23 August 2011

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass: Belgium: Hercule Poirot

How could I pass up the opportunity to talk about that most famous detective, the fastidious Belgian with the egg-shaped head?

According to Wikipedia he appeared in 33 novels and 51 short stories published between 1920 and 1975 and set in the same era

There are a number of sites devoted to Hercule Poirot.

Some time ago I discovered a Chronology of Hercule Poirot.
Here is just the beginning (which I've modified a bit)
  • 1864 Hercule Poirot and his twin brother Achille are born
  • 1864 The Holmes Family on their second continental tour visit the Poirots
  • Circa 1893 Poirot Joins either the French or Belgian Secret Service
  • Mid Dec 1987 Sherlock Holmes meets Poirot who is posing as the Chef of a French Diplomat.
  • 1904 Hercule Poirot joins the Belgian Police and immediately becomes involved in the Abercrombie Case with Inspector Japp.
  • 1909 "The Chocolate Box" ( in early version of this adventure Poirot makes reference to a younger sister Yvette, Poirot also refers to this case as taking place in 1893)
  • 1914 Poirot has completed his mission in the Belgian police and is "due to retire" when Germany invades neutral Belgium. Poirot joins the resistance and is at one point saved by a French General.
  • 1916 Poirot leaves Belgium and becomes a refugee in England.
Hercule Poirot makes his first appearance in a novel in 1920 in THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES.
This account of the Styles Case is penned by Captain Hastings, a war hero invalided home from the Front. He is invited down to Styles Court by his friend John Cavendish to spend some of his convalescent leave. In the village Hastings runs across his old friend Hercules Poirot, an elderly Belgian, once one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police, but now a refugee assisted by John Cavendish's mother Mrs Inglethorpe. While Hastings is staying at Styles, Mrs Inglethorpe dies in suspicious circumstances, in a seemingly locked room. Through Hastings Poirot becomes involved in the case, and the "little grey cells" are put to work in England for the very first time.

Wikipedia has a list of novels and short stories in which Hercule Poirot makes an appearance. And of course the official Agatha Christie site does too.
They point out that
Poirot would be the first to call himself a great man - he has never been known for his modesty - but with such success in his career he is quite justified in his opinion! He finishes each case with a dramatic dénouement, satisfying his own ego and confirming to all, that he is truly “the greatest mind in Europe.” His love of elegance, beauty, and precision, as well as his eccentric mannerisms are often ridiculed by the local bumbling policemen, but it is always Poirot who has the last word!

One of the issues that exercises "my little grey cells" from time to time is Poirot's age. In most of the novels and short stories he is described as "old". He is due to retire in 1914 at about the age of 50, so by 1975, when he makes his last appearance, he is as old as Methusaleh. His age allows him to take an interest in young women in particular, because we can't believe the interest is romantic or sexual.

Just recently I read EVIL UNDER THE SUN.  It was published in 1941, so according to the chronology HP would be 75.

Several of the holiday makers recognise Hercule Poirot. (who wouldn't?)
    resplendent in a white duck suit, with a panama hat tilted over his eyes, his moustaches magnificently befurled, lay back in an improved type of deck-chair and surveyed the bathing beach.
and go as far as to ask if he is there on "business". He replies:
    let me assure you, Madame, that I am here simply in the same way that you are here yourselves—to enjoy myself—to spend the holiday. I do not think of crime even.

Some even privately express a belief (a murderer amongst them) that if a crime does occur Poirot is probably "past it".
    He’s Hercule Poirot. You must have heard of him.’ Mr Blatt said: ‘Didn’t catch his name properly. Oh yes, I’ve heard of him. But I thought he was dead. Dash it, he ought to be dead. What’s he after down here?’ 
    ...... 
    ‘He’s pretty old. Probably more or less ga ga.’

You might like to look at this post.
Just how old was Hercule Poirot?
There are some more great images of him in it.

You might also enjoy a vignette I wrote some time back about a train journey from Dover to London where I sat next to Poirot and was lucky enough to be able to interview him.

Check up on what others participating in Crime Fiction on a EuroPass have highlighted this week.

6 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - So glad you highlighted Poirot! He's an enduring character for so many reasons, and is one of the really unique sleuths out there. I've always wondered about his age, too....

I think one of the things I like best about Poirot is that he is happy to be exactly what he is and makes no apologies for it. He wears his individuality proudly. And if he's sometimes conceited and has other faults, well, who among us doesn't?

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

A lovely and comprehensive post, Kerrie.

CHE said...

Fantastic post Kerrie. Poirot is, hands down my favorite detective of all time and his charm never fades.

John said...

Mrs. McGinty's Dead features Poirot in one of his more humorously drawn portraits. Also, one of Christie'sbest books, I think. Poirot really is my favorite of all of her detectives. But that bit about Achille... Well, maybe I shouldn't say anything just in case someone hasn't read THE BIG FOUR.

(My contribution is on Amsterdam from an American's perspective not a Dutch one. I finally posted it today & since I'm on my Mac laptop Mr. Linky works! I added the link on the proper page.)

John said...

One more thing -- that line "I thought he was dead" is a inside joke Christie added. Just prior to the publication of EVIL UNDER THE SUN she had just finished writing CURTAIN and stowed it away for posthumous publication. So there is an element of truth to that line.

Bill Selnes said...

Kerrie: I am glad you provided us with information on Poirot. To me his age is David Suchet's age in the T.V. stories. Suchet has become fixed as my visual image of Poirot.

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