After the Funeral

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After the Funeral
After the Funeral US First Edition Cover 1953.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first)
Author Agatha Christie
CountryUnited States
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company
Publication date
March 1953
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Pages244 first edition, hardback
Preceded by A Daughter's a Daughter  
Followed by A Pocket Full of Rye  

After the Funeral is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1953 under the title of Funerals are Fatal [1] and in UK by the Collins Crime Club on 18 May of the same year under Christie's original title. [2] The US edition retailed at $2.50 [1] and the UK edition at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6). [2]

Detective fiction is a subgenre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator or a detective—either professional, amateur or retired—investigates a crime, often murder. The detective genre began around the same time as speculative fiction and other genre fiction in the mid-nineteenth century and has remained extremely popular, particularly in novels. Some of the most famous heroes of detective fiction include C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot. Juvenile stories featuring The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children have also remained in print for several decades.

Agatha Christie 20th-century English mystery and detective writer

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, was an English writer. She is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Christie also wrote the world's longest-running play, a murder mystery, The Mousetrap, and, under the pen name Mary Westmacott, six romances. In 1971 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her contribution to literature.

Collins Crime Club

Collins Crime Club was an imprint of British book publishers William Collins, Sons and ran from 6 May 1930 to April 1994. Throughout its 64 years the club issued a total of 2,025 first editions of crime novels and reached a high standard of quality throughout. In the field of crime book collecting, Collins Crime Club is eagerly sought, particularly pre-war first editions in dustwrappers with their vivid and imaginative images.

Contents

A 1963 UK paperback issued by Fontana Books changed the title to Murder at the Gallop to tie in with the film version. The book features the author's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, but the Murder at the Gallop film adaptation instead featured her amateur sleuth, Miss Marple.

Hercule Poirot fictional Belgian detective by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot is a fictional Belgian detective, created by Agatha Christie. Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-running characters, appearing in 33 novels, one play, and more than 50 short stories published between 1920 and 1975.

Miss Marple fictional character appearing in Agatha Christies crime novels

Miss Marple is a fictional character in Agatha Christie's crime novels and short stories. An elderly spinster who lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur consulting detective, she is one of the best known of Christie's characters and has been portrayed numerous times on screen. Her first appearance was in a short story published in The Royal Magazine in December 1927, "The Tuesday Night Club", which later became the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems (1932). Her first appearance in a full-length novel was in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930.

A wealthy man dies at home. His relatives gather after his funeral for the reading of his will, during which his sister states that he was murdered. The next day, she herself is found murdered. Poirot is called in to solve the mystery.

Plot summary

Following the funeral of Richard Abernethie, his family assemble at Enderby Hall for the reading of the will by his lawyer, Mr Entwhistle. His wealth is to be divided up between his surviving family: his brother Timothy Abernethie and his wife Maud; his sister Cora Lansquenet; his nephew George Crossfield; his first niece Rosamund Shane, and her husband Michael; his second niece Susan Banks, and her husband Gregory; and Helen Abernethie, the wife of his brother Leo before his death during the war. Although Richard died of natural causes and his death was expected, Cora makes a chance remark that he was murdered. The day after the funeral, she is found dead, having been violently murdered in her sleep. No motive is obvious in Inspector Morton's investigations - while Cora's life income reverts to the Abernethie estate, her property goes to Susan, while her companion Miss Gilchrist receives a number of her paintings she made. However, doubts soon arise about Richard's death in the wake of her murder. Seeking help, Entwhistle contacts his friend, Hercule Poirot, to resolve the matter. Poirot contacts his old friend Mr Goby to investigate the family.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Each family member had their own reason for wanting Richard's wealth, and thus become a suspect in the murder. On the day of the inquest, Susan visits Cora's home to clean up her possession for auction. She learns from Gilchrist that her aunt always painted from life, and that she collected paintings from local sales in the hopes of finding a valuable piece. The day after Cora's funeral, art critic Alexander Guthrie arrives to look through Cora's recent purchases as previously scheduled, but finds nothing of value there. That evening, Gilchrist is poisoned with a slice of arsenic-laced wedding cake sent in the post; she survives, mainly from eating a small portion. Gathering to select items from Richard's estate before its sale, the family are joined by Poirot and Gilchrist. During discussions, Helen comments about believing there was something odd on the day of the funeral, Gilchrist makes a remark about one of the decorations in Enderby, while Susan recalls finding a painting in Cora's possession, which she believed had been copied from a picture postcard and not painted from life, Cora's usual style.

Arsenic Chemical element with atomic number 33

Arsenic is a chemical element with symbol As and atomic number 33. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in combination with sulfur and metals, but also as a pure elemental crystal. Arsenic is a metalloid. It has various allotropes, but only the gray form, which has a metallic appearance, is important to industry.

Early the next morning, Helen telephones Entwhistle to inform him what she had realised was odd during Richard's funeral, but is struck savagely on the head before she can say more. Helen suffers concussion, and is taken away for her safety. As Morton prepares to ask each family member about their movements on the day of Cora's murder, Poirot startles everyone by revealing to them that her murderer was Miss Gilchrist. She had recognised a Vermeer amongst Cora's recent purchases that her employer had not, and knew it was her chance to rebuild her beloved tea shop that she lost in the war. She painted over the Vermeer painting with a scene of a pier from a postcard, unaware it had been destroyed in the war. Afterwards, she put a sedative in her employer's tea so she would be asleep, while Gilchrist posed as her at the funeral. None of the family had seen Cora for more than two decades, which made her deception easier. After leaving suggestions that Richard had been murdered, Gilchrist killed Cora the following day so that police would believe it was connected to Richard's death. To divert suspicion from herself, Gilchrist faked the attempt on her life.

Johannes Vermeer 17th-century Dutch painter

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Gilchrist had to copy Cora's mannerism, but failed to realise one of these was wrong when she rehearsed it in front of a mirror. Helen was attacked because she eventually realised this. Furthermore, Poirot knew she had posed as Cora because she made a reference to a piece of decoration, which could only have been seen within Enderby Hall on the day of Richard's funeral. The Vermeer was hidden by Gilchrist so that Guthrie did not find it during his scheduled visit. Her claim that Cora painted the pier scene from life was countered by Susan finding a pre-war postcard of the pier in the cottage, along with Entwhistle recollecting that he smelt oil when he visited Cora's home after her murder when he contacted Poirot for help. Morton then reveals that two nuns visited Cora's cottage on the day of the funeral, who believed someone was inside. Once accused, Gilchrist breaks down into a flood of complaints about the hardships of her life, but quietly goes with the police. During legal proceedings before her trial, she eventually becomes insane, planning one tea shop after another, though Poirot and Entwhistle have no doubt she was in full possession of her faculties during her crime.

Characters

Themes

Unlike in Taken at the Flood , in which there is a strong sense of post-war English society re-forming along the lines of the "status quo ante", After the Funeral is deeply pessimistic about the social impact of war. A pier on a postcard has been bombed and not yet rebuilt, which fact is pivotal to the plot. Richard Abernethie is devastated that his only son died abruptly from polio, an epidemic of that time. The son was fit, healthy, about to marry, and then gone. Richard sees no other single heir worthy of succeeding to his estate entire. The Abernethie drive and talent for business are found in his niece Susan, but he cannot consider her as sole heir because she is female. Rather, he reacts to her by being disappointed in her husband. Not finding any one person to take over his fortune and business, he divides the money among family members who seem likely to waste it on gambling and theatrical ventures.

One person he valued was his sister-in-law, now widowed by the war. She had a child in a war time affair. She never told Richard of the child, aware of his Victorian views, telling others she has a nephew she helps. She is grateful for his kindness in including her in his will, as she can now raise her son on faraway Cyprus with a proper education. The child is loved, but his mother feels he cannot be accepted in post war England. The last name chosen for Cora's husband, the much disliked painter with some claim to being French, is Lansquenet. It is unusual as a last name, as mentioned in the story. The word is the name of a card game, but mainly it is the term for a German mercenary, a foot soldier with a lance, from the 15th and 16th centuries. [3]

Food rationing in England came to an end in the year of publication, but its effect is still felt in the egg shortages that are mentioned in the novel. Throughout, there is a strong sense of the hardships of the post-war period, including the conniving Miss Gilchrist's heartache at losing her cherished teashop due to food shortages, and being forced into a life of dependence, in which she is regarded as little more than a servant. There are also comments on the increased burden of taxation associated with Clement Attlee's government.

Literary significance and reception

Robert Barnard said of this novel that it had "A subject of perennial appeal – unhappy families: lots of scattered siblings, lots of Victorian money (made from corn plasters). Be sure you are investigating the right murder, and watch for mirrors (always interesting in Christie). Contains Christie's last major butler: the 'fifties and 'sixties were not good times for butlers." [4]

References or Allusions

References to other works

In chapter 12, Poirot mentions the case handled in Lord Edgware Dies as being one in which he was "nearly defeated".

In Chapter 13, Poirot's valet is referred to in the narrative as Georges. His actual name is George, but Poirot always addresses him directly as Georges. This is the first (and only?) time that he is referred to by the French version in narration.

References to actual history, geography and current science

This is the first of the Poirot novels in which lesbianism (between a woman and her companion) is discussed as a possible motive.[ citation needed ] The references are veiled and euphemistic: Inspector Morton calls it "feverish feminine friendship" in chapter 13.

Adaptations

Film

In 1963, a film adaptation entitled Murder at the Gallop was released by MGM. However, this version replaced Poirot with the character of Miss Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford.

Television

On 26 March 2006, an adaptation of the novel was broadcast on ITV with David Suchet as Poirot in the series Agatha Christie's Poirot . The cast included Michael Fassbender as George, Geraldine James as Helen Abernethie, Lucy Punch as Susan, Robert Bathurst as Gilbert Entwhistle, Anna Calder-Marshall as Maude, Fiona Glascott as Rosamund, and Monica Dolan as Miss Gilchrist.

There were some changes made for the adaptation:

Radio

BBC Radio 4 adapted After the Funeral for radio, featuring John Moffatt as Poirot with Frank Thornton as Mr. Entwistle.

Publication history

Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US) After the Funeral First Edition Cover 1953.jpg
Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)

The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in forty-seven parts from Tuesday, 20 January to Saturday, 14 March 1953. In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in seven abridged instalments from 21 March (Volume 93, Number 2438) to 2 May 1953 (Volume 93, Number 2444) with illustrations by William Little. [5]

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References

  1. 1 2 Marcus, J S (May 2007). "American Tribute to Agatha Christie: The Golden Years: 1953 - 1967" . Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  2. 1 2 Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie; Foord, Peter; Williams, Richard (March 1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (Second ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 15. ISBN   978-1871122138.
  3. Genealogy of the surname "Lansquenet"
  4. Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 190. ISBN   0-00-637474-3.
  5. Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.