Ricardo Jasso Moedano of Mexico City argues that there is a connection between Anthony Trollope and Agatha Christie. He believes that Christie took inspiration for one of her plots from Trollope’s oft-quoted decision to kill off his character Mrs Proudie in the Last Chronicle of Barset, following a conversation he overheard at his club, which he describes in his Autobiography:
“It was with many misgivings that I killed my old friend Mrs. Proudie. I could not, I think, have done it, but for a resolution taken and declared under circumstances of great momentary pressure.
It was thus that it came about. I was sitting one morning at work upon the novel at the end of the long drawing-room of the Athenaeum Club, as was then my wont when I had slept the previous night in London. As I was there, two clergymen, each with a magazine in his hand, seated themselves, one on one side of the fire and one on the other, close to me. They soon began to abuse what they were reading, and each was reading some part of some novel of mine. The gravamen of their complaint lay in the fact that I reintroduced the same characters so often! `Here’, said one, `is that archdeacon whom we have had in every novel he has ever written.’ ‘And here’, said the other, `is the old duke whom he has talked about till everybody is tired of him. If I could not invent new characters, I would not write novels at all.’ Then one of them fell foul of Mrs. Proudie. It was impossible for me not to hear their words, and almost impossible to hear them and be quiet. I got up, and standing between them, I acknowledged myself to be the culprit. `As to Mrs. Proudie,’ I said, `I will go home and kill her before the week is over.’ And so I did. The two gentlemen were utterly confounded, and one of them begged me not to forget his frivolous observations.”
These circumstances are mirrored in Agatha Christie’s novel Taken at the Flood, written in 1948. Poirot overhears a conversation in which the wish that a woman were dead was expressed and, shortly afterwards, she is indeed murdered.
It is difficult to prove whether or not Christie was directly inspired by the events described by Trollope in his Autobiography. She might well have been aware of the anecdote and she was certainly very able at taking things she heard about and putting them to use in her plots.
I leave it to you to hear Ricardo’s arguments and see whether you find them persuasive. (You can switch on English subtitles to help follow Ricardo’s argument.)
Poirot smiles as he recalls this Trollope anecdote in the first page of Appointment with Death, so Christie was certainly aware of it. (Poirot mis-remembers it as occurring on a ship crossing the Atlantic instead of in a club but the substance us exactly the same.)
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