Hercule Poirot made his debut appearance in Agatha Christie’s first ever detective story, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, written during World War 1 (but unpublished until 1920). Afterward, Poirot appeared in over 30 novels and 50 stories, and became one of the most renowned and beloved characters in the detective genre.
Poirot is famous for his unique physical stature and characteristic grandiosity. However, his past and personal life remain vague in all of his literary appearances – much like Christie herself, who was an intensely reserved woman who guarded her private life fiercely. He is classless, unlike so many “gentlemen” amateur detectives of the inter-war years, and also sexless, with no hints that he ever married or showed an interest in a romantic relationship. Despite this absence of traditional characterization, he is an adored figure, remembered in many cases with as much intensity and fondness as Christie herself.
But what did Agatha Christie herself think of her most famous detective? In a long-lost essay written in the 1930s titled “Why I Got Fed Up With Poirot”, Christie admits that, despite Poirot’s success, she actually felt much less fondness for the character than her readers did. “My own Hercule Poirot is often somewhat of an embarrassment to me – not in himself, but in the calling of his life. Would anyone go and ‘consult’ him? One feels not,” she admits in the essay, finding fault with the artificiality of the “private investigator” trope that she used within the detective genre. Additionally, an article in the British newpaper Telegraph published in 2006 cites Christie as having once referred to Poirot as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep”.
Agatha Christie was in London during the Blitz of World War II, when the Nazis sieged London with constant bombings. Fearing for her life, she wrote two stories that killed off each of her most famous detectives – Poirot and Miss Marple. She included a provision in her will that the stories be published if she were to die in the war. Since she survived, however, the stories remained unpublished and Poirot remained a fixture in her writing for three decades.
Christie’s frustration with Poirot was clearly overridden by his success – she understood that he was one of her most popular characters, and thus responsible for so much of her own success as a fiction writer. As much as she may have liked to “kill off” her “detestable” little creep, she remained loyal to him until the end of her career. In 1975, with her own health failing, she finally published Curtain, the novel she wrote during World War II, which killed off Poirot. Months later, in 1976, Christie herself died.
Public reaction to both Poirot’s and Christie’s death was despairing. Hercule Poirot was the first ever fictional character to get a front page obituary in the New York Times. On August 6, 1975, a headline ran announcing, “Poirot is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective; Hercule Poirot, the Detective, Dies”. Whatever satisfaction Christie may have gotten from killing off the detective she had come to dislike was likely muted by the numerous ways Poirot lived on in the years since their respective deaths. The many film and television adaptations of Poirot, as well as the continuing success of Christie’s Poirot Mysteries, proves that unlike Christie herself, the world still feels great affection for the little Belgian detective.
In the final paragraph of her “Why I Got Fed Up With Poirot” essay, Christie writes: “I would give one piece of advice to young detective writers: be very careful what central character you create – you may have him with you for a very long time!” Of course, had Christie followed her own advice and never created Hercule Poirot, the world would have missed out on one of its most treasured literary characters.