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|First appearance||Parker Pyne Investigates|
|Last appearance||Elephants Can Remember|
|Created by||Agatha Christie|
|Portrayed by||Lally Bowers, Jean Stapleton, Zoë Wanamaker, Julia McKenzie, Stephanie Cole|
|Occupation||Crime/detective fiction writer|
Celia Ravenscroft (goddaughter)
Mrs Oliver often assists Poirot in his cases through her knowledge of the criminal mind. She often claims to be endowed with particular "feminine intuition", but it usually leads her astray. She is particularly fond of apples, which becomes a plot point in the novel Hallowe'en Party.
In the books, Oliver's most famous works are those featuring her vegetarian Finnish detective Sven Hjerson. Since she knows nothing of Finland, Oliver frequently laments Hjerson's existence. In many of her appearances, Oliver – and her feelings toward Hjerson – reflect Agatha Christie's own frustrations as an author, particularly with the Belgian Hercule Poirot (an example of self-insertion). The self-caricature has also been used to discuss Christie's own follies in her earlier novels. For instance, in Mrs McGinty's Dead, Mrs Oliver talks of having made the blowpipe a foot long (30 cm) in one of her novels, whereas the actual length is something like four-and-a-half feet (1 1⁄2 yards (140 cm)) – the same mistake Christie made in Death in the Clouds.
In The Pale Horse, Mrs Oliver becomes acquainted with the Rev and Mrs Dane Calthorp, who are friends of Miss Marple (The Moving Finger), thus establishing that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot exist in the same world. In Cards on the Table, there is a reference to Mrs Oliver's book The Body in the Library; this title was used by Christie six years later, for a novel featuring Miss Marple. Books by Ariadne Oliver and by a number of other fictitious mystery writers are discussed by characters in The Clocks (1963). Like Christie, she is a member of the Detection Club. Christie even thought of setting a murder at the Club with Oliver being one of the suspects as well as the detective, but it came to nothing. (Although in Cards on the Table, Mrs Oliver plays detective in a Poirot mystery of a murder during a bridge game.) A family crisis for Oliver's goddaughter Celia provides the plot in Elephants Can Remember.
Although Ariadne Oliver is consistently referred to as "Mrs. Oliver," nothing is known about her husband. An offhand reference to her marriage is made in Elephants Can Remember.
In a short piece in John Bull Magazine in 1956, Christie was quoted as saying: "I never take my stories from real life, but the character of Ariadne Oliver does have a strong dash of myself." The author of the article went on to state: "It is perfectly true that sometimes she works at her stories in a large old-fashioned bath, eating apples and depositing the cores on the wide mahogany surround."
Even in the one novel in which she appears without Poirot (The Pale Horse), Mrs Oliver does not function as a detective, in that she rarely participates in the investigation and contributes only tangentially to the solution. In Cards on the Table, she does interview some of the suspects, which in turn allows her to discover a hidden motive that even the police were unable to find; in Elephants Can Remember, she again interviews witnesses, but none of the essential ones. She is more usually used for comic relief or to provide a deus ex machina through her intuitive or sudden insights, a function that is especially apparent in Third Girl, in which she furnishes Poirot with virtually every important clue, or in The Pale Horse, where she inadvertently helps the investigators to determine the type of poison used to kill the murder victims, saving the life of another character.
Further functions of Mrs Oliver are to enable Christie to discuss overtly the techniques of detective fiction, to contrast the more fanciful apparatus employed by mystery authors with the apparent realism of her own plots, and to satirize Christie's own experiences and instincts as a writer. Mrs Oliver therefore serves a range of literary purposes for Christie.
The true first appearance of Mrs Oliver was a brief appearance in the short story The Case of the Discontented Soldier which was first published, along with four other stories in the August 1932 issue of the U.S. version of Cosmopolitan magazine (issue number 554) under the sub-heading of Are You Happy? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne. The story first appeared in the UK in issue 614 of Woman's Pictorial on 15 October 1932, and was later published in book form in 1934 as Parker Pyne Investigates (titled Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective in the USA). Within this story she appeared as part of Pyne's unorthodox team of freelance assistants. Within the same book, she also briefly appears in The Case of the Rich Woman.
All her subsequent appearances (save The Pale Horse) were in Poirot novels:
- Cards on the Table (1936)
- Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952)
- Dead Man's Folly (1956)
- The Pale Horse (1961) – Oliver's only appearance in a Christie novel without Poirot
- Third Girl (1966)
- Hallowe'en Party (1969)
- Elephants Can Remember (1972)
- Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly (2014) – a novella that was later expanded and published as Dead Man's Folly.
An advert for Ariadne Oliver's With Vinegar and Brown Paper (as with Agatha Christie using nursery rhyme references) appears in the Frontispiece of Mark Gatiss's book The Devil in Amber along with other adverts for made-up books.
In And Then There Were None, a character, Emily Brent, mistakes the name Mrs. Owen for a Mrs. Oliver, perhaps an in-joke that Emily Brent and Ariadne Oliver may have encountered each other at one point.
Representations in film, television, and radio adaptations
The first appearance of Ariadne Oliver on television was in an episode of The Agatha Christie Hour (1982). In an adaptation of the Parker Pyne story The Case of the Discontented Soldier, she was portrayed by Lally Bowers.
Zoë Wanamaker has played Ariadne Oliver in six television episodes of the series Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. In the last shot episode of the series (but not the finale), Mrs Oliver—a combination of Agatha Christie/Miss Marple—is helpful to Poirot in an adaptation of Dead Man's Folly, which was filmed on the Christie Estate.
In the BBC Radio 4 plays, Ariadne Oliver has been played by Stephanie Cole (Cards on the Table, Hallowe'en Party and The Pale Horse), and by Julia McKenzie (Mrs McGinty's Dead, Dead Man's Folly, and Elephants Can Remember).[when?]
- Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, edited by John Curran.
- John Bull Magazine, 11 August 1956. Volume 100, Number 2615 (p. 3)
- Interview: Mark Gatiss | Books | The Observer