Hi guys! Sorry I’ve been away for so long, but hopefully the literary world has not gone profligate unchecked in my absence. Ah, who am I kidding? Those writers and their damn opinions, those silly people who criticize writing, those readers reading way too much into things…it’s not going to stop anytime soon,. It’s been going on for years, as evidenced by this story found in the Guardian. Apparently this was a bit of current news back in September, though it might have been a scandal back in 1947 had it been known.
Imagine, if you will, a government being so proud of its country’s prodigious output of crime fiction that they asked a leading crime author to write an essay on it. While you are squeeing with joy, let me remind you it was 1947, this was Britain (who artistically have always seemed a bit more on the ball than the U.S sometimes: Shakespeare, The Beatles, Doctor Who, anyone?), and the author was the “Duchess of Death”, the unstoppable force, the woman who made crime fiction a worldwide phenomenon, Agatha Christie.
This whole thing would never ever happen today, and weirdly enough, the article wasn’t even published in Britain. It appeared in Russia; it was propaganda…(and now the whole story makes more sense). Clearly Christie knew the essay’s purpose but didn’t care, and was banking on it being published only abroad, because in it, she says a few surprising and insightful things that may have not gone over well on her merry old home soil. Like that she got tired of Hercule Poirot. What? How could you? And also criticizes fellow writers in crime Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham for perceived faults with their characters. Oooooh.
Yes, this is decades-old news that broke months ago when a new edition of a collaboratively-written 30s crime novel, Ask a Policeman, used Christie’s essay as its preface. But it brings up so many fascinating points. For instance, what if the government did ask leading writers to talk about the state of their work as a way of connecting to countries such as North Korea or Iran? It’s interesting that many of us couldn’t begin to conceive of how that would work. The mindset of earlier times seems more hopeful, but since the Iron Curtain was soon to drop, this essay can’t really be credited with any sort of global political effect. Love the optimism, though, that hearing about a country’s writers from a leading writer might change your mind about your government.
And Christie’s frankness about her character too is intriguing. Conan Doyle, the father of detective stories, famously got sick of Sherlock Holmes and killed him. Just as an actor doesn’t want to be typecast, writers surely get exasperated when identified with one character or book. Anthony Burgess wanted the world to know he wrote something other than A Clockwork Orange. Children’s authors like J.K Rowling (remember this post?) are judged too harshly when they write adult fiction? But Christie isn’t saying that…she’s saying she thinks her character is a blowhard who shouldn’t have people running to him to solve mysteries. Hmm. Either way, this long-lost essay sounds like a gem.
— Liz Baudler, Blogger
Editor’s Note: Liz Baudler recently graduated from Columbia College with a Fiction Writing degree. She founded and used to edit The Toucan Literary Magazine. She writes about Chicago Memoir for Examiner.com and reviews books for Chicago Literati. When she’s not glued to a computer researching literary controversies or reading books and chuckling, she likes to ride her bike, and cook. If you want to know what Liz thinks about when she’s not thinking about literature, go to www.theblonelyblog.wordpress.com and you will be occasionally disappointed. She still writes about literature.