Thoughts on Socialism, Class and Agatha Christie
Since I’ve been immersing myself in Agatha Christie’s earliest novels, I’ve also had to do a little research in the politics of the 1920s. It’s easy enough to slide over many of the references, but I kept wondering what people living at that time were thinking. Certainly there was a wide range!
Obviously, England had just fought a difficult war, the war that was to end all wars, and while it didn’t fulfill that promise, it did end quite a lot of other things. More scholarly folks than I can no doubt explain it better, but it seems to me that nationalism and imperialism figured largely, and on more than one level.
Imperialism is defined as “rule by an emperor” and “extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force.” The agreed-on kick-off for WWI was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and toward the end of the war, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was forced to abdicate before being assassinated himself. Not to mention what was happening in Ireland before, during and after the war. Imperialism was definitely under siege during this time.
Nationalism is defined as “advocacy of or support for the political independence of a particular nation or people.” War tends to bring a nation together – because they are united against another nation – but within nations, “particular people” were also uniting. Those who were not traditional members of the ruling classes were moved to advocate for themselves. It is no wonder socialism became both a promise and threat, depending on your class.
I think Christie’s books express sympathy to both points of view. Following the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian and Edwardian world of the gentry was certainly fading fast and there was a lot of grief and fear about who would care for the art, the architecture and the land. It takes a lot of money held in very few hands to maintain such a privileged lifestyle, and the rest of the hands, the ones not holding much money, were ready for a new way. Basic socialism, which puts the community in charge of production, no doubt seemed much more equitable than letting the lord of the manor keep all the control – and the money.
Of course no one system is perfect or immune to corruption, as Christie’s books show as well. Christie's thieves, blackmailers, and murderers are from all walks of life. In her stories, the code of the gentry is ruined by willfully-ignorant upstarts, poor-but-clever young people work their way to great success, and uneducated and untalented individuals reveal really admirable qualities.
There are academic papers written on what Christie's personal politics might have been. I’m still thinking about it – and reading more of her books.
Definitions from Oxford Languages