Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction

By Malcolm J. Turnbull | Go to book overview

3
Three Golden Age Case-studies:
Christie, Sayers and Cox

As case studies of the nature and extent of Jewish caricature in Golden Age detective fiction, it is illuminating to examine representations and allusions to Jews in the writing of three of the leading contributors to the genre. The pre-eminence of the first two can hardly be disputed. Agatha Christie (1890-1976), creator of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and one of the most popular, and best-selling, authors of all time, produced 66 full‐ length mysteries over half a century; few would query H.R.F. Keating's description of her as "beyond doubt the First Lady of Crime." 1 Less prolific, but more widely admired for her skill as a writer, both in her time and now, Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1958) remains enduringly popular as the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey. My third choice, Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971), may be a more controversial one. Relatively unknown today, and reprinted only intermittently, Cox has been judged, nevertheless, one of the most significant and influential figures in the history of the Crime novel by such analysts as Julian Symons and LeRoy Panek. 2 As Anthony Berkeley, he created the entertainingly fallible sleuth Roger Sheringham who featured in a series of light-hearted full-length puzzles, most notably The Poisoned Chocolates Case, in the interwar years, while as Francis Iles, he pioneered the "inverted" crime novel with the classic Malice Aforethought and Before the Fact.

Most of the descriptions and passing references to Jews in Christie's interwar output can be cited as typical of Golden Age writing—although, true to form, she could, and did, confound reader expectations with more sensitive allusions at times. Sayers, similarly, occasionally balanced recurrent negative stereotyping with more thoughtful portrayals. The least guilty of

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