbed within it, claims that nothing can
surprise her as she has seen it all. Miss Marple’s powers of deduction usually involve an element of
intuition and a focus on the psychology of people – how she has seen others react in the same
circumstances, or a feeling that they remind her of someone. She is a keen observer of human
nature, and has a healthy interest in gossip.
The old village spinster is one of Agatha Christie’s favourites, and arose it is believed because
Agatha was bored of Poirot who had become “tiresome” to her. In Agatha’s autobiography, she
admitted that Miss Marple insinuated herself so quickly into her life that she hardly noticed her
Although there were only 12 Miss Marple books compared to Poirot’s 33, Agatha said that she
couldn't really remember how or why she selected a new character to act as a detective. Miss
Marple was partly based on the character, Caroline Sheppard, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and
partly on various friends of her grandmother.
Miss Marple is full of curiosity, a gossip, yet clever and intelligent. She is very polite and good
mannered, though with a keen sense of ruthlessness and high moral standards. Her cleverness,
intelligence and sense of intuition often helps her so that she is one step ahead of both, the police
and the reader.
Extremely observant, Miss Marple often blend into the background sitting there with her knitting,
yet hearing and observing everything and everyone. She also has a tremendous ability of lateral
thinking, and a wealth of knowledge of human nature from her life in a small village. Agatha
Christie described her as spinsterish, but always expecting the worst of everyone and everything.
Miss Marple has an openness and a disarming charm, which builds trust and encourages people to
open up to her, even the police officers who often confide in her. She is therefore an integral part of
the gossip network and uses this to her advantage.
9.) Hercule Poirot:

Hercule Poirot is a retired Belgian detective, with a wealth of knowledge from his time in the police
force. He is therefore highly respected, and has close links with Scotland Yard. Poirot is logical,
methodical and rational in his solving of the crimes. He inspires every confidence in the reader that
he will uncover the identity of the murderer and the circumstances of the death and so you are
willing to go along with him, trusting in his abilities.
Agatha Christie’s decision to make Hercule Poirot a Belgian was partly due to the presence of a
large number of Belgian refugees in her district. However, she also wanted a character in whom the
reader could sympathize and empathize with. As Belgium was occupied by Germans at that time,
she succeeded in ensuring both a certain degree of sympathy, as well as eccentricity when compared
to his English counterparts.
Poirot is a diligent character, extremely fussy, liking everything to be straight, aligned, and in pairs,
constantly rearranging things. Indeed this somewhat compulsive disorder actually helps him on
occasion realize the solution to the crime.
Poirot believes that by the application of sanity, logic and method, the mystery can be solved. In
Agatha Christie’s earlier novels, Poirot solves the crime methodically, relying heavily on the clues
provided, as well as his logic. He often keeps important details and deductions to himself, only
merely hinting at them to the reader.
However, as Hercule Poirot’s character developes through the novels, it is claimed that he relies less
on a detailed examination of the clues and the crime scene, and focuses more on an understanding
of both the victim and the murderer, their circumstances and their psychology. Poirot’s methods of
getting people to talk to him also changed, initially encouraging them to talk to him openly, and
later hiding his identity or lying in the hope that people would let their guard down and reveal all.
However whilst Agatha Christie soon got tired of Poirot, the public loved him. He appeared in 33
novels, 56 short stories and one play. Upon his death, Poirot was the only fictional character ever to
have an obituary on the front page of the New York Times.
10.) Sources:

→ “A talent to deceive” by Robert Barnard
→ “The Agatha Christie Centenary”
→ “The life and crimes of Agatha Christie”