Unfinished Portrait

  • Mary Westmacott
  • Novel
  • 1934

Bereft of the three people she has held most dear - her mother, her husband and her daughter - Celia is on the verge of suicide. Then one night on an exotic island she meets Larraby, a successful portrait painter, and through a long night of talk reveals how she is afraid to commit herself to a second chance of happiness with another person, yet is not brave enough to face life alone. Can Larraby help Celia come to terms with the past or will they part, her outcome still uncertain?

In Celia we have more nearly than anywhere else a portrait of Agatha.

Max Mallowan, on Unfinished Portrait

More about this story

Considered by many to be a semi-autobiographical novel, Unfinished Portrait tells the tale of a woman at her most vulnerable. Celia has lost her mother, husband and daughter, and while she fears committing to another, she isn’t brave enough to be alone either. Can a painter save her from suicide? It is told through the eyes of the artist.

A study of a shy, emotional nature, verging on the pathological… worth reading.
New York Times

The reviews of the time praised the account of Celia’s childhood in the novel, particularly the descriptions of her Victorian grandmother. As The New York Times Book Review wrote, she was “a grand old lady – an indomitable Victorian with a keen love of life, a fine hand for managing 'the men', and a gruesome interest in the final takings-off of the many friends and relatives whom she survived." Inspiration for this character again came from Agatha Christie’s life and the strict social habits of her own grandmother.

The story has never been adapted.

Did you know?

  1. Unfinished Portrait was the second novel Agatha Christie wrote under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott.

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