Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Revisiting Agatha Christie (Now With A Feminist Awareness)

The house I grew up in had lots of classical detective novels, including most of Agatha Christie. I remember reading The Orient Express around a very, very young age and finding the solution truly shocking. They all did it! Over time I read all of her novels, I think. I spotted her intense hatred of the Other at some point, including that of Jews and anyone of another race as well as her contempt towards 'the lower classes.' Altogether she seemed to be a thoroughly unpleasant character, though one with good puzzle-making abilities.

During this summer's vacation I started re-reading old detective novels for relaxation (Carter Dickson, Patrick Quentin, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Freeman Crofts, Edgar Wallace, Patricia Wentworth), and at some point I decided I could re-read Christie despite her general nastiness. That's how I ended up reading again Murder in Mesopotamia, The Pale Horse, Murder in Three Acts, Five Little Pigs and lots of other Christies.

What truly struck me was the way I had earlier totally overlooked her sexism, her great contempt towards her own sex and the number of demeaning references to women in general! Yet those statements were everywhere, sprinkled in sentences starting with "Women generally are foolish" or something similar. They were not at all difficult to find, and every single of the books I read had several of them (though I happened to read no Jane Marples).

Why was it so easy for me to see how describing Jewish bankers as oily and shifty-eyed (as Christie does) was disgusting and wrong while all the time nasty comments about women-as-a-group went somehow unnoticed by me?

Try Googling Agatha Christie with the term "racism". Then repeat with "sexism". You might find that I'm not the only person who is blind to her general contempt of women. Indeed, most societies are equally blind to it even today.

The point of these comments has to do with the quality of "mainstream." It is still acceptable to ridicule the female gender at a frequency unmatched with the ridiculing of the male gender and we are still often so used to it that we quite literally don't see it. But it must affect us.