Procrastination post alert! I know that in response to some of my previous posts relating to the fashions appearing in the tv adaptations of Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot novels, there was doubt as to whether in fact fashion and clothing were really as important to Christie's original stories as the filmed versions (or my clothing-obsessed posts about them) made them out to be. After having read several of Christie's novels, I would like to state, as an entree into a few screencaps I was able to get from the trailer video for the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express airing, that in fact, clothing actually does figure fairly prominently in Christie's texts.
For one thing, fashion plays a key role in setting up characterization; as is the case in both fiction and life, the outer trappings of a person are often a poor basis of judging the inner qualities of a person, but, as Christie often reveals, details of appearance can sometimes reveal things even when people are not willing to verbally tell the truth.
I give you an example of the centrality of clothing in Agatha Christie's works from the fashion-obsessed description given of a couple riding on the train with Poirot in the novel, Murder on the Orient Express: "The woman opposite [Poirot] was a mere girl--twenty at a guess. A tight-fitting little black coat and skirt, a white satin blouse, small chic black toque perched at the fashionable outrageous angle. She had a beautiful foreign-looking face, dead white skin, large brown eyes, jet black hair. She was smoking a cigarette in a long holder. Her manicured hands had deep red nails. She wore one emerald set in platinum." Now, being that Poirot is overtly described as being incredibly meticulous and even "dandified" when it comes to the details of his own dress and appearance, it is not surprising he should be so fastidious about the finer points of his travelling companions' clothes. However, without giving anything away, I will simply state that such textual details do play more than a frivolous role in the narrative structure, characterization, and dare I say themes of the text.
I would also argue that Christie's descriptions of characters' clothing serve to both reflect the workings of the class-obsessed world in which she lived and wrote, and subtly critique it. Brief explanation:What's interesting is that most, if not all, of Christie's novels are set amongst the wealthy. Her detectives are successful because they are sort of removed from the glitz and glitter (as well as the marital strifes--probably not a coincidence neither Marple nor Poirot are married, though both seem to present some very wise ideas about love). By being social outsiders of sorts, they are perhaps even better able to avoid being dazzled by the showy details of every dazzling frock and blindingly big jewel flashed about by the wealthy. However, in order to highlight the workings of the class system, its excesses, its deceptions, and the rather marginalized places which her Marple and Poirot occupy within it, the novelist (and indeed the film-maker) must rely quite heavily on the characters' wardrobes. All in all, my point is that, by overlooking the function and importance of clothing in Christie's novels one might miss they way they seem to be a central part of the novelist's representation of--and possibly wry but subtle social critique of--the English class system of the early 20th century. Okay, bearing all this in mind, you can bet I'll be especially keen to see how the tv version of Murder on the Orient Express translates Christie's textual descriptions of clothing into actual costumes. They'd better be good ;) Here's a sneak peek, which suggests they shall: