Places: The Mousetrap

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1954

First produced: 1952, at the Ambassadors Theatre, London

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Places DiscussedMonkswell Manor

Monkswell Mousetrap, TheManor. Guest house located thirty miles west of London, in Berkshire County, in which the play is set. The stage is set as one large room with tall windows. A door and two arched openings lead off to numerous other rooms, hidden spaces beneath staircases, and a basement, which was perhaps once a crypt. Snowbound, the owners and guests feel cut off from the world; even the telephone stops working. Detective Sergeant Trotter startles them when he raps on the big window. A murder was committed the previous day in Paddington, an area of London, and he says two more intended victims may be at Monkswell Manor. Soon the lights in the room go out, and one of the guests is found strangled to death.

Constant entrances and exits from the room enhance the confusion about where passages lead and what other characters are doing. “Suspect everybody” was a dictum of mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie’s contemporary, and Christie makes it credible that even husband and wife suspect each other. The representative British character types, such as the naïve young couple on their first day as guest house managers or the aging woman who demands her creature comforts, are familiar types anywhere. However, appearances deceive. Everyone is a stranger, isolated in separate pasts and self-interests. Literally located together in this communal room, the characters also inhabit, along with the audience, the realm of the imagination, where suspicions and fears know no boundaries.

BibliographyBargainnier, Earl F. The Gentle Art of Murder: The Detective Fiction of Agatha Christie. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1980. Written by someone who clearly enjoys the mystery genre and Christie’s works, this book takes an affectionate but clear-eyed look at Christie’s faults and fortes. Especially interesting are Bargainnier’s discussions of passages that parody the detective fiction of Christie and others and of Christie’s indirect comments on the contemporary sociological situation.Christie, Agatha. Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1977. Charmingly written memoir in which the author discusses her life and her attitudes about writing. Includes descriptions of incidents that inspired The Mousetrap and brief evaluations of characters, as well as insight into methods of plot development.Gill, Gillian. Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries. New York: Free Press, 1990. A sympathetic portrait of Christie that treats her life and works synchronously. The author is at pains to portray a writer who, in her opinion, has unfairly been made the object of condescension by both friendly and unfriendly academic critics.Keating, H. R. F., ed. Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977. A diverse collection of essays, including Keating’s own. As much is said about The Mousetrap in drama critic J. C. Trewin’s essay as is said in any other source.Mann, Jessica. Deadlier than the Male: An Investigation into Feminine Crime Writing. Devon, England: Down & Charles, 1981. A book written by one of the scholars styled an “unfriendly academic critic” by Gillian Gill. One of the highlights of the chapter on Christie is Mann’s analysis of the autobiographical 1934 novel Unfinished Portrait to deduce the reasons behind Christie’s famous, unexplained, eleven-day disappearance in 1926.Murdoch, Derrick. The Agatha Christie Mystery. Toronto: Pagurian Press, 1976. In a “life-followed-by-works” arrangement, this book discusses the royal impetus that led to the radio play Three Blind Mice and the Shakespearean source of the new title The Mousetrap. It offers a final summing up of critical judgments by the author and others.Osborne, Charles. The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1982. Provides literary evaluations of Christie’s fiction. Includes a discussion of the development and production of The Mousetrap, as well as interesting statistics. Helpful bibliography of Christie’s fiction identifies her writing by type and by detective.Robyns, Gwen. The Mystery of Agatha Christie. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978. Informative biography that provides literary and theatrical evaluation. Includes details about the staging of The Mousetrap and interviews with individuals involved in the production.Wagoner, Mary. Agatha Christie. Boston: Twayne, 1986. An extremely helpful beginner’s source and the most comprehensive literary analysis of Christie’s fiction. Also provides insight into the rules and traditions of the classic detective story. Classifies Christie’s main writing styles and humorous analyses of manners. Includes helpful annotated bibliography.
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