Agatha Christie's Use of Literary Allusions There She Weaves by Night and Day a Magic Web With Colours Gay Classic nursery rhymes, great poetry, Shakespearean plays, and modern drama all contribute to the intricate web of mystery that Agatha Christie wove in her many works. The meshing of literary allusions and several interwoven plots actively involve the reader and maintain the book's suspenseful atmosphere. Famous for her misdirection of readers through foreshadowing, dialogue, and pointless implications, her techniques captivate and force the reader to think along a certain path while the murderer stays out of suspicion. Because of these techniques, Christie became internationally successful. Her books have been translated into more languages than any of Shakespeare's plays. Her books have sold over one hundred million copies throughout the world (Yaffe Internet).
Christie's use of literary allusions begins with the titles of her novels and short stories. Her title By The Pricking of My Thumbs suggests supernatural evil by suggesting the witches from Shakespeare's Macbeth. How Does Your Garden Grow, One Two Buckle My Shoe, Fiddlers Three, and Hickory, Dick ory, Death all suggest childish recitations with a chilling twist (Miller Internet). The loss of Tennyson's heart wrenching poem, The Lady of Sha lott is encountered in The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side. This title comes directly from a line of Tennyson's poem (Mirror 53).
Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle: she died young. (Sleeping 17). These words are spoken at the climax of John Webster's dramatic play, The Duchess of Malfi. In the play, a man coldly speaks these words over the corpse of the sister that he has just murdered. These words are also a vital clue in Sleeping Murder, one of Agatha Christie's most intense mysteries. In this book, a woman watching this play is horrified when the murderer call speaks these words on stage.
The quote causes the woman to recall, after twenty years, a grotesque event that she witnessed as a child the murder of her stepmother, Helen Kennedy. Although the child did not see the killer's face, she heard his voice quoting The Duchess of Malfi. The investigation of Helen's death is reopened, and many are suspected. Anyone with knowledge of the play, however, would be led directly to the correct suspect.
It was Helen's brother, who, like the murderer in the play, killed his youthful sister (Sleeping 169). Christie also used allusions to nursery rhymes, well-known literature for children. Often, however, the rhymes multiplied the suspense. In And Then There Were None, Christie had her doomsday judge use the following rhyme to indicate the kinds of deaths his victims were to die: Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine. Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight. Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon; One said he d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six. Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five. Five little Indian boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four. Four little Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two. Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one. One little Indian boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were none. (None 22). Christie's use of the rhyme causes suspense to mount and the reader to constantly wonder how the next line of the poem will be made a horrific reality.
Eventually, the characters in the novel unconsciously began to act out the rhyme themselves. The end of the novel exactly follows the end of the rhyme. Only one victim remained, and she hanged herself because of her perceived guilt (None 163). Christie imitated other authors writing styles, also. In her series featuring twin detectives Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, she parodied many respected authors of the time. The Sunning dale Mystery is a comprehensive medley of the Old Man in the Corner tales by Baroness Orczy.
Christie not only emulated Orczy's stylistic mannerisms, but she also copied the Baroness' plotting style. Christie's ingenious solution to the mystery also recalls Orczy's ingenious twist answers. In The Case of the Missing Lady, Christie spoofed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax. The burlesque is done more through Christie's brilliant plotting than through stylistic means. Any contemporary of Agatha Christie would have been amused by these parodies (Grost Internet).
Although Agatha Christie's novels vary greatly in subject, there is one common thread that binds together all of her works. By reading her books, one can gain knowledge of and interest in the writings of many other notables. Literary references permeate Christie's stories, causing them to have more depth and profundity.
Christie, Agatha. And Then There Were None. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1940.
Christie, Agatha. Sleeping Murder. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1930.
Christie, Agatha. The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side. New York: Berkeley Books, 1962.
Yaffe, Ben. Biography of Agatha Christie. Internet: web 1997.
Grost, Michael. Agatha Christie. Internet: web 1997.
Miller, Carol. Agatha Christie's Books. Internet: web miller ca / christie. htm, 1995.