During the twentieth century, considerable transformations took place vis-à-vis the conception of gender in British society. Amendments to such perceptions led to anxiety regarding the roles of men and women, as well as uncertainty regarding the signifiers of masculinity and femininity. The influential women’s suffrage movement and two devastating World Wars challenged constructions of gender as static or established, leading to a renegotiation of masculine and feminine binaries. This essay first explores how larger modifications to the understanding of gender were reflected and deliberated through the lens of crime fiction, and then specifically focusses on how Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) fits into this framework. During the inter-war years, or the ‘Golden Age’ in detective literature, the traditionally male orientated genre became increasingly popular and feminised due to a plethora of female authors rising to the literary surface, amplified female readership and a distinctly anti-heroic mood as a result of post-war trauma. The novel shows the original ‘Queen of Crime’ engaging with the gradual metamorphosis of gender conception by illustrating a spectrum of spirited women who challenge cultural codes of femininity within a historically masculine genre, therefore exposing gender as a fluid perception rather than a fixed construction.
I argue Christie goes beyond Alison Light’s theory of “conservative modernity” (10) and intend to expand on her arguments to show that Christie was a revolutionary ‘freedom fighter’, engaging, through crime fiction, with larger gender struggles of the period. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a ‘freedom fighter’ is a “person who takes part in a revolutionary struggle to achieve a political goal” (‘Freedom Fighter’). I believe The Murder at the Vicarage shows Christie, and the women within her novel, taking part in a gender battle, utilising feminine expectations to overcome limitation and achieve their revolutionary goal of independence. Ensuring women are not peripheral entities or passive victims, re-gendering the figure of the detective and criminal, meant Christie was offering illuminating social commentary. She was also actively emancipating women from the patriarchal shackles of social and genre tradition. Of course, I am only analysing one text, and Christie’s position regarding gender would undoubtedly have fluctuated and developed over her fifty-six year writing period from 1920-76. However, while my evidence may be limited in terms of physical scope, it is more concentrated in terms of close analysis and therefore acts as a blue print in how to dig below the seemingly transparent surface of her other novels.
The popular ‘whodunit’ style of crime novel, to which The Murder at The Vicarage pertains, certainly makes the text less challenging on one level due to its simple plot expectation, formulaic development and predictable resolve. Therefore, one can understand why some critics were less eager to delve beneath a seemingly transparent literary surface to examine subversive attitudes towards gender. I argue it is vital we look beyond the clichés which surround Christie’s writing, and question critics such as Edmund Wilson who claim we are permanently detached from the characters within her novels. The language of the novel is not excessive or elaborate, but it is open for close reading if you are prepared to look beyond simple façade. I believe the female characters are multifaceted and self-governing, making the novel far more complex, in terms of its investigation and subsequent rejection of established female stereotypes, than it has been previously deemed. Gregoriou notes how “narratives of crime often bring to light taboos, stereotypes and schemata that relate to gender and sexuality” (‘Constructing Gendered Crime’ 193), suggesting the genre played a vital role in projecting new perceptions of gender between the wars.
Moreover, despite the frequent side-lining of Christie’s detective novels to the less academically regarded realm of ‘popular’ fiction, “genre fictions are as available for close reading and are as open to literary theoretical interrogation as their more ‘respectable’ counterparts” (Plain 9). Indeed, “by 1939 one quarter of all fiction published was detective fiction” (Light 65), indicating that popular female crime writers such as Christie, Marsh and Sayers, unlike their more ‘respectable’ contemporaries, were able to directly access many readers’ minds and shape their opinions. Consequently, we can deduce that Christie’s work inherently possessed a great deal of shared expectations and intrinsic beliefs regarding social attitudes towards gender. I argue Christie’s occupation as a writer of increasingly popular crime fiction, provided a powerful vehicle through which she could individually transcend gender and genre conventions and shrewdly set an example for society at large. The novel renegotiates traditional notions regarding femininity and refashions its composition in terms of intelligence, age, activity and power through the characterisation of the spinster detective, Miss Marple, which I will discuss later in more detail. “By adapting a popular cultural form that is widely read by both men and women” (Pykett 65), Christie was able to investigate changing meanings, values and attitudes towards gender, thus disrupting binaries of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’, where the former stereotypically implies emotional irrationality and the latter denotes intelligent reason.
On the other hand, echoing early twentieth century social attitudes towards women, ‘hard-boiled’ crime fiction was considered a genre whose “most distinctive narrative codes, conventions and characterisations have traditionally been structured around a white, male, heterosexual subject’s consciousness” (Gregoriou ‘Contemporary Crime Fiction’ 54). As a result, women writers, readers and detectives were written out of the history of crime fiction, until the ‘Golden Age’ of the 1920s and 1930s, in which Christie began writing, and then again with the increase in feminist crime fiction during the 1980s. Yet despite such literary relegation and the continual insistence on traditional roles for women in society, gender was not a stable construction (Makinen 8), and Christie’s lifetime witnessed a period of intense gender contention and therefore tremendous anxiety. By the 1930s “it was no longer simply bohemians and suffragists who argued for equality in marriage” (Light 18). Many women were consciously rejecting traditional ideologies of femininity as restrictive, passive and home orientated, reformulating it in terms of modern domesticity. Male writers such a G.K Chesterton were also engaging in “a kind of modernity making fun of heroes” (Light 70). Before the First World War, heroism and violence were advocated in society and through detective fiction. However, readers were looking for a channel through which they could purge the severe anxiety and trauma that overshadowed society and culture by 1918. The decline in both the British male population and advocation of the male ‘hero’, led to enhanced female emancipation, sexually, socially and politically. Consequently, a “realignment of sexual identities” (Light 8) took place and general British culture and society became ‘feminised’. The country simultaneously retreated from the public to the private and from the imperial to the national, making it more ‘domestic’ and ‘interior’, spaces conventionally relegated to the female. Moreover, the “cultural revolution in publishing, in education, in the arts and the media” (Light xi) led to increased female readership, more female academics and reconsiderations of previously resolved texts.
Still, “at the same time that Christie’s society rejected and turned away from the senseless bloodletting of the First World War, it remained fascinated by the discourses of death” (Plain 41). Therefore, Christie’s fiction, along with left-wing female writers such as Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby, offered antidotes, insightfully engaging with the historic mood of Britain which required fresh concepts, replacements to the idealistic image of the forceful and confident male champion. “The loss of Holmesian confidence democratises the form and allows the puzzle genre to become something the reader is invited to enter on more equal terms” (Rowland 19). Clearly, Conan Doyle’s audacious and scientifically objective male detective, with his complicated deductions, was no longer appropriate and the ‘whodunit’, with its insensibility to violence and increased female focus, offered not an escape from the shocking reality of bloodshed, but an opportunity to grieve what could not be undone and a way to look forward to a more equally gendered society.
Even during the 1980s when feminist criticism on detective fiction accelerated, Christie was often regarded along the lines of Colin Watson’s ‘Snobbery with Violence’, as “a sort of museum of nostalgia” (qtd. in Makinen 10). However, in the last thirty years, there has been an increased critical focus on Christie’s subversive displays of gender. Walton, Jones, Reddy, Rowland, Plain and several more academics have undergone crucial research into Christie’s work and have fought to fix her place within the history of the genre. Consequently, we can see how more people are realising the importance of looking beyond the clichés which surround Christie’s writing in order to fully appreciate its innovative assertions. Makinen argues Christie’s female characters are “diverse, dominant, swashbuckling and violently active and, at a time when women were still seen as second class citizens, Christie’s portrayals are determinedly and deliberately egalitarian” (1) in relation to gender. Indeed, the range of confident and forceful women in The Murder at the Vicarage provides evidence for such a claim and I believe egalitarianism was Christie’s primary motive in the novel due to her broad presentation of different female characters. As a ‘freedom fighter’, she campaigns to ensure they are rightfully and broadly presented through the crime fiction genre.
Gender stereotypes of the early twentieth century, date back hundreds of years and still exist today. They often depict women being ruled predominantly by their emotions rather than rationality. However, through the presentation of Miss Marple, Christie explodes the supposedly established figure of the heroic, rational, unemotional, male detective, endorsed by crime writers such as Conan Doyle. We witness a reformulation of the genre’s staple character as not necessarily male, young, overconfident or undomesticated. Miss Marple opposes all these constituents through her position as an elderly, unworldly female who uses her private home as a base for her detective work. Miss Marple subsequently utilises her domesticity, quiet confidence, emotional intuition, physical appearance and social adeptness in conjunction with rationality to help her detection and to incite trust in others. She is self-reliant and unobtrusively efficient, the antithesis of the stereotypically emotionally vulnerable, home-bound, Edwardian woman. Her emotional stability and awareness, her engagement with psychology and the interior world show how “the formerly masculine qualities of reserve come to be claimed as a new kind of femininity” (Light 108). Consequently, we witness liberation of rigid boundaries surrounding key genre expectations as well as a disruption to stereotypical binaries of ‘feminine’ emotional irrationality and ‘masculine’ intelligent reason.
Female knowledge is empowered through Miss Marple’s ability to manipulate social expectations regarding femininity and age in order to expose intelligence as not peculiar to gender, age or social position. Akin to the constant and reliable brilliance of Holmes, Miss Marple is “not the type of elderly lady who makes mistakes. She has got an uncanny knack of being always right” (Christie 144). However, unlike the arrogant bravado which defines Holmes’s relaying of the facts, Miss Marple speaks in a “gentle ladylike voice” (Christie 357), showing her engagement with feminine expectations of ‘gentleness’, and defiance of such expectations through her intellectual aptitude. Miss Marple employs a calm, tender voice in order to invite her listeners to believe her, thus making way for her “less apologetic, more decided” (Christie 360), true inner voice. Moreover, unlike Holmes who is often cold and lacking in empathy, Miss Marple speaks “softly…[and] thoughtfully” (Christie 285), making her a more human detective, regardless of gender, one who is able to relate to those around her. For example, when speaking with Len about various murder theories, the continual use of commas, question marks and hyphens along with phrases such as ‘perhaps’, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘of course’ all illustrate Miss Marple’s clever manipulation of stereotypically feminine modesty and introversion (Christie 284). Indeed, gender constructions in society have dictated reticence, nervousness and a lack of intellect as expected female characteristic. I believe we see Miss Marple acknowledging such assumptions and quickly disregarding them through the manner of her speech. Also, she often flatters men, saying “gentlemen always make such excellent memoranda” (Christie 328) in order to empower herself through the vicar’s subsequent trust and admiration. By the end of the novel, Len feels “in this way and in no other could the crime have been committed” (Christie 363), asserting his complete faith in Miss Marple, a faith generated by her own conscious actions and habits, her reason amalgamated with an understanding of emotion. Consequently, I argue we see Christie asserting how ‘masculine’ rationality and ‘feminine’ irrationality need not be mutually exclusive. Such binaries are reconfigured by Miss Marple so that “amazingly neat and apposite deductions from the facts” (Christie 321) can be made based on knowledge of “Human Nature” (Christie 322), rather than just physical evidence.
Female instinct is also celebrated when Miss Marple notices how strange it is that Anne does not carry her purse into town and how only a woman would know this as a “most unusual thing” (Christie 361). Such a conclusion does not require extensive universal intellect, merely intuition about human behaviour and more specifically, female living. Therefore, Miss Marple’s ability to solve the crime based on a particular female convention – the handbag, not only empowers the female as a detective, but places everyday women, their habits and their possessions at the forefront of detective literature. Female intuition, which is “like reading a word without having to spell it out (Christie 125-6), is associated with intellectual prowess, thus illustrating a modification concerning connotations of gendered mental power. Miss Marple asserts, “I, for instance, am quite convinced I know who did it. But I must admit I haven’t one shadow of proof” (Christie 76), demonstrating how she knows proof is necessary in ‘traditional’, male-orientated crime solving. However, Christie shows Miss Marple strongly asserting confidence in her own beliefs by italicising the word ‘convinced’, to further emphasize individual judgement. Continual use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ undermines her outward appearance of a meek, old lady through such self-assurance.
Not only does Miss Marple “hear practically everything that goes on” (Christie 321-2), she “knows every single thing that happens” (Christie 12), “sees everything” (Christie 26) and “sees everybody” (Christie 196). Therefore Christie powerfully places the elderly woman at the centre of the novel and St.Mary Mead itself, in an all-seeing position reminiscent of the centre of Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticism’. Indeed, “in the art of seeing without being seen, Miss Marple had no rival” (Christie 279) and her “astute shrewdness about all aspects of human life put her at the centre of society, rather than the margins” (Makinen 62). By locating her unconventional female detective at the core of her novel, Christie praises ‘feminine’ rationality and awareness. Miss Marple knows people may perceive her interest in solving crimes as “very unwomanly” (Christie 322), admitting “I’ve no doubt I am quite wrong. I’m so stupid about these things. But I just wondered… I know I’m putting it badly” (Christie 283) when explaining her deductions. Yet, Miss Marple is not ashamed of her ability and effectively plays her detective role to suit her own needs and desires rather than satisfy the expectations of society. Consequently, I believe she is able to manipulate gender and genre stereotypes in order to strengthen her position as a woman in society and in crime fiction. She cleverly engages with the popular assumption that detectives’ work is not women’s work, a self-effacing attitude which increases her ability to artfully and stealthily observe and listen to those around her. Indeed, due to her focal position, Miss Marple can control both the initial ‘feminine’ disquiet and the ‘masculine’ explanation of the facts. Therefore, she blurs the peripheries between the two, creating a liminal space where gossip and intuition meet scientific classification (Makinen 60).
I argue Christie was emphasizing how difficult it was for women to be perceived as both domestic and intelligent. By merging domesticity and intelligence through the figure of Miss Marple, we witness a renovation of the associations of such gendered terms. “Gardening is a good smoke screen” (Christie 26) for Miss Marple’s investigations, conveying how the traditionally powerless, female space of the home and garden is reformulated as a platform for intelligent plotting. The word ‘smoke screen’ implies things may not always be as they appear, but it also suggests how Miss Marple was cleverly manipulating ‘feminine’ spaces in order to assist in her detective strategies. The concept of a ‘smoke screen’ also points back to my earlier discussion of how Christie’s ‘popular’ fiction has more going on beneath the basic, predictable exterior. Moreover, when Miss Marple and Len walk up to the garden gate, she says “here we are…thank you so much. Please do not come any further” (Christie 332), assertively showing how she wants to keep the house as an empowered, female, intellectual space while she evaluates the crime. Colonel Melchett believes “that wizened up old maid thinks she knows everything there is to know. And hardly been out of this village all her life” (Christie 109) and “women like that always think they know everything” (Christie 336), opinions representative of many men who felt anxiety and uncertainty over increasingly independent women. However, Christie stresses that domesticity and intelligence can exist simultaneously. Len tells Melchett “though doubtless Miss Marple knew next to nothing of life with a capital L, she knew practically everything that went on in St.Mary Mead” (Christie 109). Consequently, Len reasserts how domestic knowledge is no less important than worldliness, that human nature is the same wherever you go, implying that knowledge is interchangeable and is not determined by gender.
I acknowledge one could form a conservative opinion on the presentation of gender, based on the physical depiction of Miss Marple, as a nosy, elderly woman spying on village neighbours. Certainly, on the surface, Miss Marple conforms to elderly, female physical expectations, wearing a “very fine Shetland shawl thrown over her head and shoulders…looking rather old and frail” (Christie 322). However, I believe Christie is asserting how a particular, elderly, female physicality need not indicate submissiveness or exclusion from the public sphere. Miss Marple demonstrates how femininity can be performed through appearance, a theory Judith Butler would expand upon in the 1960s. For example, after declaring it was Anne who shot Colonel Protheroe, Miss Marple arranged her “lace fichu, pushed back the fleecy shawl… and began to deliver a gentle old-maidish lecture comprising the most astounding statements in the most natural way” (Christie 356-7). Such a physical description conveys how Miss Marple consciously and purposely exudes stereotypical elderly femininity through her clothes and speech. Yet it is, as Makinen argues, “a performance that lives up to expectations in order to gain its own advantages” (58). Indeed, “for all her fragile appearance, Miss Marple is capable of holding her own with any policeman or Chief Constable in existence” (Christie 99). Though elderly and female, she is not mentally fragile and is constantly in control of the situation, the men around her and her own deductions. Therefore, I believe her self-effacing exterior is merely a façade covering up a confident interior.
For me, Miss Marple symbolises more than that which Light famously argued, as a “compromise between the present and the past” (73). When Light was writing her critique, Christie was still “beyond the pale” (64) and considered “the producer of harmless drivel, an unsuitable case for a critic” (64) so her study was undeniably ground-breaking. There can be no doubt that Light’s claims of Christie’s conservative embracing of modernity were innovative and acted as the forerunner for later, more ‘feminist’ critique. However, I argue Christie goes further in her contestation of gender depictions in the novel and was not aiming predominantly for a cultural compromise, through a “conservative modernity” (Light 10). Though Christie displays traditional female characteristics through Miss Marple, such as her quiet, modest, domestic lifestyle, I argue she engaged with them in order to expose them as a charade, rather than make simply utilising conservative undertones to justify modern overtones. I maintain that Christie acts as a ‘freedom fighter’ for women by opening up a variety of roles for them in society. Miss Marple is a fresh and revolutionary figure, a woman who takes into consideration the past and society’s assumptions regarding gender, but she is also an individual who does not feel bound by historic conventions regarding gender, age or measures of intellect. The conventional “white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner” (Christie 22) is presented as intelligent and intuitive, simultaneously soft and dangerous. Consequently, Christie breaks down fixed theories relating to gender, which dominated cultural thought and were projected through traditional crime fiction.
Aside from Miss Marple, The Murder at The Vicarage presents us with a diverse spectrum of ‘New Women’, developing in confidence and in awareness of their own sexuality. Passive background characters, such as Mrs Hudson in Conan Doyle or helpless victims such as Laura Fairlie in Wilkie Collins, are rejected by Christie through the creation of her female detective, female criminal and other proactive woman. Therefore, Christie liberates silent female spaces, conditions and positions; she frees women from their fated roles, making her radically forward thinking. The female servant, Mary, works in the vicarage for Griselda and Len. However, she remains there only as “a stepping stone to better things and higher wages” (Christie 7) and we are told she speaks in a “loud, businesslike voice” (Christie 7), emphasizing her strong-minded career aspirations. Also, “Lettice Protheroe was something of a minx” (Christie 21), embodying female sexuality, Miss Cram is “a healthy woman of twenty five, noisy in manner, with a high colour…[and] fine animal spirits” (Christie 21) and “Anne Protheroe was beautiful” (Christie 40). Mrs Lestrange was “evidently a cultured woman… a woman of the world…you felt that she was a mystery” (Christie 33). By giving these female characters the opportunity to be ambitious, sexual, intelligent and mysterious, Christie acts as a literary ‘freedom fighter’, liberating femininity from its conventional definitions of marriage and motherhood.
Moreover, Christie grants agency to women by allowing them to be recognised as deviant criminals and villains, making them physically and aggressively active. Peach argues that “interest in female criminality seems to be most pronounced at times of significant changes in the cultural representation and the status of women” (81). Indeed, by the mid nineteenth century divorce became more accessible to middle class women and in 1870, The Married Woman’s Property Act allowed women to keep property or earnings acquired after marriage. By 1930, when the novel was published, female independence was on the rise, or at least the desire to be autonomous was increasing. Such transformations caused great anxiety and uncertainty for many men and women who wanted to uphold images of the Victorian ‘Angel in the House’ ideal. “The presence of women who did not comply with this dominant ideology exposed it as a masquerade” (Peach 81) and strong-minded women confirmed male uncertainties which developed as a result of the changing social fabric of gender. “It was not simply that women were acquiring a new sense of themselves, but that the times themselves lacked a discernible sense of direction” (Peach 105). Many people felt that the resolve offered in crime fiction offered a welcome escape during a period of inter-war uncertainty and social unpredictability. However, though the crime is resolved in The Murder at the Vicarage, Christie bravely engages with anxieties regarding gender and rather than rectifying those uncertainties, I believe she explodes conventions and shows gender to be a fluid conception rather than a fixed construction.
Anne Protheroe is the active female murderer whilst her lover, Lawrence Redding, merely assists in the action, placing the gun in the correct flower pot. Anne murders the husband to whom she has been unhappily married for years and therefore defies the traditional female role of adoring wife. Peach argues her deviant voice is “more real than the voice of the quiet, self-contained woman she had pretended to be and had always been taken for” (106). I agree that her image, as a dutiful wife is merely an allusion, as is Miss Marple’s appearance as a passive old lady. We quickly realise Anne possesses and active and indomitable nature. Kaplan’s review, ‘An Unsuitable Genre for a Feminist?’ reads Christie’s introduction of the female villain as “part of Christie’s anti-feminist punishing of aspiring women trying to improve their status via sexual attachments or professional insinuations” (Makinen 14). However, I believe Christie was liberating femininity from its conventional associations of passivity and inactivity, she was giving them the freedom to act as they desire, however deviant those actions may be. Clearly, Christie engages with notions of female criminality being associated with sexuality. However, she challenges ideas of sexuality being punishable by making Anne not only sexually liberal for most of the text, but independently responsible for her own actions.
Furthermore, Griselda is an illuminating and complex portrayal of the modern woman within the crime fiction genre. She is the epitome of such a revolutionary figure, admitting “I’m evidently not a housekeeper by nature” (Christie 9), who is eager for freedom from the constraints of marriage and motherhood. Len tells us “she is not in the least meek…she is most distractingly pretty and quite incapable of taking anything seriously” (Christie 8-9) which leads to his conclusion that she is “incompetent in every way, and extremely trying to live with” (Christie 9). Interestingly, it is her vigour, beauty and carefree attitude that make her so frustrating and ‘incompetent’ in her husband’s eyes. Therefore, we can see Christie projecting cultural anxieties about women who were becoming increasingly self-confident and undomesticated. Indeed, it was difficult and rare for women to be appreciated for their beauty and intelligence if they were not simultaneously meek and obedient, a concept which was envisaged across British society and through ‘hard-boiled’ crime fiction.
Although we are eventually presented with Griselda as the ‘fallen woman’ turned adoring wife and mother, Christie challenges this stereotype until the end. I agree with Plain who argues that “although superficially conservative in its reliance upon resolution and the restoration of the status quo, implicit within the genre is a considerable degree of resistance to reductive gender categories” (Plain 6), an argument embodied in Griselda’s superficial realisation. Yes, she returns to the socially conditioned role of femininity and motherhood, to be a “sober and Godfearing” (Christie 377) wife and mother, but she is doing so with fresh eyes and will not be passive or contained. I believe such a resolution challenges the position from within, thus making it a more revolutionary attack. Indeed, Griselda realises how being a proper wife and mother is what books advocate, yet if we consider Miss Marple’s earlier observation that what we find in books is not always true (356), then we see Christie cleverly manipulating cultural projections of femininity. Griselda not does merely reject her predetermined role; she goes even further by embracing motherhood and marriage, then questioning its limitations. After buying books on Household Management and Mother Love, she finds them all “simply screamingly funny” (Christie 377), demonstrating her rebellious and mocking attitude. Moreover, she admits the only reason she married a vicar in the first place was because “it made me feel so powerful… it’s so much nicer to be a secret and delightful sin to anybody than to be a feather in their cap” (Christie 14). “For many women readers of the time, Christie’s novels could be emulatory and suggestive” (Makinen 11) and Christie would have been aware of the powerful effects of her far-reaching work. Griselda’s desire for ‘power’ and her embracing of a ‘sinful’ sexuality show Christie vindicating a radically modern form of femininity. Consequently, I argue that while she eventually chooses to embody the traditional role, Griselda negotiates a new, more modern concept of wife and mother where she is aware of her choices. By actively choosing her own husband, she has dictated her own destiny, taken control of her womanhood.
Christie’s novel tests, challenges and reconfigures conventional codes of femininity. It closes the gap between specifically gendered roles within crime fiction by presenting us with a socially active and intelligent female detective, an unabashed female murderer and a woman who is fully aware of the trappings and illusions within marriage and motherhood. Inspector Slack asserts “women cause a lot of trouble” (Christie 300) and the novel bears witness to women having the opportunity to be trouble makers and trouble solvers rather than side-line entities. Undoubtedly, Christie was aware of the limitations of her contemporary society and its attitudes towards gender, but “a writer need not call herself a feminist…for her writing to be concerned with ‘feminist’ questions of power, gender and the social roles of women” (Rowland 157). I believe Christie was battling for a female presence within crime fiction, literature at large and society as a whole, which, to a certain extent, she was able to achieve due to her popularity and success.
Though I take Light’s arguments of “conservative modernity” (10) on board, I argue Christie’s engagement with modern ideas was not in alignment with conservatism as her challenges completely overshadow traditional presentations of women within crime fiction. The Murder at the Vicarage depicts women who are intelligent and explosively independent, regardless of age or class. Of course, she was able to appeal to a wider readership through superficially projecting traditional female images, of the spinster, the ‘fallen woman’ and the wife/mother, yet her challenge to these personas and her transforming of cultural conventions are not held back by, neither are they reliant upon, ‘conservatism’. “Women can, and they do. Young and old, married, single or widowed, mothers or career girls” (Plain 47), they have their own agenda, do not accept tradition and are not afraid to take the road less traveled. No doubt critics, writers and readers alike will continue to differ regarding the extent to which Christie challenged or conformed to traditions of gender within her genre. However, I maintain Christie was not only the ‘Queen of Crime’; she was a revolutionary ‘freedom fighter’. She rebelled against stereotypical gender conventions and struggled for the acknowledgment of women within crime fiction and therefore British society as a whole.
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