Monday, October 1, 2018

Agatha Christie's Ariadne Oliver

Judy Penz Sheluk

I spent the better part of my teen and early-mid twenties reading everything Agatha Christie wrote (including the six books written under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. Recently, after the rather 2017 dismal remake of Murder on the Orient Express—sorry, Kevin Branagh, you are not a convincing Poirot (though perhaps no one can achieve David Suchet's spot-on interpretation of the Belgian detective)—I reread the book and was pleasantly surprised to find that it held up very well.

That got me thinking about Christie's alter-ego, Ariadne Oliver. A middle-aged woman and successful detective novelist, she's an apple-chomping woman described as "handsome in a rather untidy fashion, with fine eyes, substantial shoulders, and a large quantity of rebellious grey hair with which she was continuously experimenting," having written The Affair of the Second Goldfish and The Cat It Was Who Died.

While Christie always insisted that her characters were entirely fictional, she admitted that Mrs. Oliver had "a strong dash of herself." The character appeared in Cards on the Table, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Dead Man’s Folly, The Pale Horse, Third Girl, Hallowe’en Party and Elephants Can Remember.

So why would Murder on the Orient Express make me think of Ariadne Oliver? Well, consider these quotes of Ariadne's as she laments creating her Finnish detective, Sven Hjerson.

In Cards on the Table
“I only regret one thing — making my detective a Finn. I don’t really know anything about Finns and I’m always getting letters from Finland pointing out something impossible that he’s said or done. They seem to read detective stories a good deal in Finland. I suppose it’s the long winters with no daylight. In Bulgaria and Roumania they don’t seem to read at all. I’d have done better to have made him a Bulgar.”

This one makes me laugh: how many times, I wonder, did Christie hear that her Belgian Poirot wasn't "Belgian" enough.

In Mrs. McGinty's Dead

“I can’t help it,” said Mrs. Oliver obstinately. “He’s always been a vegetarian. He takes round a little machine for grating raw carrots and turnips.”

“But Ariadne, precious, why?”

“How do I know?” said Mrs. Oliver crossly. “How do I know why I ever thought of the revolting man? I must have been mad! Why a Finn when I know nothing about Finland? Why a vegetarian? Why all the idiotic mannerisms he’s got? These things just happen. You try something – and people seem to like it – and then you go on – and before you know where you are, you’ve got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life. And people even write and say how fond you must be of him. Fond of him? If I met that bony gangling vegetable eating Finn in real life, I’d do a better murder than any I’ve ever invented.”

Robin Upward gazed at her with reverence.

“You know, Ariadne, that might be rather a marvelous idea. A real Sven Hjerson – and you murder him. You might make a Swan Song book of it – to be published after your death.”

“No fear!” said Mrs. Oliver.

Shades of Poirot's vegetable marrow garden, and Curtain, his last case? I leave it for you to decide. But without question, this last quote from Dead Man's Folly is my absolute favorite

“If you know anything about writers, you’ll know that they can’t stand suggestions. People say ‘Splendid, but wouldn’t it be better if so and so did so and so?’ Or ‘wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea if the victim was A instead of B? Or the murderer turned out to be D instead of E?’ I mean, one wants to say: ‘All right then, write it yourself if you want it that way!’” create my very own Ariadne Oliver...not a bad idea, that.

Tell me, readers, do you have a favorite Agatha Christie quote, movie or book?

And now, for some Shameless Self Promotion: My latest Marketville mystery, Past & Present, is now available in trade paperback at all the usual suspects, including Barnes & Noble, and on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited


  1. I loved this Judy! I love Mrs. Oliver's cry of "No fear!"

  2. Thanks Shari, it was a blast to do the research!

  3. Oh thanks Judy. Some of the best Ariadne Oliver quotations rolled into one post. I'm sure Christie got a number of things off her chest when she had Mrs. Oliver express them for her.

  4. Always nice to meet a fellow Ariadne fan, Susan~