|Jonathan Morgan||Christie, Agatha: Curtain|
|Assignment 1: Bibliographic Description|
|1. First Edition Publication Information||Agatha Christie. Curtain. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1975.
Agatha Christie Limited, 1975
Parallel First Edition:
Curtain: Poirot's last case. London: HarperCollins, 1975.
|2. First Edition in Cloth, Paper, or Both?||The first American edition is published in trade cloth binding.|
|4. Pagination||126 leaves, pp. 1-238|
|5. Edited and/or Introduced?||This book is not edited nor introduced. There does exist
an advertisement by the publisher for other Agatha Christie
|6. Illustrated?||The novel is not illustrated.|
|8. General Appearance||The novel uses serif style type. Chapters headings are not
numbered but written out (not "1" but "ONE") and found
4.5" from the top of the page. Roman Numberals are used to
differentiate between Sections within a single chapter.
There is comfortable amount of text per page and the typestyle
is clear and easy to read.
95R. Book size: 8.5" by 5.75"; Page size: 8.25" by 5.5";
Text size: 6" by 3.75"
|10. Description of Paper||The paper is consistent throughout the entire text and has been
inked on top (green now, but perhaps blue originally). The pages
themselves show little to no wear, save a slight yellowing.
The edges remain clean and sharp, while the interior of each
piece of paper remains completely intact with its binding and
shows no sign of tearing.
|11. Description of Binding||The front and back covers are blue and brownish and the
novel has blue and yellow stitching. The endpapers are the
same brown as the cover, but slightly darker and with more
texture. The spine is blue embossed linen grain binding.
The spine has the author's name, the title and the
publisher's name, all stamped in gold.
Spine Transcription: Agatha Christie|CURTAIN|DODD,|MEAD
Transcription of Front/Back Covers: none.
|12. Title Page Transcription||Transcription of Title Page: CURTAIN|Agatha Christie|
Dodd, MEAD & COMPANY ∑ NEW YORK
Title page verso transcription:
Copyright©Agatha Christie Limited, 1975
|15. Other||This particular copy is inscribed with the name Salley W.
Sauls on the front end paper. There does not exist any other writing withing the
The verso of the title page describes this novels Library
of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data.
|Assignment 2: Publication History|
|1. Other Editions:||It seems as though Dodd, Mead, & Company did not publish
other editions save book club editions also from 1975. The
formats of these editions are as follows:
-377p.; with illustrations; 22cm.
|4. First Edition printings or impressions?||According to Publisher's Weekly, Curtain's first printing
was of 100,000, and a second one of 50,000. By
December 29, 1975, Curtain had 225,000 copies in print.
|5. Editions from other publishers?||New York, N.Y.: Berkley Books, 2000; 215p.; 18cm.
London : HarperCollins, 1993 1975; 219p.; 18cm.
New York : Literary Express, 1998; 184p.; 22cm.
London : Collins, 1980; 221p.; 20cm.
New York : Putnam's, 1995; 230p.; 22cm.
Scarborough, Ont. : Omniprose, 1978; 439p.; 21cm.
New York : HarperPaperbacks, 1993 & 1975; 231p.; 18cm.
Boston, Mass. : G.K. Hall, 1992 & 1975; 310 p.; 25cm.
New York : Pocket Books, 1976 1975; 280p.; 18cm.
Taiwan: Imperial Bools & Records, 1975; 238p.; 22cm.
London : Fontana, 1977 1975; 188p.; 18cm.
Don Mills, Ont.: Fontana, 1976 1975; 188p.; 18cm.
Garden City : International Collectors Library, 1975; 377p.; 22cm.
Toronto ;New York : Bantam, 1984 1975; 184p.; 22cm.
London : Fontana, 1983 1975 [paperback edition]; 188p.; 18cm.
Leicester, England : Ulverscroft, 1976 1975; 325p.; 22cm.
and Large Print Edition, same years; 324.; 23cm.
London : Collins, 1975; 221p.; 22cm.
|6. Last date in print?||As of 1995, the novel was still in print.
|7. Total copies sold?||According to Publisher's weekly: Curtain was third in sales
in 1975 and was originally sold for $7.95. As of
October 13, 1975, it was the top fiction seller at
Dayton-Hudson chain. By November, it was the #1 fiction
seller at Doubleday as well. 12,000 copies were sold the
week of October 20 alone and as of December of that same
year (1975), Curtain was selling at rate of 12,500 copies
|8. Sales by year?||Although research did not reveal an exact amount as to the
sales figures for Curtain, according to the figures above
as found in Publisher's Weekly, Curtain, during an average
week, for example, did over $99,000.
|9. Advertising copy:||Research into Publisher's Weekly revealed that at least one
advertisement and one article on the selling and purchasing
of rights to the paper back do exist in the March and
February editions of PW in 1975. (Will update.)
|11. Other promotion?||N/A|
|12. Performances in other media?||While many Christie stories have been represented in several
mediums (television, film, and theatre),according to
http://christie.MysteryNet.com/, no such adaptations have
have been done for Curtain.
|13. Translations?||According to WorldCat, no translations have been done of
Curtain but many translations exist for other Christie
|14. Serialization?||N/A (Publsher's Weekly)|
|15. Sequels or Prequels?||Curtain represents the culmination of a series of novels
relating the adventures of one Hercule Poirot. Listed below
are the titles and publication dates of Christie's other
Poirot novels to which Curtain is the final episode/chapter.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
Murder on the Links (1923)
Poirot Investigates (1924)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
The Big Four (1927)
The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)
Peril at End House (1932)
Lord Edgeware Dies (1933)
Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
The Listerdale Mystery (1934)
Three Act Tragedy (1935)
Death in the Clouds (1935)
The A.B.C. Murders (1935)
Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)
Cards on the Table (1936)
Dumb Witness (1937)
Death on the Nile (1937)
Murder in the Mews (1937)
Appointment with Death (1938)
Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1938)
Sad Cypress (1940)
One Two Buckle My Shoe (1940)
Evil Under the Sun (1941)
Five Little PIgs (1943)
The Hollow (1946)
The Labours of Hercules (1947)
Taken At The Flood (1948)
Mrs. McGinty's Dead (1952)
After The Funeral (1953)
Hickory, Dickory, Dock (1955)
Dead Man's Folly (1956)
Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (1960)
The Clocks (1963)
Third Girl (1966)
Hallowe'en Party (1969)
Elephants Can Remember (1972)
Poirot's Early Cases
|Assignment 3: Brief Biography|
|For a general biographical sketch of Agatha Christie, please see Sarah Jackson's entry
on "Sleeping Murder."
Agatha Christie wrote "Curtain" (and "Sleeping Murder") during World War II
at the time when London itself was undergoing heavy bombing, known as the London
Blitz. Christie was quoted as saying that she wrote "in anticipation of my being
killed in the raids, which seemed to be in the highest degree likely as I was working
in London" (Anne Hart). was This is a fitting time, it seems, to write of Hercule Poirot's final case,
and subsequent death in "Curtain." According to Beth Simon, Christie had grown tired
of Poirot, and left his death vague intentionally, so as to be able to kill him off at any
time, in terms of publication dates, that is. Hence, Christie makes no reference to the
war years in "Curtain" in order to make it publication ready in any year.
The rights to "Curtain" (written first) were given as a gift to Christie's daughter,
Rosalind. "I (Christie) thought it a useful way of benefiting my relations ... I gave one to my husband
and one to my daughter - definitely made over to them, by deed of gift. So when I am no more they can bring
them out and have a jaunt on the proceeds - I hope!" The manuscripts themselves were heavily
insured and vaulted in a bank for safe keeping. Christie, by 1975, was no longer able to
continue writing novels as she had done so brilliantly in the past. Thus, her publishers
pleaded with her to release one of the titles she had completed in the fourties ("Curtain"
or "Sleeping Murder"). Christie agreed reluctantly, only after publishers stipulated that
Poirot's death would be her only means of insuring no future author could later attempt
to continue on with Poirot's character after her death.
While the reality of World War II was only too much of a daily environment for
Christie during the writing of "Curtain," it does not seem as though it significantly influenced her mindset
in the production of the novel. However, as a marker in the career of a novelist, "Curtain"
is quite representative of Christie's brilliance and foresight. In the 1940's, she wrote a 1975
bestseller (two in fact). Dennis Sanders and Len Lovallo stipulate that had Christie's career ended
with those London Bombings, her fame would most certainly have been less than it was (or is). Economically,
this novel was fantastic for her career, the American paperback rights alone sold for one million dollars.
Regardless of when it was written, or during what circumstances, "Curtain" and "Sleeping Murder" iced Christie
as the mystery guru of the twentieth century, creating for her following an overlap from the pre-war generation
to the post-war ones.
Regarding Poirot's death, incidentally, several newspaper obituaries surfaced
throughout the world. The most famous of these was in the New York Times, August 6, 1975.
Please forgive the inaccuracies as this is verbatum.
Hercule Poirot Is Dead: Famed Belgian Detective
Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who became internationally famous,
has died in England. His age was unknown.
Mr. Poirot achieved fame as a private investigator after he retired as a
member of the Belgian police force in 1904. His career, as chronicled in the
novels of Dame Agatha Christie, was one of the most illustrious in fiction.
At the end of his life, he was arthritic and had a bad heart. He was in a
wheelchair often, and was carried from his bedroom to the public lounge at
Styles Court, a nursing home in Essex, wearing a wig and false moustaches to
maske the sign of age that offended his vainity. In his active days, he was
always impeccably dressed.
The news of his death, given by Dame Agatha, was not unexpected. Word
that he was near death reacher here last May.
Dame Agatha reports in "Curtain" that he managed, in one final gesture, to
perform on emore act of cerebration that saved an innocent bystander from
disaster. "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it," to quote
Shakespeare, whom Poirot frequently misquoted.
|The literary critics of the mid 1970's found "Curtain," for the most part, lacking. While hugely successful
monetarily, they seemed to find its merit as a piece of literare to be less than stellar. Josh Rubins
put its thus: the Curtain is "not well written or well told by any standards, and [yet] it will be
read and reread ..." The novel broke rules and people fear this ... critics fear change. Edward Rothstein did not
allow herself to be mystified by "Curtain" but rather, he saw it as less a revolutionary and more a fraud. He
found Poirot's deception to be a violation of the rules of the mystery world, the methodology of the murderer to be
unsubstantiatedly unbelievable, and the motives "irrational and hence inaccessible to the reader." Critics like
John Heidenry agreed. "As usual, the plotting and clue-dropping is so perposterous as to defeat utterly the normal
genius of the human mind. As for motive I should think that Dame Agatha, like many of her colleagues, often cheated
her readers - as here- by trespassing into the realm of science fiction. And I must finally complain the method by which
the murder is committed ... is just abou the most far-fetched in the annals of crime."
Still some believed "Curtain" to be as literarily valuable as it was for Christie's pocket. Peter Prescott wrote,
in 1975, that "'Curtain' is one of Christie's most ingenious stories, a tour de force in which the lady who had bent
all the rules of the genre before bends them yet again. ... [The] credibility of the design, not the people, is what
distinguishes the best of Christie's stories" and none would argue as to the fantastic design of the final Hercule
Poirot case. Moreover, what some felt were weaknesses in Christie's stories, actually represented her strengths for others.
"Let us not neglect the ingenuity of her plots and the high literary merit of her writing. To be sure she has had
detractors on both counts ... It has been siad the solutions of crimes in her stories are unfairly devious, her style
tends to be flat, her characters one-dimensional. Yet such criticisms do and injustice to the meticulous honesty of Christie's
clues and the robust concise quality of her prose" (Ulam, 1976).
It seems that John Heidenry may have said it best (although, in his opinion this was a negative account) in a somewhat dubious
statement: "In 'Curtain' Dame Agatha has written an almost exclusively mathematical skeleton of a novel; and those who
wish to see just how pure their deductive capabilities are will find opportunity here. Any other aspect of this book or
judgment thereupon it would be an inconsequence to dwell upon or pronounce."
Heidenry, John. "Commonweal." February 13, 1976.
Prescott, Peter. "The Last Act" in Newsweek. October 6, 1975.
Rothstein, Edward. Commentary from "The American Jewish Committee." June 1976
Rubins, Josh. "Whodunit?," Harvard Magazine. October, 1975.
Ulam, Adam. "The Issue is Murder." The New Republic. July 31, 1976.
|It is difficult to assess a subsequent reaction to "Curtain" due to its odd existence for thirty some odd years before
publication on the 70's. Since the purpose of this novel was purely to tie loose ends and to substantiate a Christie
"nest-egg" its life after initial printing remains fairly inconsequential. To Christe fans, it remains a symbolic closure
to Poirot and the years of support readers have provide for and received from him. For critics, "Curtain" can only mean
to them haste and unimportance as anything but a salvific and long-sought removal of Poirot from their reading lives.
|Agatha Christieís "Curtain" commanded the nationís attention as
a best-seller in the mid 1970ís, however, the novelís success
almost certainly had more to do with its authorís reputation and
past accomplishment than with the quality of this most recent
story. We learn from such a success story, that conditions
beyond a workís literary value contribute significantly to its
reception and longevity in or out of the limelight. "Curtain"
hardly addresses significant moral or social issues, but rather
avoids them altogether. It certainly does not develop characters
nor does it dissect a personality or chart mind. However, it did
rest atop the bestsellerís list for many weeks, and, like many
of Christieís other novels, remains in print well beyond its
release. As Russell H. Fitzgibbon points out, "What other
authors, in any genre, could present a sustained productive
career of more than half a century?" (ix).
"Curtain" is about dying, but dying on many different levels.
Within the text, during the writing, and the time of its release
each contribute to this novelís sense of finality. The novel
boasts "Poirotís last case" and was written during the Second
World War. Similarly, its release represented nest-egg and gift
that Christie hoped to provide for her family (perhaps in death).
In essence, the events surrounding the composition and
publication of "Curtain" explain much about its popularity, and
more so, perhaps, than does its quality as a mystery novel.
First, an enormous amount of mystery surrounds a novel that
has been locked away for decades only later to be released
for unknown reasons. Readers could find themselves enticed
by the novels potential representation of an authorís final
testament, as a work written by an individual surrounded by
the destruction of World War II. Again those readers might find
themselves enthralled by the idea of a novel written in the
forties yet released in the seventies: does this suggest
timelessness or greatness? And finally, as the last novel in a
series of Poirot stories, "Curtain" represents the culmination
of a history which many had followed from the detectives
beginning. These circumstances embody a publishing fantasy
world: a combination of free press, rumors, and loyal patronage
all surrounding the single publication of a novel by an already
intensely accomplished author.
One of the more important aspects of "Curtain" is its role as
the closing escapade of one Hercule Poirot. People want closure,
and "Curtain" provided this. Christie herself had grown tired
of the character by the time she wrote of his death, but in the
beginning she adored him, her writing reflected it, and so did
the readersí love him. His character, however, did not embody
and individual to be emulated or imitated: he was not Sherlock
Holmes nor did Christie aspire him to be. However, this does
not explain this novels life-span as a part of a lengthy literary
history. Closure, by definition, is very finite.
"Curtainís" existence as a product of World War II resulted in
an intriguing insight into the workings of a best-seller. In
fact, a serious aspect of this novelís success has to do with
its birthplace and time frame. Christie expected to die in the
London Raids, and her novel could have embodied her final
literary expression. The populace to whom she wrote found
themselves intrigued by the idea of a living, breathing,
fictional will of sorts. However, the novel did not reflect
the war itself nor the living conditions under which she lived
during that period. Instead, she allowed the death of Poirot
to embody her symbolic expression. He was, for all intensive
purposes, a human being. Certainly this persona helped to
solidify the "Curtainís" success, but his death did this even
more so. Celia Fremlin describes the success of Christie and
her character, in an account of Poirotís death: "Ö a sigh of
dismay all over the world - [Poirot] actually died. But he
triumphed in death with newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic
printing mock obituaries, a unique tribute to a fictional
detective and his creator" (120). This returns us to this
notion of death and rebirth. Written about death by an author
expecting death, "Curtain" catered to an audience that was
infatuated with the idea of the novel independent of its content.
However, it is inescapable that the success of Christie and her
novels is "closely intertwined" with the character, Poirot
We see then that this character represents yet another reason
for "Curtainís" fantastic success. Certainly, to receive such a
response, mandates an affection and a following for Poirot and
his escapades. As described by Gillian Gill, Poirotís character
draws in audiences. He is, save for a small amount of character
and a certain degree of individual oddity, "a principle of
detection in the novel which the reader seeks to emulate" (55).
It is not the character readerís seek to become here, but rather
that character does not assert himself. He allows others to join
him, including the reader. The decades during which "Curtain"
was most popular were notably dominated by what we can refer to
as "the ME" generation. Christie has managed to tap that
resource: to feed the selfish drive of a culture intent upon
self-servitude and self-dependence. The domination of a
Sherlock Holmes has no place in the lives of an individual
tired of being oppressed, disappointed, or passed up.
Christieís hero was the reader. No, better: Christieís hero
was not as tall, intelligent, handsome or anything as the
reader could imagine him or herself to be. And yet, Poirot
was adored for being meek and anti-assertive, yet painlessly
successful and humble at that.
The persona of Christie herself seemed to endear individuals to
her writing and to her lifestyle. Sticking with this notion of
death and dying, Christieís attitude towards her own potential
demise seems to be fitting here.
I cannot see why people are always so embarrassed
by having to discuss anything to do with death Ö
But really the question of death is so important
nowadays that one has to discuss it. As far as I
could make out from what lawyers and tax people
told me about death duties - very little of which
I ever understood - my demise was going to be an
unparalleled disaster for all my relations and their
only hope was to keep me alive for as long as possible!
Her humility and her seeming lack of understanding of her own
importance in othersí lives creates for readers and even
publishers an odd situation where one did not know entirely how
to act or proceed. Her humility was unbounded, and this
persona stuck readers and listeners as you would expect. On a
speech she had to give at a dinner party, Christie remembers
being unable to think of anything good to say. "I knew any
speech I made that night would be bad" (504), and yet she felt
it did her good, curbing what she described as vanity.
Christieís shy attitude and endearing softness was reflected in
her murder mysteries as well, with limited violence and
bloodshed. He novels were the most chivalrous and courteous
murders ever to be written. And in so doing, her stories
maintained their universal readability for any ages, as well
as maintain a degree of refinement and maturity that adults and
intellectuals could enjoy.
Reviews, on the other hand, seemed to vacillate between feelings
of appreciation and discontentment when dealing with "Curtain."
Some critics were delighted with the finale of the Poirot
mysteries, however, I speculate that such feelings of approval
were more of a tribute to the author as opposed to the work.
Julian Symons describes "Curtain" as one of Christieís "most
dazzling performances" (35). Still others said that "she not
only bridges national and generational gaps; she seems to
appeal equally to all classes and intelligence brackets"
(Barnard, 13). However, these reviews are certainly relative
to the conditions of individuals reading her novels. Christie
was certainly, and is still a middle class author writing for
the middle class. There were not gaps to bridge nor classes to
de-solidify. Barnard also depicts common criticisms of
Christieís work, referencing her stock characters performing
their usual, rudimentary actions in each scene (13). What we
see here is a reading culture searching for entertainment and
enlightenment at the same time, in the same place. Certainly
Shakespeare falls into such a category, combining brilliantly
the comedy, tragedy, and drama of life into an imitation.
However, individuals seeking such a lofty project do not turn
to Christie and herein lies the criticsí error. People read
Christie because she withheld information from them, stimulated
curiosity, provided them with clues, and dazzled them with the
character who pieced together the puzzle. Critics, as
representatives of a society searching for a single entity
containing lifeís truths, sought for what was not there,
answers, and missed what was there: the entertainment of a
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