Agatha Christie wrote six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott between the years 1930 and 1956 (when they were actually published). One of these, Absent in the Spring, is an excellent character study of a woman who is temporarily stranded in the Middle Eastern desert, and starts analyzing herself to great effect. All her life she feels she has been perceived a certain way, but when she sees the body language of her husband as he departs the train station after seeing her off on her trip, she realizes that he is relaxed at the thought of his vacation away from her. Increasingly, over the ensuing days, she realizes that she has been far too self-satisfied, and that perhaps others do not perceive her as she might wish, and has always believed.
Christie wrote this book in three days and was exhausted when it was done. To me, this suggests that she was extremely emotionally engaged in the content of the book, even more so than usual. I’ve read a lot of books about Christie, in addition to the books she wrote herself. In Christie’s Autobiography, she recounts in the incident where her daughter is getting married, and asks her mother, “Do you want to be at the wedding?” This occurred sometime around 1941.
Absent in the Spring was published in 1944, and I remember reading in a book, although I’m not sure of the title, that Christie generally finished writing her books the year before they were actually published. This would mean that there is not much of a gap between the incident with her daughter, Rosalind, and the fiction about the woman trapped in the desert.
Could there be a connection between the two? I think there is. It must have unnerved Christie to hear that her daughter was not sure if she wanted to be at the wedding or not. One would assume that of course a mother would want to be at her daughter’s wedding. Christie must have begun to ask herself why this question would even be asked. Of course, this is all conjecture, but I think one possibility is that Rosalind was used to Christie not being an overly involved mother. Christie married her second husband, the archaelogist Max Mallowan, in 1930, and travelled with him throughout the ’30s for half of each year during the season of digging, in the Middle East. Rosalind was born in 1919, which would mean that she was an adolescent when Christie left her for six months out of each year for several consecutive years. This probably would make a daughter wonder if her mother was that attached emotionally.
Another thing I have noticed when reading Christie’s Autobiography is that she often discusses her daughter in a negative context. Her daughter wanted to pose for bathing pictures and her mother refused. When Christie was writing The Mystery of the Blue Train, Rosalind was a young girl, around the age of 7, and kept interrupting Christie when she was trying to write her book.
None of this is to criticize Christie. As I have said in other blog articles, the woman was one of the great geniuses of the world. She thought differently from others. She probably should have been more emotionally available to her daughter, her only child; however, we can’t judge someone we don’t even know. Perhaps it was not in Christie’s makeup, for reasons we don’t know, to be available on that level emotionally. Still, I think my theory makes sense, about the relationship between the two women. I encourage everyone to read Absent in the Spring. In my opinion, it’s the best Westmacott novel, right up there with the best of the Christie detective novels.