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Mystery Collection from MobileReference

List of Works by Author

List of Works in Alphabetical Order

List of Illustrations

Authors' Biographies

About and Navigation

List of Works by Author

Honore De Balzac An Historical Mystery

John Buchan The Thirty-Nine Steps

Egerton Castle The Baron's Quarry

Edmund Clerihew Bentley Trent's Last Case

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Man Who Was Thursday

Father Brown:

The Innocence of Father Brown

The Wisdom of Father Brown

The Incredulity of Father Brown

The Secret of Father Brown

The Scandal of Father Brown

Robert Erskine Childers Riddle of the Sands

Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Secret Adversary

Wilkie Collins

The Dream Woman

The Haunted Hotel

"I Say No."

The Moonstone

Miss or Mrs.?

The Queen of Hearts

The Traveller's Story of a Very Strange Bed

The Woman in White

Charles Dickens The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Arthur Conan Doyle

The Mystery of Cloomber

The Complete Collection of Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Scarlet

The Sign of Four

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

The Valley of Fear

His Last Bow

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

Anna Katharine Green

Agatha Webb

Initials Only

The Millionaire Baby

The Mill Mystery

The Mystery Of The Hasty Arrow

A Strange Disappearance

Arthur Griffiths

The Rome Express

Thomas Hardy The Three Strangers

Jacques Futrelle

Elusive Isabel

The Problem of Cell 13

Gaston Leroux The Mystery of the Yellow Room

Marie Belloc Lowndes The Lodger

Alan Alexander Milne The Red House Mystery

Edgar Allan Poe

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

The Purloined Letter

Ernest Robertson Punshon The Bittermeads Mystery

Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood

The Bat

The Circular Staircase

The Confession

Dangerous Days

The Man In Lower Ten

The Street Of Seven Stars

Sax Rohmer

Bat Wing


The Insidious Dr. Fu-manchu

The Retur; n of Dr. Fu-manchu

The Golden Scorpion

Melvin Linwood Severy The Darrow Enigma

Chester K. Steele The Golf Course Mystery

Burton Egbert Stevenson The Gloved Hand

Robert Louis Stevenson The Pavilion on the Links

Rex Stout Under The Andes

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | L | M | N | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventure of Black Peter

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

The Adventure of The Abbey Grange

The Adventure of The Beryl Coronet

The Adventure of The Blue Carbuncle

The Adventure of The Copper Beeches

The Adventure of The Dancing Men

The Adventure of The Empty House

The Adventure of The Engineer's Thumb

The Adventure of The Golden Pince-nez

The Adventure of The Missing Three-quarter

The Adventure of The Noble Bachelor

The Adventure of The Norwood Builder

The Adventure of The Priory School

The Adventure of The Second Stain

The Adventure of The Six Napoleons

The Adventure of The Solitary Cyclist

The Adventure of The Speckled Band

The Adventure of The Three Students

Agatha Webb

Authors' Biographies

The Baron's Quarry


Bat Wing

Biography of Agatha Christie

Biography of Anna Katharine Green

Biography of Arthur Conan Doyle

Biography of Charles Dickens

Biography of Edgar Allan Poe

Biography of Edmund Clerihew Bentley

Biography of G. K. Chesterton

Biography of Gaston Leroux

Biography of Honoré De Balzac

Biography of Jacques Futrelle

Biography of John Buchan

Biography of Mary Roberts Rinehart

Biography of Robert Erskine Childers

Biography of Sax Rohmer

Biography of Thomas Hardy

Biography of Wilkie Collins

Bittermeads Mystery

The Boscombe Valley Mystery

Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

A Case of Identity

Circular Staircase

The Crooked Man


Dangerous Days

Darrow Enigma


Dream Woman

Elusive Isabel

Father Brown

The Final Problem

The Five Orange Pips

The 'Gloria Scott'

Gloved Hand

Golden Scorpion

Golf Course Mystery

The Greek Interpreter

Haunted Hotel A Mystery Of Modern Venice

His Last Bow

Historical Mystery (the Gondreville Mystery)

Hound Of The Baskervilles

I Say No.

Incredulity Of Father Brown

Initials Only

Innocence Of Father Brown

Insidious Dr. Fu-manchu

List Of Illustrations


Man In Lower Ten

Man Who Knew Too Much

Man Who Was Thursday

The Man With The Twisted Lip

Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes

Mill Mystery

Millionaire Baby

Miss Or Mrs.?


Murders In The Rue Morgue

Murder In Westminster

The Musgrave Ritual

Mysterious Affair At Styles

Mystery Of Cloomber

Mystery Of Edwin Drood

Mystery Of Marie Rogêt

Mystery Of The Hasty Arrow

Mystery Of The Yellow Room

The Naval Treaty

Pavilion On The Links

Problem Of Cell 13

Purloined Letter

Queen Of Hearts

The Red-headed League

Red House Mystery

The Resident Patient

Return Of Dr. Fu-manchu

The Return Of Sherlock Holmes

Riddle Of The Sands

The Reigate Puzzle

Rome Express

A Scandal In Bohemia

Scandal of Father Brown

Secret Adversary

Secret Of Father Brown

Sign Of The Four

Silver Blaze

The Stock-broker's Clerk

Strange Disappearance

Street Of Seven Stars

Study In Scarlet

Thirty-nine Steps

Three Strangers

Traveller's Story Of A Very Strange Bed

Trent's Last Case

Under The Andes

Valley of Fear

Wisdom of Father Brown

Woman in White

The Yellow Face


Go to Start

List of Illustrations

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, by Signey Paget (1860-1908)

A Study In Scarlet 24 illustrations by Richard Gutschmidt (1902)

The Adventure of The Three Students 2 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1904)

The Adventure of The Abbey Grange 2 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1904)

The Adventure of Black Peter 2 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1904)

The Adventure of The Blue Carbuncle 8 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1892)

The Boscombe Valley Mystery 5 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1891); 1 illustration by Josef Friedrich (1906)

The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge 2 illustrations by Arthur Twidle (1908)

The Adventure of the Cardboard Box 2 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1892)

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton 2 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1904)

The Adventure of the Dancing Men 2 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1903)

The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez 2 illustrations by Sidney Paget (1904)

The Hound of the Baskervilles Sidney Paget's illustration of the Hound

The Millionaire Baby by Anna Katharine Green

The Mystery of The Hasty Arrow by Anna Katharine Green

The Rome Express by Arthur Griffiths

Elusive Isabel by Jacques Futrelle. Illustrations by Alonzo Kimball

[Illustration: The handwriting was unmistakably that of a woman.]

[Illustration: He Found Himself inspecting the Weapon from the Barrel End.]

[Illustration: A long tense silence when eye challenges eye.]

[Illustration: "You think he will weaken; I know he will not."]

[Illustration: In a stride Mr. Grimm was beside her.]

Edgar Allan Poe

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, 1895.

The Gloved Hand by Burton Egbert Stevenson

[Illustration: Sparks fell upon the shoulders of two white-robed figures]

[Illustration: "I'm lawyer enough to know," he said, "that a question like that is not permissible"]

[Illustration: "Oh, Master, receive me!"]

[Illustration: "I knew that I was lost"]


Go to Start

Authors' Biographies

Honore De Balzac

John Buchan

Edmund Clerihew Bentley

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Robert Erskine Childers

Agatha Christie

Wilkie Collins

Charles Dickens

Arthur Conan Doyle

Anna Katharine Green

Thomas Hardy

Jacques Futrelle

Gaston Leroux

Edgar Allan Poe

Mary Roberts Rinehart

Sax Rohmer


Go to Start

Honoré de Balzac

Portrait of Honoré de Balzac, after an 1842 daguerreotype by Louis-Auguste Bisson

Biography | Family | Early life | First literary efforts | "Une bonne spéculation" | La Comédie Humaine and literary success | Work habits | Marriage and later life | Writing style | Realism | Characters | Place | Perspective | Legacy | Works

Honoré de Balzac (May 20, 1799 - August 18, 1850) was a nineteenth-century French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815.

Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multi-faceted characters; even his lesser characters are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. Inanimate objects are imbued with character as well; the city of Paris, a backdrop for much of his writing, takes on many human qualities. His writing influenced many famous authors, including the novelists Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James and Jack Kerouac, as well as important philosophers such as Friedrich Engels. Many of Balzac's works have been made into films, and they continue to inspire other writers.

An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting himself to the teaching style of his grammar school. His wilful nature caused trouble throughout his life, and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was apprenticed as a legal clerk, but he turned his back on the law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine. Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician. He failed in all of these efforts. La Comédie Humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience.

Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly due to his intense writing schedule. His relationship with his family was often strained by financial and personal drama, and he lost more than one friend over critical reviews. In 1850, he married Ewelina Hanska, his longtime paramour; he died five months later.


16th century• 17th century

18th century• 19th century

20th century• Contemporary

Chronological list

Writers by category

Novelists• Playwrights

Poets• Essayists

Short story writers



Honoré de Balzac was born into a family which had struggled to achieve respectability. His father, born Bernard-François Balssa, was one of eleven children from a poor family in Tarn, a region in the south of France. In 1760 the elder Balzac set off for Paris with only a louis in his pocket, determined to improve his social standing; by 1776 he had become Secretary to the King's Council and a Freemason. (He had also changed his name to that of an ancient noble family, and added - without any official cause - the aristocratic-sounding de.) After the Reign of Terror (1793-94), he was sent to Tours to coordinate supplies for the Army.

Balzac's mother, born Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, came from a family of haberdashers in Paris. Her family's wealth was a considerable factor in the match: she was eighteen at the time of the wedding, and Bernard-François fifty. As British writer and critic V. S. Pritchett puts it, "She was certainly drily aware that she had been given to an old husband as a reward for his professional services to a friend of her family and that the capital was on her side. She was not in love with her husband."

Honoré (so named after Saint Honoré of Amiens, who is commemorated on May 16, four days before Balzac's birthday) was actually the second child born to the Balzacs; exactly one year previous, Louis-Daniel had been born, but he lived for only a month. Honoré's sisters Laure and Laurence were born in 1800 and 1802, and his brother Henry-François in 1807.

Early life

Immediately after his birth, Honoré was sent to a wet-nurse; the following year he was joined by his sister Laure and they spent four years away from home. (Although Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influential book Émile convinced many mothers of the time to nurse their own children, sending babies to wet-nurses was still common among the middle and upper classes.) When the Balzac children returned home, they were kept at a frigid distance by their parents, which affected the author-to-be significantly. His 1835 novel Le Lys dans la Vallée features a cruel governess named Miss Caroline, modeled after his own caretaker.

At the age of eight Balzac was sent to the Oratorian grammar school at Vendôme, where he studied for seven years. His father, seeking to instill the same hardscrabble work ethic which had gained him the esteem of society, intentionally sent very little spending money to the boy. This made him the object of ridicule among his much wealthier schoolmates.

Balzac had difficulty adapting himself to the rote style of learning at the school. As a result, he was frequently sent to the "alcove", a punishment cell reserved for disobedient students. (The janitor at the school, when asked later if he remembered Honoré, replied: "Remember M. Balzac? I should think I do! I had the honour of escorting him to the dungeon more than a hundred times!") Still, his time alone gave the boy ample freedom to read every book which came his way.

Balzac worked these scenes from his boyhood - as he did many aspects of his life and the lives of those around him - into La Comédie Humaine. His time at Vendôme is reflected in Louis Lambert, his 1832 novel about a young boy studying at an Oratorian grammar school at Vendôme. The narrator states: "He devoured books of every kind, feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history and literature, philosophy and physics. He had told me that he found indescribable delight in reading dictionaries for lack of other books."

But though his mind was receiving nourishment, the same could not be said for Balzac's body. He often fell ill, finally causing the headmaster to contact his family with news of a "sort of a coma". When he returned home, his grandmother said: "Voilà donc comme le collège nous renvoie les jolis que nous lui envoyons!" ("Look how the academy returns the pretty ones we send them!") Balzac himself attributed his condition to "intellectual congestion", but his extended confinement in the "alcove" was surely a factor. (Meanwhile, his father had been writing a treatise on "the means of preventing thefts and murders, and of restoring the men who commit them to a useful role in society", in which he heaped disdain on prison as a form of crime prevention.)

In 1814 the Balzac family moved to Paris, and Honoré was sent to private tutors and schools for the next two and a half years. This was an unhappy time in his life, during which he attempted suicide on a bridge over the Loire River.

In 1816 Balzac entered the Sorbonne, where he studied under three famous professors. François Guizot, who later became prime minister, was Professor of Modern History. Abel-François Villemain, a recent arrival from the Collège Charlemagne, delivered lectures on French and classical literature to packed audiences. And - most influential of all - Victor Cousin's courses on philosophy encouraged his students to think independently.

Once his studies were completed, Balzac was persuaded by his father to follow him into the law; for three years he trained and worked at the office of Victor Passez, a friend of the family. It was during this time that he began to understand the vagaries of human nature. In his 1840 novel Le Notaire, Balzac wrote that a young person in the legal profession sees "the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code."

In 1819 Passez offered to make Balzac his successor, but his apprentice had had enough of the law. He despaired of being "a clerk, a machine, a riding-school hack, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours. I should be like everyone else. And that's what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again.. I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite." He announced his intention to be a writer.

The loss of this opportunity caused serious discord in the Balzac household, although Honoré was not turned away entirely. Instead, in April 1819, he was allowed to live in the French capital - as English critic George Saintsbury describes it - "in a garret furnished in the most Spartan fashion, with a starvation allowance and an old woman to look after him," while the rest of the family moved to a house twenty miles [32 km] outside Paris.

First literary efforts

Balzac's first project was a libretto for a comic opera called Le Corsaire, based on Lord Byron's tale of Conrad the pirate. Realizing he would have trouble finding a composer, however, he turned to other pursuits.

In 1820, he completed the five-act verse tragedy Cromwell. Although it pales in comparison to later works, some critics consider it a quality text. When he finished, Balzac went to Villeparisis and read the entire work to his family; they were unimpressed. He followed this effort by starting (but never finishing) three novels: Sténie, Falthurne, and Corsino.

In 1821 Balzac met the enterprising Auguste Lepoitevin, who convinced the author to write short stories, which Lepoitevin would then sell to publishers. Balzac then quickly turned to longer works, and by 1826 he had written nine novels, all published under pseudonyms and often produced in collaboration with other writers. For example, the scandalous novel Vicaire des Ardennes (1822) - banned for its depiction of nearly-incestuous relations and, more egregiously, of a married priest - was attributed to a 'Horace de Saint-Aubin'. These books were potboiler novels, designed to sell quickly and titillate audiences. In Saintsbury's view, "They are curiously, interestingly, almost enthrallingly bad." He indicates that Robert Louis Stevenson tried to dissuade him from reading these early works of Balzac's. American critic Samuel Rogers, however, notes that "without the training they gave Balzac, as he groped his way to his mature conception of the novel, and without the habit he formed as a young man of writing under pressure, one can hardly imagine his producing La Comédie Humaine." Biographer Graham Robb suggests that as he discovered the Novel, Balzac discovered himself.

Also during this time, Balzac wrote two pamphlets in support of primogeniture and the Society of Jesus. The latter, regarding the Jesuit order, illustrated his life-long admiration for the Catholic Church. Later, in a preface to La Comédie Humaine, he wrote: "Christianity, and especially Catholicism, being a complete repression of man's depraved tendencies, is the greatest element in Social Order."

"Une bonne spéculation"

In the late 1820s, Balzac also dabbled in several business ventures, blamed by his sister on the temptation of an unknown neighbor. The first of these was a publishing enterprise which turned out cheap one-volume editions of French classics including the works of Molière. This business failed miserably, with many of the books "sold as waste paper". Balzac had better luck publishing the memoirs of Laure Junot, Duchesse d'Abrantès - with whom he also had an affair.

Borrowing money from his family and other sources, he tried again as a printer and then as a typefounder. But as with the publishing business, Balzac's inexperience and lack of capital caused his ruin in these trades. He gave the businesses to a friend (who made them successful) but carried the debts for many years. In April 1828, he owed his own mother 50,000francs.

This penchant for une bonne spéculation never left Balzac. It resurfaced painfully much later when - as a renowned and busy author - he traveled to Sardinia in the hopes of reprocessing the slag from the Roman mines in that country. Toward the end of his life, he became captivated by the idea of cutting 20,000acres (81km²) of oak wood in Ukraine and transporting it for sale in France.

La Comédie Humaine and literary success

In 1832 (after writing several novels), Balzac conceived the idea for an enormous series of books that would paint a panoramic portrait of "all aspects of society." When the idea struck, he raced to his sister's apartment and proclaimed: "I am about to become a genius." Although he originally called it Etudes des Mœurs, it eventually became known as La Comédie Humaine, and he included in it all of the fiction he published in his lifetime under his own name. This was to be Balzac's life work and his greatest achievement.

After the collapse of his businesses, Balzac traveled to Brittany and stayed with the de Pommereul family outside Fougères. It was here that he drew inspiration for Les Chouans (1829), a tale of love gone wrong amid the Chouan royalist forces. A supporter of the crown himself, Balzac paints the counter-revolutionaries in a sympathetic light - even though they are the center of the book's most brutal scenes. This was the first book Balzac released under his own name, and it gave him what one critic called "passage into the Promised Land". It established him as an author of note (even if the surface owes a debt to Walter Scott) and provided him with a name outside the pseudonyms of his past.

Soon afterwards, around the time of his father's death, Balzac wrote El Verdugo - about a 30-year-old man who kills his father (Balzac was 30 years old at the time). This was the first work signed "Honoré de Balzac". Like his father, he added the aristocratic-sounding particle to help him fit into respected society, but it was a choice based on skill, not birthright. "The aristocracy and authority of talent are more substantial than the aristocracy of names and material power," he wrote in 1830. The timing of the decision was also significant. Robb frames it this way: "The disappearance of the father coincides with the adoption of the nobiliary particle. A symbolic inheritance." Just as his father had worked his way up from poverty into respectable society, Balzac considered toil and effort his real mark of nobility.

When the July Revolution overthrew Charles X in 1830, Balzac declared himself a Legitimist, supporting Charles' House of Bourbon - but with qualifications. He felt that the new July Monarchy (which claimed widespread popular support) was disorganized and unprincipled, in need of a mediator to keep the political peace between the King and insurgent forces. He called for "a young and vigorous man who belongs neither to the Directoire nor to the Empire, but who is 1830 incarnate.." He planned to be such a candidate, appealing especially to the higher classes in Chinon. But after a near-fatal accident in 1832 (he slipped and cracked his head on the street), Balzac decided not to stand for election.

1831 saw the success of La Peau de Chagrin (The Wild Ass's Skin), a fable-like tale about a despondent young man named Raphaël de Valentin who finds an animal skin promising great power and wealth. He obtains these things, but loses the ability to manage them. In the end, his health fails and he is consumed by his own confusion. Balzac meant the story to bear witness to the treacherous turns of life, its "serpentine motion."

In 1833, Balzac released Eugénie Grandet, his first best-selling novel. A story about a young lady who inherits her father's miserliness, it also became the most critically acclaimed book of his career. The writing is simple, yet the individuals (especially the bourgeois title character) are dynamic and complex.

Le Père Goriot (Old Father Goriot, 1835) was his next big success, in which Balzac transposes the story of King Lear to 1820s Paris in order to rage at a society bereft of all love save the love of money. The centrality of a father in this novel matches Balzac's own position - not only as mentor to his troubled young secretary, Jules Sandeau, but also the fact that he had (most likely) fathered a child, Marie-Caroline, with his otherwise-married lover, Maria Du Fresnay.

In 1836, Balzac took the helm of the Chronique de Paris, a weekly magazine of society and politics. He tried to enforce strict impartiality in its pages and a reasoned assessment of various ideologies. As Rogers notes, "Balzac was interested in any social, political, or economic theory, whether from the right or the left." The magazine failed, but in July 1840, he founded another publication called the Revue Parisienne. It lasted for only three issues.

These dismal business efforts - and his misadventures in Sardinia - provided an appropriate milieu in which to set the two-volume Illusions Perdues (Lost Illusions, 1843). The novel concerns Lucien de Rubempré, a young poet trying to make a name for himself, who becomes trapped in the morass of society's darkest contradictions. Lucien's journalism work is informed by Balzac's own failed ventures in the field. Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (The Harlot High and Low, 1847) continues Lucien's story. He is trapped by the Abbé Herrera (Vautrin) in a convoluted and disastrous plan to regain social status. The book undergoes a massive temporal rift; the first part (of four) covers a span of six years, while the final two sections focus on just three days.

Le Cousin Pons (1847) and La Cousine Bette (1848) tell the story of Les Parents Pauvres (The Poor Relations). The conniving and wrangling over wills and inheritances reflects the expertise gained by the author as a young law clerk. Balzac's health was deteriorating by this point, making the completion of this pair of books a significant accomplishment.

Many of his novels were initially serialized, like those of Dickens. Their length was not predetermined. Illusions Perdues extends to a thousand pages after starting inauspiciously in a small-town print shop, whereas La fille aux yeux d'Or (Tiger-eyes, 1835) opens with a broad panorama of Paris but becomes a closely plotted novella of only fifty.

Work habits

Balzac's work habits are legendary - he did not work quickly, but toiled with an incredible focus and dedication. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at five or six in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, fuelled by innumerable cups of black coffee. He would often work for fifteen hours or more at a stretch; he claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only three hours of rest in the middle.

He revised obsessively, covering printer's proofs with changes and additions to be reset. Balzac sometimes repeated this process during the publication of a book, causing significant expense for both himself and the publisher. As a result, the finished product was frequently quite different from the original book. While some of his books never reached a finished state, some of those - such as Les employés (The Government Clerks, 1841) - are nonetheless noted by critics.

Although Balzac was "by turns a hermit and a vagrant", he managed to stay connected to the social world which nourished his writing. He was friends with Théophile Gautier and Pierre-Marie-Charles de Bernard du Grail de la Villette, and he knew Victor Hugo. Nevertheless, he did not spend as much time in salons and clubs as did many of his characters. "In the first place he was too busy," explains Saintsbury, "in the second he would not have been at home there.. [H]e felt it was his business not to frequent society but to create it." He would, however, often spend long periods staying at Château de Saché, near Tours, the home of his friend Jean de Margonne, his mother's lover and father to her youngest child. Many of Balzac's tormented characters were conceived in the small second-floor bedroom. Today the Château is a museum dedicated to the author's life.

Marriage and later life

In February 1832, Balzac received a letter from Odessa - lacking a return address and signed only by "L'Étrangère" ("The Foreigner") - expressing sadness at the cynicism and atheism in La Peau de Chagrin and its negative portrayal of women. He responded by purchasing a classified advertisement in the Gazette de France, hoping that his secret critic would find it. Thus began a fifteen-year correspondence between Balzac and "the object of [his] sweetest dreams": Ewelina Hanska.

She was wed to a man twenty years older than herself: Waclaw Hanski, a wealthy Polish landowner living in Kiev; it was a marriage of convenience to preserve her family's fortune. In Balzac, Ewelina found a kindred spirit for her emotional and social desires, with the added benefit of feeling a connection to the glamorous capital of France. Their correspondence reveals an intriguing balance of passion, propriety and patience; Robb says it is "like an experimental novel in which the female protagonist is always trying to pull in extraneous realities but which the hero is determined to keep on course, whatever tricks he has to use."

When Waclaw Hanski died in 1841, his widow and her admirer finally had the chance to pursue their affections. Competing with the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, Balzac visited her in St. Petersburg in 1843 and impressed himself on her heart. After a series of economic setbacks, health problems, and prohibitions from the Tsar, the couple was finally able to wed. On March 14, 1850, with Balzac's health in serious decline, they drove from their home in Wierzchownia to a church in Berdyczów and were married. The ten-hour journey to and from the ceremony took a toll on both husband and wife: her feet were too swollen to walk, and he endured severe heart trouble.

Although he married late in life, Balzac had already written two treatises on marriage: Physiologie du Mariage and Scènes de la Vie Conjugale. These works suffered from a lack of first-hand knowledge; Saintsbury points out that "Coelebs cannot talk of [marriage] with much authority." It late April the newly married couple set off for Paris. His health deteriorated on the way, and Ewelina wrote to her daughter about Balzac being "in a state of extreme weakness" and "sweating profusely". They arrived in the French capital on 20 May, his fifty-first birthday.

Five months after his wedding, on August 18, Balzac died. His mother was the only one with him when he expired; Mme. Hanska had gone to bed. He had been visited that day by Victor Hugo, who later served as pallbearer and eulogist at Balzac's funeral.

He is buried at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris. "Today," said Hugo at the ceremony, "we have a people in black because of the death of the man of talent; a nation in mourning for a man of genius." The funeral was attended by "almost every writer in Paris", including Frédérick Lemaître, Gustave Courbet, Dumas père and Dumas fils. Later, Balzac became the subject of a monumental statue by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, which stands near the intersection of Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard Montparnasse. Rodin featured Balzac in several of his smaller sculptures as well.

Writing style

The Comédie Humaine remained unfinished at the time of his death - Balzac had plans to include numerous other books, most of which he never started. He frequently moved between works in progress, and "finished" works were often revised between editions. This piecemeal style is reflective of the author's own life, a possible attempt to stabilize it through fiction. "The vanishing man," writes Pritchett, "who must be pursued from the rue Cassini to..Versailles, Ville d'Avray, Italy, and Vienna can construct a settled dwelling only in his work."


Balzac's extensive use of detail, especially the detail of objects, to illustrate the lives of his characters made him an early pioneer of literary realism. While he admired and drew inspiration from the Romantic style of Scottish novelist Walter Scott, Balzac sought to depict human existence through the use of particulars. In the preface to the first edition of Scènes de la Vie privée, he writes: "The author firmly believes that details alone will henceforth determine the merit of works.." Plentiful descriptions of décor, clothing, and possessions help breathe life into the characters. For example, Balzac's friend Hyacinthe de Latouche had knowledge of hanging wallpaper. Balzac transferred this to his descriptions of the Pension Vauquer in Le Père Goriot, making the wallpaper speak of the identities of those living inside.

Some critics consider Balzac's writing exemplary of naturalism - a more pessimistic and analytical form of realism, which seeks to explain human behavior as intrinsically linked with the environment. French novelist Émile Zola declared Balzac the father of the naturalist novel. Elsewhere, Zola indicated that, whereas Romantics saw the world through a colored lens, the naturalist sees through a clear glass - precisely the sort of effect Balzac attempted to achieve in his works.


Balzac sought to present his characters as real people, neither fully good nor fully evil, but fully human. "To arrive at the truth," he wrote in the preface to Le Lys dans la vallée, "writers use whatever literary device seems capable of giving the greatest intensity of life to their characters." "Balzac's characters," Robb notes, "were as real to him as if he were observing them in the outside world." This reality was noted by playwright Oscar Wilde, who said: "One of the greatest tragedies of my life is the death of [Illusions Perdues protagonist] Lucien de Rubempré.. It haunts me in my moments of pleasure. I remember it when I laugh."

At the same time, the characters represent a particular range of social types: the noble soldier, the scoundrel, the proud workman, the fearless spy, and the alluring mistress, among others. That Balzac was able to balance the strength of the individual against the representation of the type is evidence of the author's skill. One critic explained that "there is a center and a circumference to Balzac's world."

Balzac's use of repeating characters, moving in and out of the Comédie's books, strengthens the realist representation. "When the characters reappear," notes Rogers, "they do not step out of nowhere; they emerge from the privacy of their own lives which, for an interval, we have not been allowed to see." He also used a realist technique which French novelist Marcel Proust later named "retrospective illumination", whereby a character's past is revealed long after she or he first appears.

A nearly infinite reserve of energy propels the characters in Balzac's novels. Struggling against the currents of human nature and society, they may lose more often than they win - but only rarely do they give up. This universal trait is a reflection of Balzac's own social wrangling, that of his family, and an interest in the Austrian mystic and physician Franz Mesmer, who pioneered the study of animal magnetism. Balzac spoke often of a "nervous and fluid force" between individuals, and Raphaël Valentin's decline in La Peau de Chagrin exemplifies the danger of withdrawing from the company of other people.


Representations of the city, countryside, and building interiors are essential to Balzac's realism, often serving to paint a naturalistic backdrop before which the characters' lives follow a particular course. (This gave him a reputation as an early naturalist.) Intricate details about locations sometimes stretch for fifteen or twenty pages. As he did with the people around him, Balzac studied these places in depth, traveling to remote locations and surveying notes he had made on previous visits.

The influence of Paris permeates La Comédie. Nature takes a back seat to the artificial metropolis, in stark contrast to the depictions of weather and wildlife in the countryside. "If in Paris," Rogers says, "we are in a man-made region where even the seasons are forgotten, these provincial towns are nearly always pictured in their natural setting." Balzac himself said, "the streets of Paris possess human qualities and we cannot shake off the impressions they make upon our minds." His labyrinthine city provided a literary model used later by English novelist Charles Dickens and Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. The centrality of Paris in La Comédie Humaine is key to Balzac's legacy as a realist. "Realism is nothing if not urban," notes critic Peter Brooks; the scene of a young man coming into the city to find his fortune is ubiquitous in the realist novel, and appears repeatedly in Balzac's works, such as Illusions Perdues.


Balzac's literary mood evolved over time from one of despondency and chagrin to one of solidarity and courage - but not optimism. La Peau de Chagrin, among his earliest novels, is a pessimistic tale of confusion and destruction. But the cynicism declined as his oeuvre progressed, and the characters of Illusions Perdues reveal sympathy for those who are pushed to one side by society. As part of the 19th century evolution of the novel as a "democratic literary form," Balzac once wrote that "les livres sont faits pour tout le monde," ("these books are written for everybody").

Balzac concerned himself overwhelmingly with the darker essence of human nature and the corrupting influence of middle and high societies. He worked hard to observe humanity in its most representative state, frequently passing incognito among the masses of Parisian society to do research. He used incidents from his life and the people around him, in works like Eugénie Grandet and Louis Lambert.


Balzac had a significant influence on the writers of his time and beyond. He has been compared to - and cited as an influence on - Charles Dickens. Critic W. H. Helm calls one "the French Dickens" and the other "the English Balzac". Another critic, Richard Lehan, says that "Balzac was the bridge between the comic realism of Dickens and the naturalism of Zola."

French author Gustave Flaubert was also substantially influenced by Balzac. Praising his portrayal of society while attacking his prose style, Flaubert once wrote: "What a man he would have been had he known how to write!" While he disdained the label of "realist", Flaubert clearly took heed of Balzac's close attention to detail and unvarnished depictions of bourgeois life. This influence shows in Flaubert's work L'education sentimentale, which owes a debt to Balzac's Illusions Perdues. "What Balzac started," says Lehan, "Flaubert helped finish."

Marcel Proust similarly learned from the Realist example; he adored Balzac and studied his works carefully. Balzac's story Une Heure de ma Vie (An Hour of my Life, 1822), in which minute details are followed by deep personal reflections, is a clear ancestor of the style used by Proust in À la recherche du temps perdu.

Perhaps no author was more affected by Balzac than the American expatriate novelist Henry James. In 1878 James wrote with sadness about the lack of commentary attention paid to Balzac, and lavished praise on the French writer in four essays (in 1875, 1877, 1902, and 1913). "Large as Balzac is," James wrote, "he is all of one piece and he hangs perfectly together." He wrote with admiration of Balzac's attempt to portray in writing "a beast with a hundred claws." In his own novels, James chose to explore more of the psychological motives of the characters and less of the historical sweep exhibited by Balzac - a conscious style preference. "[T]he artist of the Comédie Humaine," he wrote, "is half smothered by the historian." Still, both authors used the form of the realist novel to probe the machinations of society and the myriad motives of human behavior.

Balzac's vision of a society in which class, money and personal ambition are the major players has been endorsed by critics of both left-wing and right-wing political tendencies. Marxist Friedrich Engels wrote: "I have learned more [from Balzac] than from all the professional historians, economists and statisticians put together." Balzac has received high praise from critics as diverse as Walter Benjamin and Camille Paglia. In 1970 Roland Barthes published S/Z, a detailed analysis of Balzac's story Sarrasine and a key work in structuralist literary criticism.

Balzac has also influenced popular culture. Many of his works have been made into popular films, including Les Chouans (in 1947), Le Père Goriot (BBC mini-series, in 1968), and La Cousine Bette (in 1998, starring Jessica Lange). He is significantly included in Francois Truffaut's film, "The 400 Blows" (1959). As a screenwriter, Truffaut believed Balzac and Proust to be the greatest French writers. He was also adapted into a character in Orson Scott Card's alternate history series The Tales of Alvin Maker. Balzac is presented as a crude but deeply witty and insightful man. In 2000, Chinese author Dai Sijie published Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse Chinoise (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress), in which a suitcase filled with novels helps to sustain prisoners being "re-educated" during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was made into a film (adapted and directed by the author) in 2002.


Tragic verse

Cromwell (1819)

Incomplete at time of death

Le Corsaire (opera)




Published pseudonymously

As "Lord R'Hoone", in collaboration

L'Héritière de Birague (1822)

Jean-Louis (1822)

As "Horace de Saint-Aubin"

Clotilde de Lusignan (1822)

Le Centenaire (1822)

Le Vicaire des Ardennes (1822)

La Dernière Fée (1823)

Annette et le Criminal (Argon le Pirate) (1824)

Wann-Chlore (1826)

Published anonymously

Du Droit d'aînesse (1824)

Histoire impartiale des Jésuites (1824)

Code des gens honnêtes (1826)

Selected titles from La Comédie humaine

Les Chouans (1829)

Sarrasine (1830)

La Peau de chagrin (1830)

Le Colonel Chabert (1832)

La Fille aux yeux d'or (1833)

Eugénie Grandet (1833)

Le Contrat de mariage (1835)

Le Père Goriot (1835)

Le Lys dans la vallée (1835)

Illusions perdues (I, 1837; II, 1839; III, 1843)

La Cousine Bette (1846)

Le Cousin Pons (1847)

Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (1847)


L'École des ménages (1839)

Vautrin (1839)

Les Ressources de Quinola (1842)

Paméla Figaud (1842)

La Marâtre (1848)

Mercadet ou le faiseur (1848)


Contes drolatiques (1832-37)


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John Buchan

Early life | Life as an author and politician | Life in Canada | Reputation | Bibliography of principal works

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (26 August 1875 - 11 February 1940), was a Scottish novelist, best known for his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada.

Early life

Buchan was the eldest child in a family of four sons and a daughter (the novelist Anna Buchan) born to a Free Church of Scotland minister, also named John Buchan (1847-1911), and his wife Helen Jane (1857-1937), daughter of John Masterton, a farmer, of Broughton Green, near Peebles. Although born in Perth, he grew up in Fife and spent many summer holidays with his grandparents in Broughton in the Borders, developing a love of walking and the Borders scenery and wildlife that is often featured in his novels. One example is Sir Edward Leithen, the hero of a number of Buchan's books, whose name is borrowed from the Leithen Water, a tributary of the River Tweed. Broughton village is also home to the John Buchan Centre and makes up one end of the John Buchan Way.

After attending Hutchesons' Grammar School, Buchan won a scholarship to the University of Glasgow where he studied Classics and wrote poetry and first became a published author. He then studied Literae Humaniores at Brasenose College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate prize for poetry. He had a genius for friendship which he retained all his life. His friends at Oxford included Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith and Aubrey Herbert.

Life as an author and politician

Buchan at first entered into a career in law in 1901, but almost immediately moved into politics, becoming private secretary to British colonial administrator Alfred Milner, who was high commissioner for South Africa, Governor of Cape Colony and colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange Free State-Buchan gained an acquaintance with the country that was to feature prominently in his writing. On his return to London, he became a partner in a publishing company while he continued to write books. Buchan married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor (1882-1977), cousin of the Duke of Westminster, on July 15, 1907. Together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.

In 1910, he wrote Prester John, the first of his adventure novels, set in South Africa. In 1911, he first suffered from duodenal ulcers, an illness he would give to one of his characters in later books. He also entered politics running as a Tory candidate for a Border constituency. During this time Buchan supported Free Trade, woman's suffrage, national insurance and curtailing the power of the House of Lords. However he opposed the Liberal reforms of 1905-1915 and what he considered the "class hatred" fostered by demagogic Liberals like David Lloyd George.

During World War I, he wrote for the War Propaganda Bureau and was a correspondent for The Times in France. In 1915, he published his most famous book The Thirty-Nine Steps, a spy thriller set just before the outbreak of World War I, featuring his hero Richard Hannay, who was based on a friend from South African days, Edmund Ironside. The following year he published a sequel Greenmantle. In 1916, he joined the British Army Intelligence Corps where as a 2nd Lieutenant he wrote speeches and communiques for Sir Douglas Haig.

In 1917, he returned to Britain where he became Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook. After the war he began to write on historical subjects as well as continuing to write thrillers and historical novels. Buchan's 100 works include nearly 30 novels and seven collections of short stories. He also wrote biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, Oliver Cromwell and was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his biography of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, but the most famous of his books were the spy thrillers and it is probably for these that he is now best remembered. The "last Buchan" (as Graham Greene entitled his appreciative review) is Sick Heart River (American title: Mountain Meadow), 1941, in which a dying protagonist confronts in the Canadian wilderness the questions of the meaning of life.

The Thirty-Nine Steps was filmed (much altered) by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935; later versions followed in 1959 and 1978.

In the mid-1920s Buchan was living near Oxford - Robert Graves, who was living on Boar's Hill whilst attending Oxford University, mentions Colonel Buchan recommending him for a lecturing position as a lecturer at the newly founded Cairo University in Egypt. Buchan became president of the Scottish Historical Society. He was twice Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and in a 1927 by-election was elected a Scottish Unionist MP for the Scottish Universities. Politically he was of the Unionist-Nationalist Tradition that believed in Scotland's promotion as a nation within the British Empire and once remarked "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. If it could be proved that a Scottish parliament were desirable..Scotsmen should support it". The effects of depression in Scotland and the subsequent high emigration also led him to say "We do not want to be like the Greeks, powerful and prosperous wherever we settle, but with a dead Greece behind us" (Hansard, November 24, 1932). During the early months of the Second World War Buchan read John Morley's Life of Gladstone, which had a profound impact on him. He believed Gladstone had taught people to combat materialism, complacency and authoritarianism; he wrote to H. A. L. Fisher, Stair Gillon and Gilbert Murray that he was "becoming a Gladstonian Liberal". The insightful quotation "It's a great life, if you don't weaken" is also famously attributed to him. Another memorable quote is "No great cause is ever lost or won, The battle must always be renewed, And the creed must always be restated."

Buchan's branch of the Free Church of Scotland joined the Church of Scotland in 1929. He was an active elder of St Columba's Church, London and of the Oxford Presbyterian parish. In 1933-4 he was lord high commissioner to the church's general assembly.

Life in Canada

In 1935 he became Governor General of Canada and was created Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield in the County of Oxford. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had wanted him to go to Canada as a commoner, but King George V insisted on being represented by a peer.

Buchan's writing continued even after he was appointed Governor General. His later books included novels and histories and his views of Canada. He also wrote an autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, while Governor-General. His wife was a writer, producing many books and plays as Susan Buchan. While pursuing his own writing career, he also promoted the development of a distinctly Canadian culture. In 1936, encouraged by Lady Tweedsmuir, he founded the Governor General's Awards, still some of Canada's premier literary awards.

Lady Tweedsmuir was active in promoting literacy in Canada. She used Rideau Hall as a distribution centre for 40,000 books, which were sent out to readers in remote areas of the west. Her programme was known as the "Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Library Scheme". Together, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir established the first proper library at Rideau Hall.

Tweedsmuir took his responsibilities in Canada seriously and tried to make the office of Governor General relevant to the lives of ordinary Canadians. In his own words, "a Governor General is in a unique position for it is his duty to know the whole of Canada and all the various types of her people".

Tweedsmuir travelled throughout Canada, including the Arctic regions. He took every opportunity to speak to Canadians and to encourage them to develop their own distinct identity. He wanted to build national unity by diminishing the religious and linguistic barriers that divided the country. Tweedsmuir was aware of the suffering experienced by many Canadians due to the Depression and often wrote with compassion about their difficulties.

Tweedsmuir was recognized by Glasgow, St. Andrews, McGill, Toronto and Montréal Universities, all of which conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and he was made an Honorary Fellow and an Honorary D.C.L. of Oxford.

When King George V died in 1936, the front of Rideau Hall was covered in black crepe and Lord Tweedsmuir cancelled all entertaining during the period of mourning. The new heir to the throne, King Edward VIII, soon abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson - creating a crisis for the monarchy. However, when the new King, George VI and Queen Elizabeth travelled throughout Canada in 1939; the regal visit - the first visit to Canada by a reigning Sovereign - was extremely popular.

Like many people of his time, the experience of the First World War convinced Tweedsmuir of the horrors of armed conflict and he worked with both United States President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King in trying to avert the ever-growing threat of another world war.

While shaving on February 6, 1940, Tweedsmuir had a stroke and injured his head badly in the fall. He received the best possible care - the famous Dr. Wilder Penfield of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, operated twice - but the injury proved fatal. On February 11, just 10 months before his term of office was to expire, Tweedsmuir died. Prime Minister Mackenzie King reflected the loss that all Canadians felt when he read the following words over the radio, "In the passing of His Excellency, the people of Canada have lost one of the greatest and most revered of their Governors General, and a friend who, from the day of his arrival in this country, dedicated his life to their service."

This was the first time a Governor General had died during his term of office since Confederation. After the lying-in-state in the Senate Chamber, a state funeral for Lord Tweedsmuir was held at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. His ashes were returned to England on the cruiser HMS Orion for final burial at Elsfield, where he had bought the Manor in 1920.


In recent years in common with some of his contemporaries, Buchan's reputation has been tarnished by the lack of political correctness, e.g. the anti-semitism and racism expressed in some passages from his novels, such as the opening chapter of The Thirty-Nine Steps. The view in 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' that 'the Jews are behind it all' is actually expressed by a minor character, the American Scudder. This causes the main character, Richard Hannay, to doubt Scudder's sanity; another character in the book later says Scudder is a little cracked about the Jews.

It should also be noted that he was active on behalf of the Jews during the 1930s and, for this reason, his name appeared on Adolf Hitler's "hit list".)

A thoroughly engaging storyteller, Buchan's work stands the test of time, and he is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity.

Buchan had a reputation for discretion. He was involved with the Intelligence Corps as a propagandist during World War I and may have had an involvement with British intelligence later; he is cited as having some involvement during the years leading to the Second World War by Canadian-born British spymaster William Stephenson.

In the 1930s Buchan gave financial and moral support to the poor, young academic Roberto Weiss, as Buchan was fascinated by the classical antiquity period Weiss studied, and wished to support this.

His autobiography Memory Hold-the-Door (published in the United States as Pilgrim's Way) was said to be John F. Kennedy's favourite book although a list given to Life magazine in 1961 quoted Montrose at the head of the list.

John Buchan is commemorated in Makars' Court, outside The Writers' Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh.

Selections for Makars' Court are made by The Writers' Museum; The Saltire Society; The Scottish Poetry Library.

Bibliography of principal works


1898 John Burnet of Barns

1899 Grey Weather (stories and poems)

1899 A Lost Lady of Old Years

1900 The Half-Hearted

1902 The Watcher by the Threshold (stories)

1906 A Lodge in the Wilderness

1910 Prester John

1912 The Moon Endureth (stories and poems)

1915 Salute to Adventurers

1915 The Thirty-Nine Steps

1916 The Power House

1916 Greenmantle

1919 Mr Standfast

1921 The Path of the King

1922 Huntingtower

1923 Midwinter

1924 The Three Hostages

1925 John Macnab

1926 The Dancing Floor

1927 Witch Wood

1928 The Runagates Club (stories 1913-28)

1929 The Courts of the Morning

1930 Castle Gay

1931 The Blanket of the Dark

1932 The Gap in the Curtain

1932 The Magic Walking Stick (for children)

1933 A Prince of the Captivity

1934 The Free Fishers

1935 The House of the Four Winds

1936 The Island of Sheep

1941 Sick Heart River (also published as Mountain Meadow)

1941 The Long Traverse (also published as Lake of Gold)


1896 Scholar-Gipsies (essays)

1903 The African Colony

1905 The Law Relating to the Taxation of Foreign Income

1908 Some Eighteenth Century Byways (essays and articles)

1911 Sir Walter Raleigh

1912 What the Home Rule Bill Means

1913 The Marquis of Montrose

1913 Andrew Jameson, Lord Ardwall

1915 Britain's War by Land

1915 The Achievement of France

1915 Ordeal by Marriage

1916 The Future of the War

1916 The Battle of the Somme, First Phase

1916 The Purpose of War

1916 The Battle of Jutland

1917 Poems, Scots and English

1917 The Battle of the Somme, Second Phase

1919 These for Remembrance

1919 The Battle Honours of Scotland 1914-1918

1920 The History of the South African Forces in France

1920 Francis and Riversdale Grenfell

1920 The Long Road to Victory

1921-2 A History of the Great War

1922 A Book of Escapes and Hurried Journeys

1923 The Last Secrets (essays and articles)

1923 A History of English Literature

1923 Days to Remember

1924 Some Notes on Sir Walter Scott

1925 The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers 1678-1918

1925 The Man and the Book: Sir Walter Scott

1925 Two Ordeals of Democracy

1926 Homilies and Recreations (essays and addresses)

1930 The Kirk in Scotland (with George Adam Smith)

1930 Montrose and Leadership

1930 Lord Rosebery, 1847-1929

1931 The Novel and the Fairy Tale

1932 Julius Caesar

1932 Andrew Lang and the Borders

1933 The Massacre of Glencoe

1933 The Margins of Life

1934 Gordon at Khartoum

1934 Oliver Cromwell

1935 The King's Grace

1937 Augustus

1938 The Interpreter's House

1938 Presbyterianism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

1940 Memory Hold-the-Door (published as Pilgrim's Way in the United States)

1940 Comments and Characters

1940 Canadian Occasions


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Edmund Clerihew Bentley

E. C. Bentley (July 10, 1875 - March 30, 1956), was a popular English novelist and humorist of the early twentieth century, and the inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of humorous verse on biographical topics.

Born in London, and educated at St Paul's School and Merton College, Oxford, Bentley worked as a journalist on several newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph. His first published collection of poetry, titled Biography for Beginners (1905), popularized the clerihew form; it was followed by two other collections, in 1929 and 1939. His detective novel, Trent's Last Case (1913), was much praised, numbering Dorothy L. Sayers among its admirers, and with its labyrinthine and mystifying plotting can be seen as the first truly modern mystery. The success of the work inspired him, after 23 years, to write a sequel, Trent's Own Case (1936). There was also a book of Trent short stories, Trent Intervenes. Several of his books were reprinted in the early 2000s by House of Stratus.

From 1936 until 1949 Bentley was president of the Detection Club and contributed to both of their radio serials broadcast in 1930 and 1931 and published in 1983 as The Scoop and Behind The Screen. He died at the age of 80 in 1956. His son Nicolas Bentley was a famous illustrator.


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G. K. Chesterton

Life | Writing | Views and contemporaries | The Chesterbelloc | List of major works | Influence

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (May 29, 1874-June 14, 1936) was an influential English writer of the early 20th century. His prolific and diverse output included journalism, philosophy, poetry, biography, Christian apologetics, fantasy, and detective fiction.

Chesterton has been called the "prince of paradox." He wrote in an off-hand, whimsical prose studded with startling formulations. For example: "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it."He is one of the few Christian thinkers who are equally admired and quoted by both liberal and conservative Christians, and indeed by many non-Christians. Chesterton's own theological and political views were far too nuanced to fit comfortably under the "liberal" or "conservative" banner. And in his own words he cast aspersions on the labels saying, "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." He routinely referred to himself as an "orthodox Christian," and came to identify such a position with Roman Catholicism more and more, eventually converting to the Church of Rome.

He is not to be confused with his politically radical cousin, A. K. Chesterton.


Born in Campden Hill in Kensington in London, Chesterton was educated at St Paul's School. He attended the Slade School of Art in order to become an illustrator and also took literature classes at University College London but did not complete a degree at either. In 1896 Chesterton began working for the London publisher Redway, and T. Fisher Unwin, where he remained until 1902. During this period he also undertook his first journalistic work as a freelance art and literary critic. In 1901 he married Frances Blogg, to whom he remained married for the rest of his life. In 1902 he was given a weekly opinion column in the Daily News, followed in 1905 by a weekly column in The Illustrated London News, for which he would continue to write for the next thirty years.

According to Chesterton, as a young man he became fascinated with the occult and, along with his brother Cecil, experimented with Ouija boards. However, as he grew older, he became an increasingly orthodox Christian, culminating in his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922.

Chesterton was a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and weighing around 21 stone (134 kg or 294 lb). His girth gave rise to a famous anecdote. During World War I a lady in London asked why he wasn't 'out at the Front'; he replied, 'If you go round to the side, you will see that I am.' On another occasion he remarked to his friend George Bernard Shaw, 'To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England.' Shaw retorted, 'To look at you, anyone would think you caused it.'

He usually wore a cape and a crumpled hat, with a swordstick in hand, and had a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Chesterton often forgot where he was supposed to be going and would miss the train that was supposed to take him there. It is reported that on several occasions he sent a telegram to his wife from some distant (and incorrect) location, writing such things as "Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" to which she would reply, "Home."

Chesterton loved to debate, often engaging in friendly public disputes with such men as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow. According to his autobiography, he and Shaw played cowboys in a silent movie that was never released.

Chesterton died on 14 June 1936, at his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. The homily at Chesterton's Requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral, London, was delivered by Ronald Knox. He is buried in Beaconsfield in the Catholic Cemetery. Chesterton's estate was probated at 28,389 pounds sterling, approximately equivalent to USD 2.6 million in modern terms.


Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. He was a columnist for the Daily News, the Illustrated London News, and his own paper, G. K.'s Weekly; he also wrote articles for the Encyclopedia Britannica. His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday is arguably his best-known novel. He was a convinced Christian long before he was received into the Catholic church, and Christian themes and symbolism appear in much of his writing. In the United States, his writings on distributism were popularized through The American Review, published by Seward Collins in New York.

Much of his poetry is little known, though well reflecting his beliefs and opinions. The best written is probably Lepanto, with The Rolling English Road the most familiar, and The Secret People perhaps the most quoted ("we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet"). Another excellent poem is A Ballade of Suicide.

Of his nonfiction, Charles Dickens (1903) has received some of the broadest-based praise. According to Ian Ker (The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961, 2003), "In Chesterton's eyes Dickens belongs to Merry, not Puritan, England" (see Merry England); Ker treats in Chapter 4 of that book Chesterton's thought as largely growing out of his true appreciation of Dickens, a somewhat shop-soiled property in the view of other literary opinions of the time.

Chesterton's writings consistently displayed wit and a sense of humour. He employed paradox, while making serious comments on the world, government, politics, economics, philosophy, theology and many other topics. When The Times invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme "What's Wrong with the World?" Chesterton's contribution took the form of a letter:

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G. K. Chesterton

Typically, Chesterton here combined wit with a serious point (that of human sinfulness) and self-deprecation.

Much of Chesterton's work remains in print, including collections of the Father Brown detective stories. Ignatius Press is currently in the process of publishing a Complete Works.

Views and contemporaries

The roots of Chesterton's approach have been taken to be in two earlier strands in English literature, Dickens being one. In the use of paradox, against complacent acceptance of things as they are, he is often categorised with Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, whom he knew well, as Victorian satirists and social commentators in a tradition coming also from Samuel Butler.

Chesterton's style and thinking were all his own, however, and his conclusions were often diametrically opposed to those of his predecessors and contemporaries. In his book Heretics, Chesterton has this to say of Oscar Wilde:

"The same lesson [of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker] was taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw."

More briefly, and with a closer approximation of Wilde's own style, he writes in Orthodoxy concerning the necessity of making symbolic sacrifices for the gift of creation:

"Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde."

Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw were famous friends and enjoyed their arguments and discussions. Although rarely in agreement, they both maintained good-will towards and respect for each other. However, in his writing, Chesterton expressed himself very plainly on where they differed and why. In Heretics he writes of Shaw:

"After belabouring a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr. Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be progressive at all. Having come to doubt whether humanity can be combined with progress, most people, easily pleased, would have elected to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations and go in for progress for its own sake. If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby."

Shaw represented the new school of thought, humanism, which was rising at the time. Chesterton's views, on the other hand, became increasingly more polarized towards the church. In Orthodoxy he writes:

"The worship of will is the negation of will. . . If Mr. Bernard Shaw comes up to me and says, "Will something," that is tantamount to saying, "I do not mind what you will," and that is tantamount to saying, "I have no will in the matter." You cannot admire will in general, because the essence of will is that it is particular."

This style of argumentation is what Chesterton refers to as using 'Uncommon Sense'-that is, that the thinkers and popular philosophers of the day, though very clever, were saying things that appeared, to him, to be nonsensical. This is illustrated again in Orthodoxy:

"Thus when Mr. H. G. Wells says (as he did somewhere), "All chairs are quite different," he utters not merely a misstatement, but a contradiction in terms. If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them "all chairs."

Or, again from Orthodoxy:

"The wild worship of lawlessness and the materialist worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless—one because he must not grasp anything, and the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan’s will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite’s will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is—well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads."

"All healthy men, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, know that there is a certain fury in sex that we cannot afford to inflame and that a certain mystery and awe must forever surround it if we are to remain sane."

Incisive comments and observations occurred almost impulsively in Chesterton's writing. In the middle of his epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse he famously states:

For the great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry,

And all their songs are sad.

The Chesterbelloc

Chesterton is often associated with his close friend, the poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc. Shaw coined the name Chesterbelloc for their partnership, and this stuck. Though they were very different men, they shared many beliefs; Chesterton eventually joined Belloc in his natal Catholicism, and both voiced criticisms towards capitalism and socialism. They instead espoused a third way: distributism.

G. K.'s Weekly, which occupied much of Chesterton's energy in the last 15 years of his life, was the successor to Belloc's New Witness, taken over from Cecil Chesterton, Gilbert's brother who died in World War I.

Both Chesterton and Belloc have faced accusations of anti-Semitism during their lifetimes and subsequently. Their criticisms of the "international Jewish banking families" are some of the most important reasons for these accusations. For example, G.K., Belloc, and G.K.'s brother Cecil were vehement critics of the Isaacs, who were involved in the Marconi scandal in the years before World War I. George Orwell accused Chesterton of being guilty of "endless tirades against Jews, which he thrust into stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts."

In The New Jerusalem, Chesterton made it clear that he believed that there was a "Jewish Problem" in Europe, in the sense that he believed that Jewish culture (not Jewish ethnicity/Semitism) separated itself from the nationalities of Europe. He suggested the formation of a Jewish homeland as a solution, and was later invited to Palestine by Jewish Zionists who saw him as an ally in their cause. In 1934, after the Nazi Party took power in Germany he wrote that:

"In our early days Hilaire Belloc and myself were accused of being uncompromising Anti-Semites. Today, although I still think there is a Jewish problem, I am appalled by the Hitlerite atrocities. They have absolutely no reason or logic behind them. It is quite obviously the expedient of a man who has been driven to seeking a scapegoat, and has found with relief the most famous scapegoat in European history, the Jewish people."

The Wiener Library (London's archive on anti-semitism and Holocaust history) has defended Chesterton against the charge of anti-Semitism: "he was not an enemy, and when the real testing time came along he showed what side he was on."

Chesterton condemned the Nuremberg Laws, and he died in 1936, as the Hitlerite antisemitic measures were temporarily decreased due to the Berlin Olympics, long before lethal persecution by the Nazis would start.

List of major works

Charles Dickens (1903)

The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904) text

Heretics (1905)

The Man Who Was Thursday (1907) text

Orthodoxy (1908)

The Ballad Of The White Horse (1911) poetry

Father Brown short stories (detective fiction)

The Everlasting Man (1925)


Chesterton's The Everlasting Man contributed to C. S. Lewis's conversion to Christianity. In a letter to Sheldon Vanauken (December 14, 1950) Lewis calls the book "the best popular apologetic I know", and to Rhonda Bodle he wrote (December 31, 1947) "the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton The Everlasting Man." The book was also cited in a list of 10 books that "most shaped his vocational attitude and philosophy of life".

Chesterton's biography of Charles Dickens was largely responsible for creating a popular revival for Dickens's work as well as a serious reconsideration of Dickens by scholars. Considered by T. S. Eliot, Peter Ackroyd, and others, to be the best book on Dickens ever written.

Chesterton's writings have been praised by such authors as Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Frederick Buechner, Evelyn Waugh, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Karel Capek, David Dark, Paul Claudel, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Andrew Greeley, Sigrid Undset, Ronald Knox, Kingsley Amis, W. H. Auden, Anthony Burgess, E. F. Schumacher, Orson Welles, Dorothy Day and Franz Kafka.

Chesterton's Orthodoxy is considered a religious classic by many. Philip Yancey said that if he were "stranded on a desert island.. and could choose only one book apart from the Bible, I may well select Chesterton's own spiritual autobiography, Orthodoxy."

Chesterton's novel The Man Who Was Thursday inspired the Irish Republican military leader Michael Collins with the idea: 'if you didn't seem to be hiding nobody hunted you out.'

His physical appearance and apparently some of his mannerisms were a direct inspiration for the character of Dr. Gideon Fell, a well-known fictional detective created in the early 1930s by the Anglo-American mystery writer John Dickson Carr.

The author Neil Gaiman has stated that The Napoleon of Notting Hill was an important influence on his own book Neverwhere. Gaiman also based the character Gilbert, from the comic book The Sandman, on Chesterton, as well as featuring a quotation from "The Man who was October", a book Chesterton wrote "only in dreams", at the end of Season of Mists. Gaiman's novel Good Omens, co-authored with Terry Pratchett is dedicated "to the memory of G.K. Chesterton: A man who knew what was going on."

Ingmar Bergman considered Chesterton's little known play Magic to be one of his favourites and even staged a production in Swedish. Later he reworked Magic into his movie The Magician in 1958.

The Third Way (UK) campaigns for the widespread ownership of property are inspired by the economic system Chesterton espoused: Distributism.

The Innocence of Father Brown is cited by Guillermo Martinez as one of the inspirations for his thriller The Oxford Murders. Martinez explicitly quotes from Chesterton's story in Chapter 25 of The Oxford Murders.


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Robert Erskine Childers

Early life | Military career | Home Rule | Civil War and death

Robert Erskine Childers DSO (25 June 1870-24 November 1922) was an author and Irish nationalist who was executed by the authorities of the newly independent Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War. He was the son of British Orientalist scholar Robert Caesar Childers; the cousin of Hugh Childers and Robert Barton; and the father of the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Hamilton Childers.

Early life

Childers was born in London to a Protestant family originally from Glendalough, Ireland. His father was English and his mother Irish, but he was orphaned as a child and raised by an uncle in County Wicklow.

He was sent to Haileybury College and then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge and after graduation took a job in 1895 as a clerk in the House of Commons. He was an enthusiastic yachtsman, owning several boats during his life and sailing them regularly. At this point in his career he was a supporter of the British Empire.

Military career

On the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899 he volunteered for action, serving as an officer in the City Imperial Volunteers, while he was part of the Honourable Artillery Company in the British Army. He was wounded in South Africa and invalided back to Britain. On his return he wrote the novel The Riddle of the Sands which was published in 1903. Based on his own sailing trips along the German coast, it predicted war with Germany and called for British preparedness. Widely popular, the book has never gone out of print.

It has been called the first spy novel (a claim challenged by advocates of Rudyard Kipling's Kim, published two years earlier), and enjoyed immense popularity in the years before World War I. It was an extremely influential book: Winston Churchill later credited it as a major reason that the Admiralty decided to establish naval bases at Invergordon, Rosyth on the Firth of Forth and Scapa Flow in Orkney.

In 1903, Childers visited the United States. There he met and married Mollie Osgood, who shared his love of sailing. The two received a small sailing yacht, the Asgard, as a wedding gift.

He wrote Volume V of the Times' History of the War in South Africa (1907), which drew attention to British errors in that war and praised the tactics of the Boer guerrillas. He also wrote two books on cavalry warfare based on his experiences, War and the Arme Blanche (1910) and the German Influence on British Cavalry (1911). Both books were strongly critical of the British Army.

Home Rule

Around this time Childers became increasingly attracted to Irish Nationalism and became an advocate of Home Rule. He resigned his post at the House of Commons in 1910 in order to campaign for this cause, writing The Form and Purpose of Home Rule in 1912. In July 1914 he and his wife even smuggled German arms to Howth, County Dublin, in their yacht Asgard, days before the outbreak of World War I. These weapons would later arm the Irish Volunteers during the Easter Rising of 1916. This had been organised in response to the Larne gunrunning of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The remainder of the consignment of guns purchased in Germany for the Irish Volunteers was landed a week later at Kilcoole, county Wicklow by Sir Thomas Myles from his own yacht, the Chotah.

With the start of war, Childers joined the Royal Navy as an Intelligence Officer and was active in the North Sea and the Dardanelles. He was awarded the DSO and promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1916.

However the violent suppression of the Easter Rising had angered Childers, and after the war he moved to Dublin to become fully involved in the struggle against British rule. He joined Sinn Féin, forming a close association with Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins.

In 1919 he was made Director of Publicity for the First Irish Parliament and represented the Irish nationalists at the Versailles conference in Paris. In 1920 Childers published Military Rule in Ireland, a strong attack on British policy. In 1921 he was elected (unopposed) to the Dáil as member for Wicklow and published the pamphlet Is Ireland a Danger to England?, which attacked the British prime minister, David Lloyd George. He became editor of the Irish Bulletin after the arrest of Desmond FitzGerald.

Civil War and death

Childers was secretary-general of the Irish delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the British government. He stayed at the delegation headquarters in Hans Place throughout the period of the negotiations, 11 October-6 December 1921. Childers became vehemently opposed to the final draft of the agreement, particularly the clauses that required Irish leaders to take an Oath of Allegiance to the British king. The Treaty bitterly divided Sinn Féin and the IRA, and Ireland slipped into civil war. Soon Childers was regarded as a traitor not only by the British, but by the pro-Treaty Free State government in Dublin, which was under increasing pressure from Winston Churchill and the British government to take violent reprisal measures against the anti-treaty forces and their leaders.

Said to be the inspiration behind the irregulars' propaganda, Childers was hunted by Free State soldiers and had to travel secretly. The ambush death of Michael Collins intensified the desire of Free State authorities to exact retribution, and in September 1922 the Irish Dáil introduced the Emergency Powers legislation, establishing martial law powers and new capital offences for the carrying of firearms. In November of the same year, Childers was arrested by Free State forces at his home, Glendalough, in County Wicklow, while travelling to meet De Valera. He was tried by a military court on the pretext of possessing a small-calibre automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. Ironically, the pistol was alleged to be a gift from Michael Collins before the latter swore allegiance to the Free State. Childers was convicted by the military court and sentenced to death. While his appeal of the sentence was still pending, Childers was executed by firing squad at the Beggar's Bush Barracks in Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Before his execution, in a spirit of reconciliation, Childers obtained a promise from his then 16-year-old son, the future President Erskine Hamilton Childers, to seek out and shake the hand of every man who had signed his father's death warrant. Childers himself shook hands with each member of the firing squad that was about to execute him. His last words, spoken to them, were (characteristically) in the nature of a joke: "Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way."

Winston Churchill, who had actively pressured Michael Collins and the Free State government to crush the rebellion by armed force, expressed the British view of Childers at the time: "No man has done more harm or done more genuine malice or endeavoured to bring a greater curse upon the common people of Ireland than this strange being, actuated by a deadly and malignant hatred for the land of his birth." In Ireland, however, many saw Childers's execution as politically-motivated revenge, an expedient method of halting the continuing flow of anti-British political texts for which Childers was widely acknowledged.


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Agatha Christie

Biography | Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple | In popular culture | List of works | Novels | Collections of Short Stories | Novels written as Mary Westmacott | Plays | Radio Plays | Television Plays | Nonfiction | Other published works | Co-authored works

Agatha Mary Clarissa, Lady Mallowan, DBE (15 September 1890 - 12 January 1976), mainly known as Agatha Christie, was an English crime fiction writer. She also wrote romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott, but is best remembered for her 80 detective novels and her successful West End theatre plays. Her works, particularly featuring detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple, have given her the title the 'Queen of Crime' and made her one of the most important and innovative writers in the development of the genre.

Christie has been called - by the Guinness Book of World Records, among others - the best-selling writer of books of all time, and the best-selling writer of any kind second only to William Shakespeare. An estimated one billion copies of her novels have been sold in English, and another billion in 103 other languages. As an example of her broad appeal, she is the all-time best-selling author in France, with over 40 million copies sold in French (as of 2003) versus 22 million for Emile Zola, the nearest contender.

Her stage play, The Mousetrap, holds the record for the longest run ever in London, opening at the Ambassadors Theatre on 25 November 1952, and as of 2007 is still running after more than 20,000 performances. In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's highest honor, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year, Witness for the Prosecution was given an Edgar Award by the MWA, for Best Play. Most of her books and short stories have been filmed, some many times over (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, 4.50 From Paddington), and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.

In 1998, the control of the rights to most of the literary works of Agatha Christie passed to the company Chorion, when it purchased a majority 64% share in Agatha Christie Limited.


Agatha Christie was born as Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, Devon, to an American father and an English mother. She never held or claimed United States citizenship. Her father was Frederick Miller, a rich American stockbroker, and her mother was Clara Boehmer, a British aristocrat. Christie had a sister, Margaret Frary Miller (1879-1950), called Madge, eleven years her senior, and a brother, Louis Montant Miller (1880-1929), called Monty, ten years older than Christie. Her father died when she was very young. Her mother resorted to teaching her at home, encouraging her to write at a very young age. At the age of 16 she went to a school in Paris to study singing and piano.

Her first marriage, an unhappy one, was in 1914 to Colonel Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind Hicks, and divorced in 1928.

During World War I she worked at a hospital and then a pharmacy, a job that influenced her work; many of the murders in her books are carried out with poison. (See also cyanide, ricin, and thallium.)

On 8 December 1926, while living in Sunningdale in Berkshire, she disappeared for ten days, causing great interest in the press. Her car was found in a chalk pit in Newland's Corner, Surrey. She was eventually found staying at the Swan Hydro (now the Old Swan hotel) in Harrogate under the name of the woman with whom her husband had recently admitted to having an affair. She claimed to have suffered a nervous breakdown and a fugue state caused by the death of her mother and her husband's infidelity. Opinions are still divided as to whether this was a publicity stunt. Public sentiment at the time was negative, with many feeling that an alleged publicity stunt had cost the taxpayers a substantial amount of money. A 1979 film, Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Christie, recounted a fictionalised version of the disappearance. Other media accounts of this event exist; it was featured on a segment of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, for example.

In 1930, Christie married a Roman Catholic (despite her divorce and her Anglican faith), the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. Mallowan was 14 years younger than Christie, and his travels with her contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. Their marriage was happy in the early years, and endured despite Mallowan's many affairs in later life, notably with Barbara Parker, whom he married in 1977, the year after Christie's death. Other novels (such as And Then There Were None) were set in and around Torquay, Devon, where she was born. Christie's 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Pera Palas hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, the southern terminus of the railroad. The hotel maintains Christie's room as a memorial to the author. The Greenway Estate in Devon, acquired by the couple as a summer residence in 1938, is now in the care of the National Trust. Christie often stayed at Abney Hall in Cheshire, which was owned by her brother-in-law, James Watts. She based at least two of her stories on the hall: The short story The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding which is in the story collection of the same name and the novel After the Funeral. "Abney became Agatha's greatest inspiration for country-house life, with all the servants and grandeur which have been woven into her plots. The descriptions of the fictional Styles, Chimneys, Stoneygates and the other houses in her stories are mostly Abney in various forms."

In 1971 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Agatha Christie died on 12 January 1976, at age 85, from natural causes, at Winterbrook House in the north of Cholsey parish, adjoining Wallingford in Oxfordshire (formerly Berkshire). She is buried in the nearby St Mary's Churchyard in Cholsey.

Christie's only child, Rosalind Hicks, died on 28 October 2004, also aged 85, from natural causes. Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, now owns the copyright to his grandmother's works.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple

Agatha Christie's first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920 and introduced the long-running character detective Hercule Poirot, who appeared in 30 of Christie's novels and 50 short stories.

Her other well known character, Miss Marple, was introduced in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, and was based on Christie's grandmother.

During World War II, Christie wrote two novels intended as the last cases of these two great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, respectively. They were Curtain and Sleeping Murder. Both books were sealed in a bank vault for over thirty years, and were released for publication by Christie only at the end of her life, when she realised that she could not write any more novels. These publications came on the heels of the success of the film version of Murder on the Orient Express in 1974.

Like Arthur Conan Doyle, Christie was to become increasingly tired of her detective, Poirot. In fact, by the end of the 1930s, Christie confided to her diary that she was finding Poirot "insufferable", and by the 1960s she felt that he was an "an ego-centric creep". However, unlike Conan Doyle, Christie resisted the temptation to kill her detective off while he was still popular. She saw herself as an entertainer whose job was to produce what the public liked, and what the public liked was Poirot.

In contrast, Christie was fond of Miss Marple. However it is interesting to note that the Belgian detective's titles outnumber the Marple titles by more than two to one.

Poirot is the only fictional character to have been given an obituary in The New York Times, following the publication of Curtain in 1975.

Following the great success of Curtain, Christie gave permission for the release of Sleeping Murder sometime in 1976, but died in January 1976 before the book could be released. This may explain some of the inconsistencies in the book with the rest of the Marple series - for example, Colonel Arthur Bantry, husband of Miss Marple's friend, Dolly, is still alive and well in Sleeping Murder (which, like Curtain, was written in the 1940s) despite the fact he is noted as having died in books that were written after but published before the posthumous release of Sleeping Murder in 1976-such as, The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. It may be that Christie simply did not have time to revise the manuscript before she died. Miss Marple fared better than Poirot, since after solving the mystery in Sleeping Murder, she returns home to her regular life in Saint Mary Mead.

On an edition of Desert Island Discs in 2007, Brian Aldiss recounted how Agatha Christie told him that she wrote her books up to the last chapter, and then decided who the most unlikely suspect was. She would then go back and make the necessary changes to "frame" that person.

In popular culture

Christie has been portrayed on a number of occasions in film and television:

The first occasion was the 1979 Agatha, when Vanessa Redgrave portrayed her.

Hilda Gobbi in a 1980 Hungarian film, Kojak Budapesten

Peggy Ashcroft in a 1986 TV play, Murder by the Book in which Ian Holm appeared as Poirot

Esme Lambert played the part in The Dead Zone episode "Unreasonable Doubt", transmitted on July 14, 2002.

Olivia Williams played the part in a BBC television programme entitled Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures which, like Agatha, revolved around the 1926 disappearance. It was transmitted on September 22, 2004.

Aya Sugimoto in an episode of a Japanese television series called Hyakunin no Ijin in 2006

On August 10, 2007, it was announced that actress Fenella Woolgar (who had appeared as Ellis in Lord Edgware Dies) would appear as Christie in the 2008 season of the science fiction TV series Doctor Who.

Michelle Trout will play the part in a US film, Lives and Deaths of the Poets, which is due for release in 2009.

A precog in the movie Minority Report (film) is named after her.

List of works



: 1920: The Mysterious Affair at Styles; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp

Year: 1922: The Secret Adversary; Detectives: Tommy and Tuppence

Year: 1923: The Murder on the Links; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings

Year: 1924: The Man in the Brown Suit; Detectives: Anne Beddingfeld, Colonel Race

Year: 1925: The Secret of Chimneys; Detectives: Superintendent Battle

Year: 1926: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1927: The Big Four; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp

Year: 1928: The Mystery of the Blue Train; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1929: The Seven Dials Mystery; Detectives: Bill Eversleigh, Superintendent Battle

Year: 1930: The Murder at the Vicarage; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1931: The Sittaford Mystery, also Murder at Hazelmoor; Detectives: Emily Trefusis

Year: 1932: Peril at End House; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp

Year: 1933: Lord Edgware Dies, also Thirteen at Dinner; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp

Year: 1934: Murder on the Orient Express, also Murder on the Calais Coach; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1934: Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, also The Boomerang Clue; Detectives:

Year: 1935: Three Act Tragedy, also Murder in Three Acts; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1935: Death in the Clouds, also Death in the Air; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Chief Inspector Japp

Year: 1936: The A.B.C. Murders, also The Alphabet Murders; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp

Year: 1936: Murder in Mesopotamia; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1936: Cards on the Table; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver

Year: 1937: Dumb Witness, also Poirot Loses a Client, also Mystery at Littlegreen House, also Murder at Littlegreen House; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings

Year: 1937: Death on the Nile; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race

Year: 1938: Appointment with Death; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1938: Hercule Poirot's Christmas, also Murder for Christmas, also A Holiday for Murder; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1939: Murder is Easy, also Easy to Kill; Detectives: Superintendent Battle

Year: 1939: And Then There Were None, also Ten Little Indians, also Ten Little Niggers;

Year: 1940: Sad Cypress; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1940: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, also An Overdose of Death, also The Patriotic Murders; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Chief Inspector Japp

Year: 1941: Evil Under the Sun; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1941: N or M?; Detectives: Tommy and Tuppence

Year: 1942: The Body in the Library; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1942: Five Little Pigs, also Murder in Retrospect; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1942: The Moving Finger, also The Case of the Moving Finger; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1944: Towards Zero, also Come and Be Hanged; Detectives: Superintendent Battle, Inspector James Leach

Year: 1944: Death Comes as the End

Year: 1945: Sparkling Cyanide, also Remembered Death; Detectives: Colonel Race

Year: 1946: The Hollow, also Murder After Hours; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1948: Taken at the Flood, also There is a Tide; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1949: Crooked House; Detectives: Charles Hayward

Year: 1950: A Murder is Announced; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1951: They Came to Baghdad; Detectives:

Year: 1952: Mrs McGinty's Dead, also Blood Will Tell; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Ariadne Oliver

Year: 1952: They Do It with Mirrors, also Murder with Mirrors; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1953: After the Funeral, also Funerals are Fatal, also Murder at the Gallop; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1953: A Pocket Full of Rye; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1954: Destination Unknown, also So Many Steps to Death; Detectives:

Year: 1955: Hickory Dickory Dock, also Hickory Dickory Death; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1956: Dead Man's Folly; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Ariadne Oliver

Year: 1957: 4.50 from Paddington, also What Mrs. McGillycuddy Saw, also Murder She Said; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1958: Ordeal by Innocence

Year: 1959: Cat Among the Pigeons; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1961: The Pale Horse; Detectives: Inspector Lejeune, Ariadne Oliver

Year: 1962: The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, also The Mirror Crack'd; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1963: The Clocks; Detectives: Hercule Poirot

Year: 1964: A Caribbean Mystery; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1965: At Bertram's Hotel; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1966: Third Girl; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Ariadne Oliver

Year: 1967: Endless Night

Year: 1968: By the Pricking of My Thumbs; Detectives: Tommy and Tuppence

Year: 1969: Hallowe'en Party; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Ariadne Oliver

Year: 1970: Passenger to Frankfurt

Year: 1971: Nemesis; Detectives: Miss Marple

Year: 1972: Elephants Can Remember; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Ariadne Oliver

Year: 1973: Postern of Fate, final Tommy and Tuppence, last novel Christie wrote; Detectives: Tommy and Tuppence

Year: 1975: Curtain, Poirot's last case, written four decades earlier; Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings

Year: 1976: Sleeping Murder, Miss Marple's last case, written four decades earlier; Detectives: Miss Marple

Collections of Short Stories

1924 Poirot Investigates (short stories: eleven in the UK, fourteen in the US)

1929 Partners in Crime (fifteen short stories; featuring Tommy and Tuppence)

1930 The Mysterious Mr. Quin (twelve short stories; introducing Mr. Harley Quin)

1932 The Thirteen Problems (thirteen short stories; featuring Miss Marple, also known as The Tuesday Club Murders)

1933 The Hound of Death (twelve short stories - UK only)

1934 The Listerdale mystery (twelve short stories - UK only)

1934 Parker Pyne Investigates (twelve short stories; introducing Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver, also known as Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective)

1937 Murder in the Mews (four novella-length stories; featuring Hercule Poirot, also known as Dead Man's Mirror)

1939 Regatta Mystery and Other Stories (nine short stories - US only)

1947 The Labours of Hercules (twelve short stories; featuring Hercule Poirot)

1948 The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (eleven short stories - US only)

1950 Three Blind Mice and Other Stories (nine short stories - US only)

1951 The Under Dog and Other Stories (nine short stories - US only)

1960 The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (six short stories - UK only)

1961 Double Sin and Other Stories (eight short stories - US only)

1966 Surprise! Surprise! (twelve short stories)

1971 The Golden Ball and Other Stories (fifteen short stories - US only)

1974 Poirot's Early Cases (eighteen short stories, also known as Hercule Poirot's Early Cases)

1979 Miss Marple's Final Cases and Two Other Stories (eight short stories - UK only)

1991 Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories (eight short stories - UK only)

1997 The Harlequin Tea Set (nine short stories - US only)

1997 While the Light Lasts and Other Stories (nine short stories - UK only)

Novels written as Mary Westmacott

1930 Giant's Bread

1934 Unfinished Portrait

1944 Absent in the Spring

1948 The Rose and the Yew Tree

1952 A Daughter's a Daughter

1956 The Burden


1930 Black Coffee

1937 or 1939 A Daughter's a Daughter (Unpublished - later turned into the 1952 Mary Westmacott novel)

1943 And Then There Were None

1945 Appointment with Death

1946 Murder on the Nile/Hidden Horizon

1951 The Hollow

1952 The Mousetrap

1953 Witness for the Prosecution

1954 Spider's Web

1958 Verdict

1958 The Unexpected Guest

1960 Go Back for Murder

1962 Rule of Three (Comprised of Afternoon at the Seaside, The Rats and The Patient)

1972 Fiddler's Three (Originally written as Fiddler's Five. Unpublished. The final play she wrote)

1973 Akhnaton (Written in 1937)

Radio Plays

1937 Yellow Iris (Based on the short story of the same name)

1947 Three Blind Mice (Christie's celebrated stage play The Mousetrap was based on this radio play)

1948 Butter In a Lordly Dish

1960 Personal Call (A BBC Radio recording of this play is known to exist)

Television Plays

1937 Wasp's Nest (Based on the short story of the same name)


1946 Come Tell Me How You Live

1977 Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

Other published works

1925 The Road of Dreams (Poetry)

1965 Star Over Bethlehem and other stories (Christian stories and poems)

1973 Poems

Co-authored works

1930 Behind The Screen. A radio serial written together with Hugh Walpole, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthon