A Relationship Is Secret?
January 21, 2009 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Were Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd perceived as lesbians? (Warning: Contains SPOILER for book that is almost 60 years old.)

I have read Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced a number of times. One thing that comes through loud and clear is that Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd seem like stereotypical lesbians. "Hinch" is described in mannish terms and is dominant while Murgatroyd is described in stereotypically feminine terms (flighty, subservient, etc). They live together and when Murgatroyd is murdered Hinch is inconsolable and filled with a desire for revenge, which seems a little over-the-top even for a long-time roommate.

Google indicates a lot of people have picked up on this (not that it takes any particular perspicacity to do so), however my question is NOT whether Hinch and Murgatroyd are "really" lesbians, because what would that even mean?

My questions are:
  1. What would the contemporary readers have perceived them as? (aMiA was published in 1950, in both the UK and US)
  2. What would the characters in the book have perceived them as? (They mention "post-war" several times, so I guess it must be set in the latter half of the 40s. Rural England, but one of the themes is that city dwellers and even foreigners are moving in, so more cosmopolitan viewpoints are available.)
  3. For either of the questions above where the answer is "lesbians, you idiot" then what would those readers or characters have thought of that? It's completely non-risque and unremarkable in the book. Hinch and Murgatroyd are on good terms with all classes, including the clergy. They are not shunned or gossiped about in the book, despite the fact that Miss Marple is notorious for obtaining intelligence from local gossip and so gossip itself is a big topic in the book. Is that realistic?
  4. Could there be anything to theory that Christie herself didn't know what was going on? I.e., she'd be describing real people (either specifically or in general) without realizing what lay behind the utter devotion of two women living together?
Personally, I doubt #4. From her books, it's clear Christie was a close observer of human nature and the subtleties of relationships. In fact, in this same book she has two other women who are longtime friends and companions in the same house, but there's zero undercurrent as in the H/M case. Also, ISTR that later in the book Miss Marple is very understanding of Hinch's grief, which would only make sense if both Christie and Marple (and probably the reader) were In The Know. But my memory is foggy and may be contaminated by the movie.

(Incidentally, while thinking about this case, I realized that almost every possible non-polygamous relationship exists among the main characters in this one book, from single to married to widowed to trophy wife to lesbians to friends. It's to the point that I'm trying to find some possible gay couple to make a complete set.)
posted by DU to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh I forgot to mention that H/M are also portrayed very positively, despite the stereotyping. Hinch in particular, who is one of my favorite Christie characters from all her books, is intelligent, caring and strong (in the character sense).
posted by DU at 8:45 AM on January 21, 2009


I'm not sure if I can answer what Christie might have believed or intimated but both TV versions I've seen left no doubt that they were a lesbian couple. I read the book as a young teen and thought they were lesbians. I guess what they used to call "romantic friendships"-- usually involving 2 unmarried ladies living together.
posted by nikitabot at 8:45 AM on January 21, 2009


Back in the early 1960s, this teenage lesbian spent many hours in libraries, looking for lesbians in books, with the help of Jeanette Foster's "Sex Variant Women in Literature." Agatha Christie's Hinchcliffe & Murgatroyd (and other such couples) were among the "variant" women Foster led me to. Not openly gay, but ringing bells all the same.

Did Christie know what she was doing? Of course. Her books have stock characters she uses again and again, including women like these. Did her readers get it? Some did, some didn't.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:51 AM on January 21, 2009


One of my favorite antiquitated terms is "Boston Marriage", which is broad enough to allow the observer to either decide that there's something sexy going on, or decide that the women are obviously just friends, such upstanding women couldn't possibly be so sinful. It's also broad enough that one doesn't even need to consider the Romance question.

I would propose that something similar is going on in Christie's book -- To the question "Are they lesbians?", there's a "Yes" answer and a "No" answer, but there's a huge psychological space for a sort of unconscious "For all puproses, No, because that makes the daily interactions of our lives easier, now let's all stop thinking about these unsavory matters and have some tea already."
posted by Greg Nog at 8:55 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


My only literary-based reaction would be this: Especially where Jane Marple is concerned, there is often an intersection of new and old ways. That is the essence of Marple's brilliance: she understands that nothing is really "new." Also, Jane is never judgmental. Pitying sometimes, but often for people who let themselves get mired in the false newness of things and the fast pace of life, not for people who are simply outside of the norm.

Much of my family is of the belief that gay people are fine so long as they don't talk about it. My grandmother once asked my mother, "Why do they feel the need to go 'coming out' about it all?" My grandmother would have been a child when Christie first started publishing, but was starting to have children of her own about the time that AMIA was published. I think to her generation, gay people just blended in with society and did their own thing - and ideally they did it inconspicuously. Though, possibly more often than not, gay people themselves (probably due to having no one to talk to about it) were unclear on what the real deal was. I often think about the 80 year old former Phys Ed teacher I know or the pair of former nuns who left the convent and live together even to this day. Were they all lesbians? Do they even know? Is this the Oprah-phenomenon, just without the paparazzi?

Thanks for the question. I'm going to walk around the corner and pick up some more Marple today.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:58 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


a huge psychological space for a sort of unconscious "For all puproses, No, because that makes the daily interactions of our lives easier..."

I had not considered this sort of "they know but they don't know" option, which may fit perfectly.

Today, the term "Boston marriage" is sometimes used for lesbian relationships -- two women living together -- which are not sexual.

This just raises more questions.
posted by DU at 9:01 AM on January 21, 2009


Sorry, but building on my previous comment:
I should note, also, that I've seen this "Boston Marriage" phenomenon firsthand in my own family -- two family members, ladies, who were living together, bought a house together, owned a cat together, went to all family functions together. Among my generation (20-somethings), the general consensus was, "Those two, oh man, they're totes gay!" Among my parents' generation (50-somethings), it was more "Are they... I think... Maybe they're lesbians?" But among my grandparents' generation, (80-somethings), the reaction was " . . . " Never a question, never a need for clarification, never suspicion. Maybe knowledge. Never discussed, though.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:01 AM on January 21, 2009


According to people who study such things, before World War I, such women would not have been perceived as lesbians. They were in a "Boston Marriage," (at least that's what they were called in the U.S.) and whatever they may or may not have been doing sexually, that wouldn't have been seen by them or by outsiders as a sexual thing. They were seen as life partners who had a bond that transcended mere roommates, but that wasn't seen to have anything to do with sex. The concept of "lesbians" barely existed in Britain or the U.S. before World War I. Sometime in the 1910s and 1920s, ideas about female sexuality changed, and people began to acknowledge that women could be sexually attraction to each other. At that point, "Boston marriages" ceased to be considered "normal" and non-sexual, and women who chose other women as life partners were increasingly seen, and increasingly saw themselves, as lesbians.

I have often wondered what happened after the shift to women who had entered into Boston marriages when they were considered "normal" and asexual. My sense, just from primary sources, is that there was some snickering about such women being lesbians, but they didn't necessarily change how they saw themselves. I think that respectable people like Christie might have grandfathered them into respectability. They would have been seen to be old-fashioned women living in an old-fashioned living arrangement, rather than repressed or closeted lesbians.
posted by craichead at 9:03 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


One of my favorite antiquated terms is "Boston Marriage", which is broad enough to allow the observer to either decide that there's something sexy going on, or decide that the women are obviously just friends, such upstanding women couldn't possibly be so sinful. It's also broad enough that one doesn't even need to consider the Romance question.

I would propose that something similar is going on in Christie's book -- To the question "Are they lesbians?", there's a "Yes" answer and a "No" answer, but there's a huge psychological space for a sort of unconscious "For all purposes, No, because that makes the daily interactions of our lives easier, now let's all stop thinking about these unsavory matters and have some tea already."


Quoted for, dude, that was EXACTLY what I was going to say. "Boston marriage" was an understood concept, which was understood to mean whatever you were comfortable with it meaning.

I'm imaging my great aunts answering this question, both of whom would be in their nineties now. Great-aunt C would've thought "ohh, the bond of good friendship, and anyway, they're spinsters." Great-aunt E would've thought "tee hee, lesbians, obvs, but don't scandalize my sister by cluing her in."
posted by desuetude at 9:04 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The concept of "lesbians" barely existed in Britain or the U.S. before World War I. Sometime in the 1910s and 1920s, ideas about female sexuality changed, and people began to acknowledge that women could be sexually attraction to each other.

You mean in widespread, popular, mainstream understanding, right? (The term lesbian was indeed not yet in widespread usage at the time. Sapphist, invert, etc. were also in use, if one was willing to be so forward/crass as to speak of such matters.)
posted by desuetude at 9:18 AM on January 21, 2009


You mean in widespread, popular, mainstream understanding, right? (The term lesbian was indeed not yet in widespread usage at the time. Sapphist, invert, etc. were also in use, if one was willing to be so forward/crass as to speak of such matters.)
I think that Lillian Faderman, writing about the U.S., argues that early twentieth century sexologists decided that lesbians ("inverts", etc.) existed, but the idea didn't gain widespread public acceptance until just after World War I. Nineteenth-century British and American ideas about female sexuality didn't really acknowledge female sexual desire at all, so the idea of lesbianism wouldn't have made sense to Victorians. That isn't to deny that the concept of lesbianism had currency in other places or times. But I don't think it was around much in 19th century Britain.
posted by craichead at 9:28 AM on January 21, 2009


It's interesting that lesbianism itself came out of the closet right after WWI, because of a line from AMIA that struck me just this morning. The speaker (I think it was Marple) said something about how the societal changes after WWII were different than those after WWI "when everyone went in for sex" or words to that effect.

I'm starting to wonder if this whole thing was a hidden theme in the book. Letitia Blacklock and Dora Bunner have a Boston marriage but of the friendship-only variety. One of them is killed (or nearly so--I forget which). Hinch and Murgatroyd have a Boston marriage that is apparently of a deeper sort. One of them is killed. (It's the more "feminine" one in each case that is murdered, if that matters.) The author mentions changes in sexuality post-WWI. It all ties together, although what the resulting bundle is I'm sure I don't know.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on January 21, 2009


According to people who study such things, before World War I, such women would not have been perceived as lesbians. They were in a "Boston Marriage," (at least that's what they were called in the U.S.) and whatever they may or may not have been doing sexually, that wouldn't have been seen by them or by outsiders as a sexual thing. They were seen as life partners who had a bond that transcended mere roommates, but that wasn't seen to have anything to do with sex.

Given that Christie herself was a product of a traditional Edwardian upbringing, and that the character of Miss Marple was based, in part, on Christie's grandmother, I think that is is probably very close to where she, and Miss Marple, would have been coming from. Given that they are also respectable characters in the book, and not treated as deviants by others in the book, my guess is that this "Boston Marriage" arrangement would have been what they likely were "thinking" (if one can presume to imagine what fictional characters thought).

As a contrast, you can compare how the various male "homosexual" characters are treated by others in the book: usually with suspicion/hostility by male characters, but often with significant female allies, often the target of derogatory language. On the comes to mind is Shaitana in Cards on the Table, and there's also one in Murder at the Vicarage whose name I can't remember right now. The point being that effeminate male characters in Christie's work are almost always negatively valenced, whereas to my recollection, female characters sych as Hinch and Murgatroyd were not, pointing to some difference in the perception of these people on the part of the author.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:45 AM on January 21, 2009


...This is all flashing me back to that human sexuality course I took in college...

The whole "Boston marriage" phenomenon wasn't uncommon. As to why people were comfortable just looking the other way -- for whatever reason, people have always been a little more comfortable with tolerating a same-sex female couple than they are a same-sex male couple. There are tons of reasons for this -- covering everything from gender roles not giving women much of an opportunity to be flamboyantly or aggressively anything, so they probably didn't draw much attention to themselves otherwise anyway so who cared, to the stereotypical thing about guys secretly being turned on by "hehhehheh, two girls doin' it, that's HAWT."

The gender roles thing also indicates why women may have had to do this even when there wasn't a sexual component -- unmarried men simply had more wherewithal and resources available to them when it came to making a living. An unmarried man could work anywhere he wanted and get his money that way. An unmarried woman...couldn't. So no doubt there were several women who became roommates because "well, it's a better alternative for two schoolmarms to shack up to make ends meet than it would be for them to become bankers or something..." and actually, women taking on stereotypically male jobs would have been the bigger scandal at that time. Compared to that -- two women, who may be getting up to who knows what hijinks behind closed doors? Nothin' to worry about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:50 AM on January 21, 2009


I would be interested if you can remember the negative gay character in MatV. I've read that one a couple times and don't remember anything standing out. (Never read CotT.) But then I'm generally oblivious--it's only the utter obviousness of Hinch and Murgatroyd, at least to modern eyes, that makes me ask the question.
posted by DU at 9:54 AM on January 21, 2009


Ok, well after extensive googling I think I've got the books confused; it's not MatV, but Mr. Pye in The Moving Finger that I'm thinking about, sorry. I don't have any of my books here so I'm going on memory. I'm pretty sure there are other similar male characters in her books, but I lack the resources to pull them up right now.

Also, the recent Geraldine McEwen Marple remakes are a travesty to this Christie purist, as they both re-imagine the stories and characters in a 21st century lens, and in some cases actually change the murderer! Blasphemy!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:19 AM on January 21, 2009


Oh, also, check out Mr. Ellsworthy in Murder is Easy (US title is Easy to Kill).
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:26 AM on January 21, 2009


I somehow missed all 3 of the books you mention. But then I only read the Marple and Hercule books, which may account for some of them.

(And agreed about the recent remakes. McEwan seems like a nice character actor, but she's a bit chipper. OTOH, the previous actress was not chipper enough.)
posted by DU at 10:33 AM on January 21, 2009


A couple weeks ago I caught on TCM the 1961 film The Children's Hour, which is reportedly a fairly faithful adaptation of the 1934 play. Basically, a mean school girl accuses her headmistresses of lesbianism, which causes the entire community to ostracize them and of course that's the end of their school. (And there are other consquences).

Like most old-timey things with queer themes, it's set up in a way that the watcher can see what they want in it--they probably weren't actually lovers, but at least one of them probably did want them to be, but maybe she's not sure, and maybe the other one feels that way too, but would never say so, and so on. (Though there is a surprising amount of knashing of teeth over the question!) But my point is that even though most other people in the movie think of that kind of relationship to be the absolute height of perversion, it seems like it really wouldn't be much of an issue at all except for the assertion that children saw them making out. Like, when the aunt says their relationship is "unnatural," the listener, had she not been the grandparent of their student, would have simply raised an eyebrow. Rather than, you know, completely ruin their lives, which is what she actually does. There's a real sense of that old chestnut that survives today, about not caring what they do in private, but...
posted by lampoil at 11:45 AM on January 21, 2009


The Moving Finger is a Marple book, but my recollection is that she is a little less prominent in this book. Murder is Easy doesn't feature either of them, but I think it's well worth reading. Cards on the Table is Poirot *and* features Ariadne Oliver. The David Suchet adaptation unfortunately takes great liberties with the plot and characters, so read the book first.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:46 AM on January 21, 2009


Moving Finger sounds familiar but I can't check up on it because FOR CRYING OUT LOUD SOMEONE FIX THE INTERNET AROUND HERE IT'S TAKING MULTIPLE MINUTES TO LOAD GOOGLE.

Wait--there's a Suchet that I haven't seen?? But I thought I'd seen them all! My m-i-l (a semi-obsessive Christie fan/collector) lied to me!
posted by DU at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2009


The gender roles thing also indicates why women may have had to do this even when there wasn't a sexual component -- unmarried men simply had more wherewithal and resources available to them when it came to making a living. An unmarried man could work anywhere he wanted and get his money that way. An unmarried woman...couldn't.

I don't disagree that these specific ladies are certainly written as a committed couple, but its very important not to lose track of how culturally different women's lives were at the time. Post WWI, England simply had a surplus of women. The losses in the war assured that. And Victorian Romanticism in communications and relationships between women meant that women could be affectionate and even see each other as "life partners" without their being the same sort of sexual overtones we would culturally expect today.

For a real-world example of this, review the scholarship on the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock. While Ms. Hickcok was certainly a lesbian (in the technical sense that she was sexually attracted to women and not men), and no one really believes that the two women did not love each other there is an ongoing conversation about what "love" means in this context. Did they hug and kiss each other? Yes, certainly. Did they feel a deep commitment to each other? Yes, certainly. But were they lovers in a physically intimate sense? In the culture of the time in which Mrs Roosevelt was raised affection, commitment, and love between women did not automatically have the same implications that it has today. The modern GLBT movement wants very much to claim Mrs. Roosevelt as one of their own, but many scholars are not certain that Mrs Roosevelt would be at all comfortable with that label hung from her. Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas they were not.
posted by anastasiav at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another thing I just thought about, re your question 4, is Christie's use of stock characters. I've read criticism of her work that explicitly chastises her for fairly superficial characterization work (outside of her main detectives). I think it's not entirely unfair to say that Christie's writing focused most of its energy on the tightly constructed plots, leaving the actual characters as sometimes nothing more than caricatures (hen-pecked husband and overbearing wife, absent-minded clergyman, blustery & sport-loving lord, ignorant maids, imperious butler, etc.). So it's also possible that the Hinch and Murgatroyd characters represent yet another borrowing of existing literary stock characters, and were not necessarily *explicitly* intended by the author to be read as a specific type of romantic/intimate relationship. That is to say, she used them b/c they served to advance the plot, not because she intended any social commentary.

But I'm not a lit crit person, just an obsessive Christie fan, so I could be wrong.

but this discussion is a million times more interesting than the work I'm supposed to be doing.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2009


...leaving the actual characters as sometimes nothing more than caricatures...

This is fair for a lot of minor characters and some of the major ones, especially in the shorts, but not for all I wouldn't say.

So it's also possible that the Hinch and Murgatroyd characters represent yet another borrowing of existing literary stock characters, and were not necessarily *explicitly* intended by the author to be read as a specific type of romantic/intimate relationship. That is to say, she used them b/c they served to advance the plot, not because she intended any social commentary.

I just got to the part in AMIA where Letitia is described again by someone. She's described as mannish, not feminine, uninterested in men and good with finance! In other words, Letitia Blacklock and Dora Bunner are almost identical in outer form to Miss Hinchcliffe and Amy Murgatroyd respectively! And one of each is murdered! I don't think this can be coincidence unless Christie was very inattentive indeed. I wonder what it could mean.
posted by DU at 4:00 PM on January 21, 2009


I just got to the part in AMIA where Letitia is described again by someone. She's described as mannish, not feminine, uninterested in men and good with finance! In other words, Letitia Blacklock and Dora Bunner are almost identical in outer form to Miss Hinchcliffe and Amy Murgatroyd respectively!

I see your point about Leticia Blacklock, but I don't think the relationship between her and Dora Bunner is the same at all. The "Boston Marriage"/lesbian scenario is, I think, a perfectly legitimate assumption for Hinch and Murgatroyd, but I don't read their relationship and the Blacklock/Bunner one as similar.

I don't have the book in front of me, but I have read it a number of times (so forgive me if I get any details wrong), but my impression is that Leticia Blacklock was fond of Dora Bunner, but almost more in a pitying kind of way. Leticia, her deceased sister Lotty (hem) and Dora were old school chums, right, and if I recall perhaps Dora had fallen on hard times, right, which is why Leticia had taken her in?

SPOILER ALERT!!! STOP READING NOW IF YOU CARE!!!






So anyway, Leticia Blacklock kills Dora Bunner, b/c Dora is the one who knows her secret, and Dora is unreliable and has already had a number of slips. While she doesn't really *want* to do it, she is cold-blooded enough to see it as necessary, and if I recall I think she is sad about Dora's death, but she does not react at all the way Hinch does when Murgatroyd was murdered. I think, that again although Leticia saw Dora as an old friend, she also saw her as more of a nuisance than anything, and she probably would have been happier if Dora had never re-entered her life.

I also think it's pushing it a bit to read too much into Christie's selection of murder victims. I really don't think she was "punishing" Murgatroyd for being a lesbian. She was killed b/c she saw something she shouldn't have. It's all about the plot.

If there's any place where Christie's personal feelings about characters come through, I think its in her treatment of adulterers/esses. (cough, cough)
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:54 PM on January 21, 2009


I'll Nth something like a Boston marriage or romantic friendship. In the time in question there may well have been some free-thinking souls ready to label them as lesibans (or inverts or Sapphics etc.) with a titter about how they couldn't even admit it to each other. But it was simply socially difficult for single women ("spinsters") in that and preceding eras, and this sort of arrangement was much more common, so jumping to the conclusion that they certainly had consummated whatever relationship they had sexually is tempting but probably a stretch. To the extent that the other characters may have perceived them that way I would say it would have been a minority at best and only the cattiest would have voiced it. To the extent that readers of the book may have I think there could have been some, again, but much of what these types of relationships were about was a rejection of men and the world of heterosexuality, so in public terms all sexuality. I think it was a popular retreat and shouldn't be interpreted any more broadly than two women rooming together today except in that today we presume such to be temporary and not a life bond.
posted by dhartung at 9:41 PM on January 21, 2009


This is really interesting to me because I've just finished reading Dorothy L Sayers' Unnatural Death. You might like to read it, DU, since it covers some similar ground to the Christie book.

It's set post-WWI, and features two sets of lesbian couples. One pair were elderly, had lived together their entire lives (Victorian/Edwardian times), with one being into business and horses and the other being a sweet stay-at-home type. They were shown to be much respected in their small community, with at least one person saying that sometimes God just makes 'em that way. The outgoing one dies, the sweet one lives on for much longer, and is eventually (we suspect) murdered.

The other pair are not acknowledged as a proper couple, exactly. One is a nurse, related to the sweet elderly lady, cold and haughty but good at her job and with money. The other is 19, liked in the village, and follows the nurse around like a puppy-dog. They talk about taking a house together, and you get the impression that the 19 year old is much keener on this than the nurse. Other characters seem to hope that the 19 year old will outgrow her 'pash' (passion?), and one mentions having seen 'relationships like this' before because she's spent so much time living in boarding houses for single women.

The narrator and the characters are silent on the topic of what these women get up to behind closed doors. From memory, we never even get a scene showing them alone at all. From my modern perspective, this looks like an unwillingness to discuss it, because Sayers certainly wrote about the sex lives of her other characters. But maybe it's more of a "but what would they even do, since there's no penis?", sort of a lack of imagination.

Sayers was a virgin herself at the time of writing this book, if that makes a difference. Christie was married for most of her writing career, I think?
posted by harriet vane at 1:14 AM on January 22, 2009


Women didn't have sex drives before Freud and possibly a bit after. Lesbians didn't exist in the social consciousness because the idea of two nonsexual beings having sex seemed a bit nonsensical. I'm not talking about what people actually saw or did in their own bedrooms, but the assumption was that women had little pilot lights of sexuality (vs a roaring fire of male libido).

It wouldn't have been strange at all for two women to live together in that day and age, particularly if they had a long history of friendship. And affectionate language between straight women who are very close isn't exactly a new phenomenon. My best friend and I sign off phone calls with "Love you", and are very affectionate in our language. We've been friends since we were eight, and we share a bed and have pillow fights and really teenybopper girlie times when either of us visits the other. Fifty years from now, someone might well read our email/cards/letters and imply we had a secret lesbian relationship. Just not so.

It's been a while since I read this particular book, but I think that the closeness between the friends and the murder angle might be echoing an idea about a kind of Illness of the Cloister. Dorothy Sayers talks about it in Gaudy Night - the idea that women who live and work together, away from male companionship and their "natural" state of nurturing children or relatives, might go a little mad.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:29 AM on January 22, 2009


Ooh, forgot about Unnatural Death, Ms Vane. I don't think DS was a virgin at the time, as she'd had a child when she was at Oxford. Maybe unmarried, though...
posted by Grrlscout at 2:30 AM on January 22, 2009


I really don't think she was "punishing" Murgatroyd for being a lesbian.

Oh, I wasn't suggesting that she was. I'm not suggesting anything at all, really. Just noting the parallels.

The "Boston Marriage"/lesbian scenario is, I think, a perfectly legitimate assumption for Hinch and Murgatroyd, but I don't read their relationship and the Blacklock/Bunner one as similar.

I just learned the "Boston Marriage" term so I'm no expert, but I thought it applied to two friendly women living together whether they were "real" lesbians or not.

But maybe it's more of a "but what would they even do, since there's no penis?"

My wife mentioned this possibility as well. As I said, it's not a case of "put 'em together and let nature take it's course". Except maybe it is? I have no clue to what extent homosexual sex (as opposed to attraction) is learned behavior. I'm probably being offensive in this paragraph, but if I am, it's out of ignorance, sorry.

...the idea of two nonsexual beings having sex seemed a bit nonsensical.

Good point. How could two women engage in "family duties"? There's no seed, just fertile ground!
posted by DU at 3:00 AM on January 22, 2009


Grrlscout, the child was after Oxford, while she was working at the advertising agency (which is a boggle all in itself!), and just before she was married - I'm not quite certain on where her job/love-life lines up with when she wrote each book, though. I love the phrase Illness of the Cloister to describe what Vane is afraid of in Gaudy Night - is it your own take on it, or where did you hear it?

DU, I imagine "put 'em together and let nature take it's course" would work for just about everyone :) But I wonder if, in that day and age, if people (possibly including the lesbians themselves? I don't have enough info on this) would consider what lesbians do 'real' enough to get concerned over. No seed to waste - so maybe not worth worrying about if people wanted to try it.
posted by harriet vane at 5:48 AM on January 22, 2009


...consider what lesbians do 'real' enough to get concerned over.

Or common enough. There's a couple of eccentric old ladies in your village. Whatever! They bake a wonderful cake.

Whereas later, when more and more start to come out and a "gay culture" is discernable, suddenly you have a movement to react against. Look at those weird clothes! I hope my child doesn't get mixed up with that. And so forth.
posted by DU at 5:57 AM on January 22, 2009


Dora was a lost (inconvenient) puppy, not a lover, but I think with H&M were definitely described so that anyone who wanted to / was capable of recognizing them as more-than-platonic life partners could do so. Mrs Marple was certainly familiar with gay folks, and with the concept of homosexuality, and I don't think all gay people were meant to be negatively portrayed (doesn't a friendly "house-proud" gay man look after her house in A Caribbean Mystery?).
posted by fidelity at 10:47 AM on January 22, 2009


Mrs Marple was certainly familiar with gay folks, and with the concept of homosexuality, and I don't think all gay people were meant to be negatively portrayed (doesn't a friendly "house-proud" gay man look after her house in A Caribbean Mystery?).

I do not remember that at all-- do you have a source? All my books are in another state, so I can't look this up myself, but I really don't recall this--it seems like something I would have remembered. Miss Marple always had female maids--why would she leave her house in the care of a man? Perhaps you are thinking of Raymond West--Marple's nephew who paid for her trip (West is married to an artist in most of the Marple stories)
posted by DiscourseMarker at 2:25 PM on January 22, 2009


Ok, so I seem to be officially obsessed with this thread. Anyway, I apologize fidelity, because I found the reference in the Everyman's Guide to the Mysteries of Agatha Christie on Google Books.
It is apparently her nephew who also arranges for her home to be taken care of by a writer who wants a "quiet place in the country." I don't think we ever meet this character, though, nor does he come up again. The characters I'm thinking of generally play a larger role in the story.

Another effeminate male character who is pretty universally disliked by the other male characters in the story is Christopher Wren in Three Blind Mice.

This Everyman's Guide has several pages devoted to discussing ambiguous/bizarre/homosexual/lesbian characters.

Also, an interesting article with a discussion of "queering Agatha Christie" here.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 2:43 PM on January 22, 2009


He is a friend of West's, not Miss Marple's. Much more minor than I remembered, just a mention right at the beginning of the book. Raymond had convinced her to go to the Caribbean:
Miss Marple had demurred--at the expense, the distance, the difficulties of travel, and at abandoning her house in St. Mary Mead. Raymond had dealt with everything. A friend who was writing a book wanted a quiet place in the country. "He'll look after the house all right. He's very house-proud. He's a queer. I mean--"

He had paused, slightly embarrassed-but surely even dear old Aunt Jane must have heard of queers.
I do like the implication that homosexuality is another one of those things kids think they just invented, but Miss Marple knows all about already.
posted by fidelity at 2:51 PM on January 22, 2009


It's interesting that ACM came out in 1964, maybe this was an attempt on Agatha's part to roll with the times. At the same time, in Third Girl, which came out in 1966, you get the sense that while Agatha sees the the world is changing (several of the main characters are young people, described using terms like "hippies" and "mods," IIRC), she doesn't seem to like it too much, if you see her as speaking through Ariadne Oliver and Poirot, both of whom reflect a more old-fashioned viewpoint.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 5:32 PM on January 22, 2009


FYI: I've read both Moving Finger and Murder is Easy now.

In MF, Mr Pye is pretty clearly understood to be both homosexual and weird. These two things seem to be intertwined, which is to say they are uncomfortable with his "gay mannerisms" (high-pitched voice, interest in interior decorating, etc). The main characters speculate that he may be the murderer because he's so weird. On the plus side, he's not. (Not a big plus, but still.)

In MiE, Mr Ellsworth is also kind of interested in decorating/antiques and is effeminate, or somewhat so, and also very weird. However, while there's a vibe early on that he's gay, it turns out he's interested in the ladeez. There's speculation that he was Involved With a young (but of age) girl. I think some other woman turns out to be his Regular Thing. Maybe he's meant to be bi-? His weirdness seems mainly to be that he's a New Age and/or Pagan Freak. (He apparently kills a cat or rabbit with his bare hands during a ritual.) He's definitely negative, though once again innocent.
posted by DU at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2009


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