Agatha Christie: A feminist reassessment

Roberta S Klein, University of Pennsylvania


For years, best-selling mystery writer Agatha Christie (1890–1976) was dismissed as a prolific hack without literary merit. Although Christie is now being studied as a serious artist and modernist, she and her female detectives continue to be attacked, ignored, or depreciated by various feminist critics. The most frequent charge, besides that of overt sexism in the works, is that Christie herself is “not a feminist.” Many women readers, however, look to both Christie and her female detectives as empowering yet compassionate role models. This dissertation assesses Christie's unconscious, intuitive feminism by analyzing subtle feminist elements in her life and work. A close reading of Christie's autobiography shows that Christie grew up in a supportive matriarchy where, shaped by proto-feminist game play and fantasy, she developed a woman-centered perspective reflected in her lifelong maintenance of female support networks and her egalitarian view of courtship, marriage, motherhood, and career. Her “transforming event” (see Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life [1988]), the notorious disappearance of 1926, marks the crossing of what Catherine MacKinnon calls the “invisible patriarchal line”; once across, Christie intensified her already subversive vision, taking new risks in her life and work that strengthened her as a woman and artist. Christie's work may lack a formal feminist agenda, but it repeatedly subverts patriarchy: in several novels, Miss Marple or other unconventional women help dismantle abusive patriarchies and rebuild families along egalitarian lines. Christie also uses her most complex women characters as incidental detectives, putting them through strengthening quests for female selfhood based on her own life traumas; if these women marry, the marriage is a partnership of equals similar to what Christie tried to achieve in her own two marriages. Christie's distrust of the current male-model workplace as not conducive to health or creativity anticipates Betty Friedan's mature feminist views in The Second Stage (1991). Surpassing the careers of even her most redoubtable heroines, Christie ultimately demonstrates that for her, writing itself is a feminist act. The implied, neatly camouflaged feminism of her life and work demands acknowledgment.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Womens studies|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Klein, Roberta S, "Agatha Christie: A feminist reassessment" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9953555.