Metanarrative in Agatha Christie’s Detective Fiction

Conference: The European Conference on Arts & Humanities (ECAH2022)
Title: Metanarrative in Agatha Christie’s Detective Fiction
Stream: Literature/Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Luz Ramirez, California State University, San Bernardino, United States


What accounts for the enduring and global appeal of Agatha Christie’s detective fiction? Born in England at the height of the British empire, Christie (1890-1976) was educated in France and volunteered as a nurse in WWI and in the dispensary in WWII. She travelled extensively, observing archaeological digs in the Middle East, and visiting European destinations that would become settings for her fiction. She was a wife (twice), a mother and a successful writer. Recent scholarship helps us to understand why Christie’s writing continues to engage diverse audiences. Thompson and Lassner argue, respectively, that Christie’s fiction operates as a mirror for its time, and that her characters reveal a feminist sensibility. For her part, Księżopolska examines narrator unreliability and clichés of plot to call attention to the self-referential and parodic nature of Christie’s writing. Following Księżopolska’s approach, I address the concept of metanarrative. First, I will explain how allusions often become titles for Christie’s books--as with The Pale Horse (Revelation), Sad Cypress (Shakespeare), and Endless Night (Blake)—and thereby provide clues for interpretation. Second, I will examine how metanarrative operates, specifically, in Crooked House with the reference to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Clearly, Christie demands a cultural literacy from her audience. While we’re rewarded for what we know, we quickly learn what we don’t know, and become literary sleuths to fill in the gaps. The recognition of metanarrative in Christie's detective fiction empowers readers, entertains us with literary puzzles we can figure out, and provides a fertile field for scholarly inquiry.

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