Agatha Christie’s The Hollow is a crime novel. It was first published in the United States in 1946, and then in the United Kingdom the next year. Agatha Christie rose to prominence as a writer with 66 full-length novels published throughout her lifetime. The Hollow is a country house mystery project that has been dubbed a classic Christie work and was adapted into a TV series in 2004. While it is a crime fiction tale, Agatha Christie observes in her autobiography, An Autobiography, that it is “in some respects much more like a book than a detective story” (Autobiography, 489). As a matter of fact, various changes were done in the narrative but the gist of the story and the overall experiences remained the same as the original book. The book was also adapted into theatrical performances.
The Hollow is the name of the house of Angkatells, which is based along the countryside outside London. The story involves a group of people meeting up in the house where sudden death of one of the guests occurs. At the scene, there also appears Christie’s famous detective character Hercule Poirot, who she admitted not having liked in this particular novel. The setting of the story takes place at the house, a pool, and on paths. The main characters in the story include a downtrodden wife Gerda Christow, her successful husband John Christow and an old flame, Henrietta.
The thesis under discussion states that through the experience of Gerda Christow, The Hollow accurately depicts the effects of her psychological conflicts on her husband John. The statement is partly true; however, there are a few other valid points to ponder upon suggesting that John himself was not an honest partner to his wife and so, the whole situation was not because of his wife’s mental instability. These points are discussed further in the Refutation section below.
Considering the rationale of the thesis mentioned above, let us first consider the obvious fact stated in the novel that represents Gerda as a clumsy wife who is thoroughly dependent on John. It depicts that Gerda has no unique identity of hers and she only sees herself through her husband’s eyes. This precisely suggests that Gerda is going through an inferiority complex and that too because contrary to her own personality, her husband is a successful medical practitioner who has a lot of big achievements in his life to talk about and he also brags on those. There is another important observation that Gerda has assumed an idealized image of herself in John’s eyes. She doesn’t even realize and understand how her husband actually sees her in his mind or if he even cares anymore. Moreover, owing to this, she begins blaming herself even for the mistakes that her husband makes.
On the contrary, John has a completely different personality, which is an exact opposite of what his wife is. Since his life is so full of happening and achievements, he sees his laid-back and dependent wife as a plain woman who has no say or opinion of herself. He thinks that she only relies on him for everything material or thoughts and so thinks her as utterly stupid. Owing to these reason, he doesn’t desire her anymore. Both, Gerda and John are going through a rough marriage where neither of them is happy and satisfied.
Now, since Gerda has not made any efforts to understand the interests and likes and disliked of a successful man like her husband, she failed to be an ideal wife. She further proved that she is living in her own confined shell and can’t evolve her personality the way John would want her to. The laid-back, dependent, clumsy and instable Gerda has been taken as an excuse by her husband John to have relations with other women. This way, John is seen to be having a love affair with Henrietta.
Argument Supported with Primary and Secondary Evidences
It is important to remember that The Hollow features three different women in important roles. All these three women have three different and varying personalities. In addition, these three women are directly connected with the lead character John Christow ((Robert, 1994). The explanation and description of the personalities of these women below serve as evidences to the claim and rationale mentioned in the thesis above.
On one hand, there is John’s wife Gerda Christow. She is a woman whose character comes as a clumsy person. Other men and women see her as awkward and out of place. They think that she doesn’t belong here with John because of her lameness and incapability in front of her successful husband. However, it has also been described in the book that she is madly in love with John to the point that she praises and reveres him on a very serious level. This evidently created inequality in the relationship. After she got married to John, she is seen to be really clingy and reliant on John. She is a character who has no identity of her own and remains polite but laidback. Thus, those people who want to get things done do it rather than her (Jaclyn, 2014). This further proves her inability and incompetence.
At one of the occasions in the book, Lady Angkatell has been seeing remaking about her saying: “She is so nice – really it seems odd sometimes that anyone so nice as Gerda should be so devoid of any kind of intelligence” (The Hollow, ch.1). As much as she is characterized as boring, plain and unattractive from the outside, she has been shown the same way through her intelligence and mental capabilities.
This is a clear evidence for her husband to find attraction, beauty and smartness in other women. It is rightly said that women should always be vigilant on the wants and needs of their husbands. This is especially true of homemakers or housewives because they are unaware of the activities of their husbands done outside. Moreover, they have minimal idea of the kind of intellectual, smart and clever women their husbands meet on a daily basis in their professional lives. This goes without saying that they begin comparing the outside women they meet with their own wives. Once the comparison starts to have huge level of differences, they begin to find other women attractive and get to be inclined towards them. Moreover, husbands who are outgoing and successful in their careers also like to have the company of a woman who has a stable and a strong personality so they match. They also have a tendency to have their wives introduced to their colleagues and friends and would want them to complement their wife’s intelligence. John’s wife was dull, monotonous and boring and thus, he himself never showed inclination towards her.
On the contrary, the second woman described in the book is Henrietta Saversnake. She is defined as a free-willed woman who has a strong personality that echoes wherever she goes. She is also talented and has inclinations towards arts. This makes her rather intellectual and profound. Her likes also include being fond of driving different vehicles and cars. Even with all these pluses, she is described in the novel as humble and not arrogant, rude or proud of her possessions of beauty. Henrietta is described as a working woman and she is a sculptress. In the words of Agatha Christie in The Hollow:
“She is very tactful and asks the right kind of questions, and being a sculptress they respect her, especially as she doesn’t just carve animals or children’s heads but does advanced things like that curious affair in metal and plaster that she exhibited at the New Artists last year” (The Hollow, chapter 1).
On another occasion, Henrietta is also described as:
“Being an artist is the main mean of self-expression in her life. Gerda also inspired her masterpiece “The Worshipper” which is very symbolic as its face is “blind, dumb, devoted” (The Hollow, chapter 4).
Thus, she is everything that Gerda is not.
In one of the chapters, Christie has narrated an on-going conversation between Henrietta and Gerda where Henrietta is inquiring from the latter bout the patterns and knits used in Gerda’s sweater. This is seen to be a genuine question by Henrietta because she herself belongs to an artistic profession. Nevertheless, Lady Andkatell and Midge both jump into this conversation merely to downgrade Gerda and drew an opinion about it that the sweater would have definitely looked great on Henrietta than on Gerda.
The conversation between the ladies, as evidence, is narrated below:
“Well, of course, it would. That’s just the difference between Henrietta and Gerda. Everything Henrietta does she does well and it turns out right” (The Hollow, chapter1).
As another evidence, John has been seen on countless occasions to compare the two women praising how Henrietta loves to do certain things and do those extremely well while Gerda does not even have a slight idea of those things and learning them is out of the question for her lazy and clumsy wife.
The narrative of this discussion from the book is given below:
“Gerda, God help her, had never been able to begin to drive a car!” while Henrietta “loved cars. She spoke of cars with the lyrical intensity that other people gave to spring, or the first snowdrop” (The Hollow, chapter4).
At another point:
“He could, he felt, at a pinch explain to Henrietta. He could never explain to Gerda” (The Hollow, chapter 9).
This conversation only proves the point that Henrietta was competent and able in myriad of things. It also proves how she and Gerda were two pole apart personalities and the characters had no match whatsoever. The talk of cars above can also be taken as a metaphorical example because at that time, the idea of driving or the fondness towards driving cars was not conventional let alone the knowledge of carious cars and driving skills. It was taken as a job that men do while women only sit next to them and enjoy the ride.
All the above mentioned evidences are a clear indication of John’s love for Henrietta. It is important to note that it is not merely a one-sided affair but, Henrietta also loves him back. But the find of free spirit personality that she has, she is not really inclined towards having a serious binding relationship with John. This makes her remain John’s mistress. However, without a doubt she does love John back.
The third and final woman that has been focussed in the novel is Veronica Cray who is an actress. She is the woman who was also John’s fiancée once. Her character is a stereotypical one and a very intense one on that. She is described as a very beautiful woman but also a self-obsessed and proud one. She is shown as a typical spoiled brat also who cannot really get over things easily when they fail to achieve what they want. This is more on the ‘desire’ side of ‘want’. However, her striking personality is taken too well by everyone and in her presence, most of the people get overshadowed. Nevertheless, she creates an aura of excitements in the group.
In the narratives, she has been described as:
“She was lovely–not quietly lovely, not even dazzlingly lovely–but so efficiently lovely that it made you gasp!” (The Hollow, chapter 8).
As it is mentioned above that she has an overpowering and dominant personality and thus, it goes without saying that John would have never liked to be intimidated. As much as he wanted an exciting life partner to accompany him, he would not want to be intimidated by her. Henrietta also has an opinion about the too as fiancées. She, on one occasion said that John would have never wanted to be tamed by his wife. Thus, they both had their differences and Veronica decided that she wanted to pursue her career as an actress rather than spend or rather waste her time having a domesticated life (Johann, 2003).
However, whenever John and Veronica had met accidentally, she was tempted to seduce him. This reflects that they both still had some kind of a connection and were not completely apart.
Analysing these three women and their personalities and keeping John’s personality in mind, it is clear that the three women were three completely different characters but they are all connected to John is ways linked to love and romance.
As much as it was partly the ignorance of John’s wife, Gerda to have made John behave this way and her failure to become what John looked for in his wife – we should also keep the conclusion open and realize that it was not entirely because of the psychological issues of Gerda that reflected on John’s behaviour.
Let’s see the scenario from a different angle keeping John in the hot seat. John was at the same time involved in romantic relationship with three women. Earlier of course, he had an affair with Henrietta even when he had a wife, but when Veronica used to charm him – he never got offended by that. This means that there is a huge factor of John’s own character that needed stability when we talk about love, romance and women. His internal character has been really seen to be waving like a pendulum between three women. And thus, all these three women had their own motives to kill him (Jaclyn, 2014).
John also looks like a person who doesn’t respect Gerda in front on the other guests. He is always vocal about his wife’s drawbacks and very explicitly describes those in front of other people sitting in the gathering. This indicates that John had no respect whatsoever for a family life.
Prolepsis or Hypothetical Frame of Reference
Sooner or later John would have seen this kind of end to his life. Since all three women in his life on three different levels, had their motives to kill him, it is obvious that Gerda had a strong motive and killing him was the only way she would have expressed herself at least once in the lifetime.
It is also safe to hypothesize that John had no moral values and respect for women. She could have just been killed by Veronica at the time when he refused to be her husband. Because Veronica is a kind of a woman who wants what she wants and cannot stand rejection. It is also a possibility that she actually killed him.
Among all the three women, Henrietta is seen to be really self-consumed yet helpful when she assisted Gerda in getting rid of the weapon.
In the above thesis, rationale and description, I have time and again mentioned that there were three women who had a romantic connection with John. Therefore, it is important to pay heed to all other aspects of John’s life that he himself is responsible for. This definitely proves the point that his wife, Gerda and her mental instability are not only to be blamed for John’s attitudes at various occasions.
In Gerda, Christie has depicted a woman who is accused by people as well as her husband to be stupid and foolish. However, a person who is so explicitly labeled with all such negative characteristics always has some inner dark satisfaction wants and desires. It is a possibility that Gerds used to think that she is smarter than what people think of her and that idea would have kept satisfied all along. Moreover, it is also a possibility that in order to prove to the world this smartness, and prove everybody else wrong, she must have just killed her husband (Robert, 1994).
On the other hand, Henrietta was genuinely in love with John just like Gerda. This was also depicted in the sculpture she made to grive the loss of his life. That was her own way to grieve. However, she knew that John would have never liked her to do such a thing after his death. But she couldn’t control her artistic instincts. This also proves that as a woman Henrietta also cared more about her personals interests and her career more than her personal life or love. This also is a psychological twist.
In conclusion, it is safe to assume that John had more than one person who directly affected his life and his behaviors. Thus, we cannot completely blame Gerda for what John got himself into. What he did was also a reflection of his own character, moral values and his priorities. As much as Gerda had psychological issues like going through an inferiority complex, John also had a different kind of psychological issues and that means he had a totally opposite kind of complex, which was being superior. He could have just sat with his wife once with a clear mind and told her what he wanted from her as a wife without being cynical all the time and in public. He made his own mistakes and thus, met his end.
An Autobiography. London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1993. Print.
Christie, Agatha. “The Hollow”, 1946
Dingley, Robert. “Agatha Christie: Overview.” Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers. Ed. Laura Standley Berger. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994.
Hari, Johann. “Agatha Christie – Radical Conservative Thinker.” Johann Hari. October 4, 2003.
Holland-Strauss, Jaclyn. “Agatha Christie and The Hollow: Are Gerda Christow and Henrietta Savernake representations of Christie herself?” January 20, 2014