Absent in the Spring is a novel written by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by William Collins & Sons in August 1944 and in the US by Farrar & Rinehart later in the same year. It was the third of six novels Christie wrote under the nom-de-plume Mary Westmacott.

Explanation of the novel's title

The title is a quotation from Shakespeare's Sonnet 98: "From you have I been absent in the spring,..."

Plot introduction

Stranded between trains, Joan Scudamore finds herself reflecting upon her life, her family, and finally coming to grips with the uncomfortable truths about her life.

Summary

Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone and stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. This sudden solitude compels Joan to assess her life for the first time ever and face up to many of the truths about herself. Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her...

Characters

Literary significance and reception

The Times Literary Supplement's review of 19 August 1944 by Marjorie Grant Cook stated positively, "The writer has succeeded in making this novel told in retrospect, with its many technical difficulties, very readable indeed. She has not made Joan, with her shallow, scrappy mind, sympathetic, and the other characters in the tale, seen through her eyes, lack the charm they had for each other and withheld from her."

J. D. Beresford's review in The Guardian of 25 August 1944 concluded, "It is a very clever and consistently interesting study of a character that not even a desert vision could permanently change."

References or Allusions

References to other works

Joan Scudamore quotes from the Shakespeare play The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

She also quotes Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

Joan and Rodney quotes Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

and

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

Adaptations

The novel was adapted by BBC Radio in 2020.

Publication history

  • 1944, William Collins & Sons (London), August 1944, Hardcover, 160 pp
  • 1944, Farrar & Rinehart (New York), 1944, Hardcover, 250 pp
  • 1967, Dell Books, Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1971, Arbor House, Hardback, 250 pp
  • 1974, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1978, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 300 pp; ISBN 0-7089-0115-8

The novel was first serialised in the U.S. in Good Housekeeping in two abridged installments from July to August 1944.

International titles

  • Swedish: Skilda åt i vårens tid (Separated in springtime), Skild från dig i vårens dagar (Separated from you in the days of spring)
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