Captain Arthur Hastings, OBE, is the partner and best friend of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. He was first introduced in her novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles and appears in many subsequent Poirot stories and novels though generally only as the narrator.
Function in Christie's work
Hastings is today strongly associated with Poirot, partly as a result of the fact that many of the early TV episodes "Agatha Christie's Poirot" were adaptations of the short stories, in most of which he appeared, or were stories into which he had been introduced in the course of adaptation (e.g. Murder in the Mews and Other Stories). In Christie's original writings, however, Hastings is far less prominent. He is not a character in either of the two best-known Poirot novels - Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express - and of the fifteen Poirot novels published between 1920 and 1937 he appears in fewer than half. Moreover, when Christie expanded The Submarine Plans (1923) as The Incredible Theft (1937) she removed Hastings.
Hastings appears to have been introduced by Christie in accordance with the model of Sherlock Holmes's sidekick, Doctor Watson, to whom he has a marked resemblance. Both narrate in the first person, both are slow to see the significance of clues, and both therefore stand as a form of surrogate for the reader. There are even similarities of role: Hastings is Poirot's only close friend, and the two share a flat briefly when Poirot sets up his detective agency. The presence of Chief Inspector Japp, a close "literary descendant" of Holmes's Inspector Lestrade, fleshed out Christie's adoption of the Holmes paradigm.
Christie's experiments with first person narration, especially in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, saw her attempt to expand the formal resources of the detective novel. In And Then There Were None (1939), her most successful novel, and one in which none of her detectives appear, her third-person narrative moves fluidly between the perspectives of all of her characters. This need to see different events from alternative perspectives (especially from the perspectives of her suspects) meant that she increasingly favoured third person narration throughout her career.
In Sad Cypress for example, the character of a woman on trial is made to think like a murderess when the narrative is written from her perspective: a significant red herring that is only possible because of the method of narration.
Furthermore, Poirot's method changes in the novels. In the earlier phase of his career, Hastings is valued for his imaginative approach to cases, inevitably giving rise to fanciful hypotheses that Poirot can gently mock. This characterisation of Hastings is made by Poirot himself in The Mystery of the Spanish Chest (1932): "How my dear friend, Hastings, would have enjoyed this! What romantic flights of imagination he would have had. What ineptitudes he would have uttered! Ah ce cher Hastings, at this moment, today, I miss him ..."
Later in her career, Christie's apparatus is less fanciful, and the opportunity for wild speculation much diminished. When the need for a sidekick arises in the later novels and stories it is either:
- A suspect
- Miss Lemon (who in direct contrast with Hastings is completely unimaginative)
- Mr Satterthwaite (a great observer of human nature who avoids passing judgements)
- Ariadne Oliver (a crime novelist who opened to Christie the opportunity for self-satire)
Although Hastings remains the most popular of Poirot's sidekicks, his appearance in only eight of the thirty-four Poirot novels indicates that he no longer served Christie's literary purpose.
Early life, family and career
Not much is known about Hastings' early life. In the novel The A.B.C. Murders, Hastings describes his first impression of Megan Barnard was "of the Dutch dolls that my sisters used in my childhood". From this it may be inferred that he had more than one sister. From Dumb Witness, it is mentioned that he went to Eton.
Hastings had met Poirot in Belgium several years before their meeting on July 16, 1916 at Styles Court, Essex, which is their first encounter in literature. The two remained friends right up to Poirot's death, although there is little evidence regarding their possible meetings between 1937 and 1975, but we know that Hastings at least saw Poirot a year before the latter's death. Hastings, while being no great detective himself, serves Poirot in many ways. A former British Army officer in World War I, he is extremely brave and often used by Poirot for physical duties such as catching and subduing a criminal. In the unpublished story The Incident of the Dog's Ball, and perhaps nowhere else, Christie gives Hastings the post nominals "O.B.E." Presumably he won this as the result of his bravery or service during the war. Poirot likes to tease Hastings about being dim-witted at times, but he clearly enjoys the Captain's company.
Hastings represents the traditional English gentleman -- not too bright but absolutely fastidious, a throwback to the Victorian era gentleman who is always concerned about "fair play". Unlike Poirot, who is not above lying, surreptitiously reading other people's letters, eavesdropping, etc., in his quest to solve a case, Hastings is absolutely horrified by such things and usually refuses to do these things even when asked to do so by Poirot.
He is chivalrous as well, possessing a pronounced weakness for pretty women with auburn hair (a fact that gets him and Poirot into trouble more than once). Despite his preference for auburn hair, and his Victorian ideas about not marrying outside one's class, he eventually falls in love with a dark-haired music hall actress, singer, and acrobat, Dulcie Duveen. They meet in the story Murder on the Links, the second full-length Poirot novel. Poirot plays a rather significant part in uniting the couple. Hastings then acquires a ranch in Argentina and settles down to a life as a ranchholder.
Hastings' appearances in Poirot's later novels are restricted to a few cases in which he participates on his periodic returns to England from Argentina. In the course of The Big Four Dulcie's life is threatened by members of an international conspiracy, and he is forced to risk Poirot's life in return for her promised safety. At the end of Dumb Witness Hastings acquires a pet terrier called Bob. In other respects there is very little personal detail regarding him in these novels, until Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, which is presumed to take place a great many years later.
In Curtain we learn that he and 'Cinders' or 'Cinderella' as he calls Dulcie, have four children: two sons and two daughters. One son joins the Royal Navy, while the other one and his wife manage the ranch after Dulcie's death. His daughter Grace is married to a British officer stationed in India, and his youngest child, Judith, who is also his favourite, appears as a character in Curtain. Judith marries Dr. John Franklin, a medical researcher and moves to Africa with him. It is possible that Hastings himself also takes a second wife: Elizabeth Litchfield. Poirot certainly suggests that he should, in the Postscript to Curtain, but there is no further evidence either way.
Hastings narrates the majority of the short stories featuring Poirot, but appears in only eight of the novels, all of which were written before 1940, namely:
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles
- Murder on the Links
- The Big Four
- Peril at End House
- The A.B.C. Murders
- Lord Edgware Dies (also known as Thirteen for Dinner)
- Dumb Witness
- Curtain: Poirot's Last Case
Hastings also appears as the narrator in the unpublished story The Incident of the Dog's Ball (later to be expanded into "Dumb Witness".
Portrayals in other media
1930s film adaptations
The Alphabet Murders
Peter Ustinov's Poirot
BBC Radio 4
Actor Simon Williams have portayed Hastings in several of the BBC Radio 4 audio play adaptations.