University Scholar Exploration Series – Agatha Christie

Each semester, University Scholars engage in small-group discussion seminars called “Exploration Series.” During fall 2015, Scholar Bridget O’Connell ’16 led a seminar on Agatha Christie novels for her Undergraduate Teacher Scholars capstone. Scholar Kat Williams ’16, who is pursuing a Master of Public Service and Administration, reflects on her love of the class’s leading detective.

By Kat Williams

When I signed up for the Agatha Christie seminar, I wasn’t aware that I was going to fall in love. I especially wasn’t aware that the object of this love would be a short, rotund, mustachioed, and delightfully fussy Belgian. The most prominent character in Christie’s vast canon of mystery fiction, Hercule Poirot, is a brilliant, eccentric detective with a great deal of confidence in the ability of his little grey cells. In our seminar class, we read two novels (The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) and watched two films (the 1978 and 2004 versions of Death on the Nile) which feature Poirot.

The responses to the detective after the novels were mixed; some found him interesting and brilliant, while others thought him to be arrogant and overbearing. After we watched both versions of Death on the Nile, the feedback remained essentially the same: Poirot was interesting, but his profile would definitely be a left swipe. To me, however, the 2004 version of the film, starring David Suchet, presented a Poirot that had more depth of character and nuance of emotion than the Poirot of the novels we had read. While most of the class was ambivalent towards or openly ready to leave Hercule Poirot behind, I wanted to know more about this egotistical yet lonely little man. To my delight, I was informed that there is a British series that has an episode or TV movie (with Suchet as Poirot) that depicts every one of Christie’s short stories or novels which feature Poirot, on Netflix, no less!

The Agatha Christie class celebrated with a 1920s-themed potluck. From left: Kat Williams, Chloe Dixon, Alex Payne, Trace Dressen, Bridget O’Connell.
The Agatha Christie class celebrated with a 1920s-themed potluck. From left: Kat Williams, Chloe Dixon, Alex Payne, Trace Dressen, Bridget O’Connell.

Initially, I figured that I would only watch a few of the episodes or movies. Who has time for fancy old mysteries featuring a prissy detective and his pals when there are so many comedies, dramas, and Netflix Original Series out there? Apparently, I did. About a week after the end of the seminar, I realized that I was already two seasons into Agatha Christie’s Poirot. I tried to explain to my roommates and friends why I was always watching “that random British show with all the people in fancy suits,” but they didn’t seem to have the same level of interest in literary adaptations that I did. The drama in terms of sex scenes and drugs and what not is mostly lacking from Poirot, but the complexity of the mysteries and the ingenious ways they are solved were often more interesting than even the most disturbing episode of SVU. I found myself often having to Google the summaries of the plots just to make sure I understood them correctly. In three weeks, I had gone through all twelve seasons of episodes and TV movies, and was just a little attached to Poirot.

Interestingly, Christie was reported to have found the character of Poirot tiresomely fastidious and despicably arrogant towards the later years of her career, which seem to mirror how some members of the seminar class had perceived him. Even through three weeks of binge-watching Poirot, I still found myself rooting for him. The little Belgian detective is irritating and obsessive, but also wise and often compassionate. Thus, I am grateful to have been exposed to the subunit of Christie fiction through this seminar, and especially glad to have met Mr. Hercule Poirot. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I was just informed that the final season of Agatha Christie’s Poirot is now on Netflix.

1920s-themed dishes included finger sandwiches, fruit salad, deviled eggs, and pineapple upside-down cake.
1920s-themed dishes included finger sandwiches, fruit salad, deviled eggs, and pineapple upside-down cake.

Applications for University Scholars open January 22. For more information on University Scholars and how to apply, please see: http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.

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