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His character was based on two other fictional detectives of the time: Marie Belloc Lowndes' Hercule Popeau and Frank Howel Evans' Monsieur Poiret, a retired French police officer living in London. A more obvious influence on the early Poirot stories is that of Arthur Conan Doyle. In An Autobiography Christie admits that "I was still writing in the Sherlock Holmes tradition – eccentric detective, stooge assistant, with a Lestrade-type Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Japp." Poirot also bears a striking resemblance to A. E. W. Mason's fictional detective – Inspector Hanaud of the French Sûreté-who, first appearing in the 1910 novel "At the Villa Rose," predates the writing of the first Poirot novel by six years. In chapter 4 of the second Inspector Hanaud novel, "The House of the Arrow" (1924), Hanaud declares sanctimoniously to the heroine, "You are wise, Mademoiselle… For, after all, I am Hanaud. There is only one."
Poirot's being a Belgian, unlike the above-mentioned models, is clearly the result of the first book being written in 1916 (though only published in 1920). Not only did his coming from a country occupied by Germany provide a very good reason why such a skilled detective would be out of work and available to solve mysteries at an English country house, but also at the time of writing it was considered patriotic to express sympathy with the Belgians – since the invasion of their country had constituted Britain's casus belli for entering World War I.
His first published appearance was in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (published 1920) and his last was in Curtain (published 1975, the year before Christie died). On publication of this novel, Poirot was the only fictional character to be given an obituary in The New York Times ; August 6, 1975 "Hercule Poirot is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective".
Appearance and personal attributesEdit
Here is how Captain Arthur Hastings first describes Poirot:
- "He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandified little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police."
In the later books, the limp is not mentioned. Poirot has dark hair, which he dyes later in life (though many of his screen incarnations are portrayed as bald or balding), and green eyes that are repeatedly described as shining "like a cat's" when he is struck by a clever idea. Frequent mention is made of his patent-leather shoes, damage to which is frequently a subject of (for the reader, comical) misery on his part. Poirot's appearance, regarded as fastidious during his early career, is hopelessly out of fashion later in his career.
- "The plane dropped slightly. "Mon estomac," thought Hercule Poirot, and closed his eyes determinedly."
Among Poirot's most significant personal attributes is the sensitivity of this stomach. He suffers from sea sickness, and in Death in the Clouds believes that his air sickness prevents him from being more alert at the time of the murder. Later in his life, we are told:
- "Always a man who had taken his stomach seriously, he was reaping his reward in old age. Eating was not only a physical pleasure, it was also an intellectual research."
Poirot is extremely punctual and carries a turnip pocket watch almost to the end of his career.
In The Mysterious Affair at Styles , Poirot operates as a fairly conventional, clue-based detective, depending on logic, which is represented in his vocabulary by two common phrases: his use of "the little grey cells" and "order and method". Irritating to Hastings (and, sometimes, to the reader) is the fact that Poirot will sometimes conceal from him important details of his plans, as in The Big Four where Hastings is kept in the dark throughout the climax. This aspect of Poirot is less evident in the later novels, partly because there is rarely a narrator so there is no one for Poirot to mislead.
As early as Murder on the Links , where he still largely depends on clues, Poirot mocks a rival detective who focuses on the traditional trail of clues that had been established in detective fiction by the example of Sherlock Holmes: footprints, fingerprints and cigar ash. From this point on he establishes himself as a psychological detective who proceeds not by a painstaking examination of the crime scene, but by enquiring either into the nature of the victim or the murderer. Central to his behaviour in the later novels is the underlying assumption that particular crimes are only committed by particular types of person.
Poirot's methods focus on getting people to talk. Early in the novels, he frequently casts himself in the role of "Papa Poirot", a benign confessor, especially to young women. Later he lies freely in order gain the confidences of other characters, either inventing his own reason for being interested in the case or a family excuse for pursuing a line of questioning.
- "To this day Harold is not quite sure what made him suddenly pour out the whole story to a little man to whom he had only spoken a few minutes before."
Poirot is also willing to appear more foreign or vain than he really is in an effort to make people underestimate him. He admits as much:
- "It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say – a foreigner – he can't even speak English properly. […] Also I boast! An Englishman he says often, "A fellow who thinks as much of himself as that cannot be worth much. […] And so, you see, I put people off their guard."
In the later novels Christie often uses the word mountebank when Poirot is being assessed by other characters, showing that he has successfully passed himself off as a charlatan or fraud.
All these techniques help Poirot attain his principal target: "For in the long run, either through a lie, or through truth, people were bound to give themselves away …"
Recurring characters Edit
Hastings first meets Poirot during his years as a private detective in Europe and almost immediately after they both arrive in England, becomes his life-long partner and appears in many of the novels and stories. Poirot regarded Hastings as a poor private detective, not particularly intelligent, yet helpful in his way of being fooled by the criminal and for his tendency to unknowingly "stumble" onto the truth.
It must also be said that Hastings was a man who was capable of great bravery and courage when the road got rough, facing death unflinchingly when confronted by The Big Four and possessing unwavering loyalty towards Poirot. When forced to choose between Poirot and his wife in that novel, he chose Poirot.
The two were an airtight team until Hastings met and married Dulcie Duveen, a beautiful music hall performer half his age, which was not objectionable in the late Victorian, Edwardian world. They later emigrated to Argentina leaving Poirot behind as a "very unhappy old man." Poirot and Hastings are at last reunited in Curtain: Poirot's Last Case. They are also reunited in The ABC Murders when Hastings arrives in England for business.
The frequently recurring detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is Agatha Christie's humorous self-caricature. Like Agatha Christie, she isn't overly fond of the detective she is most famous for creating – in Ariadne's case a Finn Sven Hjerson. We never learn about her husband but we know that she hates alcohol and public appearances and has a great fondness for apples until she is put off them by the events of the Hallowe’en party. She also has a habit of constantly changing her hairstyle and in every appearance by her much is made of the clothes and hats she wears. She has a maid called Milly who prevents the public adoration from becoming too much of a burden on her employer, but does nothing to prevent her aggravating employer from becoming too much of a burden on others.
She has authored over fifty six novels and she has a great dislike of people taking and modifying her story characters. She is also the only one in Poirot's universe to have noted that "It’s not natural for five or six people to be on the spot when B is murdered and all have a motive for killing B." She first met Poirot when they put their Cards on the Table and has been bothering him ever since.
Poirot's secretary, Miss Lemon, has few human weaknesses. The only two mistakes she is ever recorded making are a typing error during the events of Hickory Dickory Dock and the mis-mailing of an electric bill. Poirot described her as being "Unbelievably ugly and incredibly efficient. Anything that she mentioned as worth consideration usually was worth consideration." She is an expert on nearly everything and plans to create the perfect filing system. She also once worked for the government agent-turned-philanthropist, Parker Pyne. Whether this was during one of Poirot’s numerous retirements or before she entered his employment is unknown.
Japp is an Inspector from Scotland Yard and appears in many of the stories, trying to solve the cases Poirot is working on. Japp is an outgoing, loud and sometimes inconsiderate man by nature and his relationship with the bourgeois Belgian is one of the stranger aspects of Poirot’s world. He first met Poirot in Belgium, 1904, during the Abercrombie Forgery and later that year joined forces again to hunt down a criminal known as Baron Altara. They also meet in England where Poirot often helps Japp solve a case and lets him take the credit in return for special favours. These favours usually entail being supplied with cases that would interest him.
Georges (we are never told his last name) is a classic English valet and first entered Poirot’s employ in 1923 and didn’t leave his side until the 1970s, shortly before Poirot’s death. A competent, matter-of-fact man with an extensive knowledge of the English aristocracy and absolutely no imagination, Georges provides a steady contrast to Hastings.
Hercule Poirot's life Edit
Family and childhood Edit
- "I suppose you know pretty well everything there is to know about Poirot's family by this time".
It is difficult to draw any concrete conclusions about Poirot's family due to the fact that Poirot often supplies false or misleading information about himself or his background in order to assist him in obtaining information relevant to a particular case. In chapter 21 of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd , for example, we learn that he has been talking about a mentally disabled nephew: this proves to be a ruse so that he can find out about homes for the mentally unfit … but that does not mean that Poirot does not have such a nephew. In Dumb Witness, he regales us with stories of his elderly invalid mother as a pretence to investigate the local nurses. In The Big Four Hastings believes that he meets Achille Poirot who (in an apparent parody of Mycroft Holmes) is evidently his smarter brother. On this occasion, Achille is almost certainly Poirot himself in disguise (Poirot speaks in Chapter 18 of having sent Achille "back to the land of myths"), but this does not conclusively demonstrate that Poirot does not have a brother, or even a brother called Achille. Any evidence regarding Poirot for which Poirot himself is the source is therefore most unreliable. Achille Poirot is also mentioned by Dr. Burton in the prelude to The Labours of Hercules. Poirot was apparently born in Spa, Belgium and, based on the conjecture that he was thirty at the time of his retirement from the Belgian police force at the time of the outbreak of the First World War, it is suggested that he was born in the mid 1880s. This is all extremely vague, as Poirot is thought to be an old man in his dotage even in the early Poirot novels, and in An Autobiography Christie admitted that she already imagined him to be an old man in 1920. (At the time, of course, she had no idea she would be going on writing Poirot books for many decades to come.) Much of the suggested dating for Poirot's age is therefore post-rationalisation on the part of those attempting to make sense of his extraordinarily long career.
Poirot is a Roman Catholic by birth, and retains a strong sense of Catholic morality later in life. Not much is known of Poirot’s childhood other than he once claimed in Three Act Tragedy to have been from a large family with little wealth. In Taken at the Flood , he further claimed to have been raised and educated by nuns, raising the possibility that he (and any siblings) were orphaned.
Poirot’s police yearsEdit
- "Gustave […] was not a policeman. I have dealt with policemen all my life and I know. He could pass as a detective to an outsider but not to a man who was a policeman himself." — Hercule Poirot in "The Erymanthian Boar" (1940).
As an adult, Poirot joined the Belgian police force. Very little mention is made in Christie's work about this part of his life, but in "The Nemean Lion" (1939) Poirot himself refers to a Belgian case of his in which "a wealthy soap manufacturer […] poisoned his wife in order to be free to marry his secretary". We do not know whether this case resulted in a successful prosecution or not; moreover, Poirot is not above lying in order to produce a particular effect in the person to whom he is speaking, so this evidence is not reliable.
Inspector Japp gives some insight into Poirot's career with the Belgian police when introducing him to a colleague:
- "You've heard me speak of Mr Poirot? It was in 1904 he and I worked together – the Abercrombie forgery case – you remember he was run down in Brussels. Ah, those were the days Moosier. Then, do you remember "Baron" Altara? There was a pretty rogue for you! He eluded the clutches of half the police in Europe. But we nailed him in Antwerp – thanks to Mr. Poirot here."
Perhaps this is enough evidence to suggest that Poirot's police career was a successful one.
In the short story The Chocolate Box (1923) Poirot provides Captain Arthur Hastings with an account of what he considers to be his only failure. Poirot admits that he has failed to solve a crime "innumerable" times:
- "I have been called in too late. Very often another, working towards the same goal, has arrived there first. Twice I have been struck down with illness just as I was on the point of success."
Nevertheless, he regards the case in "The Chocolate Box", which took place in 1893, as his only actual failure of detection. Again, Poirot is not reliable as a narrator of his personal history and there is no evidence that Christie sketched it out in any depth.
It was also in this period that Poirot shot a man who was firing from a roof onto the public below.
Poirot has retired from the Belgian police force by the time that he meets Hastings in 1916 on the case retold in The Mysterious Affair at Styles .
It should be noted that Poirot is a French-speaking Belgian, i.e. a Walloon; but there can hardly be found any occasion where he refers to himself as such, or is so referred to by others. At the time of writing, at least of the earlier books where the character was defined, non-Belgians such as Agatha Christie were far less aware than nowadays of the deep linguistic divide in Belgian society.
Career as a private detective Edit
- "I had called in at my friend Poirot's rooms to find him sadly overworked. So much had he become the rage that every rich woman who had mislaid a bracelet or lost a pet kitten rushed to secure the services of the great Hercule Poirot."
During World War I, Poirot left Belgium for Britain as a refugee. It was here, on 16 July 1916, that he again met his lifelong friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, and solved the first of his cases to be published: The Mysterious Affair at Styles . After that case Poirot apparently came to the attention of the British secret service, and undertook cases for the British government, including foiling the attempted abduction of the Prime Minister.
After the war Poirot became a free agent and began undertaking civilian cases. He moved into what became both his home and work address, 56B Whitehaven Mansions, Sandhurst Square, London W1. It was chosen by Poirot for its symmetry. His first case was "The Affair at the Victory Ball", which saw Poirot enter the high society and begin his career as a private detective.
Between the world wars, Poirot traveled all over Europe and the Middle East investigating crimes and murders. Most of his cases happened during this period and he was at the height of his powers at this point in his life. Murder on the Links saw the Belgian pit his grey cells against a French murderer. In the Middle East he solved Murder on the Orient Express (though the bulk of the story takes places in the territory of the former Yugoslavia), the Death on the Nile , and the Murder in Mesopotamia with ease and even survived Appointment with Death . However he did not travel to the Americas or Australia, probably due to his sea sickness.
- "It is this villainous sea that troubles me! The mal de mer – it is horrible suffering!"
It was during this time he met the Countess Vera Rossakoff, a glamorous jewel thief. The history of the Countess is, like Poirot's, steeped in mystery. She claims to have been a member of the Russian aristocracy before the Russian Revolution and suffered greatly as a result, but how much of that story is true is an open question. Even Poirot acknowledges that Rossakoff has told several wildly varying accounts of her early life. Poirot later became smitten with the woman and allowed her to escape justice.
- "It is the misfortune of small, precise men always to hanker after large and flamboyant women. Poirot had never been able to rid himself of the fatal fascination that the Countess held for him."
Although letting the Countess escape may be morally questionable, that impulse to take the law into his own hands was far from unique. In "The Nemean Lion", he sided with the criminal, Miss Amy Carnaby, and saved her from having to face justice by blackmailing his client Sir Joseph Hoggins, who himself was plotting murder and was unwise enough to let Poirot discover this. Poirot even sent Miss Carnaby two hundred pounds as a final payoff before her dog kidnapping campaign came to an end. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd he allowed the murderer to escape justice through suicide and then ensured the truth was never known to spare the feelings of the murderer's relatives. In "The Augean Stables" he helped the government to cover up vast corruption, even though it might be considered more honest to let the truth come out.
After his cases in the Middle East, Poirot returned to Britain. Apart from some of the so-called "Labours of Hercules" (see next section) he very rarely traveled abroad during his later career.
- "That’s the way of it. Just a case or two, just one case more – the Prima Donna’s farewell performance won’t be in it with yours, Poirot."
There is a great deal of confusion about Poirot's retirement. Most of the cases covered by Poirot's private detective agency take place before his retirement to grow marrows, at which time he solves The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It has been said that twelve cases related in The Labours of Hercules (1947) must refer to a different retirement, but the fact that Poirot specifically says that he intends to grow marrows indicates that these stories also take place before Roger Ackroyd, and presumably Poirot closed his agency once he had completed them. There is specific mention in "The Capture of Cerberus" to the fact that there has been a gap of twenty years between Poirot's previous meeting with Countess Rossakoff and this one. If the Labours precede the events in Roger Ackroyd, then the Roger Ackroyd case must have taken place around twenty years later than it was published, and so must any of the cases that refer to it. One alternative would be that having failed to grow marrows once, Poirot is determined to have another go, but this is specifically denied by Poirot himself. Another alternative would be to suggest that the Preface to the Labours takes place at one date but that the labours are completed over a matter of twenty years. None of the explanations is especially attractive.
In terms of a rudimentary chronology, Poirot speaks of retiring to grow marrows in Chapter 18 of The Big Four (1927), which places that novel out of published order before Roger Ackroyd. He declines to solve a case for the Home Secretary because he is retired in Chapter One of Peril at End House (1932). He is certainly retired at the time of Three Act Tragedy (1935) but he does not enjoy his retirement and comes repeatedly out of it thereafter when his curiosity is engaged. Nevertheless, he continues to employ his secretary, Miss Lemon, at the time of the cases retold in Hickory Dickory Dock and Dead Man's Folly , which take place in the mid-1950s. It is therefore better to assume that Christie provided no authoritative chronology for Poirot's retirement, but assumed that he could either be an active detective, a consulting detective or a retired detective as the needs of the immediate case required.
One thing that is consistent about Poirot's retirement is that his fame declines during it, so that in the later novels he is often disappointed when characters (especially younger characters) do not recognise either him or his name:
- "I should, perhaps, Madame, tell you a little more about myself. I am Hercule Poirot."
- The revelation left Mrs Summerhayes unmoved.
- "What a lovely name," she said kindly. "Greek, isn't it?"
Post World WarEdit
- "He, I knew, was not likely to be far from his headquarters. The time when cases had drawn him from one end of England to the other was past."
Poirot is less active during the cases that take place at the end of his career. Beginning with Three Act Tragedy (1934), Christie had perfected during the inter-war years a sub-genre of Poirot novel in which the detective himself spent much of the first third of the novel on the periphery of events. In novels such as Taken at the Flood , After the Funeral and Hickory Dickory Dock he is even less in evidence, frequently passing the duties of main interviewing detective to a subsidiary character. In Cat Among the Pigeons Poirot's entrance is so late as to be almost an afterthought. Whether this was a reflection of his age or of the fact that Christie was by now heartily sick of him it is difficult to assess. There is certainly a case for saying that Crooked House (1949) and Ordeal by Innocence (1957), which are not Poirot novels at all but so easily could have been, represent a logical endpoint of the general diminution of Poirot himself within the Poirot sequence.
Towards the end of his career it becomes clear that Poirot's retirement is no longer a convenient fiction. He assumes a genuinely inactive lifestyle during which he concerns himself with studying famous unsolved cases of the past and reading detective novels. He even writes a book about mystery fiction in which he deals sternly with Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins. In the absence of a more appropriate puzzle, he solves such inconsequential domestic problems as the presence of three pieces of orange peel in his umbrella stand.
Poirot (and, it is reasonable to suppose, his creator) becomes increasingly bemused by the vulgarism of the up and coming generation's young people. In Hickory Dickory Dock , he investigates the strange goings on in a student hostel, while in the Third Girl he is forced into contact with the smart set of Chelsea youths. In the growing drug and pop culture of the sixties, he proves himself once again, but has become heavily reliant on other investigators (especially the private investigator, Mr. Goby) who provide him with the clues that he can no longer gather for himself.
- "You're too old. Nobody told me you were so old. I really don't want to be rude but – there it is. You're too old. I'm really very sorry."
Poirot dies from inevitable complications of a heart condition at the end of Curtain: Poirot's Last Case . By this point in his life he is wearing a wig and false moustache, and also seems to be afflicted by arthritis.
In the book the Curtain: Poirot's Last Case Hastings finds a manuscript written by Poirot, within the confines of the script is a confession that Poirot has committed murder.
He also states that since he has become something that he has always opposed and fought, he neglects to take his heart medication, which subsequently causes his death.
With Norton unconscious, Poirot, whose incapacity had been faked (a trick for which he needed a temporary valet who did not know how healthy he was) moved the body back to Norton’s room in his wheelchair. Then, he disguised himself as Norton by removing his own wig, putting on Norton’s dressing-gown and ruffling up his grey hair. Poirot was the only short suspect at the house. With it established that Norton was alive after he left Poirot’s room, Poirot shot him – with perfect and unnecessary symmetry – in the centre of his forehead. He locked the room with a duplicate key that Hastings knew Poirot to possess; both Hastings and the reader would have assumed that the duplicate key was to Poirot's own room, but Poirot had changed rooms before Norton's arrival, and it was to this previous room that he had the key.
Poirot’s last actions were to write the confession and await his death, which he accelerated by moving amyl nitrite phials out of his own reach. His last wish is implicitly that Hastings will marry Elizabeth Cole: a final instance of the inveterate matchmaking that has characterised his entire career.
The Poirot books take readers through the whole of his life in England, from the first book (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), where he is a refugee staying at Styles, to the last Poirot book (Curtain), where he visits Styles once again before his death. In between, Poirot solves cases outside England as well, including his most famous case, Murder on the Orient Express (1934).
Hercule Poirot became famous with the publication, in 1926, of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, whose surprising solution proved controversial. The novel is still among the most famous of all detective novels: Edmund Wilson alludes to it in the title of his well-known attack on detective fiction, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Aside from Roger Ackroyd, the most critically-acclaimed Poirot novels appeared from 1932 to 1942, including such acknowledged classics as Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders (1935), Cards on the Table (1936), and Death on the Nile (1937). The last of these, a tale of multiple homicide upon a Nile steamer, was judged by the celebrated detective novelist John Dickson Carr to be among the ten greatest mystery novels of all time.
The 1942 novel Five Little Pigs (aka Murder in Retrospect), in which Poirot investigates a murder committed sixteen years before by analyzing various accounts of the tragedy, is a Rashomon-like performance that critic and mystery novelist Robert Barnard called the best of the Christie novels.
Austin Trevor debuted the role of Poirot on film in the 1931 movie Alibi. The film was based on the stage play Alibi which had been adapted by Michael Morton from the novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Trevor reprised the role of Poirot twice, in Black Coffee and Lord Edgware Dies. Trevor said once that he was probably cast as Poirot simply because he could do a French accent.
Albert Finney played Poirot in 1974 in the cinematic version of Murder on the Orient Express. His portrayal was considered by many to be the definitive Poirot until David Suchet took up the role. It was a very faithful adaptation of the novel and was, at the time, the most successful British film ever made. It received the stamp of approval from Agatha Christie herself. Finney is, so far, the only actor to receive an Academy Award nomination for playing Poirot, though he did not win.
Christie was less sanguine about Ustinov's portrayal, given that Poirot, written as short, slim, and with coal-black hair, bore little resemblance to the tall, heavy, grey-haired Ustinov. When Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks, observed to Ustinov that Poirot did not look like him, Ustinov quipped "He does now!"
He appeared again as Poirot in three made-for-television movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Dead Man's Folly (1986), and Murder in Three Acts (1986). The first of these was based on Lord Edgware Dies and was made by Warner Brothers. It also starred Faye Dunaway and David Suchet as Inspector Japp, just before he himself played the famous detective. (Ironically, it is reputed that David Suchet highlights his performance as Japp to be "possibly the worst performance of [his] career.")
- Tony Randall, The Alphabet Murders (1965) (Film, also known as The ABC Murders). This was more a satire on Poirot than a straightforward adaptation, and was greatly changed from the original. It turned the sharp and observant detective into a blundering buffoon who solves the case almost by accident.
David Suchet has starred in many Hercule Poirot films and four new ones – Cards on the Table, The Mystery of the Blue Train, After the Funeral and Taken At The Flood – were shown in the UK in March/April 2006. For more information about the ongoing UK television series starring David Suchet, see Agatha Christie's Poirot.
In 2004, NHK (a Japanese TV network) produced a 39 episode anime series titled Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, as well as a manga series under the same title released in 2005.
The series, adapting several of the best-known Poirot and Marple stories, ran from July 4, 2004 through May 15, 2005, and is now being shown as re-runs on NHK and other networks in Japan. Poirot was voiced by Satomi Kōtarō and Miss Marple was voiced by Yachigusa Kaoru.
There have been a number of radio adaptations of the Poirot stories, most recently on BBC Radio 4 (and regularly repeated on BBC 7) starring John Moffatt.