Philomel Cottage is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in The Grand Magazine in Nov 1924. It was subsequently compiled as part of the collection The Listerdale Mystery in the U.K. in Jun 1934. In the U.S. the story came out as part of the collection The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories in 1948.
Alix Martin is a woman in her mid-thirties who has worked as a shorthand typist for fifteen years. For most of that time she has had an understanding with a fellow clerk by the name of Dick Windyford but as both are short of funds and, at various times having family dependants, romance and marriage have been out of the question and never spoken of. Two events happen suddenly; a distant cousin of Alix dies leaving her enough money to give her an income of a couple of hundred pounds a year however her financial independence seems to annoy Dick, and at much the same time Alix meets and has a whirlwind romance with Gerald Martin, a man she meets at a friend's house and they are engaged within a week and married soon after. Dick is furious and warns Alix that she knows nothing whatsoever about her new husband.
A month after they are married, Gerald and Alix are living at Philomel Cottage, a picturesque cottage. It is isolated but fitted with all modern conveniences. Alix has some anxieties – she has a recurring dream in which Gerald lies dead on the floor, Dick stands over him having committed the deed of murder but Alix is grateful for the act. She is troubled that the dream is a warning. By coincidence Dick phones her. He is staying at a local inn and wishes to call on her. She puts him off, afraid of what Gerald's reaction might be. After the call she chats to the gardener, George, and during the course of the conversation is told two strange things; Gerald has told George that Alix is going to London the next day and he doesn't know when she'll be returning (although she knows nothing about this) and that the cost of the cottage was two thousand pounds. Gerald had told Alix that it was three thousand and she gave him part of her inheritance to make up the difference. Alix finds Gerald's pocket diary dropped in the garden and looks through it, seeing her husband's meticulous entries for everything he does in his life. An appointment is marked down for 9.00pm that night but no indication is given as to what will happen at that time.
Alix suddenly has doubts about her husband, which only increase when he gives her a cryptic warning about prying into his past life. He is also furious that George made the comment about going to London. He claims the 9.00pm entry was to remind him to develop photographs in his dark room but he has now decided not to carry out this chore. The next day, driven by questions and insecurities, Alix starts to search through her husband's papers in two locked drawers and in one of them finds newspaper clippings from America dated seven years previously which report on a swindler, bigamist and suspected murderer called LeMaitre. Although found not guilty of murder, he was imprisoned on other charges and escaped four years before. Alix seems to recognise LeMaitre from the photographs – it is Gerald! He returns to the cottage, carrying a spade, supposedly to do work in the cellar but Alix is convinced he intends to kill her. Desperately keeping up a pretence of normality, she makes a supposed call to the butcher which is in fact a coded call for help to Dick at the inn. Gerald tries to get her to join him in the cellar but she plays for time telling Gerald that she is in fact an unsuspected murderess who killed two previous husbands by poisoning them with hyoscine, which induces the symptoms of heart failure. Gerald had been complaining that his coffee was bitter and he is convinced that she has now poisoned him. At that moment, Dick and a policeman arrive at the cottage as Alix runs out. The policeman investigates inside and reports that there is a man in a chair who is dead, looking as if he has had a bad fright.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Philomel Cottage was, before the Second World War, the most successful short story written by Agatha Christie in terms of number of adaptations.
The first adaptation was made by Christie herself in the 1930's, and had the title The Stranger.
Frank Vosper version
- It was adapted as a highly successful West End stage play in 1936 by Frank Vosper called Love from a Stranger.
- In turn, this adaptation was filmed twice, in 1937 and 1947.
- It was also televised twice in the UK, in 1938 and 1947.
- It was adapted by Bayerischer Rundfunk and broadcast on West Germany television 26th June 1957, under the title Ein Fremder kam ins Haus. A further German adaptation was produced by Hessischer Rundfunk for broadcast on West German television on December 5, 1967 under the title of Ein Fremder klopft an (A Stranger Knocks) starring Gertrud Kückelmann and Heinz
- Two radio adaptations were made in 1945. The BBC Home Service adaptation and the General Forces Programme adaptation.
It was adapted three times for the American half-hour radio programme Suspense (CBS) under its original name Philomel Cottage, first airing on July 29, 1942, starring Alice Frost and Eric Dressler. This episode has apparently been lost. The second adaptation aired October 7, 1943, with Geraldine Fitzgerald as Alix Martin and Orson Welles as Gerald Martin. A third aired December 26, 1946, with Lilli Palmer as Alix Martin and Raymond E. Lewis as Gerald Martin.
Philomel Cottage was also adapted as a half-hour BBC Radio 4 play broadcast on Monday, January 14, 2002 at 11.30am.
- 1924: The Grand Magazine, vol. 46, no. 237, Nov 1924.
- 1931: My Best Detective Story, Faber and Faber, 1931.
- 1934: The Listerdale Mystery, William Collins and Sons (London), June 1934.
- 1935: The Thriller, no. 309, 5 Jan 1935.
- 1940: Argosy (UK), vol. 1 no. 5 (New Series), Jun 1940 as "Love from a Stranger".
- 1946: Avon Modern Short Story Monthly, no. 31, 1946.
- 1947: Hold Your Breath, Hitchcock, Dell, 1947.
- 1948: The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 272 pp.
- 1951: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 17, whole no. 89, Apr 1951.
- 1954: MacKill's Mystery Magazine, vol. 3 no. 6, Feb 1954.
- 1954: MacKill’s Mystery Magazine (US) Apr 1954.