Programming note: Tomorrow, Sunday, I'll be hosting another audio edition of Steyn's Song of the Week on Serenade Radio in the UK at 5.30pm British Summer Time (that's 12.30pm North American Eastern/9.30am Pacific). You can listen from anywhere on the planet by clicking the button in the top right-hand corner here.
Meanwhile, we continue our latest Tale for Our Time: Agatha Christie's first published novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Nicola Timmerman, a Mark Steyn Club member from francophone Ontario, says:
I was wondering why the small detective was called Hercule, but I see that Agatha Christie made fun of the name in her short story collection The Labours of Hercules:
"Thinking of an imaginary conversation. Your mother and the late Mrs Holmes, sitting sewing little garments or knitting: 'Achille, Hercule, Sherlock, Mycroft...'"
Poirot failed to share his friend's amusement.
"What I understand you to mean is, that in physical appearance I do not resemble a Hercules?"
Dr Burton's eyes swept over Hercule Poirot, over his small neat person attired in striped trousers, correct black jacket and natty bow tie, swept up from his patent leather shoes to his egg-shaped head and the immense moustache that adorned his upper lip.
"Frankly, Poirot," said Dr. Burton, "you don't!"
That's part of the genius of Agatha Christie - creating a very particular character, down to the patent leather shoes, and then making him stick for the next half-century.
In tonight's episode of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, there is an aside that answers, I think, those who accuse Dame Agatha of "racist stereotypes". The author's characters convey the attitudes of the age, and they are rather more varied and complex than permitted now:
"It will be the talk of the village! My mother was only buried on Saturday, and here you are gadding about with the fellow."
"Oh," she shrugged her shoulders, "if it is only village gossip that you mind!"
"But it isn't. I've had enough of the fellow hanging about. He's a Polish Jew, anyway."
"A tinge of Jewish blood is not a bad thing. It leavens the"—she looked at him—"stolid stupidity of the ordinary Englishman."
Fire in her eyes, ice in her voice. I did not wonder that the blood rose to John's face in a crimson tide.
If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club you can hear my reading of Part Fourteen of our serialization of The Mysterious Affair at Styles simply by clicking here and logging-in. All previous episodes can be found here - so you can choose whether to listen each night twenty minutes before you lower your lamp, or save them up for a weekend binge-listen.
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