3 edition 10 January 2024
(1 edition 2 April 2018, 2 edition 8 July 2018)

Marianne Haslev Skanland:

Agatha Christie's dark understanding of adoption

    It has not seemed necessary to me for an essay of this kind to go to first editions of Agatha Christie's books, although I know that some editing has taken place (cf Barnard p 23). Page references to quotations from the books are to the paperback copies I have used, which are not necessarily the first paperback editions or printings either; the editions I have used are given in square brackets in the bibliography at the end of the article.
    Quotations from Scandinavian sources are only given in English translation, and are marked "transl." The translations are mine.

    To the reader who may be familiar with the topics I tend to write about on the internet more ordinarily:
    I have not written this piece to provide additional evidence regarding "child protection" themes. Practically all such evidence which I have included here, I have written about elsewhere already, and questions of biology, quack versus scientific psychology, disastrous social "work" and social engineering, etc etc, are certainly recognisably the same in the present piece, just placed in a slightly different framework.
    Nor have I written it as an attempt at a scholarly, would-be objective literary analysis of works of fiction. This time, I have read what Agatha Christie writes very much from the starting point of what I believe I know about the subject matter of adoption and related issues – maybe a bit like the devil reading the Bible.
    I have written the present piece to please myself, with absolutely no scholarly attention to what and how much it is strictly relevant to include. – However, it has taken me an unexpectedly long struggle to "get things" into what I consider a reasonable shape, and reading it through now after, I find my argumentation trite, nothing like as interesting as reading Agatha's crime mysteries.

The revised second edition, from 8 July 2018, contained additions in Parts 6.1 and 6.4.
The revision in edition 3, from 10 January 2024, consists of an addition in Part 5.3.


Part 1  An unusual view?
Part 2  Adoption in Agatha Christie's close family
Part 3  Detour: a fellow writer who was a mother in Sweden
Part 4  The Christie fiction in which adoption is an item
    4.1 The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
    4.2 Mrs McGinty's Dead
    4.3 Sad Cypress
    4.4 'Dead Man's Mirror'
    4.5 Ordeal by Innocence
Part 5  Resentment and – sometimes – resolution
    5.1 A development towards sharper descriptions
    5.2 Biological fathers and adoptive fathers
    5.3 Biological mothers and adoptive mothers
    5.4 Resignation, acceptance, realism
Part 6  Adoption, biology and environment
    6.1 Inheritance of personality traits
    6.2 Inheritance even of details of behaviour
    6.3 The historical setting
    6.4 A variety of family relationships
Part 7  Agatha Christie's views or not?
    7.1 With
An Autobiography as a starting point
    7.2 Interpretation based on Christie's fiction
Part 8  Children away from parents, in real life and in Christie's books
    8.1 A divided culture?
       8.1.1 Ideas of beneficial social engineering
       8.1.2 Ignorant and self-contradictory adoption expertise
       8.1.3 Children a commodity to be traded?
       8.1.4 Groups of people with different ideas
    8.2 The evidence of scientific studies
       8.2.1 Bohman & Sigvardsson
       8.2.2 Daly & Wilson
       8.2.3 Agid & al
       8.2.4 Vinnerljung
       8.2.5 Foster care in Christie's fiction
    8.3  Some evidence from involved individuals
    8.4  Morality
    8.5  Agatha's contribution to our education

Part 1  
An unusual view?

The way I experience Agatha Christie's fictional crime stories, their quality is underrated. Her descriptions of milieus and people, their lives, thoughts and motives, are much better than she is given credit for by many critics and connoisseurs in departments of literature at universities. Her books are not the kind usually considered to be of cultural importance. Elements of her literary work are therefore less analysed and discussed by literary experts than is the case for other writers with a much smaller circle of readers. There are, however, several aspects of what she writes which are of considerable interest to the ordinary reader of fiction interested in various cultural questions, and being one myself, I should like to take up one of them in this article. It concerns adoption of children.

John Curran, in his book
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks (2009), refers to the character Maureen Summerhayes' remark about adoption in Mrs McGinty's Dead (pp 240-42); he even calls it a ‘very daring remark’. But he only mentions it, and labels it "daring", because it is a central clue in revealing the mystery and the murderer. He says nothing about Maureen's conversation with Poirot and others, a conversation which in a nutshell gives such a clear picture of Maureen's (and Agatha's) somewhat unusual thoughts about adoption as a phenomenon.
    Nor do John G. Cawelti in
Adventure, Mystery, and Romance (1976) or Robert Barnard in A talent to deceive – An appreciation of Agatha Christie (1980) take up this issue in their books about her novels. Barnard has a sympathetic remark (p 193): ‘Understanding in treatment of adopted children’ regarding Ordeal by Innocence in his overview of the books, but in spite of being concerned with the way Christie constructs plots and variations on them, he does not mention the way adoptive relationships are central to the question of guilt in this particular novel.
    My observation that adoption as a theme of its own is not present in what these three authors write about Agatha Christie's production, implies no criticism of them. Their interests are simply different (cf Part 8.1.4).

But Agatha Christie is, or has been, the world's best known crime fiction author, and is apparently quite high up on the list of world famous authors generally. So, although there is not much discussion about the contents of her books in literary circles, plenty of ordinary readers discuss them, and after the coming of the internet write about them and their author on social media and on blogs.

Several of these readers express an interest in Agatha's views on adoption. She shows a deep interest and they perceive her, in several of her stories, as being clearly reserved to the process of adoption and to what being adopted means to the individual. The readers' comments look for explanations of what they consider to be an unusually negative opinion. Many find it in her personal family background, as set out in her autobiography. Her personal experience is obviously the correctly identified source, and in the novels she puts negative views before the reader so clearly that it seems altogether justified to conclude that these are the author's own thoughts. The attitude, though, of the Agatha-readers who write about it is that even when they find the reason, her views not only seem rare but in a sense need to be explained, even excused – that Agatha is deviant and "wrong" about adoption in general.

It is a question whether the commonly held opinion in our culture is right about adoption as a more or less unquestionably beneficial thing – an opinion mirrored in the search of so many readers for an explanation of Agatha's different view. My suggestion is that the cultural ideal is, on the contrary, rather shallow and idyllised, and that Agatha Christie's insider's experience has resulted in her understanding being more realistic. She may be pointing us, with insight in what she writes, to important information about drawbacks and tragedies – not only in her own family's case – resulting from the insufficient understanding of so many adults and whole cultures about the needs of children, and the illness, handicaps and scars created by ignoring them and covering them up.

Part 2
Adoption in Agatha Christie's close family

Agatha's mother was adopted, and never got over it. Agatha's maternal grandmother became a widow early, and was very badly off and with four small children to support. Her elder sister had recently married a well-off American, and offered to adopt one of the children. – From our present-day standpoint, we may ask why the sister and her husband did not offer to augment the widow's pension of the younger sister with a generous allowance instead; however, widows having to part with their children was a common phenomenon in many societies. Be that as it may, Agatha's grandmother chose to send Clara (from
An Autobiography, pp 15-16):
    ‘Of the three boys and one girl, she selected the girl; either because it seemed to her that boys could make their way in the world while a girl needed the advantages of easy living, or because, as my mother always believed, she cared for the boys more. My mother left Jersey and came to the North of England to a strange home. I think the resentment she felt, the deep hurt at being unwanted, coloured her attitude to life. It made her distrustful of herself and suspicious of people's affection. Her aunt was a kindly woman, good-humoured and generous, but she was imperceptive of a child's feelings. My mother had all the so-called advantages of a comfortable home and a good education – what she lost and what nothing could replace was the carefree life with her brothers in her own home.’
    Being taken from the home of her mother and brothers was a shock for Clara, she was very homesick and the hurt of it seemed to remain with her for life.
    There was of course no attempt to cut off the family relations or try to force on Clara a kind of mental lobotomy of forgetting, like the social services in Western countries do with the children they deprive of their parents and siblings. So Clara's daughter Agatha came to have two grandmothers: Auntie-Grannie and Granny B (likely "B" not in the sense of taking second place but from her name Boehmer), and Clara had become very attached to her uncle (her adoptive father). She later married his son of an earlier marriage, Fred, some 9 years her senior, in what turned out a very happy marriage. Still,
‘... the feeling always remained of 'not being wanted'. I think she held it against my grandmother until her dying day.’

Part 3
Detour: a fellow writer who was a mother in Sweden

TV has been showing some programs covering the life and career of the well-known Swedish author of children's books Astrid Lindgren.
    Working in Stockholm as a young woman, she had an affair, and as a result: a son. She had to keep on working and it was impossible for her to keep her son with her. Her family were part of a smallish, prudish country community, they were ashamed and censorious of their daughter bearing a child out of wedlock and would not help her or the child. She went to Denmark to have the child, Lasse, and was able to place him with a widow there who had also taken care of other foster children. Astrid managed to earn enough money to pay for Lasse and to visit him from time to time. The foster family in Denmark turned out to be a happy home for Astrid's son Lasse, but it was not to last. The foster mother fell ill and the foster children must move. Facing great practical difficulties Astrid took Lasse home to herself, and somewhat later her parents accepted having him live with them. Even later, Astrid married, having set as a firm condition that Lasse would live with her and her husband.

There was a lot in the TV programs about the experiences of Astrid and her oldest child Lasse in connection with the fostering placement and Lasse moving back. He had been extremely unhappy for a long time, he longed for his foster family in Denmark. Having to move again, to and from Astrid's parents, was also distressing to him. He felt homeless, wondered where he would be going next, felt insecure.

Astrid Lindgren said that she later spoke with pregnant women facing the same difficulties that she had done. When she was an established, famous children's author, she likewise received many letters: expectant mothers partly influenced or pushed to disown their child by surroundings looking down on and making things difficult for young women who had transgressed against morality, the mothers-to-be wondering whether their child would be ostracised or discriminated against for the same reason, so that it might be better for the child if they gave it up for adoption.
    Astrid tried to give them moral encouragement to stand up to society's condemnation. She said, – Do absolutely all you can to keep your child with you right from the start. Do not be ashamed of it. It is of vital importance for a child to be with its own mother. (In the given context, the children's fathers were not in the picture, but I do not know of anything indicating that Astrid Lindgren undervalued the importance of fathers in general.)
    Astrid thought that her not having Lasse with her in the early days, and then his loving foster family having to be given up also, had harmed Lasse permanently. Asked whether the story of Lasse lay behind what she had written for children, or behind her having become a writer at all, she emphasised its importance both for life and art when she said something like this: – I believe I would probably have become an author even without all that happening about Lasse. But I would not have become the same
kind of author.

Astrid Lindgren and Agatha Christie experienced two different stages of nearly the same process, that of a mother and that of a daughter's daughter. Astrid felt that maybe her son Lasse had never forgiven her. It all echoes so closely what Christie writes (
An Autobiography, pp 15-16):
    ‘Quite often I have seen in correspondence columns inquiries from anxious parents asking if they ought to let a child go to others because of 'the advantages she will have which I cannot provide – such as a first-class education'. I always long to cry out: Don't let the child go. Her own home, her own people, love, and the security of belonging – what does the best education in the world mean against that?’

Part 4
The Christie fiction in which adoption is an item

Adoption plays a part in the lives of some of the characters in at least four of the novels in quite clear form: Sad Cypress (1940), Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952), Ordeal by Innocence (1958), and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1962). They are spaced out in time. The place of adoption in the plot and in the lives of the characters varies a lot, but their thoughts in the last three are much the same. They convey cold scepticism towards both adoptive parents, in particular adoptive mothers, and towards the children's own biological parents who have given them away. Adoption is also a factor in at least one short story: 'Dead Man's Mirror' (1937). It turns up again in the late novel Elephants Can Remember, which I will take up briefly in Part 7.2.

4.1  The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

Margot Bence is a somewhat peripheral character in the mystery. Together with a foster brother, she is a possible suspect who may have tried to murder the protagonist, the famous movie star Marina Gregg. The motive, which the detective exposes, would have to be Margot's furious hatred and hurt because she and two boys had as children been adopted by Marina, only to be sent away again four years later, when Marina got pregnant with her own child (pp 132-35).

Margot looks through both her adoptive mother and her own mother with icy perception. Of Marina and the children's lives with her:
    ‘"We had a wonderful life. Oh, a wonderful life! All the advantages!" Her voice rose mockingly. "Clothes and cars and a wonderful house to live in and people to look after us, good schooling and teaching, and delicious food. Everything piled on! And she herself, our 'Mom.' 'Mom' in inverted commas, playing her part, crooning over us, being photographed with us! Ah, such a pretty sentimental picture." ......
    "She wanted children. But she didn't want
us! Not really. It was just a glorious bit of play-acting. ...... And Izzy [the husband] let her do it. He ought to have known better. ..... He understood her, I think, and he was worried sometimes about us. He was kind to us, but he didn't pretend to be a father. He didn't feel like a father." ....
    "We weren't wanted any more. We'd done very well as little stopgaps, but she didn't care a damn about us really, not a damn. ....... But she'd never wanted
us – all she wanted was a child of her own." .......
    "I don't blame her for wanting a child of her own, no! But what about us? She took us away from our own parents, from the place where we belonged." ......
    "Why shouldn't I hate her? She did the worst thing to me that anyone can do to anyone else. Let them believe that they're loved and wanted and then show them that it's all a sham."’

Of her biological mother:
    ‘"My mother had eight kids. She lived in a slum somewhere. She was one of hundreds of people, I suppose, who write to any film actress that they happen to see or hear about, spilling a hard luck story, begging her to adopt the child a mother couldn't give advantages to. Oh, it's such a sickening business, all of it." .....
    "My mother sold me for a mess of pottage, if you like, but she didn't sell me for advantage to herself. She sold me because she was a damn' silly woman who thought I'd get 'advantages' and 'education' and have a wonderful life. She thought she was doing the best for me. Best for me? If she only knew."’

Miss Marple, too, says the same thing (p 98):
    ‘"In one case a mother with a lot of children and very little money to bring them up in this country, wrote to her, and asked if she couldn't take a child. There was a lot of very silly false sentiment written about that. About the mother's unselfishness and the wonderful home and education and future the child was going to have." .......
    "Children feel things, you know," said Miss Marple, nodding her head. "They feel things more than the people around them ever imagine. The sense of hurt, of being rejected, of not belonging. It's a thing you don't get over just because of advantages."’

4.2  Mrs McGinty's Dead

The remark by Maureen Summerhayes which I mentioned (Part 1) is tucked away in talk taking place at a cocktail party. Agatha is expert at hiding her tracks, so it is natural that the remark capable of pointing to the murderer is baked into a longer conversation, while the rest Maureen says about adoption is not material to the crime plot. Granted that Agatha has probably elaborated in order to hide the important clue, and that Maureen's personality must come alive through what she says and does since she is going to be a credible suspect. Still, the way Agatha accomplishes this is not without interest. She uses it as another occasion to tell the reader something important about adoption.
    (pp 106-07):
‘'I never think it matters much what one eats.'
    Poirot groaned.
    ..... 'I don't think
things matter – not really.'
    She was silent for a moment or two, her eyes alcoholically hazy, as though she was looking into the far distance.
    'There was a woman writing in the paper the other day,' she said suddenly. 'A really stupid letter. Asking what was best to do – to let your child be adopted by someone who could give it every advantage –
every advantage, that's what she said – and she meant a good education, and clothes, and comfortable surroundings – or whether to keep it when you couldn't give it advantages of any kind. I think that's stupid – really stupid. If you can just give a child enough to eat – that's all that matters.'
    She stared down into her empty glass as though it were a crystal.
I ought to know,' she said. 'I was an adopted child. My mother parted with me and I had every advantage, as they call it. And it's always hurt – always – always – to know that you weren't really wanted, that your mother could let you go.'
    'It was a sacrifice for your good, perhaps,' said Poirot.
    Her clear eyes met his.
    'I don't think that's ever true. It's the way they put it to themselves. But what it boils down to is that they can, really, get on without you ... And it hurts. I wouldn't give up
my children – not for all the advantages in the world!'
    'I think you're quite right,' said Mrs Oliver
[a detective fiction writer, obviously a humorous version of Agatha herself, with a number of her habits and opinions].
    'And I, too, agree,' said Poirot.
    'Then that's all right,' said Maureen cheerfully. 'What are we arguing about?'
    Robin, who had come along the terrace to join them, said:
    'Yes, what are you arguing about?'
    'Adoption,' said Maureen. 'I don't like being adopted, do you?'
    'Well, it's much better than being an orphan, don't you think so, darling? .....'
    The guests left in a body.’

Maureen comes across as warm and charming, bumbling, inefficient and not very practical or able to cope well with the mundane tasks of daily life. The reader could feel that in contrast here we have Robin, the well-adjusted, realistic individual. Alternatively he might be a cynic, with no regrets for lost parents.
    However, Robin turns out
not to have been separated from his mother as a child but to have been adopted as an adult, and after the mother's death, in a practically and financially advantageous arrangement to adopter and adoptee alike.
    Maureen is therefore the only one with an experience of childhood adoption away from a parent who was alive and who sanctioned the adoption. Maureen is actually realistic, because she has real knowledge of the long-lasting feelings and thoughts which such an adoption is likely to create in the child.

So in addition to the emotionally appealing character of Maureen Summerhayes and the perceptive and articulate Margot Bence, we now have Mrs Oliver and Poirot in
Mrs McGinty is Dead, and Miss Marple in The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side, all pretty much agreeing with Agatha Christie about the fundamental problems of a child being deprived of its biological parents.

By this time one might be tempted to conclude that Agatha Christie has a narrowly one-sided, purely emotional view of adoption. Is her stance as far away from the varying conditions and temperaments of real individuals involved in an adoption process in actual life, with all its imperfections and problems, as is the culturally popular, superficial idyllisation of it, just in the opposite direction? For one thing, the examples from the two books given above, plus her mother Clara's experience, all stem from adoptions where a living mother gave her child away without being in an absolutely desperate situation. They are not adoptions of orphans, nor cases in which the mothers have been forced or nearly forced, by social workers or others in power or by extreme economic or cultural pressure, to give up their children.

However, adoption turns up in other stories, in a different light.

4.3  Sad Cypress

Laura Welman had born a daughter, Mary. The child's father, an officer, was killed in the war before Mary's birth. Mrs Welman had been a widow at the time, but they had not been able to marry because he had a wife confined in a mental hospital as hopelessly insane. Under British law he could not then obtain a divorce. Though Mrs Welman was well off, the social stigma on them, were Mary to be brought up as her own daughter, would be prohibitive. Mrs Welman's maid Eliza Gerrard agreed to help her, and Mary was registered as the Gerrards' daughter and grew up living next door to Mrs Welman – a de facto adoption. Although the biological relationship was kept secret, even to Mary, she came to be very fond of Mrs Welman and was glad to help nursing her when she became incapacitated; Mrs Welman on her side had helped paying for Mary's general education and intended to provide for her so that she could qualify for a profession.

The central characters in
Sad Cypress: Mrs Welman, Mary, Mrs Welman's niece Elinor, Peter Lord and Roderick Welman, are all described in sympathetic colours, with understanding for their weaknesses also.
    Mrs Welman's love for Mary is portrayed as one of partly fulfilled longing, somewhat melancholy but resigned. As characterised by defence counsel at Elinor's trial (p 220):
‘'If Mrs Welman had lived twenty-four hours longer, she would have made a will; and in all probablility that will would have made a suitable provision for Mary Gerrard, but would not have left her the bulk of her fortune, since it was Mrs Welman's belief that her unacknowledged daughter would be happier if she remained in another sphere of life.'’
    Eliza Gerrard has died before the time the action takes place. But through a letter she has written, she comes over as more than decent and humane, despite having been treated harshly by her own husband. She writes (p 186):
    ‘'My mistress and Sir Lewis Rycroft were fond of each other, but they couldn't marry, because he had a wife already and she was in a madhouse, poor lady. He was a fine gentleman and devoted to Mrs Welman. He was killed, and she told me soon after that she was going to have a child. ..... Bob Gerrard, who had washed his hands of me and flung me off when I had my trouble, had been writing to me again. The arrangement was that we should marry and live at the Lodge and he should think that the baby was mine. If we lived on the place it would seem natural that Mrs Welman should be interested in the child and she'd see to educating her and giving her a place in the world. She thought it would be better for Mary never to know the truth. Mrs Welman gave us both a handsome sum of money; but I would have helped her without that.'’

This, then, is an adoption where both the mother and the adoptive mother make the best of things under difficult circumstances, seeing to it that mother and daughter are not really separated. Not letting the daughter know, is done with the honourable and unselfish aim of protecting the daughter's feelings. – Whether such concealment is really in the child's best interest is a different question, and a somwhat complex one. It never surfaces in this novel, because Mary dies very young.

4.4  'Dead Man's Mirror'

This early short story concentrates mostly on how the murder could have been committed. Of the individuals concerned there are only brief sketches. They are seen from the outside, there is no going into their thoughts, nor are there any really revealing conversations. The one whose personality is most central, the murder victim Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore, is already dead when Poirot arrives to dinner.

The Chevenix-Gores had adopted a daughter, Ruth, who is now grown up. Their child-parents relationship is portrayed as normal and good, although both adoptive parents are totally eccentric, in different ways. We are told that Sir Gervase has been extremely wealthy, an egomaniac, dictatorial towards everyone and unreasonable about everything they do. He holds the family line to be very important, is engaged in having the family history written up, and wants the man Ruth marries to take the name Chevenix-Gore. Whether he has cared for Ruth might have been doubted, given his personality, but the relationship has actually been loving and Ruth has been fond of both her adoptive parents.
    (p 176-77):
‘'May I ask you a question, mademoiselle – a somewhat impertinent question?'
    'Certainly, if you like.'
    'It is this – are you sorry that your – father is dead?'
    She stared at him.
    'Of course I'm sorry. I don't indugle in sob-stuff. But I shall miss him . . . I was fond of the Old Man. That's what we called him, Hugo and I, always.'’
    Ruth has understood her adoptive father's character quite well – perhaps intuitively, partly based on their being similar. She continues:
‘'The "Old Man" – you know – something of the primitive – anthropoid-ape-original-Patriarch-of-the-tribe business. It sounds disrespectful, but there's really a lot of affection behind it. Of course, he was really the most complete, muddle-headed old ass that ever lived!'
    'You interest me, mademoiselle.'
    'The Old Man had the brains of a louse! Sorry to have to say it, but it's true. He was incapable of any kind of headwork. Mind you, he was a character. Fantastically brave and all that! Could go careering off to the Pole, or fighting duels. I always think that he blustered such a lot because he really knew that his brains weren't up to much. Anyone could have got the better of him.'’
    There is some evidence that she is right about Sir Gervase being somewhat gullible financially and that her assessment of him is quite sharp. Her own intelligence is better than his, she understands other people better and manoeuvres a lot better in social life. The development of the story justifies the conclusion that this is an inheritance from her biological mother.

Ruth is one of the suspects of her adoptive father's murder, and may be in danger of being accused of the crime because she could have had access to the study at the time when he was shot there.
    They are reputed to have had disagreements and fights. These are not however described as in any way rooted in Ruth being adopted but in their being of very similar, excitable temperaments. Their similarity is pointed out several times. It is explicitly said to be a family characteristic, Ruth actually being the offspring of a relative. Ruth knows that she is adopted, but has not gone into the question of the exact biological relationship:
    (p 179):
‘'You see, she [her adoptive mother Vanda] wasn't very keen about my marrying Hugo – because he was a cousin, I think. She seemed to think the family was so batty already that we'd probably have completely batty children. That was probably rather absurd, because I'm only adopted, you know. I believe I'm some quite distant cousin's child.'’
    (p 153):
‘'And who was Mademoiselle Ruth? How did they come to settle upon her?'
    'She was, I believe, the child of a distant connection.'
    'That I had guessed,' said Poirot. He looked up at the wall which was hung with family portraits. 'One can see that she was of the same blood – the nose, the line of the chin. It repeats itself on these walls many times.'
    'She inherits the temper too,' said Mr Forbes dryly.
    'So I should imagine. How did she and her adopted father get on?'
    'Much as you might imagine. There was a fierce clash of wills more than once. But in spite of these quarrels I believe there was also an underlying harmony.'’
    (pp 168-69):
‘Colonel Bury hesitated, then after humming and hawing a moment, he said: .....
    'Ruth's illegitimate, but she's a Chevenix-Gore all right. Daughter of Gervase's brother, Anthony, who was killed in the war. Seemed he'd had an affair with a typist. When he was killed, the girl wrote to Vanda. Vanda went to see her – girl was expecting a baby. Vanda took it up with Gervase, she'd just been told that she herself could never have another child. Result was they took over the child when it was born, adopted it legally. The mother renounced all rights in it. They've brought Ruth up as their own daughter and to all intents and purposes, she
is their own daughter, and you've only got to look at her to realise she's a Chevenix-Gore all right.'’

When Poirot seems to fasten on Ruth as the murderer, the secretary who had been assisting Sir Gervase with the family history, Miss Lingard, comes forward and confesses. Alone with Poirot she admits that she had seen that Ruth's relationship to Sir Gervase's very decent estate agent was one of mutual love, and Miss Lingard wanted to protect Ruth from what Sir Gervase was planning to do: force her to marry her cousin Hugo or else disinherit her.
    Miss Lingard is Ruth's biological mother – the typist. In all she says when questioned by Poirot and the Chief Constable Major Riddle, she comes over as eminently intelligent and sensible, far ahead of the upper class family Ruth was adopted into.
    (p 159):
‘Major Riddle went on:
    'Your work here was to help Sir Gervase with the book he was writing?'
    'What did it involve?'
    For a moment, Miss Lingard looked quite human. Her eyes twinkled as she replied:
    'Well, actually, you know, it involved writing the book! I looked up all the information and made notes, and arranged the material. And then, later, I revised what Sir Gervase had written.'
    'You must have had to exercise a good deal of tact, mademoiselle,' said Poirot.
    'Tact and firmness. One needs them both,' said Miss Lingard.’

To Poirot she says (p 194):
‘'Gervase Chevenix-Gore was a bully, a snob and a windbag! I wasn't going to have him ruin Ruth's happiness.'
    'Yes – she is my daughter – I've often – thought about her. When I heard Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore wanted someone to help him with a family history, I jumped at the chance. I was curious to see my – my girl. I knew Lady Chevenix-Gore wouldn't recognize me. It was years ago – I was young and pretty then, and I changed my name after that time. Besides Lady Chevenix-Gore is too vague to know anything definitely. I liked her, but I hated the Chevenix-Gore family. They treated me like dirt. And here was Gervase going to ruin Ruth's life with pride and snobbery. But I determined that she should be happy. And she will be happy – if she never knows about me!'
    It was a plea – not a question.
    Poirot bent his head gently.
    'No one shall know from me.'
    Miss Lingard said quietly:
    'Thank you.'’

In 'Dead Man's Mirror' Agatha Christie lets us meet a biological mother who, right or wrong, has felt that the child would be best served if she gave it up, and who has since honoured the agreement in a way the author presents as respectable. Miss Lingard has not tried to re-establish contact with Ruth, has not told her who she is, thinking that this would unsettle Ruth and that she could not let herself do it, even though she disliked the Chevenix-Gore family. She has only taken a job which would make it possible to see how Ruth was faring, without disturbing her. She has committed a murder, truly to protect her daughter, and sacrifices her own life for her daughter, unhesitatingly accepting facing the punishment instead of risking her daughter being accused (though Poirot tells Ruth that Miss Lingard has heart trouble and will not in any case live many weeks).
    Miss Lingard has killed, but in relation to the adoption she comes across as loving, faithful and honourable, even better than Mrs Welman of
Sad Cypress.

4.5  Ordeal by Innocence

Rachel Argyle had in 1939 opened a war nursery in a house in the country, taking in evacuated children from the London slums. At the end of the war, four of them did not return to their families but were adopted by Rachel and her husband, who had previously adopted another girl they met accidentally in New York before the war.
    The event which starts the story is a new investigation into the murder of Rachel, who must have been killed by one of the people close to her. Everybody's feelings and thoughts, their roots in the past, are again awakened and new developments are triggered.

The book has the adoptions and their consequences very much as a centre, seen through the eyes of the now grown-up adopted children, the husband of one of them, the adoptive father, and a nurse who had stayed on after the war nursery days. A local doctor, the police officers handling the case, the family's lawyer, and Arthur Calgary, who picked up a hitch-hiker and accidentally became a central witness, have relevant observations too. Everything that Agatha has to say about adoption is set out through the book, clearly and in detail. In contradistinction to many of her other crime mysteries,
Ordeal by Innocence has hardly any humorous or comic episodes as light relief; it is a very serious book all through.

Something of the background of each of the adopted children is given in relevant contexts, and briefly on p 155.

Mary, the first to be adopted, had been an orphan, living in poverty with an aunt and uncle who were glad to let the Argyles have her. Mary is portrayed as very one-sidedly centred on her own desires. She is unconcerned about other people, her adoptive parents and siblings being no exception. Her adoptive father Leo reflects on the early days (p 85):
‘... doting on Mary, giving her every kind of expensive toy. And Mary had accepted placidly, sweetly. And yet, Leo thought, there had always been something that disturbed him a little. The child's easy acquiescence. Her lack of any kind of home-sickness for her own place and people. True affection, he hoped, would come later. He could see no real signs of it now. Acceptance of benefits, complacence, enjoyment of all that was provided. But of love for her new adopted mother? No, he had not seen that.’

Mary's husband Philip knows her quite well, and comes to think that she may have killed Rachel (in order to get access to money which would have made them independent) (p 191):
    ‘.... – a Mary who was hard as steel, who was passionate, but incapable of affection – a Mary to whom nobody mattered but herself. Even he only mattered because he was hers. .....
    And then he laughed at himself. ... He remembered his mother-in-law talking to him about his wife. About the sweet little fair-haired girl in New York. About the moment when the child had thrown her arms round Mrs Argyle's neck and had cried out: 'I want to stay with you. I don't want to leave you ever!'
    That had been affection, hadn't it? And yet – how very unlike Mary. Could one change so much between child and woman? How difficult, almost impossible it was for Mary ever to voice affection, to be demonstrative?
    Yet certainly on that occasion – His thoughts stopped dead. Or was it really quite simple? Not affection – just calculation. A means to an end. A show of affection deliberately produced. What was Mary capable of to get what she wanted?’

A lot of what he thinks is confirmed by Mary's own thoughts (p 115):
‘How wonderful it had been. Taken into the car, going up in the elevator of the hotel to the eighteenth floor. The big suite, that wonderful bathroom; the revelation of what things there were in the world – if you were rich! If she could stay here, if she could keep all this – for ever . . .
    Actually, there had been no difficulty at all. All that was needed was a show of affection; never easy for her, for she was not affectionate by disposition, but she had managed it. And there she was, established for life! .....
    She had always felt a faint contempt for her adopted mother. Stupid in any case to choose the children she had chosen.’

Jacko's father is said to have been in prison and his mother to have gone off with some other man. In another context he is said to have been an orphan living with an old grandmother, who had then been killed in the blitz – Agatha Christie did not always coordinate details completely.
    Jacko was the adopted son who had been convicted of the murder of Rachel (but who is now, on new evidence, shown not to have committed it), and who had died in prison. He is described as having been a very serious case of wicked delinquency: unloving, cowardly, deceptive, manipulating other people without regard for what he did to them. He got into serious trouble even as a child and the Argyles had not been able to do anything which put him on the right road. Grown up, he had been on probation, been a thief, and defrauded older women of money. Although he hadn't actually butchered his adoptive mother, we are left in no doubt that he didn't mind and that he had wanted to take advantage of the murder (obtain money).

Hester's mother was a young nurse who had the chance of marrying an American G.I., and gave Hester up because she did not want him to know that she had born a child out of wedlock. Hester seems a normal young woman. She had tried somewhat inefficiently to stand up to Rachel's domination, feeling a bit insecure because she is adopted, and distant from her adoptive mother (p 160):
‘'You're terribly unsure of yourself, aren't you?' said Philip gently.
    'Perhaps that's because I'm only adopted,' said Hester. 'I didn't find out about that, you know, not till I was nearly sixteen. I knew the others were and then I asked one day, and – I found that I was adopted too. It made me feel so awful, as though I didn't belong
    'What a terrible girl you are for dramatizing yourself,' said Philip.
    'She wasn't my mother,' said Hester. 'She never really understood a single thing I felt. Just looked at me indulgently and kindly and made plans for me. Oh! I hated her. It's awful of me, I know it's awful of me, but I hated her.'’

Towards the end she is reconciled to some of her antagonism being the normal opposition of youth to parental authority – strong authority in her adopted mother's case – rather than to do with adoption (pp 166-67):

    Arthur Calgary to Hester:
‘'... why should anyone for a moment think that you would kill your adopted mother?'
    'I might have done', said Hester. 'I often felt like it. One does sometimes feel mad with rage. One feels so futile, so – so helpless. Mother was always so calm and so superior and knew everything, and was right about everything. Sometimes I would think, "Oh! I would like to kill her." '
    'You know,' he said to Hester, 'you ought to have got over those sort of feelings a good many years ago. I can understand them, of course.'
    'It was just that Mother had that effect upon me,' said Hester. 'I'm beginning to see now, you know, that it was my own fault. I feel that if only she'd lived a little longer, just lived till I was a little older, a little more settled, that – that we'd have been friends in a curious way. That I'd have been glad of her help and her advice.'’

Micky was evacuated because his mother wanted to go up north to work in munitions with her current boyfriend. When at the end of the war Mrs Argyle wanted to adopt him, his mother had accepted a hundred pounds to let him go.

The description of Micky is the most detailed. It is devastating, just like hearing many adoptees in real life speak, expressing things which go against the light-hearted mainstream ideas of adoption being equal to biological relationship and easily making the biological relationship irrelevant. It could be tempting to quote even pages from several parts of the book. Together, they make Micky into a live personality.
    Micky minds, from start to finish, having been adopted. As a child he was homesick, missed the London streets and "the boys", his easy-going mother, who liked gin and men; he was extremely bitter about his own mother selling him, hated the set-up where he was taken and his busybody adoptive mother. He thinks back (p 110-12):
‘And he'd been here, captured, a prisoner, eating tasteless, unfamiliar meals; going to bed, incredibly, at six o'clock, after a silly supper of milk and biscuits (milk and biscuits!) .........
    It was that woman! She'd got him and she wouldn't let him go. A lot of sloppy talk. Always making him play silly games. Wanting something from him. .......
    – and something about a hundred pounds. So then he knew – his mother had sold him for a hundred pounds. . .
    The humiliation – the pain – he'd never got over it . . . And
She had bought him!
She was dead, wasn't she? Why worry?
    What was the matter with him? Was it – that he couldn't hate her any more because she was dead?
    So that was Death . . .
    He felt lost without his hatred – lost and afraid.’

Finally there is Tina. Her mother had been a prostitute and had never made contact after the war.

Tina has experienced her adoptive mother's difficult sides (p 195):
    ‘'I got out of the car there and I walked towards the house. I felt unsure of myself. You know how difficult it was in some ways to talk to Mother. I mean, she always had her own ideas.'’

But Tina is a realist; she cares about her adopted family and things are in perspective for her (p 138-39):
‘'There is nothing as bad as not belonging. But you, little pussy cat, you only care for material things.'
    'Perhaps that is true in a way,' said Tina. 'Perhaps that is why I do not feel like the rest of you. I do not feel that odd resentment that you all seem to feel – you most of all, Micky. It was easy for me to be grateful because, you see, I did
not want to be myself. I did not want to be where I was. I wanted to escape from myself. I wanted to be someone else. And she made me into someone else. She made me into Christina Argyle with a home and with affection. Secure. Safe. I loved Mother because she gave me all those things.'
    'What about your own mother? Don't you ever think of her?'
    'Why should I? I hardly remember her. I was only three years old, remember, when I came here. I was always frightened – terrified – with her. All those noisy quarrels with seamen, and she herself – I suppose, now that I am old enough to remember properly, that she must have been drunk most of the time.'’
    (p 118):
    ‘She thought of Mrs Argyle, without gratitude and without resentment – simply with love. Because of Mrs Argyle she had had food and drink and warmth and toys and comfort. She had loved Mrs Argyle. She was sorry she was dead . . .’

She is also quite perceptive about Micky (pp 137-39):
    ‘'Must you be so unhappy always?'
    'My dear girl, you don't begin to understand the first thing about it.'
    'I understand a good deal,' said Tina. 'Why can't you forget about her, Micky?'
    'Forget about her? Who are you talking about?'
    'Your mother,' said Tina.
    'Forget about her!' said Micky bitterly. 'Is there much chance of forgetting after this morning – after the questions! If anyone's been murdered, they don't let you "forget about her"!'
    'I did not mean that,' said Tina. 'I meant your real mother.'
    'Why should I think about her? I never saw her after I was six years old.'
    'But, Micky, you did think about her. All the time.'
    'It's so easy for you, Tina,' said Micky.
    'And why is it hard for you? Because you make it so! It was not Mrs Argyle you hated, Micky, it was your own mother. Yes, I know that what I am saying is true.'’


The personality of Rachel Argyle and her relationship to the children and to her husband make important components of the crime story, since they may have been motives for murder. The family lawyer Mr Marshall, the children's doctor in the war nursery period, Dr MacMaster, and the nurse Kirsten Lindstrom contribute points of view. Much of it confirms the children's own experience of Rachel as rather insensitive and authoritarian, lacking in harmonious balance. Several times these personality traits are said to stem from her inability to bear children, and this and its connection to the adoption question are put as central factors in the story:

Mr Marshall (pp 48-49):
    ‘'To understand Mrs Argyle you have to realize that the great tragedy of her life was that she was unable to have children. As is the case with many women, this disability gradually overshadowed the whole of her life. ....... On the outbreak of the war in 1939 she established under the auspices of the Ministry of Health a kind of war nursery for children ...
    Everything was done for these children. They were given a luxurious home. I remonstrated with her, pointing out to her that it was going to be difficult for the children after several years of war, to return from these luxurious surroundings to their homes. She paid no attention to me.'’

Dr MacMaster says much the same thing, and adds some remarks about the effect on the children (pp 72-73):
    ‘'She wanted children, lots of children. .... Her husband didn't count any more. He was just a pleasant abstraction in the background. No, everything was the children. .... Far too much was done for them. The thing she didn't give them and that they needed, was a little plain, honest-to-goodness neglect. ....
    Those children were pampered and spoon-fed and fussed over and loved and in many ways it didn't do them any good.'’

Kirsten Lindstrom (pp 114):
‘Once, Kirsten thought, she herself had been full of affection for her employer, full of admiration. She couldn't remember exactly when she had begun to dislike her, when she had begun to judge her and finding her wanting. So sure of herself, benevolent, tyrannical – a kind of living walking embodiment of MOTHER KNOWS BEST. And not really even a mother! If she had ever borne a child, it might have kept her humble.’

Rachel's husband Leo's thoughts give a still more insightful picture of her, and say something about him as well. He remembers Rachel as young, warm and generous, but with somewhat insufficient understanding of herself and others, which had gradually made him sorry for her and alienated him from her (p 84). He exactly repeats the warnings of Mr Marshall about the children having to return to their families and home environment after the war (p 87). He has grown fond of the children and had agreed to the adoptions, but had a more realistic and far-seeing view.
    (p 88):
    ‘And one day Micky had talked. Sobbing in his bed, he cried out, pushing Rachel away with his fists:
    'I want to go home. I want to go home to our Mom and our Ernie.'
    Rachel was upset, almost incredulous.
can't want his mother. She didn't care tuppence for him. She knocked him about whenever she was drunk.'
    And he had said gently: 'But you're up against nature, Rachel. She is his mother and he loves her.'
    'She was no kind of a mother!'
    'He is her own flesh and blood. That's what he feels. That's what nothing can replace.'
    And she had answered: 'But by now, surely he ought to look on
me as his mother.'
    Poor Rachel, thought Leo. Poor Rachel, who could buy so many things . . . Not selfish thing for herself; who could give to unwanted children love, care, a home. All these things she could buy for them, but not their love for her.’

Part 5
Resentment and – sometimes – resolution

5.1  A development towards sharper descriptions

There is a chronology of interest here and it is not the same as the order in my discussion above.
    'Dead Man's Mirror' is found in a short story collection from 1937. (There is an even earlier version of it, with the title 'The Second Gong', but with a different killer and motive and not of interest in the present context. Christie often made variants on the same theme or even alternative versions of the same story, cf Curran (pp 80, 454, 456).)
Sad Cypress was published in 1940 in Britain, in America the year before. According to Curran's investigations of the Notebooks (pp 374-76) the plot of Sad Cypress was already being worked out in 1935.
    In these two early stories, a character being adopted is taken up as a factor in the crime mystery, without noticeable misgivings about possible strong, adverse feelings of which the source is the adoptive relationship in itself. In 'Dead Man's Mirror', though, the brevity on emotional intricacies could also be because it is a short story; all the characters' personalities are condensed in fairly short summaries.
    The other three novels (
Mrs McGinty's Dead, Ordeal by Innocence and The Mirror Crack'd) were published between 1952 and 1962. The author was then 62 - 72 years of age. Here, explicitly critical feelings about adoption are expressed strongly by several of the characters, and especially in Mrs McGinty's Dead such opinions and reactions are not essential to the plot but almost gratuitous. Margot Bence's story is outlined in the notes Agatha made preparatory to writing The Mirror Crack'd (Curran p 408), so the adoption theme has been present in her mind when planning the book.
    There are several possible interpretations of the differences between early and late:
    (a) They could be accidental. An author with a large production, and certainly Christie, varies plots, components, incidents, explanations and connections, without any of them necessarily reflecting the personal opinions of the author.
    (b) Agatha Christie could have changed her opinion over time, from the more superficial, accepted view in society – that adoption may cause some temporary problems, but that they are illogical and will yield to reason – in the direction of a stronger emphasis on deep feelings of hurt and loneliness with adoption as their roots.
    (c) She could have harboured her perceptive insights about the problems of adoption all the time, but had them mature into expression in her fictional stories at a late stage. It may be relevant to recall that her autobiography, where the story of her mother is included, was started in 1950 and written over a period of 15 years ('Preface', p 7).
    I think (a) is unlikely, if interpreted in the sense that Agatha was in the earlier period ignorant or uninterested in the issue, and that it came to her attention later, her mother's case just accidentally becoming her concern that late. Though there are only two examples of the earlier kind of treatment, the later three books are so unambiguous and unvarying about adoption as unfortunate that it is unlikely that it was unprepared.
    Interpretation (b) seems possible, but (c) has a stronger claim, especially because the attitude about adoption expressed in the later stories is repeated, is articulate and actually lucid, and is at the same time in some opposition to the cultural norm.

5.2  Biological fathers and adoptive fathers

    The adoptive fathers in the books are mostly more peripheral characters in the adoption question. Neither Marina Gregg's husband Izzy nor Leo Argyle were fervently active to adopt, but went along with their wives' wishes. (This seems to be the case in many real life adoptions also.) Margot Bence blames Izzy for having let self-centred Marina go ahead while he was content to let the children take a less important place in his own life. Leo Argyle, too, has let his hyperactive wife take over too much, but has fully accepted his responsibilities towards the children and is more appreciated by them.
    Mary Gerrard realises that Bob Gerrard dislikes her and is troubled by it (p 87-90). When, after his death, she is told that he was not really her father, she is relieved (p 90):
‘'Then that was why!' ......
    Mary said, a red spot suddenly burning in each cheek:
    'I suppose it's wrong of me, but I'm glad! I've always felt uncomfortable because I didn't care for my father, but if he
wasn't my father, well, that makes it all right!'’
    From real life, we recall (Part 2) that Agatha's mother Clara, on the other hand, became very fond of her adoptive father, who was also her uncle by marriage.

The fiction stories' biological fathers are not much in evidence, being either dead, or very inadequate supporters, or having abandoned the mother – a usual reason for adoption in the real world too. Nor are the fathers much in the thoughts of those adopted away.

5.3  Biological mothers and adoptive mothers

But their biological mothers nearly take centre stage in the children's thoughts and emotions. They come in for almost as much resentment as do unloved adoptive parents. The child is deeply hurt at 'not belonging', having reasoned out that it has been found unworthy to be kept on in the love and life of the most important person in the world. There is strong blame and incredulity at what the mothers have done, long-lasting reactions like: – How could she give me away?! How could she not love her own child? Did I have an abnormal mother? Was she without normal instincts? Didn't she care that I would suffer, that I would be an emotional vagabond? What was wrong with me? Didn't I deserve her love? – Some of the adoptees seem to feel more anger towards the biological parent who let them go than towards those adopting them, but even if they do, they still long for them and love them and are hardly indifferent to them. The natural bond mother-child, Agatha seems to say, takes a lot to wither away, even in disappointment.

In the three later books, Agatha's characters who were adopted as children tend to have trouble with their emotions both towards their adoptive mothers and their biological mothers.

Several of the adoptees feel rather strongly that the adoptive mothers are
not real mothers, do not really love them as a mother does, and have no claim on the children and their feelings. Their relationship ranges from the child just feeling indifferent or distant, even contemptuous (Mary Argyle), through resentment and some anger (Margot Bence, Hester Argyle), to strong revolt and positive hatred (Micky Argyle). A common motif is the adoptive mother not understanding what the child feels.

There is a real life example of this in Agatha's autobiography also. It was referred to in the passage quoted in Part 2, and in the next paragraph we read (p 16):
    ‘My mother was deeply miserable in her new life. She cried herself to sleep every night, grew thin and pale, and at last became so ill that her aunt called in a doctor. He was an elderly, experienced man, and after talking to the little girl he went to her aunt and said: 'The child's homesick.' Her aunt was astonished and unbelieving. 'Oh no,' she said. 'That couldn't possibly be so. Clara's a good quiet child, she never gives any trouble, and she's quite happy.' But the old doctor went back to the child and talked to her again. She had brothers, hadn't she? How many? What were their names? And presently the child broke down in a storm of weeping, and the whole story came out.’

The adoptive mother in the novels who is not at all saddled with objectionable qualities and who has had the best relationship to the adopted child, is Eliza Gerrard in the earlier
Sad Cypress. She comes across as not self-assertive or possessive, perhaps rather the ideal servant of Agatha's ideal, somewhat old-fashioned world. Mary Gerrard, too, is portrayed as almost perfect: modest, helpful, desirous of showing that Mrs Welman's generosity is being put to good use. Mary's being ignorant of being adopted may be enough to make it seem natural that no questions or disharmony have come up between her and Eliza, but there is no doubt that the author's describing the adoption as a real social and cultural necessity, giving Mary such admirable qualities, having her live so close to both Eliza and Mrs Welman, and letting the relationship between the latter two be so harmonious, are important additional contributions to the way this is defended as a good and acceptable adoption. Personalities matter. Things do not go well for Marina Gregg or Rachel Argyle.

In addition to the books published under her own name, Agatha Christie wrote 6 novels published under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. They are not detective stories, but several are structured in a similar way to the crime stories, around mysterious or unknown facts which are by and by revealed.
One of the Westmacott novels, Absent in the Spring, features two very different biological mothers, and the question of adopting away children comes up.
   Joan Scudamore is very much the central figure in the story, the protagonist, but absolutely no heroine. She is completely self-centred and imperceptive of people around her. The book's theme is a partial awakening that comes to her when she is alone for several days in a desert resting-place in the Middle East.
   Joan's husband Rodney and their three children, now grown-up, all realise what she is like, they have suffered because of it and have tried various ways of escape.
   Rodney loves deeply a different kind of woman, Leslie Sherston, and the love is mutual but there is no affair. Leslie (the book's heroine) lives with two sons and a husband who has been a bank manager, has committed embezzlement and been to prison. Leslie has worked very hard to keep the family together (p 63):
   ‘Thus, when Sherston had come out of prison, he'd found her established in a different part of the world altogether, growing fruit and vegetables for the market. He'd driven the truck in and out from the nearby town, and the children had helped and they'd managed somehow to make not too bad a thing of it.’
Leslie's actions and decisions as Joan sees them (p 64):
   ‘A wreck of a man. Still, his wife had loved him and stuck by him and for that Joan respected Leslie Sherston.
   She had, on the other hand, considered that Leslie had been absolutely wrong about the children.
   That same aunt who had come to the rescue financially when Sherston was convicted had made a further offer when he was due to come out of prison.
   She would, she said, adopt the younger boy, and an uncle, persuaded by her, would pay the school fees of the elder boy and she herself would take them both for the holidays. They could take the uncle's name by deed poll and she and the uncle would make themselves financially responsible for their future.
   Leslie Sherston had turned this offer down unconditionally and in that Joan thought she had been selfish. She was refusing for her children a much better life than she could give them and one free from any taint of disgrace.
   However much she loved the boys, she ought, Joan thought, and Rodney agreed with her, to think of their lives before her own.
But Rodney comes to understand Leslie better (p 185-86):
   ‘That was where Leslie had sat when he argued with her about the children and the undesirability of their coming in contact with Sherston. She ought, he had said, to consider the children.
    She had considered them, she said – and after all, he was their father.
   A father who had been in prison, he said – an ex-jailbird – public opinion – ostracism – cutting them off from their normal social existence – penalizing them unfairly. She ought, he said, to think of all that. Children, he said, should not have their youth clouded. They should start fair.
   And she had said, 'That's just it. He is their father. It isn't so much that they belong to him as that he belongs to them. I can wish, of course, that they'd had a different kind of father – but it isn't so.'
   And she had said, 'What kind of a start in life would it be – to begin by running away from what's there?'
   And it was Leslie's idea, he saw, that they should share. She, although she loved them, would not shrink from placing a portion of her burden on those small, untrained backs. Not selfishly, not to ease her own load, but because whe did not want to deny them even the smallest, most unendurable part of reality.
   Well, he thought that she was wrong. But he admitted, as he had always admitted, her courage. It went beyond courage for herself. She had courage for those she loved.’
Agatha Christie writes about the book (An Autobiography, p 516-18): ‘Shortly after that, I wrote the one book that has satisfied me completely. ......... It is an odd feeling to have a book growing inside you, for perhaps six or seven years knowing that one day you will write it, knowing that it is building up, all the time, to what it already is. ..... I don't know myself, of course, what it is really like. It may be stupid, badly written, no good at all. But it was written with integrity, with sincerity, it was written as I meant to write it, and that is the proudest joy an author can have.’
Actually, Absent in the Spring is not in my opinion among Agatha's best books at all. Many people and incidents in the book are interestingly described, but the central issue, the development of Joan's confrontation with herself, does not seem convincingly worked out. It seems too deliberate somehow, the author wanting to force a development and its final failure for her own emotional reasons, but not striving sufficiently to describe what might be a credible real-life person's experiences.
So, in the middle of the analysis of personalities and character in a book she felt as a 'must' to write, she has inserted the two diametrically opposite beliefs about adoption as clear as can be; the difference strengthens the way she intends the reader to judge the two women: Leslie is a true heroine. She does not give up her children to adoption, be the circumstances and their father as imperfect as they are. To Joan is attributed the approved but superficial and harmful attitude of our culture (cf Part 8.1.1), to Leslie the true and important insight: ‘He is their father. It isn't so much that they belong to him as that he belongs to them.’
   This point indeed seems to put its finger on a vital flaw in our culture's way of arguing about adoption (Part 8.1): There is no end of discussion of whether such-and-such individuals will be sufficiently good care-givers, will give children advantages and a good life. It is taken for granted that if all this is right, then the adopted children will automatically be satisfied and happy. When that does not happen, the explanations, especially in social-work sectors, go in the direction that much more of this and that should be done. Adult adoptees who want to find their real parents and other relatives and who resent their adoption, are not understood. The comprehension of what it means to someone to be deprived of his biological parents is lacking.
Absent in the Spring was published in 1944. Although what it contains about adoption is brief, it seems evident that it is based on what Agatha had known from very early from her mother's life to be of vital importance (Part 5.1, Parts 2 and 3).

5.4  Resignation, acceptance, realism

Not every adoption is held to be a misfortune, not everything about adoption is presented as tragic. This is evidenced in 'Dead Man's Mirror', more clearly in Sad Cypress, and more particularly still through the character Tina Argyle in Ordeal by Innocence and even by Micky Argyle. His conversation with his adopted father towards the end (pp 151-54) is harmonious, open and optimistic, and by Rachel's grave in the graveyard there is a talk with Tina which is conciliatory about the past (p 194):

‘'Why are you sorry?'
    'She did a lot for me,' said Micky slowly. 'I was never the least bit grateful. I resented every single damn thing she did. I never gave her a kind word, or a loving look. I wish now that I had, that's all.'
    'When did you stop hating her? After she was dead?'
    'Yes. Yes, I suppose so.'
    'It wasn't her you hated, was it?'
    'No – no. You were right about that. It was my own mother. Because I loved her. Because I loved her and she didn't care a button for me.'
    'And now you're not even angry about that?'
    'No. I don't suppose she could help it. After all, you're born what you are. She was a sunny, happy sort of creature. Too fond of men and too fond of the bottle, and she was nice to her kids when she felt like being nice. She wouldn't have let anyone else hurt them. All right, so she didn't care for me! All these years I refused to live with that idea. Now I've accepted it.' He stretched out a hand. 'Give me just one of your carnations, will you, Tina?' He took it from her and bending down, laid it on the grave below the inscription. 'There you are, Mum, he said. 'I was a rotten son to you, and I don't think you were a very wise mother to me. But you meant well.' He looked at Tina. 'Is that a good enough apology?'
    'I think it will do,' said Tina.’

In spite of sunny sides and reconciliation reached in some cases, however, adoption is held up by the author to be a basically unfortunate event, no easy solution to anything. It must be expected to make a serious impact on the child especially, likely to cause unhappiness and disharmony.

In addition to risk of the hurt of having been given away crippling the child, Agatha gives another reason for adoptions being hazardous. Here, I think, we have the author speaking through Leo Argyle's words (pp 155-56):
    ‘'All tragic histories in a way,' said Philip. 'All poor unwanted little devils.'
    'Yes,' said Leo. 'That's what made Rachel feel so passionately about them all. She was determined to make them feel wanted, to give them a real home, be a real mother to them.'
    'It was a fine thing to do,' said Philip.
    'Only – only it can never work out exactly as she hoped it might,' said Leo. 'It was an article of faith with her that the blood tie didn't matter. But the blood tie
does matter, you know. There is usually something in one's own children, some kink of temperament, some way of feeling that you recognize and can understand without having to put into words. You haven't got that tie with children you adopt. One has no instinctive knowledge of what goes on in their minds. You judge them, of course, by yourself, by your own thoughts and feelings, but it's wise to recognize that those thoughts and feelings may be very widely divergent from theirs.'
    'You understood that, I suppose, all along,' said Philip.
    'I warned Rachel about it,' said Leo, 'but of course she didn't believe it. She wanted them to be her own children.'’

This passage seems to echo what we read about the relationship of Ruth and Sir Gervase in 'Dead Man's Mirror'. Their understanding of precisely what "went on in their minds" is natural and intuitive, because Ruth is in fact Sir Gervase's brother's biological daughter.

Hallowe'en Party has Poirot, in a dialogue with a mother, bringing up the question of her child's unacknowledged father:
    ‘'She is your daughter – was she also Michael Garfield's daughter?'
    Judith was silent for a moment, and then she said: Yes.'
    'Yes,' said Poirot, 'there was a bond between them. A natural affinity.'’

Part 6
Adoption, biology and environment

6.1  Inheritance of personality traits

This last explanation above places the relationship between parents and children explicitly on a biological foundation. Biological relationships are usually easier, making individuals feel more in tune in proximate daily life, because children are like their parents, having inherited not only their physical characteristics but also the mental and emotional ones that make up their personality.
    The assumption of this being Agatha Christie's own view is strengthened when in
Ordeal by Innocence we find the children's doctor practically repeating Leo Argyle's words:

Dr MacMaster (p 75):
    ‘'She wanted to treat them exactly as though they were hers and Leo Argyle's own children. Only of course they weren't hers and Leo Argyle's own children. They had entirely different instincts, feeling, aptitudes and demands.'’

The doctor also talks about what harmonious motherhood in "nature" is like (p 72).

With these words of Dr MacMaster and Leo Argyle many would agree. They represent a fairly uncontroversial understanding of biological inheritance, cf also research done on similarities between twins and other siblings brought up apart: they are often astonishingly alike in their interests, preferences and aptitudes, and frequently feel close because they are similar. Parent and child are of course not as alike as identical twins, but the 50 per cent they share genetically does make a difference as against being unrelated.

Christie lets thoughts of inheritance and affinity be repeated even one more time in this story. They are presented as quiet insights, so they seem once again to be the author's own. Leo Argyle is thinking (p 89):
    ‘For these children were not the children that he and Rachel would have had. Within them ran none of the blood of Rachel's hard-working thrifty forebears, none of the drive and ambition by which the less reputable members of her family had gained their assured place in society, none of the vague kindliness and integrity of mind that he remembered in his own father and grandfather and grandmother. None of the intellectual brilliance of his grandparents on the other side.’

In this description we have come one step further in the idea that personality traits are strongly heritable. There is even clearer emphasis in a little "discussion" of inheritance versus environment in the next paragraph (p 89-90):
‘Everything that environment could do was done for them. It could do a great deal, but it could not do everything. There had been those seeds of weakness which had brought them to the nursery in the first place, and under stress those seeds might bear flower. That was exemplified very fully in Jacko. Jacko, the charming, agile Jacko, with his merry quips, his easy habit of twisting everyone round his finger, was essentially of a delinquent type. It showed very early in childish thieving, in lies; all the things that were put down to his original bad upbringing. Things that could be, Rachel said, easily ironed out. But they never did get ironed out.’

Seeds of weakness – exemplified in Jacko – essentially a delinquent type – –
    Here, Agatha Christie seems close to considering even moral character to be inherited, and perhaps to be responsible for poverty and other environmental defects too. There is the contrary evidence of Tina Argyle, but she is rather the odd man out, consciously approving of having been separated from her mother and her early environment.

There is a similar small dialogue in
Mrs McGinty's Dead (pp 107-08):
‘Mrs Upward said decisively:
    'You can't get away from heredity – in people as well as dogs.'
    Shelagh Rendell murmured:
    'Don't you think it's environment?'
    Mrs Upward cut her short.
    'No, my dear, I don't. Environment can give a veneer – no more. It's what's bred in people that counts.'
    Hercule Poirot's eyes rested curiously on Shelagh Rendell's flushed face. She said with what seemed unnecessary passion:
   'But that's cruel – unfair.'
    Mrs Upward said: 'Life is unfair.'
    The slow lazy voice of Johnnie Summerhayes joined in.
    'I agree with Mrs Upward. Breeding tells. That's been my creed always.'
    Mrs Oliver said questioningly: 'You mean things are handed down. Unto the third or fourth generation – '
    Maureen Summerhayes said in her sweet high voice:
    'But that quotation goes on: "And show mercy unto thousands".'’

At this point in the story it is relevant to the solution of the mystery whether some of the people present are not who they seem, but might for instance be adopted from questionable sources. Added to this, Mrs Upward is not an altogether likeable character. So the opinions expressed about breeding might not reflect Agatha's, but she is obviously awake to the issue.


They Do it With Mirrors from 1952 (cf also Part 6.4) has this conversation (pp 17-18):
   Ruth Van Rydock: 
‘'Eventually they adopted a child. Pippa, they called her – a lovely little creature. She was just two years old when they got her.'’
   Miss Marple: ‘
'Where did she come from? What was her background?'
   'Really, now, Jane, I can't remember – if I ever heard, that is. An Adoption Society, maybe? Or some unwanted child that Gulbrandsen had heard about. Why? Do you think it's important?'
   'Well, one always likes to know the background, so to speak.'’

Late in the book, Pippa's origin is revealed, and although the conclusion drawn from that – whether Pippa's daughter Gina is a likely murderer – is vague and unstated, it makes Miss Marple thoughtful (p 143-44).
    Mrs Serrocold: ‘" .... Pippa's mother was Katherine Elsworth."’
    Miss Marpe: ‘"Elsworth? Wasn't that the woman who administered arsenic to her husband? Rather a celebrated case."
    "She was hanged?"
    "Yes. But you know it's not at all sure that she did it. The husband was an arsenic eater – they didn't understand so much about those things then."
    "And Pippa was her daughter?"
    "Yes. Eric and I determined to give the child a fresh start in life – with love and care and all the things a child needs. We succeeded. Pippa was – herself. The sweetest, happiest creature imaginable."
    Miss Marple was silent a long time.’


Thoughts about criminal tendencies being inherited were explicit in 1923, though. In The Murder on the Links we read:
    (pp 164-65):
    Poirot (to Hastings
): ‘'Who killed Monsieur Renauld? Someone who was near the Villa just before twelve o'clock that night, someone who would benefit by his death – the description fits Jack Renauld only too well. The crime need not have been premeditated. And then the dagger!'
    I started, I had not realized that point.
    'Of course,' I said, 'Mrs Renauld's dagger was the second one we found in the tramp. There
were two, then?'
    'Certainly, and, since they were duplicates, it stands to reason that Jack Renauld was the owner. But that would not trouble me so much. In fact, I had a little idea as to that. No, the worst indictment against him is again psychological – heredity,
mon ami, heredity! Like father, like son – Jack Renauld, when all is said or done, is the son of Georges Conneau.'
    His tone was grave and earnest, and I was impressed in spite of myself.’
    (p 219):
    ‘But Jack's face had hardened.
    'There's something else. I am my father's son. Would anyone marry me, knowing that?'’
    Poirot: ‘'You are your father's son, you say. Hastings here will tell you that I believe in heredity –'
    'Well, then –'
    'Wait. I know a woman, a woman of courage and endurance, capable of great love, of supreme self-sacrifice –'
    The boy looked up. His eyes softened.
    'My mother!'
    'Yes. You are your mother's son as well as your father's. Then go to Mademoiselle Bella. Tell her everything. Keep nothing back – and see what she will say!'’


Hercule Poirot's Christmas from 1938, Agatha Christie places before us many and repeated clues about who is related; it is central to the solving of the mystery. Simeon Lee's sons share some of his physical features, such as the shape of the nose and jaw and the backward poise of the head. But Agatha also has Poirot talk explicitly of inheriting personality characteristics (p 190):
‘'For a man does not live and die to himself alone. That which he has, he hands on – to those who come after him . . .
    What had Simeon Lee to bequeath to his sons and daughter? Pride, to begin with – a pride which, in the old man, was frustrated in his disappointment over his children. Then there was the quality of patience. We have been told the Simeon Lee waited patiently for years in order to revenge himself upon someone who had done him an injury. We see that that aspect of his temperament was inherited by the son who resembled him least in face.'’
    So pride, patience and vengefulness are considered inherited along with physical features, including by the two sons of Simeon's who are unacknowledged and have not even known him as they grew up. A question is also asked about whether the granddaughter's Spanish father had killed a man, the idea being to make the granddaughter a more likely suspect in the present murder case on the basis of her having inherited a murderous temperament from her father.

A similar concern about having her husband fear inherited criminal tendencies is in the thoughts of Carla Lemarchant, when she wants Poirot to prove that her mother had not poisoned her father (
Five Little Pigs, pp 12-14).

Pride in his lineage, not wanting to have anybody know that the daughter of a murderer is married into the family, is also suggested in
Mrs McGinty's Dead as a possible motive for Maureen Summerhayes' husband to have committed murder (p 178).
Mrs McGinty's Dead the decisive fact is not so much to do with a particular character being adopted but with being the biological child of a murderer. A telling outburst (p 181): ‘'I tell you I never meant to kill her . . . It was all a mistake . . . And anyway it isn't my fault . . . I'm not responsible. It's in my blood. I can't help it. You can't hang me for something that isn't my fault . . .'’
    Barnard (p 87) remarks:
‘ ... 'heredity' or 'bad blood' – always a danger-point with Christie, and a subject on which she was inclined to talk (at least through her characters) a great deal of nonsense – ’. It has to be said, though, that Superintendent Spence in Mrs McGinty's Dead, certainly a decent character representing law and order and intelligent justice of a kind that the author approves of, does not go along with this distribution of obligations and excuses, and to the above "explanation" reacts this way: ‘Under his breath Spence muttered: 'Can't we? You see if we don't!'’

6.2  Inheritance even of details of behaviour

In Hercule Poirot's Christmas the idea of heredity is carried even as far a to a third kind of similarity, in addition to anatomy and personality characteristics (p 190):
‘'I think, too, that Harry inherited many of his father's mannerisms – that habit, for instance, of throwing back his head and laughing, and another habit of drawing his finger along the line of his jaw.'’
    Harry had grown up as his father's son, so in his case such mannerisms could well have been acquired in the family home. But, repeatedly, examples are given of the two unacknowledged sons also sharing the same mannerisms, although they have been in their father's company only for very short periods, one of them just for a few hours right before the murder.
    Poirot (p 197):
‘'A son born the wrong side of the blanket may inherit many things. He may inherit his father's features and even his gestures.'’
    That excludes an explanation of the similarities as due to environment, both for personality features and superficial mannerisms. It is clear that they are considered by the author as biologically based along with a person's looks. The motive of the murderer turns out to have been revenge, on a father to whom it had not occurred to take the responsibility of being present in his child's life, the vengefulness which caused the murder being inherited from the father he killed.

It is not quite "You are what you're born", but, as Micky Argyle says about his biological mother (Part 5.4):
‘'You're born what you are'’, seeming to imply that what you are born with does not change all that much through life.

6.3  The historical setting

All in all, it is like quite established ideas from the 19th century: biology, not the environment, makes us most of what we are; heredity is very, very strong, and ties people to their ancestry, sometimes down to detail; illness and poverty and criminal disposition are either somehow the signs of sin, as in much religious thinking in society generally, or as here, especially in Ordeal by Innocence, Hercule Poirot's Christmas, Five Little Pigs, and suggested in Mrs McGinty's Dead, they are signs of biological inheritance.
    Other ideas from the prevalent culture which can be found in Christie's novels were largely unquestioned at the time but are frowned on or at least unpopular later. Barnard (many times on pp 15-42, 62-66, 97-101) comments on some social attitudes in Christie about supposed characteristics of people belonging to different social classes, especially servants, about idealistic socialists and socialist politics, and in the early books about race.

It would be 20/20 hindsight of history to judge Agatha Christie on all this from our present-day knowledge and point of view. She was born in 1890. Certain social and racial stereotypes were common then and for many decades of her life in the twentieth century, as were beliefs in personality, temperament, motives and actions being rooted rather concretely in the individual's "nature", that is: in biology. Ruling ideas of biology were predominantly developmental, partly misinterpretations of Darwin (cf Skånland 13 October 2017), and they were well established all over the Western world.

6.4  A variety of family relationships

In many of Christie's novels and short stories there is plenty of variation in normal family relationships, the full range, good, bad and middling. Some of her characters place great emphasis on blood line, others do not. Relations between spouses are of course a prime source for elaborations, crimes and mysteries, but problematic relationships between children and one or both parents, including in the Mary Westmacott novels, make another area Christie likes to explore.

They Do it with Mirrors is from 1952, like Mrs McGinty's Dead. It has a large gallery of characters in various family relationships to each other: stepchildren, grandchildren, half-siblings, relationship kept hidden, and so on. There is one adoption too. The book might have been included in my little list in Part 4, although the adoption theme is not central, nor are there any expressions of feelings of problematic parent-child relations for the adopted child. There is, however, a description of jealousy on the part of the biological daughter, Mildred, towards her adopted sister Pippa, which is of importance in connection with adoption. Mildred's jealousy is partly to do with the sister being adopted, partly ordinary sister rivalry. She is the one to feel left out, because her parents had seemed to favour the adopted child.
    (p 38):
    ‘...Carrie Louise was determined that the adopted child should never feel her position, and in making sure of this she was over-indulgent to Pippa and sometimes less than fair to Mildred.’
    (pp 47-48):
    Mildred: ‘" 'Mildred's so stupid' – that's what Pippa used to say. But I was younger than she was. Naturally I couldn't be expected to keep up with her in lessons. And it's very unfair on a child when her sister is always put in front of her.
    'What a lovely little girl,' people used to say to Mamma. They never noticed
me. And it was Pippa that Papa used to joke and play with. Someone ought to have seen how hard it was on me. All the notice and attention going to her. I wasn't old enough to realise that it's character that matters."
    Her lips trembled then hardened again.
    "And it was unfair – really unfair – I was their own child. Pippa was only adopted.
I was the daughter of the house. She was – nobody."
    "Probably they were extra indulgent to her on that account," said Miss Marple.
    "They liked her best," said Mildred Strete. And added: "A child whose own parents didn't want her – or more probably illegitimate."
    She went on:
    "It's come out in
[Pippa's daughter] Gina. There's bad blood there. Blood will tell. Lewis can have what theories he likes about environment. Bad blood does tell. Look at Gina."’

We should not claim that the condemnation Mildred comes out with here is agreed to by the author, particularly since Mildred is portrayed as envious and spiteful. But the description of tensions and comparisons between siblings, in addition to being true to life, seems to let Mildred feel an extra distance because her sister was "only" adopted. Such feelings and opinions on the part of a biological child towards an "outsider" being present in the family are certainly often found in real life, can add to other problems with adoption, and Christie seems to understand them well.

The description of jealousy also reveals, as we see, ideas that we encounter in some of the other books, such as "bad blood" (cf Barnard's remark above), and a question of what close biological relationship can account for.
    Furthermore, the setting of the story provides Agatha with an opportunity to give us what is really a book-length discussion of heredity versus environment. The action involves an institution dedicated to reform treatment of young delinquents, the institution being administrated by Lewis, who is very enthusiastic. His explanations and hopes of results from this "environmental treatment" for young criminals run through the book, in comedy-like fashion, with examples such as teaching youngsters who have committed economic crimes accountancy and then giving them positions of trust and authority in banks.
    (p 33):
    Lewis: ‘
"Well, I believe in – what shall I say? – rubbing their noses in the stuff – train them in accountancy, in figures – show them the whole inner romance of money, so to speak. Give them skill and then responsibility – let them handle it officially. Our greatest successes have been that way – "’
    (pp 24-25):
‘"Of course Lewis and Dr. Maverick think they're all queer – I mean they think it's repressed desires and disordered home life and their mothers getting off with soldiers and all that. I don't really see it myself because some people have had awful home lives and yet have managed to turn out quite all right."’
    The way the institution's treatment, its difficulties and results are described, leaves us in little doubt of where the author stands regarding social work with dominant emphasis on the environment.


Variation within the normal characterises most of Agatha Christie's examples of family solidarity in the novels. Nor are they remarkable or far-fetched in today's perspective. A very few examples:

The Body in the Library from 1942 has a planned adoption, of an adult young woman by a rich, elderly man, presented as negative and not well thought-through. The adoption plan actually precipitates the murders, out of need or want of money beneath seemingly harmonious relationships both in in-law family and biological family.

    [Anna Scheele was]
‘'Acting on the assumption that in times of stress the only people you can really trust are your own family.'’
They Came to Baghdad, p 251)

    Carrie Louise:
‘"... but I've no doubt at all that Edgar was actually Lewis's son . . ."
    "Yes," said Miss Marple. "That explains everything . . ."’
(They do it with Mirrors, p 185)

‘'The interesting thing is that Valerie is ashamed of her family, and her family is ashamed of her. Nevertheless, in a moment of peril, she turned to her brother for help, and when things went wrong, they all hung together in a remarkable way. Family strength is a marvellous thing.'’
('The King of Clubs', p 79)

Something of the same applies to step-relationship versus genetic relationship, i.e in families where only one parent is genetically related to the children. Here, as about family relationships generally, Agatha seems to hold fairly conventional views, to the degree her characters speak for her: Step-relationships are potentially problematic but seldom disastrous, and the solidarity with the biological parent is sometimes even stronger when there is a stepparent in the household. She is in tune with society here – everybody knows that "living in step" potentially makes for special difficulties, and about this "everybody" is right, as evidenced e.g in a series of research projects undertaken by evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson (cf Part 8.2.2; for bibliography and discussion see Skånland 15 May 2012).

Agatha gives us Deirdre Henderson (
Mrs McGinty's Dead, p 100):
    ‘'He was dreadfully lonely. His mother had just died. He was frightfully fond of his mother.'
    'And you are very fond of yours?' said Mrs Oliver acutely.
    'Yes. That made me understand. Understand what he felt, I mean. Mother and I – we've just got each other, you see.'
    'I thought Robin told me that you had a stepfather.'
    Deirdre said bitterly: 'Oh yes, I've got a

There is also the relationship between Mr Symmington and his stepdaughter Megan (
The Moving Finger); it is neither warm nor trustful and dependable.

4.50 from Paddington, on the other hand, very delightfully has young Alexander, about 12-13 years old, looking with kind eyes on his father possibly getting married again, to Lucy, whom Alexander approves of (pp 139-40):
‘"Bryan likes you, you know."
    "That's very nice of him."
    "He's a bit of an ass in some ways,' said Bryan's son; 'but he was a jolly good fighter pilot. He's awfully brave. And he's awfully good-natured."
    He paused. Then averting his eyes to the ceiling, he said rather self-consciously:
    "I think, really, you know, it would be a good thing if he married again. . . . Somebody decent. . . . I shouldn't, myself, mind at all having a stepmother . . . not, I mean, if she was a decent sort. . . ."
    With a sense of shock Lucy realised that there was a definite point in Alexander's conversation.
    "All this stepmother bosh," went on Alexander, still addressing the ceiling, "is really quite out of date. Lots of chaps Stodders and I know have stepmothers – divorce and all that – and they get on quite well together. Depends on the stepmother, of course. And, of course, it makes a bit of confusion taking you out and on Sports Day, and all that. I mean if there are two sets of parents. Though again it helps if you want to cash in!" He paused, confronted with the problems of modern life. "It's nicest to have your own home and your own parents – but if your mother's dead – well, you see what I mean? If she's a decent sort," said Alexander for the third time.’

What of cases where both parents are dead?
    Right at the end of the novel
N or M? from 1941, the hero and heroine sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence, actually adopt a little girl. Because of what has gone before, there is no moral or other objection at all. The girl, Betty, has become an orphan after one Mrs Sprot is exposed to have taken Betty as her adoptive daughter on selfish grounds and later to have murdered the girl's mother. Tommy and Tuppence show complete understanding of the mother's tragedy.
    (p 181-82):
‘"Do you remember that two women came to Solomon with a baby and both said it was hers, but Solomon said, 'Very well, cut it in two.' And the false mother said 'All right.' But the real mother said 'No, let the other woman have it.' You see, she couldn't face her child being killed. Well, that night that Mrs Sprot shot the other woman, you all said what a miracle it was and how easily she might have shot the child. Of course, it ought to have been quite plain then! If it had been her child, she couldn't have risked that shot for a minute. It meant that Betty wasn't her child. And that's why she absolutely had to shoot the other woman."
    "Because, of course, the other woman was
the child's real mother." Tuppence's voice shook a little.
    "Poor thing. Poor hunted thing. She came over a penniless refugee and gratefully agreed to let Mrs Sprot adopt her baby."
    "Why did Mrs Sprot want to adopt a child?"
Camouflage! Supreme psychological camouflage. You just can't conceive of a master spy dragging her kid into the business. That's the main reason why I never considered Mrs Sprot seriously. Simply because of the child. But Betty's real mother had a terrible hankering for her baby and she found out Mrs Sprot's address and came down here. She hung about waiting for her chance, and at last she got it and went off with the child."’
    (p 189):
    ‘She looked up to meet Tommy's eyes. He said, "About that child – shall we?"
    "Betty? Oh, Tommy, I'm glad you've thought of it, too! I thought it was just me being maternal. You really mean it?"
    "That we should adopt her? Why not? She's had a raw deal, and it will be fun for us to have something young growing up."
    "Oh Tommy!"
She stretched out her hand and squeezed his. They looked at each other.
    "We always do want the same things," said Tuppence happily.’

Here there is, in other words, one unloving and quite vicious adoption being remedied by a truly compassionate and upright one.

The books have the odd person brought up by other people than parents having an unproblematic childhood and upbringing, i.e in a kind of fostering arrangement, without any description of unhappy feelings about it and without any focus on the absence of parents. Examples are Dennis in
The Murder at the Vicarage and Audrey Strange in Towards Zero. The families of their childhood and youth are, we are given to understand, very solid and well established. Nevile Strange too, we are told, has had a home with the Tressilians rather than with parents (p 38), but there is no suggestion that his upbringing has anything to do with his later actions.
    Christie's most famous play,
The Mousetrap, on the other hand, has as its theme the placement of three children in a foster family who subjected them to neglect and ill-treatment, leading to the death of one of them, and to one of the others taking revenge on the people who had had a part in the placement and would not take any responsibility for it.

All in all, Agatha's description of a variety of people and relationships is often realistic and interesting. Her especially concerned treatment of family bonds, though, seems concentrated around cases of adoption and some comparable situations where a child has been separated from its parents more or less unnecessarily.

Ordeal by Innocence from 1958 is her most thorough treatment of adoption, and is considerably nuanced. But a centre of gravity both in this and in several of the other books remains that children belong with their natural parents and must not be given away by them, and that their togetherness with them is very important. The major beliefs expressed about nature versus nurture, biological heredity versus environment, are the same all through, and particularly clear when it comes to adoption of children.

Part 7
Agatha Christie's views or not?

7.1  With An Autobiography as a starting point

What Agatha Christie says in her autobiography agrees with what several of her fictional characters say in the stories, in emotionally worded passages about adoption which I have quoted above. Strong opinions come from characters in several of her works of fiction, spanning a decade of her later years. These opinions have consistency, and they have the same content as what she says in the autobiography, even down to some detail. The passages where they occur are all serious; there are no playful, witty observations of the "life in a village" type associated with them.
    My conclusion is that Christie does not write about adoption in the fictional stories entirely by accident when just looking around for suitable topics for crime mysteries; that in the ten years between 1952 and 1962 she does not materially vary the opinions on adoption expressed in the novels; and that these are her own deeply felt views.

7.2  Interpretation based on Christie's fiction

One might also go an additional round of examining the argumentation based on the novels and short stories. I find two or three points possibly supporting my conclusion.

One point concerns Christie's placement of attitudes to adoption as a detail in
Mrs McGinty's Dead and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side.
Agatha's crime mysteries make use of many irrelevant fill-in details to create a varied milieu of several suspects and hide the tracks of the criminal. An adoptive relationship is such a possibly suspicious circumstance. In the works I have discussed, the fact of adoption, together with the personality of some of the characters and how this bears on the adoption relationship, are either connected to the murder mystery or suspected of being so, but in these two particular novels the adoption is no more than such a non-essential detail.
    Robert Barnard points out, particularly in his chapter on 'The Disappearing Author', that Agatha Christie takes care
not to have her characters voice her own views on this and that phenomenon too clearly, probably because such preaching would lead the reader's thoughts away from the mystery which is the theme of the books. The same, Barnard says, goes for her description of the characters and the setting (p 53): ‘Atmospheric background of this sort was not in Christie's line, because it would distract attention from the central business (for her) of the detective story: the puzzle, the sleight-of-hand. The same sort of consideration applied to characterization in depth.’ He also quotes (p 40) The Times Literary Supplement: ‘'... where there is engaged affection, there will be no criminal'’ and says (p 43) of Christie's technique: ‘A detective story is not a romantic novel. Keep emotion well in hand.’
    On the whole Barnard seems to me to be right. But in this light the strong wording of negative emotions about adoption in
Mrs McGinty's Dead and The Mirror Crack'd is surprising. The passages about children's reaction to adoption sound emotional, far from detached. They seem more like Agatha's own feelings overflowing, so to speak, even in contexts where they are not needed: In those two novels, the unhappiness of adoptees is extraneous to the solution of the mystery. An occasion is needed for Maureen Summerhayes to say ‘'I don't like being adopted, do you?'’, but even so the amount of detail she gives is unrelated to the plot – something on the more unemotional lines of 'Dead Man's Mirror' would have done. The same reactions and opinions that we hear from Maureen Summerhayes are almost exactly repeated in The Mirror Crack'd ten years later.

Another point concerns
Ordeal by Innocence. It comes late, in 1958. As shown by Agatha's notebooks (see Curran), she often had ideas for books and planned them several years in advance, but this novel was written the year before, in 1957 (Curran p 243), when Agatha was 67. The detailed thoughts of all the principal characters regarding adoption are so richly worked out, and have so much in common with what many real life adoptees express (cf Part 8.3), that even if Agatha's mother's story had not been known, the subject might strike one to have been in the author's mind and have matured over a long time, before finally coming to fruition in this 200 pages long novel circling around adoption cases.

A third point relates to what Margot Bence has to say in
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. To the extent that Christie's thinking on adoption changes over 25 years, it seems to become more concerned, sharper, more clearly articulated with time (cf Part 5.1). The Mirror Crack'd is the end point of this development and Margot's is the clearest summary of all about adoption. It seems a condensed statement about a very serious matter, like the essence of what Ordeal by Innocence had, four years before, set out in full. We also have to consider that Margot's adoptive mother Marina Gregg is a protagonist but certainly no heroine, that Margot is described in sympathetic terms, that she is well reasoned and copes with her emotions. On top of this, her opinion goes against the prevailing thinking in society, especially when she describes her biological mother as a silly woman for giving her children up – a woman who did go along with the usual idea that adopting one's child away was a heroic sacrifice that would be good for the child.

It is unlikely that all these intertwined threads should
not have sprung from something about which the author felt a concern and which she wanted to express her own genuine views on.

The very late
Elephants Can Remember (1972) is unsuccessful as a novel, it is very talkative and meanders on without any of the clear structure and progression typical of Christie's earlier writings. The fact that she had apparently written it soon before its publication when she was 82 is perhaps the explanation. A serious discussion of the novel's content does not seem appropriate. But from my present point of view it is interesting that both inheritance and adoption come up once more.
    A young woman, Celia Ravenscroft, is going to be married. As a variant of what in
Five Little Pigs is Carla Lemarchant's motive for seeking to clear her mother's memory of the murder of her father (cf Part 6.1), here we have the prospective mother-in-law of Celia, Mrs Burton-Cox, trying the opposite: to find something about Celia or her family that might stop her son Desmond marrying her.
    (pp 134-35):
    The plot centres on Celia's parents, General Ravenscroft and his wife, who are both dead, one having shot the other and then himself or herself. Lady Ravenscroft's twin sister, who was a mental case, has died shortly before. Mrs Burton-Cox's idea is that finding out who shot whom and for what reason would reveal whether Lady Ravenscroft too, like her sister, had a serious mental condition, which might be heritable.
    A side-issue is that Mrs Burton-Cox is not Desmond's biological mother but his adoptive mother. She is described as unsympathetic, a selfish woman eager to get her hands on her adopted son's money, inherited from his biological mother, who had been able to make a career for herself as an actress and singer, and who had tried to get Desmond back, Mrs Burton-Cox resisting but not, one gathers, for Desmond's sake. The adoption-related matters in Desmond Burton-Cox's family are extraneous to Celia's family matters.

So here, very late in Agatha Christie's writing life, two motifs which she had previously taken up several times are presented as central once more: biological relationship and inheritance, adoption and adoptive mothers. The adoption theme is tagged on and not germane to the solution of the central mystery. And what is conveyed is the same as before: mental and emotional traits are heritable and biological inheritance is important; adoption is questionable business and an adoptive mother's motives and personality are suspect and criticisable.
    Precisely the fact that Agatha's firm mastery of concealment and surprise are so clearly reduced in
Elephants Can Remember seems to me to give further evidence that these are her own long-held thoughts and beliefs. If any more evidence is needed.

Part 8
Children away from parents, in real life and in Christie's books

In the preceding sections I have stated why I believe that certain of Agatha Christie's fictional characters express Agatha's own thoughts about adoption of children, and that her understanding is rooted in her mother's experiences and has developed further with that as a basis. I have also suggested that Agatha's opinions on this issue have a connection to her thoughts about biology, and that they go against the grain of some present-day culturally strong beliefs about what it is that amounts to reliable science.
    The culture and the conception of science I am talking about have their source in Western countries, but these features have spread rapidly to political and academic sectors in most of the world.

But is this international culture so onesidedly positive to adoption, and is Agatha Christie right about adopted people's own attitudes and experiences in general?

8.1  A divided culture?

8.1.1  Ideas of beneficial social engineering

A prominent cultural ideal is, in the name of justice: equality; equal opportunities for everyone; background does not matter, or should not matter, to what an individual can achieve in life – or to his life and his place in life at all.
    Such an ideal is present in socialistic thought of various descriptions but not at all exclusive to it; people of many political colours display an urge to "manage" society in such a way that it becomes "right", to achieve peace and order by monitoring and directing everybody. George Orwell's
Nineteen Eighty-Four springs to mind, unfortunately. Regardless of political context and foundation, illiberal social control butts against the desire and experienced need for privacy and self-determination of individuals and in family life (cf Bhattacharyya (2018)). It stands in opposition to family autonomy and rights, to a family going its own way.
    Self-determination is freedom, the opposite of slavery. Since the desire for freedom to decide oneself, not be commanded by others, is strongly present in most of us, it must have been beneficial to the species through the millennia, not in every case but certainly in a statistically high proportion of cases. Probably its cause is that the best results for an individual have the best chance of being obtained when decisions are made by those who know best all the circumstances, including the feelings of the individual, and who have the maximum interest in good results for that particular individual. In the majority of cases that is the individual himself, if he is of an age to have a reasonably wide view of the world around him, its dangers and its uncertainties. So the kin groups that survive the best, are the ones where individuals may take advice but decide personally.
    For children, the best results are likely to be reached when decisions concerning them are made by those who are equipped by nature to love them most fervently: their biological parents. The strong feelings of loving solidarity between children and their own parents are what causes children to go along with their parents' decisions when they would disobey and run away from other adults.

More specifically, the euphoric idea that an ideal society can be achieved by management imposed by strangers is really opposed to any belief in the importance of biological inheritance, and to the unfailing nearness of biological parents being almost irreplaceable in their children's lives.

In many countries today the politically correct opposition to beliefs rooted in biology is strong. It has ridden social work and the social sciences, psychology, social anthropology, linguistics and the like for years, and has also become considerably entrenched in the general culture (cf Skånland 13 October 2017). It has in part come as a reaction against a strong emphasis on biology from the 19th century, and we are now in a situation where biological explanations are thought in many circles to be unscientific, outdated, possibly a cover for special political plans.
    Again and again strong spokesmen for social engineering promote the construction of families on assumed scientific grounds: Children should grow up in such-and-such environments, receive such-and-such schooling, benefits, stimulation, encouragement and treatment, be formed to hold such-and-such views. Arguments which excuse and justify interference are many and widely defined. Vinnerljung (1996, cf Part 8.2.4) gives examples, e.g from Australian and British child protection (p 33, transl.):
‘The eagerness to give small children from poor families new "approved" parents with the motive of preventing a presumed antisocial development, and thereby protecting society, is found repeatedly in the history of child protection in many countries. Margaret Barbalet (1983) states in her historical overview of Australian foster care, Far from a low gutter girl, that the mindset during the first half of the twentieth century included a notion of weak family bonds among the poor. Their children were presumed to lack the same heartfelt feelings for the family that was found in middle class children, which made "relocations" legitimate (the same conclusion is drawn in Middleton (1971) about British child care).’
    Such ideologies encourage social services in taking children away from families not considered good enough and re-planting the children in foster families, and they encourage adoption. People are opposed to forced marriages, and many are very reserved about arranged marriages also, since the difference between arranged and forced marriage may not be all that real. But when it comes to arranged families, in other words: placing together children and biologically unrelated adults as a family, similar reservations are absent, at least in part because transplanting children, and "working" with them to make them grow seamlessly into the new environment, are presented as "scientific".
At intervals rackets are exposed, amounting to child trafficking: criminal groups in poorer countries making money out of snatching children who are in no way orphans and selling them to or through orphanages, to be adopted to rich, Western countries; pedophile individuals in Western countries obtaining jobs in the child protection industry giving them easy access to children. Exposure invariably gets people het up, but is equally invariably pushed aside as they are believed to be unfortunate, rare exceptions to what is normal and unquestionably good. The authorities may concede that the system has not been good enough, but only formalities and practical details are adjusted.
    Even non-criminal running of child protection services in the West entails substantial incomes paid to many types of "child experts" and various supervisors in state and municipal employ, social workers, foster parents, idealistic as well as commercial companies running child institutions, and their personnel.

There are rarely if ever serious moves to face the fact that adoption perhaps really carries some deep, ineradicable problems with it and that it should therefore be considered more carefully whether adoption is really necessary in each individual case. An adopted child remembering the past (the biological family) and perhaps longing for it or restlessly showing signs of breaking loose and trying to find its family, even unknown, is thought to be finicky and negative. A child who was too young when adopted away to remember its biological family, but is yet curious or indeed longing, is thought to be influenced by groundless rumours that "origin" is important.

The opinion of adoption as basically unproblematic and good is still there. The belief remains strong and vocal that what "society" does for children is well-intentioned and
therefore good, while biological parents are fairly consistently denigrated as unreliable and their intentions thought to be egoism. Unfortunate matters within biological families are considered very serious; the undoubtedly larger problems, proportionately speaking, for children in other kinds of households are played down.

8.1.2  Ignorant and self-contradictory adoption expertise

Much documentation is available, from nearly any country we care to name, showing that the attitude that has been gaining ground is that all that is wrong with adoption is that there is not enough of it. "Child experts" actively support the idea that pro-adoption recommendations are based on science, and are a strong force in speading their ideas through the community generally.
    A few examples of this attitude:


From India:
    Dibyendu Mondal & Areeba Falak (13 November 2016) is an article called 'Only 1,800 adoptable children available with Central agency'. The whole article makes light of any possible objection and practically paints a picture of the adoption process as a successful trade, just with unfortunate "stoppages". Dinesh Kumas, who is a secretary of the Central Adoption Resource Authority, says:
    ‘"The difference between the number of children available for adoption and the number of parents who want to adopt is vast, which is why the process takes too long to complete. ....... The reason why fewer children are available for adoption, though we see so many children on the streets, is because not every street child can be assumed to be an 'adoptable child'. There is a holistic process through which a child is declared free for adoption; without it, legal adoption cannot take place."
    An "adoptable child" is a surrendered, abandoned or an orphan child who has been declared free for adoption by the court.’

Shashank Shekhar, former advocate for Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights and a current Supreme Court lawyer, who is interviewed, says among other things:
"This proves that we have a policy on adoption and there is nothing wrong with it. But still, we have not been able to rescue our children and give them a home."’

The article also has an interview with Nilima Mehta, a psycho-therapist who has worked with adoption for 40 years. She says: ‘" ... now the focus is not on finding a child for a family, but on finding a family for the child. The house study conducted once parents apply for adoption and post-adoption follow-up by adoption agencies is a result of that."’
    It seems like a description of any mechanical process which had to be a fraction more finely tuned to run smoothly.
    And then she tells us, in a nutshell, about the very common way which psychology these days views adoption:
    ‘Speaking about the psychological aspect behind adoption and encouraging people to adopt, Mehta said, "It should be understood that ..... parenting is a psychological process. Challenges of parenting remain equivalent for an adopted or a biological child, but in case of an adopted child, if anything goes wrong, then parents tend to blame it on adoption. Parents should reveal the truth about adoption to their child as early as possible so that it becomes easier for a child to come to terms. Often children want to look for their biological parents; due to hormonal changes they can feel confused about their identity, but the fact that the adoptive parents took the child and raised them as one of their own plays a huge role in providing a stable childhood that every child deserves."’

Here it should be enough to point out that the experiences of many adoptees, their biological families and their adoptive families defy Mehta's easy way of classifying phenomena as
either biology or psychology, of easy diagnosis, of instructing people what they have to do and assuring them that if they do so, then they will experience no problem. Regardless of her 40 years of experience, the full reality seems to elude her (cf Part 8.2). Likely her psychological training is a bar (cf Skånland 13 October 2017).


From the United States:
    Articles in the internet edition of the Chicago Tribune around 15-20 years ago reported on the federal government of the USA in 1997 pressing for increased adoption of foster children. Eager compliance from social agencies may have added to the increased number of children taken into care: 'Clinton Hails Illinois For Adoption Record' (24 September 1999), 'U.s. Rewards State Adoption Efforts' (24 September 1999). The drive for increased adoption met some opposition as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois: 'Foster custody law is voided' (21 September 2001), but got a rosy success-description in 2003: 'Heeding the call to adopt' (20 October 2003).
    Nowhere is there any reflection on whether all these children would really be better off being adopted, let alone on whether they should have been taken into care and had their bonds to their biological families harmed or broken off at all.


From Norway:
A clear example was on display in 2001. The state is in charge of all adoptions in Norway; private adoption is prohibited. The leader of the state's Faglig utvalg for adopsjoner (Professional committee for adoptions) is therefore a person who is listened to with respect by makers of legislation and formal arrangements. At the time, this leader was psychologist Karen Hassel.

She was interviewed on TV on 21 May, in a debate program about whether a particular adoption should be permitted. What she said was quite revealing.
    Psychologist Hassel (transl.):
'We know that children for adoption and adopted children demand much more of the adoptive parents than ordinary children, and are a different challenge from parents' own biological children. .... We must therefore demand more from adoptive parents than of those who have children born to them, and also of those whom foster children are given to in Norway, because we have a much better overview of which children these are.' (The last statement is hardly true. Knowledge and information about foster children and potential adoptees come from the child protection services, which have a whole unrealistic ideology as the basis of their assessments. But Hassel is quite right in the observation that adopteds and foster children statistically speaking both experience a more difficult childhood and youth and make more trouble for their carers than biological children, cf Part 8.2.)
' - - what a child needs and what an adoptive child needs. ....... We are gradually getting more research in Norway. And we also know what difficulties adoptive parents struggle with for years, and what is needed in order for adoptive parents to master situations. So that we must not trivialise the children's situation.'
'What is a family often up against – in the present case also?'
'Among the most difficult are attachment problematics, rejection; they can struggle with demands and demands and rejection for years and years. And then there are health problems, early puberty, resettlement problems, great language problems, very many adopted children have a lot of school problems. So there is quite a lot for adoptive parents to struggle with.'

In September 2001 psychologist Hassel was a witness in court for the authorities in a forced adoption case, the authorities pushing through the adopting away of Adele Johansen's daughter Signe Malene (Adele's name for her) to foster parents, by force, completely contrary to Adele's wish and in spite of Norway having in 1996 been condemned at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for having broken the contact between mother and daughter.
    In court (open procedures, demanded by Adele), psychologist Karen Hassel claimed that the forced adoption was completely unproblematic and she strongly advised that it be carried through. She held that there was no attachment at all between Adele and Signe Malene because they had been apart for 10 years. (When the ECtHR verdict came, the state should immediately have seen to it that contact was re-established and then increased, but of course they had deliberately prevented this.)
    Was there no attachment between Adele and Signe Malene? During the trials it emerged that Signe Malene had asked and been concerned about her mother from she was quite small, and had actively sought her in various ways, repeatedly, from an early age. When at last Adele's lawyer, much against the will of the child protection agency, all other authorities and the foster parents managed to get a court decision that there was to be a meeting, it was in every way very good. Signe Malene hugged Adele several times without in any way being asked to do so; when given little letters from her unknown sister and brothers and shown pictures of them, she said that now she felt that she had real siblings, she wanted to meet them, to go home with Adele, and have her come with her to "see her room" in the foster home. The meeting was so successful that the authorities were worried, and made the continuation of the case into a maze of contradictions and downright lies, even claiming that Signe Malene hated Adele and was afraid of her. Signe Malene was adopted away, but tried to contact her mother and siblings later on too, in spite of obviously having been intensely worked on to take exception to Adele, distrust her motives and consider her a stranger.

So the state's top decider, qualified clinical psychologist Karen Hassel, says one thing in court, and just about the opposite in an interview, stressing how difficult and troublesome adoption is and how problematic it is for adoptive parents and children to feel parent-child togetherness even if they live together for years and years. And she worked as the leader of the state agency for adoptions, which tries to promote adoptions all it can.
    In court, Karen Hassel was asked whether the attitude to child protection and adoption practiced today is based on behaviorism (cf Skånland 13 October 2017). Her answer was something like this: – Oh no, not at all, we use many methods, such as attachment theory and psychodynamic method.
    Hassel was apparently not aware that attachment theory and psychodynamic psychology (the latter stems from Freudian psycho-analysis) are both typically deterministic and close to primitive behaviorism.

We have, then, expert Nilima Mehta, having worked with adoption for 40 years, stating that if adoptive families blame problems on the adoption, they have simply been misled. Expert Karen Hassel, with at least the same amount of experience, says (in court) something similar, but also says (in an interview) the opposite.


John Bowlby was a British psychologist, a psycho-analyst and more or less the founder and developer of attachment theory, for which he is very much admired and often quoted. His belief is that attachment is created as well as developed through being together, i.e environmentally, without any biological basis. His book
Child Care and the Growth of Love from 1953/1965 gives much practical, rather uncontroversial advice and also has a lot of useful information about investigations and observations of unsuccessful and harmful social work.
    However, in my view he completely fails to draw the conclusions which are staring us in the face from what he himself writes. Although he warns about unsuccessful adoptions and all the difficult decisions and problems in child-raising outside of parents' home, and talks touchingly about unmarried mothers deciding to keep their children, he in no way discourages adoption, remaining utterly confident that the comprehensive work of wise and qualified social workers and psychologists brings good results, and never doubting that the observations of experts are what they claim to be. He thinks of adoption mostly in connection with unmarried mothers.
    Bowlby's recommendations clearly rest on environmentalist-behavioristic beliefs. He gives copious evidence of the harm caused by "maternal deprivation" in animals as well as humans (ch 2), but does not seem to see the biological mother as necessary, just some person giving motherly care.
    About adoption he says e.g (p 130):
'Complications will arise only if the natural and adoptive parents know each other. Reputable workers usually preserve absolute secrecy on this matter, and there seems no doubt that this is essential if the adoption is not to be endangered.'
    But about foster placements, perhaps thought to be more temporary, he says (p 137):
    'A clean cut cannot be made between a child and his home.
......... An exceedingly common mistake has been the belief that removing a child from his home will lead him to forget it and to start afresh – and the worse the home, it has been supposed, the more easily will he do so. This false belief has led to the practice of forbidding parents and children to see each other in the belief that the children will then settle better. These assumptions flout all that is known about young children and fly in the face of good evidence.'

It is hard to reconcile these views, and all in all Bowlby seems not to have taken the evidence he writes about far enough and seen that it runs contrary to his own beliefs and beliefs prevalent in professional circles.
    Writing this in the 1950s and 60s, he should perhaps not be too strongly criticised. But these rather superficial, insufficiently analysed and partly unclear and conflicting thoughts still reign in the social sector today, without conclusions being drawn from them by today's professionals, despite all the later evidence which shows the same troubles as in the studies referred to by Bowlby.


Elementary questions are: If parenting is the same kind of process for everyone, a psychological process without any biological foundation (Mehta), then why do "experts" have to "work" hard for and with adoptive families for years (Bowlby)? Why have some psychologists seen it as necessary to establish specialised services for adoptive families (cf Cohen & al 1993 and 1994)? And why should an adoption be "endangered" by contact, as Bowlby thinks, if the biological relatives are irrelevant for the child once it has been adopted away? The adults involved might make trouble for each other, but it would hardly seriously endanger the adoptive ties if the children themselves had no particular interest in having anything to do with their biological parents/mother (cf Parts 8.2.1 and 8.2.4).

These people are talking through their hat, they are just philosophising and guessing, and their guesses are no better than anybody's. There is no adequate basis for their pronouncements pretending to be science (cf Part 8.2.0). In the absence of a proper scholarly foundation for their experience to rely on, one would do better to listen to some families: The foreword to 
Adoption and Healing (1997) describes how biological parents (mainly mothers), and adoptive parents and adopted children, have all joined to get through with information, to have the legislation changed and at least some of what they consider the worst sides of adoption done away with. The book describes in an informative way how the families are having to teach the social workers, the psychologists and the adoption authorities, who all should in theory be experts and know, but in reality are not and do not.
    Social workers and "child experts" are not the ones to have understood properly the serious objections to the politically correct arrangements they make. Opposition to it rather comes from the grass roots, those with real experience.

An example is found in the many strong statements in a petition from an Australian Adoptee Rights Action group (2015):
    ‘Every human being has the right to a true and correct record of their birth. Currently in Australia all adoptees have had that right violated. .....
    The new legal, but fraudulent birth certificate is irrevocable and the adopted person and all their subsequent generations are bound by it. They have been legally severed from their true ancestry and bound to genetic strangers. .......
    We believe that in the best interest of the child, 
adoption should be abolished and instead of the proposed increases to adoption, a 'child-first' model should be developed that does not legally remove a child's identity, heritage and bloodline, and does not legally sever the child from its brothers, sisters, grandparents and extended family in the name of care. .......
    Along with the call for the abolition of adoption, people who were adopted in the past and who are still forced to live as adoptees with false birth certificates should be able to choose adoption annulment if they wish to do so.
    The adoption order that was made against these people as infants or children was done without their consent.
    Like child-marriages, these orders have been made against society's most vulnerable by violating their basic human rights.’

    Adoptionland (undated):
‘A worldwide revelation has occurred: We are much more than the industry professionals presumed us to be. Revelations lead to Revolutions: Children have birthrights, to know and have access to their own families of birth. All humans, including orphans sent to foreign homes to be adopted, have a right to first family, heritage, lineage, and ancestry. Revolutions lead to Retribution: We deserve justice. It is time to shift the dynamic. We no longer tolerate being governed by adoption industry professionals. We are shifting the power to our own perspectives. It is time to explore uncharted territories. We lead ourselves.’

Despite a certain anonymity, there seems to be no good reason to doubt that the individuals belonging to these groups are both serious and reality-oriented.

8.1.3  Children a commodity to be traded?

With falling birth rates in the Western world, children have become a "scarce resource". Probably unmarried mothers have always been the primary target to have their children forced away from them. Now with efficient contraception and also with possibilities of legal abortion in many countries, with much better economic possibilities for a single parent to keep the child, with a marked lessening of moral censure, that source of children for adoption has very much disappeared in most developed countries in the West. As remarked in the Indian article, there are now more people wanting to adopt than children "waiting" to be adopted.
    It is therefore not unexpected that forced adoptions are increasing, since the procedures are mostly in the hands of decision makers with a close relation to the social sector, ordinarily strong supporters of social engineering.
    But forced adoption existed before the recent decades too, even outside of straight slavery, in the name of "the child's best interest" but far from always good or even acceptable. And the love of parents in difficulties has through a long history been ignored, society around them pressing them into letting their children be adopted away.

Agatha Christie mostly thought of adoption as taking place the way it happened to her mother, her grandmother making the decision to send her daughter away. That is the situation that is in most cases presented to us in Agatha's writings. But we need hardly ask what Agatha Christie would have said to an increasing number of adoptions actually being forced adoptions, without necessity behind them and very much against the will of the parents, who often fight desperately in the courts for years to get their children back, or try to escape to other countries with them to save them from forced foster care or adoption (cf Booker 13 October 2012; Josephs 3 February 2018 and 10 February 2018; also the discussion in Part 8.2.4).

There is nothing in the present-day, politically correct ideas of families as a purely social and psychological construction which comes even close to the realisation we saw in Christie's autobiography (pp 15-16):

    ‘ – what she lost and what nothing could replace was the carefree life with her brothers in her own home. ......
    Her own home, her own people, love, and the security of belonging – what does the best education in the world mean against that?’

8.1.4  Groups of people with different ideas

Against the politically correct trend which holds that almost limitless trust can be placed in a well-intentioned society taking care of fundamental relationships, the voices speaking for the superior quality of what we may call "the natural family" – the family of children and their biological parents, those with great problems as well as those virtuously without – are fewer and usually less explicit and less programmatic about the reasons. They have less academic arguments, and are mostly badly prepared to argue that the reasoning of social engineers is not really as reliable science as it sounds.

No doubt the great majority of people everywhere
feel equally strongly the important benefit of living in their biological family, but the very fact that it is a deeply set feeling makes it more difficult to formulate. It has the quality of being self-evident, in a class with feelings generally:
    Feelings are categories of reactions leading to actions which have been so necessary for survival that only those descent lines who inherit them on the level of instincts have survived in the long run. Deliberation, rational reasoning it out, cannot compete, it would not secure the right reactions as quickly and surely as they are needed to preserve individuals and their offspring from all the dangers of life. We are just not that intelligent and intellectually interested, do not have enough intellectual foresight in an uncertain world.
    In the same way, then, that we do not have to understand intellectually why and how we feel anger, fear, hunger or sexual attraction in order to experience them, the feeling of love and concern and need for togetherness and solidarity in the natural family comes natural us. We do not have to question the reason for it, explain it or understand it for it to be there, it is not necessary to understand or analyse it intellectually. The majority of the population tend to take the family bonds they are part of so much for granted that they are not consciously fully aware of their presence, or of what their absence would mean. If the natural family is violated or destroyed in some way, those hit are often taken by surprise at the depth of the disaster they feel, and only then begin to realise what many in similar situations also feel.

To a large majority of people, then, adoption or other kinds of breach in the parent-child solidarity remain peripheral phenomena. The wind which has been blowing for almost a century: that biology does not matter, and that any lack in the biological area can easily be compensated socially, adds to their distance from individuals who have been affected by family loss and feel differently.

Adoptees themselves are certainly not all of one mind, neither when they are children nor later. I will, however, defer a brief orientation about this until Part 8.3, and only mention here what the position in relation to the general society looks like for those who react negatively or with some reservation to their adoption.
    Those who feel this way about it are at a disadvantage: there is little encouragement in society in the form of understanding of that which to them is of central importance, of the frequent feeling of unrest and unfulfilled, deep longing, and of the search of many for their biological family. The general suspiciousness of arguments which are emotional and sound irrational, and therefore seem to come from unrealistic, unbalanced individuals, adds to their difficulties, although
feelings are in the present case actually the right and important explanation.
    The unconcern of the general population has made many adoptees hide the fact that they are not with their biological parents, and – illogical as it may seem – in many cultures it has also tended to be considered kind of shameful, for the children. (There are, however, also other reasons why some adoptees seek to hide the fact, cf Part 8.3.)
    Nor are their supporters particularly many. The affected might have been helped by the fact that certainly, the general population will spontaneously agree that they themselves would never ever give up their children and that they cannot imagine what their own childhood would have been like without their very own parents. But challenged about why, they are often persuaded that this is because of all that mom and dad
do as good parents for their children, not because they are those unique persons: the children's own biological parents.

The answer to the question of whether our culture – at least in the Western world – is divided in its attitude to adoption, is therefore that no, not in the sense of large groups standing in formulated opposition to each other discussing the function and importance of biology in family life. Opposition to adopting away children whose biological families are alive exists, but at present among limited groups of people, and it is not trendy to listen to them. The dominant trend in thinking is on the the side of social engineering and negative for those most negatively affected.


As an illustration:
    I remarked in Part 1 that Cawelti, Barnard and Curran in their analyses of Agatha Christie's writings have focused on other topics. In this, they seem of the same mind as the population majority. Curran says (p 244) that
Ordeal by Innocence is about ‘deeply held convictions about truth and justice, guilt and innocence’, but says nothing about the particular context in which Christie shows these deep convictions. He confuses "adoptive mother" with "stepmother" (p 243), which he might perhaps not have done if adoption had been in special focus for him as a human problem, as it is in this particular Christie novel. The difference is limited, both categories of carer being other than a child's biological mother, both kinds of relationship potentially difficult because of this. The issues confronting adults in such a position and the children who relate to them are partly the same (cf Part 8.2), although some are actually different, and there is considerable difference between the two kinds of relationship in people's perception.

The fact that the interest of these writers go in other directions also shows, I think, in something which at least the two latter touch on: They have favourites among Christie's books, not only on a scale of cleverness of the mystery and excitement of detection, but on the basis of the characters, of course not preferred because Barnard and Curran find them particularly likeable buddies but based on their literary judgment of the way Christie has developed their characters into complex personalities with some depth – real people, one might say – in other words: on whether Christie writes well about interesting people.

Barnard (pp 90-95, about
Five Little Pigs):
‘All these sides to Caroline Crale are not only used to create a subtle and convincing character study: they are also to be used as contributory factors when the time comes to explain her actions and arrive at a solution to the mystery. In this book, to a much greater extent than is usual in Christie, character is solution.’
    He also praises the portrayals of the other characters in the drama.
In fact, rarely for Christie, the strength of the book is in the psychology and the clever use of perfectly natural conversation.
    All in all, it is a beautifully tailored book, rich and satisfying. The present writer would be willing to chance his arm and say that this is the best Christie of all.’

Curran (p 287):
‘ ... The Hollow .... The character drawing in this novel is the most searching she has done to date. Five Little Pigs and Sad Cypress paved the way but in The Hollow, her powers of characterisation reached full flower – ’

I have no quarrel with either about these three novels being interesting through the characters coming alive. What I will suggest, though, is that Barnard's and Curran's view of what makes an interesting description depends to some extent on what they hold to be interesting qualities in the persons being described. This again depends on their own interests and their own insight. Perhaps their lack of concern with adoption problems is the reason why the character of Micky Argyle is not in their focus among the best described Christie-characters the way he is for me: Everything he says and thinks, his circling around what for him is the centre of gravity, mulling over his mother, his adoptive mother, his own inability to move on, his hurt, his anger – it strikes me as extraordinarily well characterised, because I know from a number of individuals and studies in connection with adoption that it is true for more people than one might think (Skånland 11 March 2012, section '7. Adoption'). Micky becomes an interesting, live personality because what he expresses is not common-place knowledge, although it is what many adopted individuals can tell us is important for them.

8.2  The evidence of scientific studies

Much documentation exists, from different countries, showing how things go for foster children, adoptees and stepchildren, all of them children who have at least one non-biological carer. Very good studies can be found, with clear and well formulated test design and statistics, making possible reliable checking of what the researchers have thought the object of their research should be, which hypotheses and facts they work with, which questions they ask and how they formulate them, plus the way they draw conclusions from their studies. Studies which do not fulfil such scientific requirements but are rather produced in order to back up existing social policies, can then be disregarded.
    A great deal of significant literature about adoption straight away shows there are problems, on a fairly large scale. In some countries adoption is not finalised until after some months and in some cases the child is returned to the social services by would-be adoptive parents who change their minds – very different from when a child is born to its biological parents. There are psychological services which specialise on the problems of adoptees and adoptive parents (cf Part 8.1.2).

It is totally outside the scope of this article to go properly into details of such studies and what they show. Indeed I do not attempt to keep up with newer literature, which is appearing all the time – much of it, though, is unfortunately produced by researchers involved in the public child protection system.
    I have chosen for fairly brief mention only a very few research projects which are not new, and which are clear enough to have stood tests of criticism and discussion over some years. Two or three of them I am fairly familiar with, having taken them up when I was called on to give evidence in court in some child protection cases. In addition the interested reader is referred to articles in the reference list in Skånland (11 March 2012), as well as to section '7. Adoption' in the same article. These studies capture some central facts and provide a useable stepping-stone to evaluating further and newer works also. I have also mentioned a couple of other studies which are food for thought, in Skånland (21 December 2014).

8.2.1  Bohman & Sigvardsson

A well known, well-designed project from Sweden carried out by Bohman and Sigvardsson throws important light on the differences between foster children, adopted children and "home" children. Michael Bohman & Soren Sigvardsson (1980) is perhaps the most significant article about the project.
    The study was longitudinal, carried out at intervals of several years, of a particular, large group of children, who were all born into similar conditions: Their mothers had, before they were born, listed them for adoption, because they were living in economic and social circumstances which made it almost impossible to take care of the children. In practice, however, the children fell into three groups: those who were adopted, those who were put into foster care, and those who were, after all, taken home by their mothers, for instance after some months.
   The development of the children was evaluated several times until they were young adults. The results were clearest for boys. All three groups showed elevated occurrence of developmental problems while growing up, the "home" boys and the foster boys doing considerably worse than the adopted boys and the normal population particularly at school. In the final round, however, when they were 22-23, things had changed. The boys from foster homes were almost twice as likely to have been registered for alcohol abuse or crime as what was average in the population. The adoptees did not then differ significantly from the normal population, nor did the "home" boys, who actually did slightly
better than the adoptees, but again the difference was not significant.
    The group that did best under the circumstances, on fairly important and diagnostic criteria, were therefore the "home" boys, who tended to grow up under difficult social conditions and a poor family economy. After a troublesome time growing up, they landed as well as the general population, who on average grew up in a better environment. The adopted boys managed just about as well but no better, although they had grown up under considerably more favourable conditions. The foster boys coped significantly worse, in spite of growing up in what mostly turned out to be permanent foster homes, actually in de facto adoptions.


Similar results are found in very many studies. The differentiating criteria investigated vary: e.g school performance (easy to find figures and easy to measure), education and work life, abuse, illness and death, suicide, disability pensioning, own family life as adults. Through it all, the close biological family is visible as clearly the best protection, almost irrespective of the individual family's objective qualities.
    The reason is not so difficult to see. In life we search not only for satisfaction and success, we search for meaning. Being with one's biological parents has value in itself for a child, in that it feels right and is experienced as meaningful and hopeful for the future. The material and social quality of the environment does not matter so much for a child's happiness and well-being and future as social workers and social scientists expect.

Evidence showing the advantage of the biological family as a base for child-raising is not understood in the social sector, or is actively suppressed, social sector personnel shutting up about it and propagandeering endlessly for societally managed child care.
    A psychologist who has been very active defending the child protection sector, Vigdis Bunkholdt, is a rather typical example: A paragraph in Bunkholdt (1990, still in the 2nd printing 1994) called (transl.) 'Adoption as an alternative to permanent foster home placement', refers to the Bohman & Sigvardsson study this way (p 106; transl.):
‘Of the three groups the children who were adopted were the ones who did best. Even though they had some nervous problems at an early age, these had disappeared when the children were followed up at age 15. In the early follow-up both the other groups had great problems, but at later follow-ups the difference was large between the foster children and the children who grew up with their mothers, in favourable direction for the foster children.’
A more clearly false description of the study's results is difficult to imagine. Elsewhere she has also made use of the Bohman & Sigvardsson study to argue in favour of adoption rather than long foster care, but has carefully avoided to mention the same study when arguing, as is usual in the child protection industry, in favour of foster care against parents' care, and pretending that there are objective, scientific reasons why care by children's own parent(s) or at least by other close relatives should not be considered at all.
    Bohman and Sigvardsson themselves, whose work was in the social sector, rather cling to adoption as "the solution". In the 1980 article they draw the conclusion that adoption is better than foster placement. It is indeed, but they are completely blind to the fact that neither foster placement nor indeed adoption seem to be a fully adequate compensation for the loss of the biological parent(s). Though their conclusion on this point is not warranted on the basis of their own research, the study is well conducted and independent of such interpretations; the real facts are shown, not just social engineers' wishful thinking.

Such examples from the social sector illustrate that the professions engaged in it both share the most common view in society about parental versus professional care of children (cf Part 8.1), and that they actually propel it.

8.2.2  Daly & Wilson

‘My mother had all the so-called advantages of a comfortable home and a good education – what she lost and what nothing could replace was the carefree life with her brothers in her own home.’ (Christie: An Autobiography, p 15, cf Part 2)
    Why is it "meaningful" for a child to be physically close to its own parents, to have them and not other adults available for help and refuge? The tendency to seek to be close to the biological parents and to feel restless and troubled if the parent/parents are taken away, seems so striking with children that it is difficult to see any other explanation than instinct (cf Part 8.1.4). Children who do not feel this way, are in a decided minority – cf e.g the number of children who run away from home, and who return under their own steam, with children who run away from foster care and do not return voluntarily, and with adoptees who even as adults feel estranged from their adoptive family and seek their biological relatives.

A series of studies by the Canadian evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, which I referred to in Part 6.4, turns out to throw light on this question of special feelings between children and their biological parents (overview and references in Skånland 15 May 2012).
    The studies concern child abuse of stepchildren compared to abuse of biological children. They have carried out several studies of their own and surveyed international literature. Very solid researchers, they have placed particular emphasis on testing for possible confounds (other factors influencing on the results than the one being investigated) and on dependable statistics.
    In all studies, it turned out that child abuse was extremely over-represented – up to a hundred times as likely – in households with a non-biological carer, i.e a stepparent, and usually carried out by the stepparent. The over-representation was stronger the more serious the abuse, up to and including killing. That does not imply that serious child abuse and child killing are frequent, but when it does happen, the relative frequency is very different in the two kinds of households.
    The other half of this picture is that biological parents are many times less abusive and dangerous for a child than other adults.

The reason why humans, like all animals whose young require care, have developed these highly discriminatory, strong feelings of love and care towards their own closest relatives: parents to their own children, children to their own parents, must be that they have through some thousands of generations proved an advantage for the family lines that possess them: Children feel safe with their parents because their forbears have actually been safe there and have survived to pass on their own tendencies to love and care for their offspring in turn. They have survived better because their family line takes better care of their children than unrelated people who do not have that instinctive concern that makes them go to any limit for just
these children.

8.2.3  Agid & al

Let us return for a moment to the question of meaning. A large Israel-based research group, Agid & al, have found that loss of a parent, even up to the age of 17, affects the health of a child negatively (cf the section 'The state of our present knowledge' in Skånland 13 October 2017). Not only does such a loss increase the likelihood of mental illness, it also increases the likelihood of physical illness – later breast cancer is an example. That such negative effects are likely even when the loss occurs at 17 years of age is in itself food for thought about children's need for their very own parents. But another enlightening fact is at least as important:
    The negative effect on children's health is greater when the loss has some
other cause than the death of the parent. Death, which is often thought of as the most horrible event that could strike a child, seems in the longer run to give the child more peace than a parent or parents being taken away from them, or they taken away from the parents, for other reasons. When we remember the way children ask and ask about things they do not see any necessary reason for, never content with being fobbed off with airy explanations which in their view do not take account of central facts, a thought that strikes one is that such "other reasons" preventing contact with parents are perhaps experienced as wildly irrelevant compared to the need of being together, and therefore meaningless to the child. To be subjected to meaningless hurt and sorrow over a long time can create physiological stress, which affects the immune system. Other studies exist showing that growing up in social care, or with a stepparent, or with other people not one's own parents, can indeed create stress.

8.2.4  Vinnerljung

Another Swedish research scholar who has also worked in social welfare is Bo Vinnerljung, whose dissertation (Vinnerljung 1996) focuses especially on how foster children come out in adult age. The book covers his own research but also takes up and discusses pretty well all the literature about child protection in Sweden up to then, plus a lot of international work. (The bibliography is 36 pages long.)
    A chapter (pp 107-16) about the morbidity of (former) foster children compared to the normal population shows boys who have experienced social care to have a significantly higher probability of dying early, while for girls there is only a slight tendency in this direction.
    A study from Norway, Kristofersen (2005), shows the same type of results (pp 12-13; transl; cf the summary in English p 18): In the period studied, there were 7.6 deaths per thousand of children and adolescents who were or had been in care, as against 0.17 per thousand in the normal population. There were 8 times as many suicides among the "in care" individuals: 16 per ten thousand, against 2 per ten thousand in the normal population. There are also figures for suicides and other deaths of parents of children in care.
    An interesting find stems from Vinnerljung's own research of families in which some children had been removed by the social services while their siblings were left in the home of the parents. Those growing up in care did not come out any better than their siblings having had their parents' care. The numbers are so small, however, that Vinnerljung warns against drawing firm conclusions from just those figures.
    Regarding what child protection research and reports from reliable, comparative studies say generally, on the other hand, what he says should put paid to the interminable "explanations" from the social sector that dismal results of foster care are caused by problems the children had prior to being taken into care and that foster care will improve matters; for example:
    (p 315 (a summary in English)):
    ‘Long-term stable foster care does not see[m] to have improved outcome in adult age compared to growing up in "insufficient" family environments, identical to the birth homes of the foster children’
    (p 90; transl.):
‘But one of the basic problems of public ward is that it has difficulties establishing permanency, both 'objectively' ..... and as a perceived situation for the foster children.’
    (p 78; transl.):
 ‘All studies show similar or poorer results for foster children when compared to children from risk groups etc living at home. ...... In sum: some variations are found but nobody has found that foster children do better.’
    (p 116; transl.):
    ‘There are several examples showing that notions about the type of social care having compensatory power have been put to shame through research about "results", ...’

Somewhat like Bohman, Vinnerljung recommends adoption if reunification with the birth family is not possible (pp 90-91), and it spite of his many realistic statements about ideology and practice in social welfare systems, here he apparently accepts, at face value, that when the social services say reunification is not possible, this is a fact – implicitly that the children were taken from their parents on good grounds. Vinnerljung does not ask whether the reforms in the USA and Britain in the direction of "permanency planning", of which early adoption of children taken into care is an important component, are unquestionably positive, and does not investigate how it is carried out in practice. Forced adoption was certainly there already when his dissertation was published, although it has risen to great and more visible heights later (cf the articles in Chicago Tribune; Booker 13 October 2012; Josephs 3 February 2018 and 10 February 2018; cf also Part 8.1.2, 8.1.3, 8.3, 8.4).
    Some years later, Vinnerljung also seemed more or less to have caved in, stating optimistically that everything is much better in Swedish child protection now. There has not, however, been any evidence of this in the many child protection actions in Sweden, which have kept coming, the state and the social sector defending the same sort of actions as those exposed before, cf child protection cases in which Sweden has been found guilty at the European Court of Human Rights.
    A group of adolescent foster children in Sweden, asked in connection with a parliamentary proposal whether they would prefer to be adopted, replied:  – Not until we are of age and can decide ourselves. If the foster relationship is good, it does not matter; if it is not good for us, then it should not be made permanent.

In the light of his clear observations about the melancholy outcome of particularly institutional care, but also of foster care in families, one might have expected Vinnerljung to ask some very basic questions about the deep roots of bonds within the biological family. However, social personnel seem forever wedded to the idea that social interference in the family
is good for children.

To round off about statistics: The abstract of Miller et al (2000) says:
‘Standardized mean differences show that adopted adolescents are at higher risk in all of the domains examined, including school achievement and problems, substance use, psychological well-being, physical health, fighting, and lying to parents.’

8.2.5  Foster care in Christie's fiction

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple has housemaids. They mostly come from "the orphanage", i.e they are parentless children from an institution – foster children. Miss Marple trains them and treats them well, and they rely on her and ask her advice sometimes. When one of her former maids is murdered, Miss Marple travels to fashionable Baydon Heath, where it happened, contacts Gladys' employing family there and the police, and expresses a sense of moral obligation to take action on poor Gladys' behalf.
    There is emotion conveyed of pity, sympathy and understanding for these parentless young girls. They tend to be not the smartest, naïve but honest and trustworthy. We meet two of them in
A Pocket Full of Rye from 1953:
    (p 99):
    Miss Marple about Gladys:
‘'She hadn't got any relations. She came to me from the orphanage. St Faith's. A very well-run place though sadly short of funds. We do our best for the girls there, try to give them a good training and all that. Gladys came to me when she was seventeen and I taught her how to wait at table and keep the silver and everything like that. Of course she didn't stay long. They never do. As soon as she got a little experience, she went and took a job in a café. The girls nearly always want to do that. They think it's freer, you know, and a gayer life. Perhaps it may be.'’
    (p 217):
‘Miss Marple reached home late that evening.
    Kitty – the latest graduate from St Faith's Home – let her in and greeted her with a beaming face.
    'I've got a herring for your supper, miss. I'm so glad to see you home – you'll find everything very nice in the house. Regular spring cleaning I've had.'
    'That's very nice, Kitty – I'm glad to be home.'
    Six spiders webs on the cornice, Miss Marple noted. These girls never raised their heads! She was none the less too kind to say so.’

It sounds all quite idyllic. It might be that Agatha Christie is, still in 1953, simply old-fashioned. The above descriptions are reminiscent, on the home front, of what Barnard says about Christie's portrayal of politics (p 21):
‘... we feel ourselves here not in a 'twenties world, but in a 'nineties one – ’. A trace of an attitude may be present in her descriptions of housemaids, about orphans not being fit for education but self-evidently going out into life to the most humble of occupations, as if their lack of family and moneyed relatives were inevitably bound up with mental deficiencies. But such opinions were applied to the lower classes generally, not just to the parentless. We should again remember the general conditions and attitudes prevailing in Victorian times and considerably later (cf Part 6.3). Young ladies of resourceful families did not ordinarily have much more of a choice; they were not destined for more interesting and remunerative occupations but mostly for not working outside their home at all.
    In the context of children not growing up with their parents, the real question is not one of old-fashioned versus modern, because it is doubtful whether any arrangement, at any time, outside of their parents' home has ever
generally been good for children. We note that Agatha, who had far-reaching and well-informed objections against adoption, seems to hold traditional, uncritical views of institutions for orphans being all right. But so, too, does a large part of the population today. Perhaps the scandals of what has been going on in children's institutions and boarding-schools world-wide only really started rolling after Agatha's time. Dickens' novels about the treatment of unprotected children were of course very well known, not least to Agatha Christie, but there is a difference between understanding the message contained in books and really taking it in that these are perhaps not exceptions but should – to speak with Poirot – "give us furiously to think", be an eye-opener and a spur to further investigation and action. Nor can any kind of action eliminate the basic human feelings involved, just maybe – and not with ease – improve matters somewhat.

There seems to be no focus on foster care through Christie's production, the exception being
The Mousetrap from 1952/54 (cf Part 6.4). In this play the central objectionable fact, determining the whole action of the play, is that the three children placed as foster children on a farm were abused and starved, one of them even dying, and nobody taking action or responsibility for having put them into such a position and not checking up. The play was actually based on a real case in Wales (cf An Autobiography p 530 and the Wikipedia article 'The Mousetrap').
    Features of the case are expressed much like what is found in many real life foster cases: the shallow, irresponsible attitude of social services and the courts, making little of the sufferings of the biological parents and on the brink of making little even of the children's fate, and the same authorities' lack of insight into basic human nature, which does not give fosterers the same kind of impetus, in the shape of natural love, to give children care as it does biological parents.
    (p 334):
    ‘MAJOR METCALF. (moving to L of the armchair C) I think you were actually one of the magistrates on the Bench at the time. In fact, you were responsible for sending those three children to Longridge farm.
    MRS. BOYLE. Really, Major Metcalf. I can hardly be held responsible. We had reports from welfare workers. The farm people seemed very nice and were most anxious to have the children. Eggs and fresh milk and a healthy out-of-doors life.
    MAJOR METCALF. Kicks, blows, starvation, and a thoroughly vicious couple.
    MRS. BOYLE. But how was I to know? They were very civilly spoken.’

Adoption is brought in here too: One of the surviving children, a girl, was adopted by somebody after the stay at the farm at last came to an end (p 331), was taken abroad when she was 13 (p 368), has come back to England to find and help her surviving brother Georgie (p 377), who has been disastrously damaged by the foster parents' ill-treatment, and who is suspected of being the one carrying out the revenge on the foster parents as well as on others involved.
    The reason why the children had been taken into care, the parents' history, is also described (p 349):
    ‘MOLLIE. (hesitating) Well – hadn't those children any relations at all?
    TROTTER. The mother was a drunk. She died soon after the children were taken from her.
    MOLLIE. What about their father?
    TROTTER. He was an Army sergeant, serving abroad. If he's alive, he's probably discharged from the Army by now.
    MOLLIE. You don't know where he is now?
    TROTTER. We've no information. To trace him may take some time, but I assure you, Mrs. Ralston, that the police take every eventuality into account.
    MOLLIE. But you don't know where he may be at this minute, and if the son is mentally unstable, the father may have been unstable, too.
    TROTTER. Well, it's a possibility.
    MOLLIE. If he came home, after being a prisoner with the Japs, perhaps, and having suffered terribly – if he came home and found his wife dead and that his children had gone through some terrible experience, and one of them had died through it, he might go off his head a bit and want – revenge!’

With the scarcity of examples in regard to foster placement in Agatha Christie's works, even guessing seems a doubtful business. The examples of the housemaids and the one example of
The Mousetrap are not enough to conclude about whether she sees a contrast. We might theorise that she thought of institutions as more controlled and better places to grow up for children who really needed it, while private placement, with payment made to the fosterers, struck her as a particularly bad version of adoption, but confirmation or falsification do not seem within reach.
    It is clear, anyway, that Agatha did not have the increasingly copious amounts of information from research available today about foster care, both institutional and in families (Part 8.2), and other care from other than the biological parents (cf Part 8.2.2), information stemming from many types of societies and showing that its negative possibilities are very realistic. Maybe if she had had such information, she could have agreed that it once more confirms the importance of the nuclear family staying together.

A difference which corresponds to real life is that Miss Marple's maids really are orphans (cf Part 8.2.3), while the children taken into care in
The Mousetrap are in about the same situation as the children who are adopted in Ordeal by Innocence: The children in The Mousetrap have parents alive, but the parents are either prevented from taking care of them (the father) or too badly functioning to do so (the mother).
    There is a trace of sympathy for the parents, the same as Margot Bence has for her mother in
The Mirror Crack'd (Part 4.1) and as the reader is given in a stronger dose for Mrs Welman and Mary's dead father in Sad Cypress (Part 4.3). Through all the examples I have given above, there is discernable upset about parents who are alive but who disown their children (like Simeon Lee in Hercule Poirot's Christmas, cf Part 6.1), or who give them up to adoption comforting themselves that it is good for the child, and not showing any further interest in them.

8.3  Some evidence from involved individuals

Statistics implies people. One unusual fact about adoptees is that although they do not on average as a whole group deviate very much from non-adoptees regarding various aspects of success in life, adoptees fall into two, more clearly separate, sub-groups: one of individuals who do very well indeed, even better than average, the other of individuals who do markedly worse than average. It must mean that there is considerable difference in the reaction of individuals to their adoption and often to their adoptive families.
    All the results that show up in statistical studies like the ones above, are exemplified in books, TV programs, articles, postings and comments about adoption-related questions, many with information from adoptees and members of their adoptive families and also by biological parents who lost them. Personal stories range quite widely.

There are of course those who express nothing but satisfaction with their adoptions. Negative views on some aspects of adoption, partly the same as of Agatha Christie's adoptees, seem to be frequent, though. What individuals say may perhaps in time come to make an impact on the trendy professional view that biological origin and relationship do not matter. They clearly do, not to everybody, but in so many cases that it must be an instinctive tendency. It must be reckoned with whenever a child is taken away from its biological parents. In addition, even those who are happy and satisfied, love their adoptive parents and definitely consider them their real parents, often find something to be unsatisfactory in the way society reacts.


Shaaren Pine's article 'Please don't tell me I was lucky to be adopted' from 2015 gives a good example. She says, for instance:
‘I would never say I didn’t have a good childhood — I did. My life was enviable in too many ways to mention. But what’s also true is that adoption is a traumatic, lifelong experience that is rarely recognized as one. Unfortunately, there is no way to convince a non-adoptee that adoption is hard and that its effects continue into adulthood unless that person is willing to hear it. And in my experience, few have been. ......
    Adoptees are often so busy trying to prove that we’re fine, that it’s too late when we realize we’re not. At some point, I stopped running a knife across my wrist, but for many years, that was my solution to denying — and being denied — my truth.
    The physical pain of cutting numbed my emotional pain, and it helped me close the gap between my two falsely dichotomous selves: the "happy" adoptee who had everything given to her and the angry adoptee who had everything taken away.’
    The article has received over 700 comments in the comments section underneath. They illustrate practically every opinion, and every degree of insight and understanding or criticism and even anger!


At least as interesting is Kelly Reineke's article 'Non-Adoptee Privilege' from 2009. Reineke looks at things "upside down", listing a lot of details in life in relation to which she is privileged, but which few of us ever give a thought, while they add to her adoptive daughter's experience of being treated as "different", such as:
    ‘I can get copies of my birth certificate without the key information withheld or blacked out (in my presence!) by the state or agency.
    I know my story; I am not tortured by unknowns (is my birth family alive or dead, do I have siblings, did I join my family in an ethical/legal way?).
    I am not constantly “on alert” that new information or people might be dropped on me, adding stress to my mind/body.
    people will not attribute my emotions and behavior, especially as a child/teen, to my non-adoptee status.
    people will not have negative/low expectations about my behavior or potential based on my non-adoptee status.
    people won’t make negative comments about the mother that gave birth to me.
    people won’t praise or condemn how I entered my family based on moral or political grounds.
    people will not tell me how I ended up being part of my family and how I should feel about the experience.
    people will not ask my parents how much I cost.
    I am not expected by some people to:
       have certain positions on adoption and abortion.
       speak for all non-adoptees.
       reassure future adoptive parents.
       speak only positively about adoption.’

She comments:
    ‘For me, the worst part of the invisibility of non-adoptee privilege is that when some adoptees have tried to make the issues above visible, they have been labeled as "angry adoptees" or told "you should be grateful....you could have been aborted.... you could have been left to languish in an orphanage."
    When I shared these reflections with my eleven-year-old daughter, an Indian adoptee, and her friend, a Russian adoptee, what really resonated for them is that one of the toughest things about being an adoptee is repeatedly having to decide if and when to disclose their adoptee status, and, if they do, all the questions, comments and "pushing" for the story they experience. 
The girls shared many more examples, and their feelings of frustration, sadness, anger and exhaustion. When I shared some of the adult adoptee stories in Ballard’s study, they appreciated learning they were not alone. I told them that what Ballard found was that many adult adoptees perceived this as a narrative burden. It got quiet. All these different experiences had a name. They both nodded their heads: it seemed to be validating for them.’

It is really food for thought. Reineke makes clear a point which is not so often noticed: Not everything in daily life is only about deeply emotional questions. Many adoptees get tired, exasperated, at repeatedly encountering people's reactions of treating them as "an interesting specimen", a kind of curious breed apart, as if the adoption were the only relevant thing about them, and so they would rather hide the fact that they are adopted. It reminds me a little of what some Vietnamese refugees in Norway in the 1980s said about politically naïve Norwegians "always" asking them why they had fled: "One gets so tired of explaining to the Norwegians again and again that life under communism is not what they think. Let's not have to discuss this again, let us get on with our lives!"

Perhaps unexpectedly, the experience that many adoptees have of nonadoptees being curious and "not quite getting it", is a symptom that the general population does maybe not altogether really share the professional idea that biological relationship is negligible. Except when people want to adopt, then the "professional" ideology comes in handy.


'Adoptert – og sviktet' (Adopted – and let down) was a Danish documentary, shown on Norwegian TV between 2006 and 2011. A young girl, Asha, had been adopted from Bangladesh as a child. Many years later she still cried a lot, saying – Why am I here in Denmark?
    In the program we also saw her return to Bangladesh to try to find out why she had been abandoned by her mother, trying to find the mother if possible, at least find some peace. She had felt out of place in Denmark, prosperous as it was, nobody there understood her. Nor did people in Bangladesh sympathise with her opinion that she ought not to have been sent away; they told her she was lucky in comparison with all the parentless and homeless children who either died or were very insufficiently taken care of in Bangladesh. She was inconsolable.

Agatha Christie had Maureen Summerhayes say:
‘'If you can just give a child enough to eat – that's all that matters.'’ But what if you really can't, and if the community around you can't either, or won't? None of the cases Agatha describes are cases of really dangerous destitution, starvation. There is good reason to think that may be different in many cases in Bangladesh, where Asha came from.
    Poverty – economic resources – is a glaring factor in the stigmatisation, even ostracism and violence, directed against unmarried mothers in so many societies. The fact that it takes the form of moral and religious condemnation makes it even worse to stand up against. By and large, human offspring need so much care for so long time that it mostly takes two, both a mother and a father, to cope, or someone else to assist a single mother. Only fairly recently, with a much better material situation in economically advanced countries with organised welfare benefits, is it possible for women generally to decide to live as single mothers without facing great troubles of devastating poverty (Cf Part 3).

Asha from Bangladesh was ethnically South Asian, she looked a lot different from Danes of European ancestry. In her case this contributed to her feeling of being an outsider. But there are other adoptees who tell us that they feel unsettled even though they belong ethnically to the majority population. Some of them have been adopted within the same country. There have been several groups of "Adopteds in search" for whom ethnicity is not an issue, although it does seem to add to the problems for many if they are obviously not their adoptive parents' biological children, and in addition feel the odd man out "culturally".


Often, nothing is known of the parentage, and not knowing is obviously a burden on the child. Knowing, and agreeing, that under the circumstances, adoption really was necessary, does not take away the pain of the parent who is forced to give a child up, nor does it take away many children's pain, even if they later, especially as adults, can make a realistic assessment. But it at least helps in many cases.

Norwegian TV has for over 20 years produced programs in a popular series called 'Tore på sporet' (Tore on the track), where program host Tore Strømøy (transl.):
‘travels the world to help the viewers find relatives and friends’. The program has received an enormous number of letters, and the programs shown on TV have shown successful searches, many of them for lost parents and other relations, usually in foreign parts.
    One program shows exactly this (transl.):
‘Christopher Leonidas and Andreas Pablo Olsen were adopted to Harstad in 1984. 30 years later the two wish to journey back to the country they came from to try and find their mother, who gave the children away in order to save their lives.’ (2015)
    Their father had left their mother, who was then literally unable to feed the boys. They fell ill. At last she brought them to an orphanage, in the hope that they would at least survive. Both were in bad shape, physically and mentally, when they came to Harstad in the north of Norway, Pablo seriously undernourished. Their childhood and youth in Harstad have been very good, thanks to the Olsen parents. Still, they felt that something was missing.
    Somewhat unusually, the names of both the mother and father and the district where they lived had been recorded, and through the 'Tore på sporet' staff and helpers in Columbia, both the mother and also the father are found. The mother has later had other children, and they as well as Pablo and Leo's older sister and of course the mother all hope that the boys will come visiting.
    Leo says (transl.):
‘We will thank mama especially for taking the heavy choice of having us adopted away, to give us a new chance.’ The boys believe it was extremely difficult for her to give them away, feel a joy they have not felt before that she is alive and has been found, and they look forward immensely to going back to visit. 30 years after they came the other way, they get a dream fulfilled: to see their mother again. Tore: ‘What are you looking forward to?’ Leo: ‘To be able to give mammy a hug, pure and simple.’ Mother and siblings have never been told what had happened to the boys, but have thought about them and longed to see them again.
    The reunion is altogether positive and they send photos back to their adoptive parents in Norway. It ends as a harmonious and successful story. Although their Columbian family's situation now is not as desperate as it was, the boys feel as family and want to help them. It is somewhat reminiscent of what Agid and others found (Part 8.2.3) about children being better able to accept and understand loss and find peace when the loss was caused by death. Some of the other 'Tore på sporet' episodes show individuals who know that the relatives they search for must be dead, but who feel it is meaningful to find their graves.
    Another 'Tore på sporet' program showed a young adult man who, again in South America, found his mother, who was forced to work as a prostitute. He decided to try and help her.
    Other programs again have shown more painful reunions or attempts at reunions, often difficult because the biological mother has to keep the existence of an illegitimate child hidden from her family still.
    We are not told how many searches are unsuccessful or meet with rejection and never get on TV. Nor do these programs dwell on, nor indeed show concretely, adoptive relationships which are unsuccessful. It is known from research that some adoptions are actually cancelled (cf Part 8.2.0), and also that adoptive children are more frequently sent to boarding school and move out of the home earlier as young adults. Foster placements, which are a less permanent version but of course related to legal adoption, are in a considerable proportion of cases unsuccessful and are broken up, either by the children being moved again to new foster homes, sometimes again and again, the children being so "difficult" that foster parents give up, or by the children escaping, often trying to find their way back to their biological family. Statistics of abuse in foster homes and institutions show much higher percentages than in biological parents' homes, more like that in homes with stepparents (cf Part 8.2.2).

The 'Tore på sporet' programs do, however, show enough of reunions to illustrate that the biological family is still emotionally important to very many, whether ambivalent to their adoption or not. Announcements for the programs say a lot; a selection is appended below, last in the references section, with links. (The program with Christopher Leonidas and Andreas Pablo is among them.) The programs can still be accessed.


The film
Lion from 2016 is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was as a small boy accidentally lost from his mother's home in Khandwa in India and could not manage to explain to anybody where he came from. He was eventually adopted by an Australian couple. As a young adult he started searching for his original home and his mother by means of the Google Earth program, and found them. He has since helped his mother financially, so that she now does not have to work to pay for a rented room, and he visits quite frequently.
    This is again a story without any conflict between child and adoptive parents or between him and his biological family, and the film incorporates a real life scene at the end where Saroo brings his adoptive mother with him from Australia for a visit.

8.4  Morality

In many cases, actually well illustrated in Agatha Christie's fiction, it is clear that the
morality of the child being adopted away – the motive and the necessity – is important to the adoptee. If the child was given up more or less voluntarily, it is again the reaction of "How could she/they?", "Was I not worth their love?" (cf Part 5.3). The upset at perhaps not having been valued turns out to be among the most important of all for the child in deciding the direction of any future relationship or development. When those questions are laid to rest for an acceptable reason, the feeling of the child for a parent it often did not even know, is still there.

While one of the 'Tore på sporet' sets of programs was being shown, a discussion program took up the very negative reactions of some adoptees to the programs. One participant in particular spoke extremely harshly of biological parents, and held that they had either sent their children away voluntarily or been such bad and unloving parents that the social services, after giving them many chances, had had to take the children. She herself did not want to know anything about her biological parents and she wanted a ban on showing such programs as 'Tore på sporet'.
    Whatever one could say about the absolute conviction behind such a reaction, it seems to show feelings rather the opposite of indifference. If biological parents were of no importance at all, then why did she mind? It really confirms rather than disproves that even happy adoptive relationships are not necessarily felt to be exactly the same as biological ones.

Being stolen, or one's parents having been tricked into giving one up, is of course liable to cause the strongest reaction, cf Kelly Reineke:
[As a non-adoptee] ‘
I know my story; I am not tortured by unknowns (... did I join my family in an ethical/legal way?).’

Two special groups of cases from fairly recent times show the importance of the moral side. Both are cases of forced adoptions, and in both instances carried out to satisfy political motives on the part of the authorities:
    In East Germany the authorities confiscated the children of oppositionals who had tried to flee and were shot or caught and jailed. The children were placed in orphanages or adopted away to childless supporters of the regime. When the Wall fell and Germany was reunited, the authorities of the united country made quite an effort to locate and reunite the separated children and their parents. This was sometimes achieved and sometimes not. In some of the cases which have been publicised in articles or books, it is obvious that the actions of the East German authorities in destroying the family and letting the parents' political enemies adopt the children, were an important reason why the children went back to their biological family and felt that that was where they belonged. Cf Rösner (5 November 2014): 'Forced adoption in the GDR'; Rolff (22 August 2010): 'The legacy of forced adoptions'; Paterson (10 November 2009): 'Dictator's wife defiant over forced adoptions'; 'German Democratic Republic and Adoption' (undated).
    The other instance stems from Argentina, and has much in common with the German example. From Wikipedia (as per 24 March 2018):
‘The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Spanish: Associación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo) is a human rights organization with the goal of finding the children stolen and illegally adopted during the Argentine dictatorship. Its president is Estela Barnes de Carlotto.
    It was founded in 1977 to locate children kidnapped during the repression, some of them born to mothers in prison who [were] later "disappeared", and to return the children to their surviving biological families. The work of the Grandmothers, assisted by United States genetics scientist Mary-Claire King, by 1998 had led to the location of more than 10 percent of the estimated 500 children kidnapped or born in detention during the military era and illegally adopted, with their identities hidden.
    By 1998 the identities of 256 missing children had been documented. Of those, 56 children have been located, and seven others had died. The Grandmothers' work led to the creation of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the establishment of a National Genetic Data Bank. Aided by recent breakthroughs in genetic testing, the Grandmothers succeeded in returning 31 children to their biological families. In 13 other cases, adoptive and biological families agreed on jointly raising the children after they had been identified. The remaining cases are bogged down in court custody battles between families. As of 2008, their efforts have resulted in finding 97 grandchildren.
    The kidnapped babies were part of a systematic government plan during the "Dirty War", to pass the children for adoption by military families and allies of the regime, to avoid raising another generation of subversives. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the junta feared that "the anguish generated in the rest of the surviving family because of the absence of the disappeared would develop, after a few years, into a new generation of subversive or potentially subversive elements, thereby not permitting an effective end to the Dirty War".’

    I still remember an article from fairly early when the Grandmothers were demonstrating. A young girl had been adopted into a Junta family but did not quite understand from where. Then she found her own grandmother on the Plaza de Mayo. Her mother had been killed by being dropped from a plane into the sea. The granddaughter simply left her adoptive family there and then, and joined her grandmother's work; the two of them told their story holding a large photograph of the girl's mother between them.
    Cf also 'Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo' (website, updated); 'How the children of Argentina's "disappeared" are being reunited with their birth families' (19 October 2015); Dury (12 October 2015).

Confiscating or kidnapping children who are not orphans or abandoned by their parents, and adopting them away through the power of the authorities or orphanages, are obvious types of forced adoption. A large racket of that sort in Thailand was revealed not so many years ago; apparently, about a thousand of these children were adopted by people in Sweden, so reports of it managed to break the surface of silence in Scandinavia. At present, Britain seems to be in the forefront of state-managed forced adoptions of children especially of single mothers or other parents in trouble.
    But the border line between such forced adoptions and those brought about by direct pressure or the pressure of circumstances is not clear. It is unlikely that anyone except rare individual mothers are without the natural urge to have their own children with them and care for them.

The practice of closed adoption records has no doubt come about to prevent situations in the adoptive families which would otherwise arise if the child made trouble and broke away in an effort to go back to its biological family or the biological parents tried to retrieve the child. Something of the same kind seems to be at the bottom of the practice of adoptive parents keeping hidden the fact that the child has been adopted: a fear that there will be a lessening of the ties, that the child would experience shock and estrangement if told.
    The very fact that anonymity has been the formal rule in many countries is in itself an indication of the existence of strong, underlying feelings of identity based on biology. The insistence of large groups of adoptees demanding a change for open records and searching actively for their origin go dead against the "scientific" ideology trying to convince us all that children can just be transplanted like plants without a memory or nervous system.
    Arranging children's lives through keeping them ignorant and powerless hardly seems the best way. The social service sector almost everywhere in the Western countries seems to be endemically blind to reality, and so continues endlessly their unrealistic practices and their wayward explanations.

8.5  Agatha's contribution to our education

Statistical studies are necessary in order to be sure whether some phenomenon is an accidental and rare exception or not. Statistics can tell us a lot about how formally or informally adopted individuals experience their childhood and adult age, how many of them are contented and positive about their adoption, how many seek their biological relatives, how they compare with various other groups on different variables.
    In real life, adoptions have varied causes and development, and the individuals all have their varied needs and rights. Most adoptions do not develop into dramatic conflicts. Most adoptive parents and adoptive children come to appreciate each other, often love each other. They just do not have nature's help to the same degree that biological relatives have.
    Agatha's mother Clara's life did after all develop quite well; it was surely no disaster. But Clara was not unusual in her reactions to being adopted away from her mother and brothers. Both statistics and many single case histories are rather on Agatha's and her mother's side.

Agatha Christie is not a research scholar investigating adoption. She has not gone into the full range of issues, and is perhaps not aware of how even more seriously flawed are fostering arrangements for children. Maybe she also lacks complete understanding, at least early in her life, of just how difficult a life in utter poverty could be. Her own grandmother might have lived a straightened existence but it was hardly comparable to what Britain's lowest classes went through. Cf Barnard (pp 24-25) about
The Secret of Chimneys from 1925: ‘One of the bright young men at the centre of The Secret of Chimneys disguises himself as an out-of-work itinerant, but he is spotted at once by the delightful heroine as 'more pleasing than the usual specimen of London's unemployed'. ..... men who had miraculously survived the slaughter and come home to poverty and idleness. In this book Christie appears to see them as no more than fraudulent nuisances. This one carries a pamphlet called 'Why Did I Serve My Country?' which apparently is to be regarded as an impertinent question.’ (Cf also Part 6.3.)
    Agatha understands better that social stigmatisation may be absolutely prohibitive, and she does not express disapproval of the adoption in
Sad Cypress.
    She has most thoroughly understood the kind of adoption her mother was subject to. It has upset her and given her insight.

In her fiction, she has created some varied settings and circumstances, and these too are given realism and life. Most of her fictional adoption cases, however, have at their centre single mothers who, maybe under pressure but more or less voluntarily, give their children away, and rather self-absorbed adoptive mothers of insufficient understanding.
    About such adoptions, and about the emotional labyrinths some adopted children get into, she writes more than well, opening our minds to reflection, and to the feelings which the people involved often experience.

It seems suitable for me to end off with a passage from Vinnerljung which I believe Agatha Christie would have appreciated. This story comes from the preface to his book (p 12, transl.):
    ‘During my work with the dissertation I meet by accident a woman who grew up with her heavily alcoholic mother. She has a sister who was early placed in a foster home and stayed there. Only in later years have the two found each other. The woman's story is about a miserable childhood and about her envy of her sister who was saved from this fate and had a normal childhood and youth. "But do you know, it is curious. Now, when we meet, she is the one who is envious of me and says that I at any rate got to be with my own mother".’


About Agatha Christie's authorship:

Robert Barnard (1980):
A talent to deceive
An appreciation of Agatha Christie
London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-216190-7

John G. Cawelti (1976):
Adventure, Mystery, and Romance
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-09867-2

Agatha Christie (1977):
An Autobiography
London: HarperCollins
Fontana paperback 1978. ISBN 0-00-635328-2

John Curran (2009):
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks. Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making
London: Harper.  ISBN 078-0-00-731057-9

'The Mousetrap' (play)
Wikipedia (as per 22 January 2018)

Agatha Christie's novels and short stories referred to in the text:
Page references given above are to the paperback copies I have used, (which are not necessarily the first paperback editions or printings); they are given in square brackets.

The Murder on the Links (1923)
London: John Lane; [Pan 1969]

The Secret of Chimneys (1925)
London: the Bodley Head [HarperCollins 1994]

The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
London: Collins [Fontana 1982]

'Dead Man's Mirror', in
Murder in the Mews (1937)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1989]
Also reprinted in other short story collections

Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1938)
London: Collins; [Pan 1968]

Sad Cypress (1940)
London: Collins; [HarperCollins 1993]

N or M? (1941)
London: Collins; [Pan 1974]

The Body in the Library (1942)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1962]

The Moving Finger (1943)
London: Collins; [Pan 1982]

Five Little Pigs (1943)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1959]

Towards Zero (1944)
London: Collins [HarperCollins 1996]

They Came to Baghdad (1951)
London: Collins; [HarperCollins 1993]

Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952)
London: Collins; [Pan 1952]

They do it with Mirrors (1952)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1964]

A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
London: Collins; [HarperCollins 1993]

The Mousetrap (play) (1954, first performance 1952)
London: Samuel French; [in
The Mousetrap and other plays, HarperPaperbacks 1993]

4.50 from Paddington (1957)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1967]

Ordeal by Innocence (1958),
London: Collins; [Fontana 1990]

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1962)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1965]

Hallowe'en Party (1969)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1970]

Elephants Can Remember (1972)
London: Collins [Fontana 1973]

'The King of Clubs', in
Poirot's Early Cases (1974)
London: Collins; [Fontana 1981]
Previously in the USA in
The Underdog (1951)

   Under her pseudonym
Mary Westmacott:

Absent in the spring (1944)
London: Collins [Fontana 1983]

Other references:

'Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo' (website, updated) [Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo]

'Adoptert – og sviktet' (2006) [Adopted – and let down]
(The program can no longer be accessed.)

Adoption and Healing (1997). Proceedings of The international conference on Adoption and Healing, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, 1997 
Wellington: New Zealand Adoption Education and Healing Trust. ISBN 0-473-04733-0 

Adoptionland (undated):
'A worldwide revelation has occurred ....'
Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network

(Members of) The Australian Adoptee Rights Action Group (2015):
'We demand our original and true birth certificates as our identities, not false ones. Adoption reform petition'
The Australian Adoptee Rights Action Group

Margaret Barbalet (1983):
Far from a low gutter girl
Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Kaustav Bhattacharya (24 February 2018):
'Plato's influence on Western child-protection laws of today'
Delhi: Sunday Guardian

Michael Bohman & Soren Sigvardsson (1980): 'Negative social heritage', in
Adoption and Fostering 3/1980
London: British Agencies for Adoption & Fostering. ISSN 0308-5759

Christopher Booker (13 October 2012):
'The worst scandal I have seen in my 50-year career'
The Telegraph

John Bowlby (2nd edition 1965):
Child Care and the Growth of Love
Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-013458-1

Vigdis Bunkholdt (1990):
Barnevernspsykologi [Child protection psychology]
Oslo: Tano forlag. ISBN 82-518-2748-5

Chicago Tribune:
    'Clinton Hails Illinois For Adoption Record' (24 September 1999)
    'U.S. Rewards State Adoption Efforts' (24 September 1999)
    'Foster custody law is voided' (21 September 2001)
    'Heeding the call to adopt' (20 October 2003)

Nancy J. Cohen, James Coyne & James Duvall (1993): "Adopted and Biological Children in the Clinic: Family, Parental and Child Characteristics"
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry Vol 34 No 4 

Nancy J. Cohen, James Duvall, James C. Coyne (1994): 
Mental Health Service Needs of Post-adoptive Families 
Newmarket, Ontario: Children's Aid Society in York Region 

Barbara Dury (12 October 2015):
'Argentina's Stolen Babies, and the Grandmother Leading the Search' (Documentary)

'German Democratic Republic and Adoption' (undated)

'Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo'
Wikipedia (as per 24 March 2018)

'How the children of Argentina's "disappeared" are being reunited with their birth families' (19 October 2015)
PBS News Hour

Ian Josephs (3 February 2018):
'The Swinging Sixties marked the onset of forced adoptions'
Sunday Guardian

  –  (10 February 2018):
'In the UK, forced adoptions are backed by big money'
Sunday Guardian

Lars B. Kristofersen (2005):
Barnevernbarnas helse. Uførhet og dødelighet i perioden 1990-2002 [The health of child protection children. Disability and morbidity in the period 1990-2002] English summary pp 15-19
NIBR-rapport 2005:12

'Astrid Lindgren'
Wikipedia (as per 20 March 2018)

Lion (film)
Wikipedia (as per 25 March 2018)

N. Middleton (1971):
When family failed
London: Gollancz

Brent C. Miller, Xitao Fan, Mathew Christensen, Harold D. Grotevant, Manfred van Dulmen (2000): 'Comparisons of Adopted and Nonadopted Adolescents in a Large, Nationally Representative Sample', in 
Child Development 71,5 

Dibyendu Mondal & Areeba Falak (13 November 2016):
'Only 1,800 adoptable children available with Central agency'
Delhi: Sunday Guardian

Toni Paterson (10 November 2009):
'Dictator's wife defiant over forced adoptions'
The Independent

Shaaren Pine (9 January 2015):
'Please don't tell me I was lucky to be adopted'
Washington DC: The Washington Post

Kelly Reineke (2009):
'Non-Adoptee Privilege'
Pact, An Adoption Alliance

Marten Rolff (22 August 2010):
'The legacy of forced adoptions'
The Guardian

Sandra Rösner (5 November 2014):
'Forced adoption in the GDR'
German Language Blog

Marianne Haslev Skånland (11 March 2012):
'Is biological kinship irrelevant for the life of human beings?'
Oslo: MHS's home page

  –  (15 May 2012):
'Child abuse which the child protection authorities do not want to know about – 2: Violence against step-children compared to genetic children – Daly & Wilson's research'
Oslo: MHS's home page

  –  (21 December 2014):
'Educating the young – better through cooperation with the child protection agency (CPS)?'
Oslo: MHS's home page

  –  (13 October 2017):
'How Norwegian experts came to reject biological kinship as relevant in child welfare policy'
Oslo: MHS's home page

Bo Vinnerljung (1996): 
Fosterbarn som vuxna [Foster children as adults] English summary pp 306-16
Lund Studies in Social Welfare XIII  Lund: Arkiv förlag. ISBN 91-7924-091-7 

Introductions to some of the Tore på sporet programs (transl.) and links:
    ‘Anna Maria Almo from Snåsa had a very special childhood with parents in Norway and a biological mother in Austria. She has always wondered why she was given away.’ (1996)
    ‘Norwegian Anne Lise Mason adopted away a daughter while she was living in the USA. The agreement was to keep contact with her and the adoptive family, but the contact was broken off. Her greatest wish is to meet her biological daugher again.’ (1996)
‘Bridget Boyd was, together with many other British orphanage children sent to Australia after the Second Word War, to be adopted away. She knows her father was Norwegian, and asks for help to find him.’ (1996)
‘German Annelie Lederer wants to find her Norwegian half-sister who was adopted away as a baby during the war.’ (1996)
‘Roald Stenshaug searches for his father in Germany and meets new siblings.’ (1997)
    ‘Clark from Sweden seeks his Norwegian father.’ (1997)
‘Rønnaug and Fay search for their cousin in the USA.’ (1997)
‘Irene Bunes finds her sister in Old Jugoslavia.’ (1997)
‘Trond from Kirkenes finds his father and meets unknown brothers.’ (2000)
‘Willy finds his lost brother in Australia.’ (2000)
‘The Røe family are searching for an abducted twin baby in Greece.’ (2000)
‘In 1956 the Oslo boy Truls Hammer went to Canada to live as a hunter in the wild. In Pickle Lake he finds a girl friend in the Amerindian Agnes, something disapproved of by his employers. Some time later, after the two have parted, he learns that Agnes has had a son. Truls stays in Canada until the autumn of 1962, but he never meets Agnes again. Today, Truls is 66 years old and has decided to try to find both his son and the sweetheart of his youth.’ (2002)
‘Jeanette and Kennet Groseth and their two younger siblings lost both their mother and their stepfather in a period of six months. They were only 11 and 13 years old. The child protection services intervened and parted the four children, who ended up in three different foster homes. 16 years old, Jeanette decides to try and trace her biological father, Johnny.’ (2002)
‘We go with Tore Strømøy and the Kristiansand girl Mari-Ann Pedersen to Tanzania. After Mari-Ann's parents were divorced, her father married an African woman, and they had the daughter Inge Marghrethe in 1992. The father died the next year, and Mari-Ann had no possibility to go to the funeral. Ten years later she will try to find her African half-sister and visit her father's grave.’ (2002)
‘14 year old Andrea Furdal Nymoen goes to South America to meet her biological family. Andrea was born in the city of Pasto in Columbia, but has been growing up at Sola outside Stavanger. She was adopted by the spouses Bente Furdal and Svein Nymoen. At that time the couple travelled with their daughter Vilde to fetch home the family's new daughter. This time there are four leaves Furdal Nymoen travelling south-west together with Tore Strømøy to search for Andrea's biological mama.’ (2002)
‘We meet four siblings from Farsund who go on a journey to find their great grandfather's family on the South Sea island Aitutaki. Their great grandfather was shipwrecked in 1897 and never came back. But just before the war, the family received a letter from a man in Cook Islands who claimed to be the captain's son.’ (2002)
‘Gro Marit is reunited with her unknown sisters from Sweden and Finland. Re-encounter with the siblings from Farsund with relatives in the Cook Islands – what happened after?’ (2006)
‘The foster child Ilona is originally German, and is reunited with her biological mother in Germany.’ (2006)
‘Christine from Karmøy had been adopted from Korea, her parents sought contact with her and they are reunited.’ (2006)
‘Re-encounter from 1996 with Anne Grete who gets to read the Lord's Prayer at her father's grave in South Georgia.’ (2006)
‘Elin Anita is reunied in Sweden with her Israeli father, whom she has never met.’ (2006)
‘Ann from Oslo is reunited with her unknown half-sister Isabelle from Canada.’ (2006)
    ‘In 1987, South Korean Hyang Sook Kang bore a son. After divorce it was decided that the father should have the main care of their five year old son. Meanwhile Kang goes to her home town to try to get a job and a place to live. Some years later she goes back to meet her son. But the father and the boy's paternal grandmother have long since given him away in adoption.’ (2009)
‘16 years old, Carina Bergli learns that the man she always thought was her father, is not her real father after all. Her biological father's name was Ivan and he came from Northern Ireland. That is the start of over 20 years searching for Carina's real father.’ (2009)
    ‘In 1882 Edvart Iversen Maarud from Østfold and Kari Thorbjørnsdatter Vraalstad from Telemark emigrated to America. Almost a million other Norwegians took the same route. 130 years later their descendant, the country star Lynn Anderson, comes back to Norway to find her Norwegian roots.’ (2013)
    ‘Christopher Leonidas and Andreas Pablo Olsen were adopted to Harstad in 1984. 30 years later the two wish to journey back to the country they came from to try and find their mother, who gave the children away in order to save their lives.’ (2015)
‘Ann-Karin Thoresen and Berit Hellenes have the same father, but only found out when they were grown up. Together they decide to find their father's third child, a daughter he had in Ireland during the war. But their search for big sister Eleanor is not easy.’ (2015)
    ‘Mother-of-three Irina Cederløv from Klepp in Rogaland does not remember her mama. She grew up with a brother and the father in Lithuania. The mother disappeared when Irina was still little. Since then she has never heard from her. Now she wants to find her mother, and find out why she left.’ (2016)
‘Siri, 20 years old, seeks her biological mother in India.’ (2018)
‘On their last day [in South Africa], Philip gives David [from Norway] the greatest gift possible: the right to adopt Elias. But Philip will also be a father and follow up as much as he can.’ (2018)
‘Tanja seeks her biological mother in Canada’ (2018)