The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

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The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side First Edition Cover 1962.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Not known
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Collins Crime Club
Publication date
12 November 1962
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 256 pp (first edition, hardback)
Preceded by The Pale Horse
Followed by The Clocks

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 12 November 1962[1] and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in September 1963 under the shorter title of The Mirror Crack'd and with a copyright date of 1962.[2] The UK edition retailed at fifteen shillings (15/-)[3] and the US edition at $3.75.[2]

It is set in the fictional English village of St. Mary Mead and features Miss Marple. It was dedicated by Christie: "To Margaret Rutherford, in admiration." The story reflects heavily on how much has changed in the world in the 1960s. The story acts as a sort of sequel to The Body in the Library.

Plot introduction[edit]

Miss Marple investigates the murder of Heather Badcock, who consumed a poisoned cocktail apparently meant for American film actress Marina Gregg, Heather's idol. As Marple investigates, she discovers dark secrets in Marina's past, secrets which also link to other seemingly innocent citizens of St. Mary Mead.

Plot summary[edit]

At the beginning it is revealed that a lot has changed in St. Mary Mead. A new housing estate has been built, known to the villagers as "the Development". The car-man, Inch has sold his business to Roberts and then to Bardwell. Meanwhile at Gossington Hall, Colonel Arthur Bantry has died of pneumonia and Miss Marple's friend, Mrs Bantry has moved into a cottage in the grounds called the East Lodge and has sold Gossington Hall to Marina Gregg.

Marina Gregg is a famous, temperamental, much-loved movie star. She has come to settle down in the village of St. Mary Mead at Gossington Hall, where Marina has taken up residence with her husband, film director Jason Rudd.

Heather Badcock, a plain and annoying St. John Ambulance helper who only ever sees things from her own perspective, dies after drinking a cocktail, a daiquiri, at a fete hosted by Marina. She passed away as a result of drinking four grains of Calmo, an American antidepressant drug. She took four grains of it which is six times the recommended dose. Shortly before her death, Heather was in conversation with Marina, giving her a long, boring account of how she had met Marina many years ago in Bermuda, getting out of bed despite her illness and putting on lots of makeup, to seek Marina's autograph.

Marina is seen with a "frozen" look on her face for a moment while Heather talks to her; it is a look likened to the Lady of Shalott, as though "doom has come upon her."

It then comes to light that Marina had handed her own drink to Heather after Heather's was spilled. Therefore it is surmised that Marina must be the intended victim. As a famous star who has married five times, she is a far more likely murder target. Suspicion is cast on many people, including Marina's seemingly devoted husband, a big-shot American TV producer who is a former admirer and an American actress who was previously Marina's rival in love (both Americans turn up unexpectedly at the party). An arty photographer at the party is actually one of three children Marina had adopted in the past for a while and then "got tired of" (Marina does not recognise her as such at the party).

Many years before, Marina desperately wanted children of her own but had difficulties conceiving. After adopting three children (Margot, Angus and Rod), she became pregnant but her baby, Bobby, was born mentally disabled and abandoned to a lifetime of institutions, leaving Marina emotionally scarred. This misfortune was due to Marina contracting German measles in the early stages of her pregnancy.

While police search for clues, two other murders take place – one of Jason's secretary and the other of Marina's butler (both of whom were serving drinks at the party). Jason's secretary, Ella Zielinsky is found murdered by cyanide poisoning, with the poison being administered by means of the atomiser she needed to use frequently for her attacks of hay feaver. Marina's Italian butler, Giuseppe, goes to London and adds £500 into his bank account. He returns to Gossington Hall in a very good mood where he is shot in the back and dies instantly.

Miss Marple finally deduces what Marina had instantly realised at the party, that Heather is the woman who was responsible for infecting Marina with German measles all those years previously when she put on makeup to cover the rash and approached Marina for her autograph. Overcome by rage and grief at seeing her unwitting tormentor looking so happy and proud of her act, Marina impulsively poisons her own glass and hands it to Heather after making Heather spill her own drink. Giuseppe and possibly Ella had seen this; Giuseppe blackmailed her, and both he and Ella died because of the threat they presented.

At the end of the book, Marina dies peacefully in her sleep after having taken an overdose of Calmo; it is not stated whether her death was an accident, suicide or possibly "assisted suicide" as hinted at by Miss Marple.

Explanation of the title[edit]

The title of the novel comes from the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It is referred to by name several times in the novel, with these lines being frequently quoted:

Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

At the end, Miss Marple quotes the last three lines:

He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) was somewhat muted in his praise in his review in The Guardian of 7 December 1962 when he said, "she has of course thought up one more brilliant little peg on which to hang her plot, but the chief interest to me of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side was the shrewd exposition of what makes a female film star tick the way she does tick. And though one could accept a single coincidence concerning that married couple, the second and quite wildly improbable one tends to destroy faith in the story – still more so since it leads nowhere at all."[4]

Maurice Richardson of The Observer of 11 November 1962 summed up, "A moderate Christie; bit diffuse and not so taut as some; still fairly easy to read, though."[5]

Robert Barnard: "The last of the true English village mysteries in Christie's output, and one of the best of her later books. Film milieu superimposed on the familiar St Mary Mead background. Like most Marples this is not rich in clueing, but the changes in village life and class structure since the war are detailed in a knowledgeable and fairly sympathetic way."[6]

References to actual history[edit]

There can be little doubt that Christie used the real-life tragedy of American actress Gene Tierney as the basis of her plot.[7][8] Tierney described the event in her autobiography (Self-Portrait, New York: Wyden, 1979), but it had been well publicised for years previously.

In June 1943, while pregnant with her first child, Tierney came down with German measles, contracted during her only appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. The baby, Daria, was born prematurely, weighing only 3 pounds, 2 ounces, and requiring a total blood transfusion. The infant was also deaf, partially blind with cataracts, and severely retarded and ultimately had to be institutionalised. Some time later Tierney was approached by a female fan for an autograph at a garden party. The woman revealed that she had sneaked out of quarantine to the Hollywood Canteen while sick with German measles to meet Tierney. The incident, as well as the circumstances under which the information was imparted to the actress, is repeated almost verbatim in the story.[9]

Film and television adaptations[edit]

The novel was adapted for a 1980 feature film with Angela Lansbury in the role of Miss Marple. Co-stars were Elizabeth Taylor as Marina Gregg (married and named Rudd in the adaptation) and Kim Novak as Lola Brewster, and the cast also included Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis. The film was released as The Mirror Crack'd, the shortened US book title.

A second adaptation of the novel was made by BBC television in 1992 as part of its series Miss Marple with the title role played by Joan Hickson (in her final performance as Jane Marple), and starring Claire Bloom as Marina Gregg and Glynis Barber as Lola Brewster. This adaptation was mainly faithful to the novel, with minor changes. The novel was the final adaptation for the BBC series Miss Marple.

ITV Studios and WGBH Boston produced another adaptation for the Marple television series starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, with Joanna Lumley reprising her role as Dolly Bantry, Lindsay Duncan as Marina Gregg and Hannah Waddingham as Lola Brewster. Investigating the murder along with Miss Marple is Inspector Hewitt, played by Hugh Bonneville. This version borrowed elements from the 1980 film, but ultimately remained faithful to Christie's original text.

Film director and screenwriter Rituparno Ghosh created a Bengali language version of Christie's story as Shubho Mahurat, which reset the story in the film industry of Kolkata. In this version, Sharmila Tagore plays the ageing star Padmini, the counterpart to Christie's Marina Gregg. The movie features Rakhi Gulzar in the role of the equivalent of Miss Marple.

Publication history[edit]

The novel was serialised in the Star Weekly Novel, a Toronto newspaper supplement, in two abridged instalments from 9–16 March 1963 under the title The Mirror Crack'd with each issue containing a cover illustration by Gerry Sevier.

International titles[edit]

  • Czech: Prasklé zrcadlo (The Cracked Mirror)
  • Danish: at first Det forstenede ansigt (The Petrified Face); from 2000 also Spejlet revnede (The Mirror Cracked)
  • Dutch: De spiegel barstte (The Mirror Cracked)
  • Estonian: Peegel mõranes (The Mirror Cracked)
  • Finnish: Tuijottava katse (The Staring Gaze)
  • French: Le miroir se brisa (The Mirror Broke)
  • German: Mord im Spiegel (Murder in the Mirror); also Dummheit ist gefährlich (Stupidity is Dangerous)
  • Italian: Lo specchio rotto (The Broken Mirror), Assassinio allo specchio (Murder at the Mirror), Silenzio: si uccide (Silence: Someone Kills)
  • Norwegian: Mord som medisin (Murder as Medicine)
  • Polish: Zwierciadło pęka w odłamków stos (The Mirror Cracks in the Pile of Shards)
  • Portuguese (Portugal): O Espelho Quebrado (The Cracked Mirror)
  • Portuguese (Brazil): "A Maldição do Espelho" (The Curse of the Mirror)
  • Spanish: El espejo se rajó de lado a lado (The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side)
  • Swedish: Spegeln sprack från kant till kant (The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side)
  • Turkish: Ve ayna kırıldı (And the Mirror was Cracked)
  • Bulgarian: "Проклятието на огледалото" [Prokliatieto na ogledaloto](The Curse of the Mirror)

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Observer, 11 November 1962 (p. 24).
  2. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  3. ^ Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
  4. ^ The Guardian, 7 December 1962 (p. 9)
  5. ^ The Observer, 11 November 1962 (p. 24)
  6. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (revised edition; pp. 196–97). Fontana Books: 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3
  7. ^ Tierney and Herskowitz (1978) Wyden Books, Self-Portrait, p. 101
  8. ^ Osborne (2006), Chronicle Books, Leading Ladies, p. 195
  9. ^ "Biography". The Official Web Site of Gene Tierney (cmgww.com). Retrieved 22 January 2008. 

External links[edit]