The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 12 November 1962 and in the U.S. by Dodd, Mead and Company in September 1963 under the shorter title of The Mirror Crack'd and with a copyright date of 1962. The UK edition retailed at fifteen shillings (15/-) and the US edition at $3.75. It is set in the fictional English village of St. Mary Mead and features Miss Marple. It was dedicated by Christie: "To Margaret Rutherford, in admiration."

Synopsis

Miss Marple investigates the murder of Heather Badcock, who consumed a poisoned cocktail apparently meant for American film actress Marina Gregg, Heather's idol. As Marple investigates, she discovers dark secrets in Marina's past, secrets which also link to other seemingly innocent citizens of St. Mary Mead.

Plot summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Marina Gregg is a famous, temperamental, much loved movie star who has come to settle down in the village of St. Mary Mead after the death of Colonel Bantry, who used to live at Gossington Hall where Marina has taken up residence with her husband Jason Rudd.

Heather Badcock, an ordinary albeit annoying woman, dies after drinking a cocktail at a party hosted by Marina. Shortly before her death, Heather was in conversation with Marina, giving her a long boring account of how she had met Marina many years ago - getting out of bed despite her illness and putting on lots of makeup, in order to seek Marina's autograph. Marina is seem with a 'frozen'look on her face for a moment while Heather talks to her; a look likened to the Lady of Shalott, as though 'doom has come upon her'.

It then comes to light that Marina had handed her own drink to Heather after Heather's drink was spilled. Therefore it is surmised that Marina must be the intended victim. As a famous star who has married five times, she is a far more likely murder target. Suspicion is cast on many people including Marina's seemingly devoted husband, a big-shot American TV producer who is a former admirer, and an American actress who was previously Marina's rival in love. (Both Americans turn up unexpectedly at the party). It also comes to light that an arty photographer at the party is actually one of three children that Marina had adopted in the past for a while and then 'got tired of' (Marina does not recognize her as such at the party).

It is known that 11-12 years before the events in the book, Marina desperately wanted children of her own but had difficulties conceiving. After adopting three children, she became pregnant but her baby was born mentally handicapped and abandoned to a lifetime of institutions, leaving Marina emotionally scarred. This misfortune was due to Marina contracting German measles in the early stages of her pregnancy.

While police search for clues, two other murders take place - one of Marina's social secretary and the other of Marina's butler (both of whom were serving drinks at the party).

Finally, Miss Marple deduces what Marina had instantly realised at the party, that Heather is the woman who was responsible for infecting Marina with German measles all those years previously when she put on make up to cover the rash and went to meet Marina for her autograph. Overcome by rage and grief at seeing her unwitting tormentor looking so happy and proud of her act, Marina impulsively poisons her own glass and hands it to Heather after making Heather spill her own drink.

At the end of the book, Marina is found dead from a drug overdose.

Characters

Gossington Hall

Visitors at the fête

The Development

St Mary Mead villagers

Police

Others and Mentions

Village parallels

Literary significance and reception

Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) was somewhat muted in his praise in his review in The Guardian of 7 December 1962 when he said, "she has of course thought up one more brilliant little peg on which to hang her plot, but the chief interest to me of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side was the shrewd exposition of what makes a female film star tick the way she does tick. And though one could accept a single coincidence concerning that married couple, the second and quite wildly improbable one tends to destroy faith in the story – still more so since it leads nowhere at all."

Maurice Richardson of The Observer of 11 November 1962 summed up, "A moderate Christie; bit diffuse and not so taut as some; still fairly easy to read, though."

Robert Barnard: "The last of the true English village mysteries in Christie's output, and one of the best of her later books. Film milieu superimposed on the familiar St Mary Mead background. Like most Marples this is not rich in clueing, but the changes in village life and class structure since the war are detailed in a knowledgeable and fairly sympathetic way."

Literary references, references to actual history, geography and current science

The title of the Novel

The title of the novel comes from the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It is referred to by name several times in the novel, with these lines being frequently quoted:

Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

At the end, Miss Marple quotes the last three lines:

He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Speculation about Gene Tierney as inspiration

There can be little doubt that Christie used the real-life tragedy of American actress Gene Tierney as the basis of her plot. Tierney described the event in her autobiography (Self-Portrait, New York: Wyden, 1979), but it had been well publicized for years previously.

In June 1943, while pregnant with her first child, Tierney came down with German measles, contracted during her only appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. The baby, Daria, was born prematurely, weighing only 3 pounds, 2 ounces, and requiring a total blood transfusion. The infant was also deaf, partially blind with cataracts, and severely retarded and ultimately had to be institutionalized. Some time later Tierney was approached by a female fan for an autograph at a garden party. The woman revealed that she had sneaked out of quarantine to the Hollywood Canteen while sick with German measles in order to meet Tierney. The incident, as well as the circumstances under which the information was imparted to the actress, is repeated almost verbatim in the story.

It should be noted, however, that Agatha Christie's agents denied this. Writing to an enquiring reader, one of her agents stated that, incredible as it might sound, Christie only learned about the coincidence after her book was published.[1]

Adaptations

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)

The novel was adapted for a 1980 feature film with Angela Lansbury in the role of Miss Marple. Co-stars were Elizabeth Taylor as Marina Gregg and Kim Novak as Lola Brewster; the film was released as The Mirror Crack'd, the shortened U.S. book title.

BBC Miss Marple series

A TV film adaptation of the novel was made by BBC television in 1992 as part of their series Miss Marple with the title role played by Joan Hickson, and starring Claire Bloom as Marina Gregg and Glynis Barber as Lola Brewster. This adaptation was mainly faithful to the novel, with minor changes. The novel was the final adaptation for the BBC series Miss Marple.

ITV Agatha Christie's Marple series

In 2010, ITV Studios and WGBH Boston produced another TV film adaptation for the Marple television series starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, with Joanna Lumley reprising her role as Dolly Bantry, Lindsay Duncan as Marina Gregg and Hannah Waddingham as Lola Brewster. This version borrowed elements from the 1980 film, but ultimately remained faithful to Christie's original text.

Shubho Mahurat (2003)

Film director and screenwriter Rituparno Ghosh created a Bengali language version of Christie's story as Shubho Mahurat (2003), which reset the story in the film industry of Kolkata (Calcutta). In this version, Sharmila Tagore plays the aging star Padmini, the counterpart to Christie's Marina Gregg. The movie features Rakhi Gulzar in the role of the equivalent of Miss Marple.

Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie series

A TV film adaptation Le miroir se brisa was made in 2017 as episode 18 of season 2 of the French series Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie. This adaptation is set in 1950s Lille with Samuel Labarthe as the French detective Swan Laurence assisted by Blandine Bellavoir as the reporter Alice Avril and Elodie Frenck as Laurence's secretary Marlène.

The Murder of a Great Actress – The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (2018)

A Japanese language adaptation based on of one of Agatha Christie's classic stories, 大女優殺人事件~鏡は横にひび割れて~ (The Murder of a Great Actress – The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side). A firm favourite with Japanese audiences, police chief Shokokuji (played by Ikki Sawamura) returns to solve another case, with his acute powers of observation, inimitable presence and unique way of talking. A murder occurs during a luxurious party hosted by a famous actress. While it’s assumed that the criminal’s real target was the actress, a second, then third murder takes place… Everyone is a potential suspect, and when the investigation runs into difficulties Shokokuji must tackle the biggest mystery! Who is the criminal? And who is the criminal’s real target? Broadcast on 25th March as part of TV Asahi's Agatha Christie special.

BBC Radio 4 adaptation

BBC Radio adapted the novel in 1998.

Stage adaptation 2019

The novel was adapted for the stage in 2019.

Publication history

  • 1962, Collins Crime Club (London), 12 November 1962, Hardback, 256 pp
  • 1963, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), September 1963, Hardback, 246 pp
  • 1964, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback
  • 1965, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1966, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 255 pp
  • 1974, Penguin Books, Paperback, 224 pp
  • 2006, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1962 UK first edition), March 6, 2006, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720855-3

The novel was serialised in the Star Weekly Novel, a Toronto newspaper supplement, in two abridged instalments from 9-16 March 1963 under the title The Mirror Crack'd with each issue containing a cover illustration by Gerry Sevier.

International titles

  • Czech: Prasklé zrcadlo (The Cracked Mirror)
  • German: Mord im Spiegel (Murder in the Mirror)
  • Hungarian: A kristálytükör meghasadt (The Mirror Crack'd)
  • Finnish: Tuijottava katse (The staring gaze)
  • French: Le miroir se brisa (The mirror broken)
  • Turkish: Ve ayna kırıldı (And the mirror was cracked)
  • Italian: Assassinio allo specchio (Murder in the Mirror)

References

  1. Mark Aldridge, Agatha Christie on Screen (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), Part 4 Chapter 8 Footnote 15.


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