Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

By Jerome H. Delamater; Ruth Prigozy | Go to book overview

11
“The Daughters of His Manhood”:
Christie and the Golden Age of
Detective Fiction

Mary Anne Ackershoek

My title comes from a World War I poem, “A Father of Women,” by the British poet Alice Meynell. It speaks of

The million living fathers of the War—
Mourning the crippled world, the bitter day—

Whose striplings are no more.

Come then,
Fathers of women with your honour in trust,
Approve, accept, know mem daughters of men,

Now that your sons are dust. (Meynell)

These lines express two cultural attitudes that are of central importance in understanding the phenomenally successful production of detective fiction by British women in the 1920s: First, the perception mat the world was crippled, that the Great War had irrevocably damaged, at least, that world of order and security England felt to be peculiarly its own.1 The “golden summer” of 1914 was irretrievable. Signs of societal change were everywhere; “the old order had passed away, the halcyon days of the privileged classes” (Mowat 201). The other perception expressed by Meynell—a perception commonly spoken of by women—is that the deaths of so many men in World War I had left a gap in the structure of society that could, and must, be filled by women, including women acting in what had previously been male roles. The war years were to some extent emancipatory: Many women had been employed in traditionally male factory jobs during the war, and many others, such as Agatha Christie, found hospital work (Graves and Hodge 45). The passage of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, giving women over age thirty the right to vote; the Sex Disqualification Act of 1919, which admitted women to many professions,

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