Lately I've started reading the novels of Agatha Christie. Before this year, I'd read only a couple of them and wasn't really a fan. But after reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a masterpiece of its type, I was hooked. Since then, I've been working my way through her books, concentrating on her earlier efforts.
I know almost nothing about Agatha Christie's personal life, but from her writings I suspect she had a genuine interest in spiritualism. I say this because the subject often crops up in her books, and because she seems familiar with spiritualist language and concepts, and even with some famous cases in the field. I'm not saying she was a convinced spiritualist, only that she seems to have more than a passing interest in the subject. And unlike Arthur Conan Doyle, who – despite his passionate commitment to spiritualism – never allowed his most famous fictional creation to opine on séances and skeptics, Christie did allow her famed Hercule Poirot to sound off on the topic. Here's an excerpt from the 1937 novel Poirot Loses a Client, also published as Dumb Witness.
Poirot and his sidekick, Hastings, have just concluded an interview with the eccentric Tripp sisters, who hold regular séances. The discussion centered on the deceased Emily Arundell, who sometimes attended the sittings. Hastings, a stolid but unimaginative fellow along the lines of Holmes’ Watson, remarks to Poirot:
“And it certainly looks as though Emily Arundell was much too sensible to believe in any tomfoolery like spiritualism.”
“What makes you say that spiritualism is tomfoolery, Hastings?”
I stared at him in astonishment.
“My dear Poirot – those appalling women –”
“I quite agree with your estimate of the Misses Tripp. But the mere fact that the Misses Tripp have adopted with enthusiasm Christian Science, vegetarianism, theosophy and spiritualism does not really constitute a damning indictment of those subjects! Because a foolish woman will tell you a lot of nonsense about a fake scarab which she has bought from a rascally dealer, that does not necessarily bring discredit on the general subject of Egyptology!”
“Do you mean you believe in spiritualism, Poirot?”
“I have an open mind on the subject. I have never studied any of its manifestations myself, but it must be accepted that many men of science and learning have pronounced themselves satisfied that there are phenomena which cannot be accounted for by – shall we say the credulity of a Miss Tripp.”
“Then you believe in this rigmarole of an aureole of light surrounding Miss Arundell’s head?”
Poirot waved a hand.
“I was speaking generally – rebuking your attitude of quite unreasoning skepticism. I may say that, having formed a certain opinion of Miss Tripp and her sister, I should examine very carefully any fact they presented for my notice. Foolish women, mon ami, are foolish women, whether they are talking about spiritualism or politics or the relation of the sexes or the tenets of the Buddhist faith."
In his rejection of “quite unreasoning skepticism,” his “open mind,” and his acknowledgment of the opinions of “many men of science and learning" who’d investigated the phenomena at first hand, Poirot appears to be on our side! This only makes me like Dame Agatha that much more.