By Dewi Llyr Evans.
Freud’s theory of the unconscious and its implications for the conscious self is, if rarely explicit, absolutely implicit in Christie’s works. It is true that critics who, like Colin McNabb, look only for the rehearsal of ‘nothing but complexes' will come away disappointed. Robert Barnard sees St Mary Mead as ‘a hotbed of burglary, impersonation, adultery and untimely murder’, leading him to wonder: ‘What is it precisely that people find so cosy about such stories?' Ironically, Barnard, who so vehemently denies any intrusion of ‘psychology’ into Christie’s novels, draws our attention here to the very way in which the consequences of Freud’s theories are felt in these works. ‘Cosiness’ is, similarly, a luxury denied to the individual in the wake of the discovery of the unconscious, for the individual psyche can no longer be complacently certain of its own self-awareness. What is thought repressed often returns, uncontrolled, when unbidden.
. . . This disturbance of the conscious by the return of that which it represses has a social equivalent in Barnard’s list of the transgressions at work in the similarly complacent St Mary Mead, a village which, like Christie’s other murder-stricken communities, suffers from a return of a socially repressed. Far from being completely absent or unsophisticatedly presented, psychoanalysis informs Christie’s work in a way that allows for a far more radical view of these texts than has hitherto been posited. Like the conscious mind, Christie’s communities are sites of contested meaning, places where transgressive criminal acts signify the return of hitherto repressed impulses – a body in Colonel Bantry’s library, or the Vicar’s study, or a golf links; a murder on the prestigious Orient Express or a fashionable Nile cruise liner; a hidden secret at Styles, Chimneys, or the Seven Dials region. All are the result of a series of motives that had remained hidden. As in ‘The Tragedy at Marston Manor’, the detective, in the manner of Freud, works backwards from these apparently chance occurrences until an explanation is reached through the recollection of similarly repressed transgressions (‘burglary, impersonation, adultery and untimely murder’), ultimately leading to the rendering of these events as meaningful and effecting a ‘cure’.Evans concludes:
. . . Agatha Christie’s texts do not unproblematically equate ‘psychology’ with ‘folk wisdom’. It is true that her works almost invariably reassert ‘the values of the English property owning bourgeoisie’, but only on the most superficial levels. In Christie’s narrated world, the process of psychoanalytic interpretation is linked with narrative interpretation to reveal meaning as unfixed, arbitrary and a powerful tool.
Category: Detective fiction criticism (Freudian contingent)