Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tuesday Night Bloggers: The Labours of Hercules


The Tuesday Night Bloggers is an international blogging club consisting of The Passing Tramp, Bev Hankins, Brad Friedman, Helen Szamuely, Jeffrey Marks Moira Redmond [that’s me, Clothes in Books] and Noah Stewart

We are named after an Agatha Christie collection, and our first project is to do a Christie-related post every Tuesday night for six weeks. These are the
links to last week’s entries -  Curt at Passing Tramp is masterminding this, and providing a clearing house for links to the pieces at his blog, here.

Last week I did a general Christie List of Highs and Lows. This week I have decided to look at one of her more obscure short stories:


The Arcadian Deer, from The Labours of Hercules


story first appeared in January 1940, collection first published 1947



Labours of Hercules



extract from story:

So he came at last to Katrina Samoushenka. When he saw her, lying there with hollow cheeks in each of which was a vivid red stain, and long thin emaciated hands stretched out on the coverlet, a memory stirred in him. He had not remembered her name, but he had seen her dance--had been carried away and fascinated by the supreme art that can make you forget art.
He remembered Michael Novgin, the Hunter, leaping and twirling in that outrageous and fantastic forest that the brain of Ambrose Vandel had conceived. And he remembered the lovely flying Hind, eternally pursued, eternally desirable--a golden beautiful creature with horns on her head and twinkling bronze feet. He remembered her final collapse, shot and wounded, and Michael Novgin standing bewildered, with the body of the slain Deer in his arms.

Katrina Samoushenka was looking at him with faint curiosity. She said: “I have never seen you before, have I ? What is it you want of me ?"

Hercule Poirot made her a little bow. "First, Madame, I wish to thank you -for your art which made for me once an evening of beauty."

She smiled faintly.

"But also I am here on a matter of business. I have been looking, Madame, for a long time for a certain maid of yours -- her name was Nita."

"Nita ?" She stared at him. Her eyes were large and startled. She said: "What do you know about -- Nita ?


commentary: During my recent Agatha Christie week on the blog I made the case for the best of her writing – the clever plots, the tricks she plays, the way (contrary to received opinion) she subverts cliches and stereotypes. This short story is not one of the exhibits for the defence, nor does it back up my other great joy in Christie, sociological interest. It is an outrageously corny romantic story, a complete fairytale, but I always love it.

I was reminded of it by a recent exchange with Margot Kinberg over at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist – she’d done a post on car mechanics in crime fiction, and so naturally I thought of Ted in this story. He is in love with the ballerina’s lady’s maid, but he can’t find her. Luckily, Poirot is on the case…. And that’s it really. It’s a short story, there is no real crime, and there is always hope that love will conquer all.

My good blogging friend Vicki/Skiourophile keeps track of consumption victims in the books she reads – I was so impressed by this that I decided to do the same this year, but have been sadly let down by my choice in reading. People have become ill, and sometimes died, in many different ways, but there has been very little consumption. But here’s one! Consider what Count Alexis Pavlovitch says about the ballerina:
"What fire -- what abandon! She would have gone far--she would have been the premier Ballerina of her day -- and then suddenly it all ends -- she creeps away -- to the end of the world -- and soon, ah! so soon, they forget her."
"Where is she then ?" demanded Poirot.
"In Switzerland. At Vagray les Alpes. It is there that they go, those who have the little dry cough and who grow thinner and thinner. She will die, yes, she will die! She has a fatalistic nature. She will surely die."

You will be glad to hear that nothing comes between our investigator and his case – the next line is:
Poirot coughed to break the tragic spell. He wanted information.
And people say Christie is soft-centred.

I cannot in all conscience recommend this story to everyone, even to other Christie fans. But it has a place in my stony heart…

And look at that picture. It’s from the State Library of New South Wales, was taken by Max Dupain, and shows Tamara Tchinarova in the 1930s. Tchinarova was born in 1919 and is still living - a ballerina whose career is well worth looking at on Wikipedia.

There are Christie entries everywhere on the blog - click on the label below to see them, and don’t forget to look at the other Tuesday Night Bloggers’ entries.

Different stories from the Labours of Hercules were covered in a previous entry.















20 comments:

  1. Yay! The lack of TB in my reading of late has been greatly disappointing.

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    1. I know how it is - you miss the gentle sound of coughing, the flushed hectic cheeks....

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  2. Thank you so much for the kind mention, Moira. And you're absolutely right that this one's a lovable story even if it doesn't have one of the plot twists for which Christie is so famous. It may not reflect her keen eye for her own society, but it tells a great story. So very glad you mentioned it.

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    1. And thank you Margot for reminding me of it - I do have a soft spot for the romance in it.

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  3. I know what you mean, Moira. There is a lack of subtlety to EVERY story in that collection . . . and yet, for some reason, I love it!

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    1. Perfect summing up, Brad, that's exactly how I feel.

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    2. In agreement with you both on this collection. It is really a comfortable book rather than a thrilling one. Sometimes, that's exactly what you need.

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    3. Yes, you're so right - you're not going to be challenged or mystified by this collection - but you can still enjoy it...

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  4. Remember this story well and David Suchet in the televised version, enjoyed both.

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    1. Yes - it must have been difficult to combine them into a TV film, but they did their best.

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  5. Replies
    1. We'll wake you when this run of cozies is over....

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    2. Thanks - later in winter would have been a better fit for me, as I have a natural inclination to hibernate during the colder months.

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    3. Now you're just encouraging me to go softcore for the long winter season!

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  6. I have a soft spot for this story and this collection. Yes, comfort reading. Fair bit of TB in Charlotte M Yonge, as I recall.

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    1. Yonge is someone I have never read, even though she is a local author to me. Must try her out. And will recommend to Vicki/Skiourophile....

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  7. Don't forget humble Ted looks like a Greek god. I first read that phrase in Agatha Christie, specifically in And Then There Were None, when she's writing about Anthony Marsden. There are certain descriptions Christie recurrently falls back upon. "Voice like a corncrake" is another one. That was another new one to me when I was a kid.

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    1. Yes - last week I was worrying about her 'eyes put in with a smutty finger', quite a regular description. I think she used words and phrases as competent building blocks, doing their job.
      I do occasionally realize, as you describe, that some phrase entered my life via Christie, and perhaps others (writers and readers) don't know/use it much...

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  8. I have read no short stories by Agatha Christie, which is not a surprise since I have avoided short stories for so long. I plan to remedy that soonish.

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    1. This would be a good place to start, because there is a link between the stories, it's a satisfying set, not a random collection.

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