The romance novels of Mary Westmacott, alias… Agatha Christie


Agatha Christie, who died today (January 12), 46 years ago, is usually one of the first names to appear when talking about a detective story. She is so popular that when she wanted to turn away from the genre and write more romantic and introspective novels, she started publishing under another name: Mary Westmacott. This is not something uncommon (after all, many writers have done this to take the hype and pressure off to live up to their popularity, most recently JK Rowling). What sets Mary Westmacott’s novels apart is how different they are from the usual Christie’s Poirot / Miss Marple dishes and also how little studied and discussed they are. Perhaps that’s because, in typical Christie style, she managed to keep her Westmacott identity a secret from the general public for almost 20 years.

Christie wrote six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. These are (chronologically) Giant’s Bread, Unfinished portrait, Absent in spring, The rose and the yew, A girl is a girl, and Load. Many critics have called these books semi-autobiographical, and Christie’s daughter herself has described them as “bittersweet stories about love.” In these books, Christie explores, among other things, a passion for music and an artistic genius (Giant’s Bread), mother-child relationships (A girl is a girl), and how quickly love can turn into hate (Load). All of these books take place in a world Christie knew very well: they are set, for example, during World War I, or in the context of rapidly changing England in the early to mid-1900s. The first of these books, Giant’s Bread, was published in 1930; Load in 1956. Over the years, critics have also pointed out the similarities between Christie’s own life and what happens in the books (the heroine of Unfinished portrait, for example, was left by her husband for another woman; Christie’s first marriage also ended in heartbreak).

Reading them together, you not only get a very clear picture of Christie’s own understanding of love and human emotions, but also of a constantly changing world to keep up with simultaneous modernization.

Love is the central theme of each of these novels – often it is the weighty and terrifying aspect of love that she explores. Love as something that can easily turn into passionate hatred, as a dangerous feeling in itself is nothing new to Christie’s readers: in fact, many of the mystery novels she wrote were crimes of passion, motivated more often by love than by hate (Five little pigs, The mirror cracked side to side). In Wobbly house, she even has a character that says, “I think people kill the ones they love more often than the ones they hate. Maybe it’s because only the people you love can really make your life unbearable.”

It’s this core belief that I think she tries to explore through Mary Westmacott’s novels.

While Westmacott’s novels are different in their outward loss from Christie’s more famous works, there are many similarities between the books. The writing style will be familiar to anyone who has read his books – they’re quick and exciting, you want to know what happens next. The stories are planned meticulously and beautifully; the characters are some of the most nuanced and complicated characters I’ve read, yet extremely relatable. Christie has always been a master of the art of conjuring up complex ideas in a simple story. In an article by Clues: a detection logAmerican scholar Sarah E. Whitney says the only difference between Christie’s detective fiction and novels written under the Westmacott name is that “the characters are made to apply all the discipline and diligence of detection to their own. internal emotional life, rather than an external murder case. “

Agatha Christie and her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan at their Winterbrook home, 1950
(Wikimedia Commons)

I read Mary Westmacott’s novel in my teens: my mother’s library had a collection of works with all 6 in one book. Perhaps because I read them all together at some point in my life when I also read Christie regularly, I was able to pick up the similarities so easily. A few years ago, as part of a personal reading project, I re-read all of Christie’s novels in chronological order (in order of publication). These included the novels of Mary Westmacott. I was surprised at how much they still resonate, how easy they are to read, and how much I still love them.

Absent in spring (1944) is my favorite of these novels. Christie herself said of the novel that it was “a book that has completely satisfied me”. She wrote the book in just three days according to The book tells the story of an aging woman who finds herself stranded due to bad weather as she returns home to England after visiting her daughter in the Middle East. She has nothing to do (for the first time in a very long time) and a lot of time to think. His memories give us a glimpse of his world and his family. What kept them apart and what kept them together. It shows how dangerous our actions can be, even when motivated by love. It is also the bursting of a single character: a contrast between what the character is and what she thinks of herself. The prose is poignant and the story is a great exploration of how we see ourselves.

I think Mary Westmacott’s novels fit in so well with Agatha Christie’s (ACU, if you must) universe because these intricate novels complement her detective novels perfectly. The demands of the detective story don’t allow Christie to delve deeper into themes and characters like she does here.

Reading these books is vital to understanding exactly what Christie thought about humans and how humans behave. It gives an excellent overview of the characters who find themselves involved in the cases of Poirot and Miss Marple, drawn from both the aristocracy and the lower classes, who, regardless of their gender, origin, place of residence and their age, find themselves motivated by jealousy, insecurity, passion. , and hate.

Forty-six years after Agatha Christie’s death, the world is very different from the one she lived in. But these novels still work, because the way humans love hasn’t changed.

Shreemayee Das writes on entertainment, education and relationships. She is based in Mumbai and posts as @weepli on Instagram and Twitter.


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