|Christie is on top, Woolf below: both photos show elegantly fur-clad upperclass women in the 1920s.|
Clues that I have gather so far that Woolf and Christie might have rubbed shoulders are scant, but what of this?
Sir Harold Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West's husband reviewed Christie's The Mysterious Mr. Quin in the Daily Express in April of 1930. He wrote that
"Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite are, to me, new characters, and I should like much more of them. Mrs. Christie always writes intelligently, and I enjoyed these stories as much as any she has written."
Clearly Nicolson was aware of and reading Christie's work. Did the Nicolsons and Christie meet? They were both part of the same country house set, and it is not a stretch to think of them showing up as thinly disguised characters in a Christie mystery.
More strikingly, Christie and Woolf shared some similarities in thought. Were these ideas simply in the air in the 1920s? Or is it a matter of two writers obsessed with the past thinking along the same lines?
In Woolf’s diary, vol III, 18 March 1925, she writes:
“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emption about the past at the time. It expands later, & thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”
Christie conveys a similar sentiment in a story in The Mysterious Mr. Quin called "At the Bells and Motley,” first published in November 1925 in The Grand Magazine. In discussing a mystery, the elusive Harley Quin and protagonist Satterthwaite have a conversation in a small, dim London restaurant about a disappearance years before. Quin proposes that they reject Satterthwaite’s idea that they “imagine themselves back on that fatal day.” Quin responds that they should pretend the disappearance took place:
“a hundred years ago. That we, in the twenty-first century, are looking back."
You are a strange man,” said Mr. Satterhwaite slowly. “You believe in the past, not the present. Why?”
“You used, not long ago, the word atmosphere. There is no atmosphere in the present.”
“True … The present is apt to be—parochial.”
Both writers locate the past as a place where emotion or atmosphere can be best understood--if we can look back on the past from a distant vantage point.
This is perhaps not an astonishing idea, but it is interesting that both writers were consciously exploring it at the same time, suggesting that their work has more commonalities than we might imagine.