Feminism in Crime Fictions – Agatha Christie as a Feminist Writer

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Feminism in crime fictions –
Agatha Christie as a feminist writer

From the late nineteenth century, different movements started to work all around the world, protesting for the equality of women in the political and social life. The thesis of the feminism covered every aspect of life within a short period of time, so it had a great influence on literature as well. The feminist theories penetrated most of the genres and sub-genres; consequently, they also affected the genre of crime fiction which had been living its ‘golden age’ in the same time as the first wave of feminism occurred.

Creating strong and positive leading female characters have always been a difficult task for writers, but because of the special needs of a crime story, it is especially demanding in a case of this genre. The majority of the detectives have always been men, and women have usually been the victims or the implementer of the felony, but they have - even in stories written by women - rarely been the main investigator of a crime. This fact has many reasons to be confirmed. There are several reasons, why a woman cannot be a detective, but the most obvious one is that if a woman represents all of the feminine ideals, she can only play the role of a victim, a woman; on the other hand, who does not live up to these ideals can only be the villainess in the story. However, with the appearance of the feminism, new types of characters turned up, trying to empower the main woman roles. The first step in the 1930s was to allow them to partly participate in the investigations, as girlfriends, fiancées or wives of the detectives. Another way to include women characters in the main plot of a crime story was to put them into a situation in which she has to solve a crime because she has to save somebody who is important for her or in some cases she gets in even bigger trouble if she cannot solve the mystery. This was an advantageous strategy, but it has a significant detriment, namely the heroine of these kinds of stories cannot have easily been made into a series character because these fictions were mainly grounded on the female character’s commitment in a special case and its solving process. After these tries for creating the perfect woman detective, the first independent female detective, Miss Amelia Butterworth occurred in Anna Katherine Green’s book, The Affair Next Door (1897). She was the prototype of the spinster detectives, which was a greatly suitable role to include her in more stories without having a man character beside her. The most efficient benefit of the spinster is that she is able to turn her low status to her blessing, by making people tell her information that they would never tell to a real investigator. As a matter of fact, those writers who use this type of character are playing a ‘double game’ by using a usual female stereotype, namely the stereotype of a ridiculous old woman in order to demolish it. The writers who used this type of character created women who are rather heroes than heroines.

There were many well-known writers in this time, which can be considered as a feminist writer, such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Anna Katherine Green or Amanda Cross. However, it is not easy to decide, whether the “Mistress of Mystery”, Agatha Christie was a feminist or an anti-feminist writer or she just wanted to find the right equality between the two aspects. Critics Margot Peters and Agate Nesaule Krouse claim that she is rather anti-feminist than feminist:

“Her [Christie’s] women are garrulous, talking inconsequentially and at length about irrelevancies. If young, they are often stupid, blonde, red-fingernailed gold diggers without a thought in their heads except men and money. Her servant girls are even more stupid, with slack mouths, ‘boiled gooseberry eyes’, and a vocabulary limited to ‘yes’m’ and ‘no’m’ unless, of course, they’re being garrulous. Dark-haired women are apt to be ruthless or clever, redheads naïve and bouncy....
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