Revisiting Literary Characters: Hercule Poirot

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with the books of the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, you should not, I repeat, should not be unfamiliar with the famous Hercule Poirot. In the literary world, Poirot is by far Christie’s most inventive and sublime character ever. In her books, however, Poirot is a keen-eyed, private detective from Belgium who takes the word sleuth to a whole new level.

Poirot has been featured in over 35 novels and, dare I say it, has become a sort of national figure (through the relentless showings on ITV3). I would say that Poirot, although not technically alive, has fallen victim to the media. Although the TV adaptations are enthralling (kudos to David Suchet), he is predominantly presented as an upper middle class know-it-all, and it’s wrong. Hercule Poirot is much more than that.

Poirot’s life through literature, as it were, is pretty difficult to map. He is first introduced in The Mysterious Affair at Styles where he arrives in England as a refugee after the German Forces had invaded Belgium in the early years of the First World War. However, he refuses to fall into the class of those ‘in need’ and gallantly sets out to find a place in British society. Perhaps it’s his determined spirit and perseverance which has led to the public’s (and my) fascination with him. Even though he is not technically British, he encompasses everything British civilisation should stand for: blind and un-wavering justice.

Poirot seemingly takes on a stereotypical role in Christie’s crime novels but at the same time she hints at a deepness about him, which is as intriguing as it is completely mystifying.

He has the innocent politeness of a stranger shown through his broken English, as if his own accent is too hard to resist. However, I often wonder if this is purely an underhand tactic to allow people to want to divulge their biggest secrets; that would be handy for a detective, after all. It’s these small and simple clues that make us wonder: is Hercule Poirot all that he seems?

I will begrudgingly admit that Poirot takes on some controversial roles in the books of Agatha Christie. For example, he encompasses several of the seven deadly sins, a big part of Christian society during this period in time. His famous moustache, well-kept art-deco apartment in an up-market district of London and fanatic attention to detail hide and glorify a core of vanity and self-absorption. His obesity represents gluttony and idleness, two more deadly sins. It’s as if his compulsion to take on complexing cases and seek justice is to subtly make amends for all his wrong-doings. He saves countless lives in doing so in an attempt for redemption.

So you see, this strange, intuitive man, whom the public and I have taken such an interest in, is not all he appears. Lying beneath his perfect persona lives a normal human being with the same insecurities and imperfections as you and I. This is why this seemingly unrelateable man has struck a cord with millions of people worldwide; we all owe a debt of gratitude to Agatha Christie.

Words by Joe Lewin

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