Agatha's Brave Heroines
"If I was born once again, I would like to be a woman--always!" -- Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie's passport stamped August 30, 1946 with
her last name signed as Mallowan, her second husband's last name and what she went by privately. Notice her birthdate--it's off by one year. She wasn't truthful when it came to her age.
Agatha Christie was known to be very independent and modern in her life. Some say she is a feminist icon. That may be partly attributed to her being reared and educated by her mother, her
American father having died when Agatha was 11. Mrs. Miller taught her daughter Agatha to be self-sufficent and independent, and encouraged her writing and poetry. Agatha was trained to be a
nurse and enlisted in the Voluntary Aid Detachment during World War I, caring for the seriously wounded (it was there when she worked at the hospital dispensary that she learned about poisons).
While many women wouldn't have travelled around the globe in that era, Agatha surely did. That included leaving her child with her mother whilst travelling around the world with her first husband
(in Hawaii, she was considered amongst the first of British women to surf). For a time, she was a working single mother for her daughter Rosalind when she was divorced from Archie Christie.
Seeking relaxation and rest, she had planned to vacation in the West Indies. Instead, she had heard about the wonders of the Middle East and on an impulse changed her vacation plans to visit Baghdad
and Ur. Thanks to that adventurous spirit in her, she met her future and second husband Max Mallowan.
Agatha was also known as a private and shy person. As such, perhaps many readers didn't know that about her. Critics have complained that Agatha's female characters were stereotypical in her
books. There are strong, independent, smart, and certainly brave women in Agatha's books. Agatha's alter ego in her books is a feminist, the writer Ariadne Oliver. This
is not an article about Agatha Christie and her views on feminism, nor is it an analysis of feminism in the mystery genre. This is a short discussion of unique women in her mysteries.
Following is a list of a few courageous, independent, smart, and daring heroines. Our first heroine of Agatha Christie's is Tuppence Beresford, the first female detective and adventuress. She has many
stories with her husband Tommy and you can read more about her here. Purposefully, there are no characters here listed that are in a Marple or Poirot story. There are
some spoilers regarding their stories, so keep that in mind as you continue to read.
The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
Anne collected wooden animals in her story, such as this carving of a giraffe from South Africa. Agatha Christie also did so in her travels with husband Archie.
Anne is, after Tuppence Beresford, the original and first heroine of Agatha Christie for this list. This young lady with pale skin, dark green eyes with yellow flecks, and black hair is
the daughter of an eccentric anthropologist. After his death, Anne took on a journey from the Hyde Park tube station to South Africa. In her adventures, she met Colonel Race of British
Intelligence, who even proposed marriage to her (marriage was proposed to her by four different suitors!). In the end, she's had the most satisfying experiences, defeated a villain, got married, and stayed in Africa.
After the death of her father, she interviewed for various jobs ("Not that I really wanted one!", she comments). Her father's doctor proposed marriage to her, which she declined and said to him: "I could never
marry a man unless I loved him madly." Anne has fierece ideas of looks and style. She says, "Men will not be nice to you if you are not good-looking, and women will not be nice to you if you are." She takes her "Mary"
hat, what a housemaid would wear on her day out, and does a real number on it. Anne punches it, kicks it, dents it. With her arms and shoulders bare, a scarlet feather in her hair, a cigarette in her mouth, she sets
off. Her adventures begin when she witnesses the "accidental" death of man who falls onto the rails at the tube station. Anne persuades the newspaper that they commission her to investigate the man's
death. This leads her to board a ship, and her destination is Cape Town in South Africa. Her adventures are chronicled in her diary which is used to partly narrate the novel (see HPC's article
on narrators including Anne's entry). In her adventures, she swims in waters with crocodiles, punches a man in the eye, loads rifles and carries a pistol, identifies a master of disguise, and deduces the criminal
mastermind. When a man who saved her suggests she return to England (calling her a "foolish schoolgirl"), Anne responds indignantly "I'm not a foolish schoolgirl. I'm a woman."
"I had the firm conviction that, if I went about looking for adventure, adventure would meet me halfway. It is a theory of mine that one always gets what one wants. My theory was about to be proved
Pulling a concealed pistol out from her stockings and pointing the weapon to the villain's head.
Lady Eileen Brent
The Secret of Chimneys (1925), The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
How important is the character of Bundle Brent? Important enough in Agatha Christie's books that the makers of the "Death on the Cards" card game included her.
Nicknamed "Bundle", this tall, slim, dark woman with penetrating gray eyes has an attractive boyish face. An outspoken and intelligent young woman of about 19 years, she is a daughter of Lord Caterham and the
eldest of three girls (says Bundle, "mother got tired of having nothing but girls and died"). Lord Caterham describes his own daughter as "a red-hot socialist if she's anything at all" and "never in the same place for
two minutes together. No repose." Indeed, she's always in a hurry and is well-known for driving at reckless speeds with her Hispano-Suiza luxury car. Bundle doesn't place much importance on their home of Chimneys, thought
of as a national treasure. She calls it "too deadly dull" and mocks at the fact that it is open for tourists. Bundle is a popular society girl who is quite athletic, observant, and funny with a quick wit. She called the
Baron Lolopretjzyl of the Eastern European nation of Herzoslovakia "Baron How Much" and commented that the Baron's last name "nearly wrecked the telephone". Of all of the female
characters created by Agatha Christie, Bundle is the prime example of the "It girl" (for more on an it girl, click here). One character, named Bill who
was enamored with Bundle, says to a work colleague, "Don't know Bundle? Where have you been vegetating? She's simply it".
Bundle is a minor character in her first appearance, The Secret of Chimneys. Her appearance here is more of an introduction and a precursor to the more mature Bundle in her second book. In the first, we
still see her keen sense of observation and wit. She's more direct and flippant towards others, especially strangers. For example, to the main character in The Secret of Chimneys, Anthony Cade, she says: "Do
you talk? Or are you just strong and silent?" She describes a difficult person or someone with half a brain as "an ass". In The Secret of Chimneys, she's hardly a suspect. In the story, she just merely gives
information on Chimneys (including showing a secret passage) and is questioned by Cade and Superintendent Battle (who makes his first appearance in a Christie novel).
In her second appearance in The Seven Dials Mystery, she takes an active role and is a major character. Bundle has "grown up" in this novel. Her aunt says to her, "I always imagined, Eileen, that you cared for
nothing but this modern pursuit of pleasure", to which Bundle replies, "I used to." George Lomax (Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) tells Bundle, "My dear child ... I have in the past been disappointed by
your levity. I see now it was but the careless and charming levity of a child. I perceive now the serious and earnest beauty of your mind." She moves the plot along and does the most of the detective work (aside from
Superintendent Battle, this being his second appearance here also). Bundle climbs walls, hides in the headquarters of the enemy, and disregards even the orders of the police.
"And I'm only an amateur? Yes, but you forget one thing--I mayn't have your knowledge and skill--but I have one advantage over you. I can work in the dark."
Concealing herself in the secret room of the sinister Seven Dials Society during a meeting.
The Pale Horse (1961)
Suitably nicknamed Ginger (real name Katherine) because of her red hair, this young woman has an "engagingly freckled face and alert green eyes". She meets historian Mark Easterbrook, the narrator of this novel, at a
fete of his cousin Rhoda Despard (a character from Cards on the Table). Mark describes Ginger as "wearing her London artistic livery of skin-tight pants, a Sloppy Joe jersey and black woollen stockings." Mark was
introduced to the witches of The Pale Horse Inn by Rhoda and Ginger. He tells Ginger later about an organization that goes "about bumping people off" and thinks there's a connection between that business and the witches
of the Pale Horse. And just like that, Ginger volunteers to help him uncover this plot.
She has an ability to gain people's trust easily and knows how to extract information from them. She comes up with a game plan with Mark and gets leads for him to follow. In fact, she even instructs him who to find,
how to interview, and tells him the next step. Ginger's ultimate show of bravery comes in the form of her sacrificing herself to implicate the Pale Horse. What she does makes Mark Easterbrook shudder with terror. She
endangers her life by letting herself be the victim of the Pale Horse. She becomes gravely ill with bronchopneumonia and it is discovered later that she was poisoned. The part she played was a key component in finding
the true killer. A side note: it is very disappointing that such an enjoyable character and brave woman such as Ginger does not appear in the BBC's new adaptation of The Pale Horse, recently premiered in
"If what we believe to be true is true, it's a sickening beastly thing. And it's got to be stopped! You see, it's not hot-blooded murder, from hate or jealousy; it's not even murder from
cupidity, the human frailty of murder for gain but taking the risk yourself. It's murder as a business."
Deciding to put her life in jeopardy, she is willing to play a dangerous part to catch a killer.
They Came to Baghdad (1951)
Miss Jones was quite a young woman of optimism and force of character in this espionage thriller. Victoria was an orphan, a London bred Cockney, who worked as a typist (but not very good). She had rebellious
black hair and was slender, having a nice figure, and had gorgeous killer legs. She was great at mimicry (had a face practically made of rubber), and was a fantastic liar ("lied with fluency, ease and artistic
fervour"). This last bit is vital to the character; through her many lies and exaggerations she is able to survive. She was described as being warm hearted, generous, and courageous.
She was a lady's companion employed by an American, a Mrs. Clipp, who travelled to Baghdad with her. For her time spent with the American lady, she received a gift of exquisite nylon stockings. She came to Baghdad
for the specific purpose of following a young man from the Royal Air Force named Edward whom she met in London, being quite smitten with him. Whilst in her hotel room, a man comes in, stabbed in the heart. She hides him
in her room, but he dies shortly after. This singular incident gets her in the employ of Mr. Dakin of British Intelligence and off she goes to the city of Basrah looking for Edward. She finds him and he is able to get her
a job as a typist. Sadly for her, she is kidnapped, drugged, and imprisoned. She breaks out of her cell, crosses the desert, and is rescued. She now finds herself as (posing) an anthropologist in the desert working and
(posing) as a niece to archeologist Dr. Pauncefoot Jones. She continues to lie whilst at the archeological dig while learning something new (her rescuer Richard Baker asks her at one point, "Is this real? Are you real?
And are you the persecuted heroine, or the wicked adventuress?"). He knows she's a fraud, she confesses, and together they return to Baghdad. There she reunites with her Edward and Mr. Dakin. She gets coerced into
playing a sinister role, but not before telling more lies to save her skin and meeting the evil mastermind of the novel.
"If you're a Christian, I suppose it's a hundred times better to be a Christian Martyr than a King in Babylon--and I must say, there seems to me a great possibility that I am going to be a
Martyr. Oh! well, anyway, it won't be lions. I should have hated lions!"
Ingeniously escaping her prison cell and disguised, Victoria escaped by foot out of town. Thirsty and close to hysteria, she fled into the desert and the unknown.
The Sittaford Mystery (1931)
Young Mis Trefusis was described as having an "atmosphere of common sense, savoir faire, invincible determination". She had a "face which was arresting and unusual, a face that having once seen you could
not forget". Cornish from her father and Scottish on her mother's side, she had a lovely voice ("liquid and alluring") and was dressed in a provocative style.
She was determined to clear her fiance Jim of suspicion
of murdering his rich uncle. She was so focused that she even got a reporter (a Mr. Charles Enderby) to aid her in that goal. She was going to use the reporter for her own gain, and that in their collaboration she was
to be the boss. She was quite clever and convincing to others in the things she said; for example, lying to Enderby by saying that "it's so wonderful to have someone you can really rely on". She was a gal who thought
of everything and was always prepared, and loved the fact that people and events were playing into her hand.
"I'm not going to give it up. By hook or by crook I'm going to get to the bottom of it."
Snooping around suspects' homes under the pretense of leaving her gloves behind.