Christie, Agatha: Curtain
(researched by Jonathan Morgan)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Agatha Christie. Curtain. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1975. Copyright: Agatha Christie Limited, 1975 Parallel First Edition: Curtain: Poirot's last case. London: HarperCollins, 1975.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first American edition is published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
126 leaves, pp. [10]1-238[4]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
This book is not edited nor introduced. There does exist an advertisement by the publisher for other Agatha Christie suspense novels.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The novel is not illustrated.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
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"
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
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(s)
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 Transcription of title page
Transcription of Title Page: CURTAIN|Agatha Christie| Dodd, MEAD & COMPANY ∑ NEW YORK Title page verso transcription: Copyright©Agatha Christie Limited, 1975
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
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 covers. The verso of the title page describes this novels Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
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: -313p.; 22cm. -377p.; with illustrations; 22cm. -296p. -185p.; 22cm.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
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? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
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? (source and date of information?)
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 per week.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
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 (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
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.)
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
N/A
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
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? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
According to WorldCat, no translations have been done of Curtain but many translations exist for other Christie works.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A (Publsher's Weekly)
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
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 Curtain (1975)
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
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.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
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.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
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.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Agatha Christie's "Curtain" commanded the nation's attention as a best-seller in the mid 1970's, however, the novel's success almost certainly had more to do with its author's reputation and past accomplishment than with the quality of this most recent story. We learn from such a success story, that conditions beyond a work's 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 bestseller's list for many weeks, and, like many of Christie's 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 novel's sense of finality. The novel boasts "Poirot's 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 author's 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 readers' 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. "Curtain's" 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 novel's 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 "Curtain's" success, but his death did this even more so. Celia Fremlin describes the success of Christie and her character, in an account of Poirot's death: "? 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 (Gill, 50). We see then that this character represents yet another reason for "Curtain's" fantastic success. Certainly, to receive such a response, mandates an affection and a following for Poirot and his escapades. As described by Gillian Gill, Poirot's 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 reader's 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. Christie's hero was the reader. No, better: Christie's 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, Christie's 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 ? 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! (Christie, 497) Her humility and her seeming lack of understanding of her own importance in others' 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. Christie's 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 Christie's "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 Christie's 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 critics' 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 life's truths, sought for what was not there, answers, and missed what was there: the entertainment of a populace.
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