The Creation of Hercule Poirot

Over 100 years since his creation, Hercule Poirot remains one of the best known literary characters and one of the most famous fictional detectives of all time. But how did this celebrated Belgian with an egg shaped head and a thirst for precision come into existence?

Agatha Christie’s love of literature began at the age of five when she taught herself to read. Growing up she enjoyed reading Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories with her sister Madge, who later challenged her to write her own detective story.

During the First World War, Agatha Christie worked at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay – first as a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment and later in the dispensary where her lifelong interest in poisons began. It was during quiet periods in the dispensary that she began thinking about the earlier challenge her sister had set her, and being surrounded by poisons, the plot began to piece itself together.

Since I was surrounded by poison, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected.
Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Agatha Christie believed there was no method to her writing as inspiration could strike at any moment. She would begin by deciding on the crime and then work out the procedure that would make the twist tricky for readers to detect. In the case of her first novel, the outline of the plot was drafted – now Christie required a detective. It was August 1914 and a colony of Belgian refugees were living in a parish in her hometown of Torquay.

Why not make my detective a Belgian? There were all types of refugees. How about a refugee police officer? A retired police officer.
Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

He was to be a tidy little man, because, as Christie herself observed, his creator was the opposite. Standing at no more than 5 feet 4 inches tall, and possessing a waxed moustache, he was immaculately groomed and dressed in the finest clothing. More importantly he must be extremely brainy, and possess little grey cells of the mind. Once these key traits were established, Christie moved onto the task of naming him. With the desire for a grand name, Hercules came first, then Poirot. Not pleased with the combination of Hercules Poirot, the name was adjusted and Hercule Poirot was born.

Agatha Christie had the start and the end of the story planned, and in moments of leisure she attempted to fill in the gaps, battering away on her sister’s old typewriter a chapter at a time. Finding the process tiring and irritating, her mother suggested that in order to finish the story, she should take a holiday away from home. With that in mind, Christie packed her bags and headed to Dartmoor for an undisturbed fortnight to focus on finishing her first detective novel.

Following a fortnight of focusing solely on the story, and after rewriting the over-complicated middle section, Agatha Christie’s first detective novel was complete. Once professionally typed up, Christie sent the story to a publisher – Hodder and Stoughton – who returned it. Not letting that stop her, she sent it off to another publisher.

Poirot was finally introduced to the world in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920, 4 years after it was written, and Hastings had the honour of describing him to readers.

Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible, I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.
Arthur Hastings, The Mysterious Affair at Styles

100 years on and Agatha Christie’s creation - Hercule Poirot - is still considered to be one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time.

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