Littérature | Philosophie | Langues
Florian Angéloz, 2002 | Corminboeuf, FR
She was the Queen of Crime. She remains the best-selling novelist of all-time and has been translated in more languages than any other author. This literary maturity thesis proposes that more than Christie’s plots, it is actually her writing style which influences psychologically readers and keeps them from the solution to her riddles that may explain her incomparable success. Her style results in a game that she has rigged against her readers and the latter play and lose at that game to their greatest delight.
This thesis aims to look at how a crime novel written by Agatha Christie can be conceived as a full-fledged game with its own rules and conventions. I will examine the implications that such a view of whodunits has for the reader who becomes an active participant in the game. I wish to show how Christie assumes the role of a game-maker and how she adapts her writing to make it theoretically possible for the reader to find the murderer, while concealing them. The narrator in Christie’s whodunits is central as that unreliable character creates a game of double-dupe at which readers cannot possibly win because they are rhetorically, psychologically, and linguistically manipulated.
By examining the fundamental ploys of detective fiction, manipulation and persuasion, I read closely three of the most famous Hercule Poirot novels: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Each of these books showcases from a different angle how Christie uses her manipulative, twisted, and unreliable writing style to lead on the reader. I propose to gauge the trustworthiness of the clues offered to readers to determine how Christie provides the path to the solution before ascertaining where the unreliability thwarts the narration.
In a whodunit, narrative structures are needed to create a recognizable game pattern that dictates the way in which the threads of mystery are woven. It is indeed expected of whodunits to contain gaps in the narrative that the readers fill with incorrect background information. In addition to clever plotting, more narratological features enable Christie to skew the game in her favour. She narrows focalisation to cut out crucial events and plays with the suggestiveness inherent to story-telling from the biased perspective of what one character sees. She also may bury important clues or inversely dramatize plot-irrelevant scenes to propose red herrings. She also seeds confusion with conflicting perspectives or plays with trusted Watson-type characters. Nevertheless, unreliable as they might be, narrators cannot never be lying. This is the sole rule that Christie never dared to break.
Counter-intuitive as it may first appear, readers experience most satisfaction when they lose at the game and do not manage to find the correct solution. To win would indeed be to lose, as to solve the case before the detective would only show how disappointing the plot is. The reader, however, must not feel cheated and must be convinced that they could also have come to the same conclusion, had they merely paid better attention. The solution must, in retrospect, appear logical and obvious and the explanation of how the detective has solved the crime must be believable. Ultimately, the reader must feel like they nearly succeeded so that they might purchase the next Hercule Poirot novel in order to get another chance to outsmart the detective. That is why it might be argued that Christie’s enduring success is linked with the reader being unable to solve her mysteries.
Because the readers are always being fooled, they can never actually manage to win at the game in which the cards are stacked against them even before they play. There exist two ways of keeping on playing this wicked game of whodunits. Either we keep reading, or we immerse ourselves in the narrative from the other side. We can indeed write whodunits in order to ensure to finally win. The Red Curse, the fiction that follows the critical discussion of Christie’s novels, is the actual conclusion to this Maturity thesis. By applying the manipulative techniques I highlight and analyse, I seek to act as the puzzle-solving game master of the whodunit by proposing a game in which every word counts and contributes to the unravelling of the solution.
Appréciation de l’expert
Le travail de Florian Angéloz présente une analyse narratologique novatrice qui met en exergue le style joueur et trompeur d’Agatha Christie. L’originalité de ce travail consiste à révéler le roman policier comme un jeu qui se joue à trois entre la romancière, le détective et le lecteur, ce dernier cherchant à gagner mais se délectant dans une défaite qui constitue le plaisir de la lecture. Cette analyse est enfin renversée par une oeuvre de fiction originale du candidat, qui se prend à son propre jeu/je et démontre l’effet de double dupe produit par l’écriture de Christie et par le lecteur.
Collège de Gambach, Fribourg
Enseignante: Jeanne Favarger