A Queer Approach to Agatha Christie, 1920-1952
Bernthal, James Carl
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Publication plans for the research contained within the thesis
This thesis provides the first extensive queer reading of a ‘Golden Age’ British detective fiction writer. The aim of this thesis is to assess queer potential in texts published by Agatha Christie between 1920 and 1952. Human identity can be read as self-consciously constructed in Christie’s novels, which were written in a context of two world wars, advances in technology and communication, and what Michel Foucault called the ‘medicalization’ of Western culture. The self-conscious stereotyping in Christie’s prose undermines her texts’ conservative appeal to the status quo. Chapter One justifies this project’s critique of identity essentialism in the texts by considering the manufacturing of ‘Agatha Christie’ as a widely-read celebrity author. Reading Christie’s authorial identity as something established and refined through a market-driven response to readers’ expectations and a conscious engagement with earlier forms of detective fiction provides space for reading identity itself as a stylized, performative, and sometimes parodic theme within the texts. In subsequent chapters, employing theoretical insights from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, and Lee Edelman, I explore Christie’s participation in contemporary debates surrounding masculinity, femininity, and the importance of the family in shaping individual identity. Finally, I consider Christie’s reputation in the twenty-first century by exploring nostalgic television adaptations of her work. Comparing the presentation of ‘queer’ characters in the literary texts to the adaptations’ use of explicit homosexual themes and characters, I conclude that there is a stronger potential for ‘queering’ identity in the former. As the first full queer reading of a ‘Golden Age’ detective novelist, this thesis expands queer notions of archive and canonicity: few scholars to date have considered mainstream literary texts without overt LGBTQ+ themes or characters from a queer perspective. Given Christie’s global reach and appeal, locating queerness in her texts means understanding queerness as fundamental to everyday culture. This means engaging with a subversive potential in twentieth century middlebrow conservatism.
Bernthal, J. C. ‘“Every Healthy Englishman Longed to Kick Him”: Masculinity and Nationalism in Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table.’ Clues: A Journal of Detection, 32.2 (2014). 101-114.
Bernthal, J. C. ‘“If Not Yourself, Who Would You Be?” Writing the Female Body in Agatha Christie’s Second World War Detective Fiction.’ Women: A Cultural Review, 26.1-2 (2015). 40-56.
Plock, Vike Martina
PhD in English