Hypochondria, and patronizing Poirot to your peril (a.k.a. “Hastings gets told”)

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the paternalistic tendency of Poirot to organize other people’s lives for them, and the condescending way this sometimes played out in his interactions with Hastings in the series.

What happens when a character dares to do the same with Poirot? Much entertainment!  In short, whenever there is fuss, Hastings invariably gets told off.

In the books, Poirot sometimes allows himself to be condescended to by behaving more naively “foreign” than he really is, to deceive others in the course of an investigation. For all his vanity, he is willing to buy success by (temporarily) enduring scorn, or being thought a mountebank.

‘It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say– a foreigner– he can’t even speak English properly. It is not my policy to terrify people– instead I invite their gentle ridicule. Also I boast! An Englishman he says often, “A fellow who thinks as much of himself as that cannot be worth much.” That is the English point of view. It is not at all true. And so, you see, I put people off their guard.’

-Three Act Tragedy

Not much of this particular quality makes itself blatant in the course of the series, but other forms of condescension present themselves– sometimes welcome, and sometimes not.

Hypochondria is just one of Poirot’s irritating-but-much-loved traits, and one particular expression of his vanity. Generally, he is only too delighted to be fussed over. But there are various scenarios in which he dislikes the attentions, such as when his personal dignity is affronted, or when being fussed over prevents him from doing what he would rather be doing (such as investigating), or when blatant opportunists want to take advantage of him. In those situations, coddlers, fussers, and patronizers beware. Unless you’re Miss Lemon, who can get away with anything.

Classic examples in The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge…

Hastings: “You get back into bed now. You can leave this to me.”
Poirot: “Comment?”
Hastings: “This investigation. You can leave it to me. I’ll report back to you, of course. I know these people, Poirot. I’ve got one or two ideas already.”
Poirot: “What are these ideas, Hastings?”
Hastings (holding up a finger): “You just relax.”
Poirot: “Hastings, will you please stop tapping your nose in that theatrical manner and tell me all that you know!”

Hastings gets told.

Likewise, he later snaps at Japp who asks him if shouldn’t be in bed: “Possibly, but please, do not fuss!” But he happily accepts blackberry tea from a paternal railway operator as he wheedles information out of him for the sake of the case.

Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan is comprehensive in showing how Poirot deals with “fusses” of both the patronizing and non-patronizing variety. The first time he encounters someone playing the newspaper game of hunting for “Lucky Len,” he is pleased at being recognized as someone whose face has often been in the papers (later to be disillusioned). But when Mr. Opalsen uses Poirot’s presence at his play for the sake of newspaper publicity, he is outraged and takes his revenge by later getting the otherwise innocent Mr. Opalsen arrested. Comparatively, in The A.B.C. Murders, Poirot receives somewhat unflattering newspaper coverage to Hastings’ concern, but does not himself seem to mind, as he hopes it will help the murderer relax his guard.

Jewel Robbery suggests something else of Hastings’ very occasional patronizing air. Extremely laid-back compared to his ever-interfering and micro-organizing friend, Hastings only seems to present this attitude in the case of serious illness or, notably, faced with the terrifying prospect of Miss Lemon coming down on him like a ton of bricks for dereliction of duty.

Hastings: “This was meant to be a rest, you know. Heaven knows what Miss Lemon’s going to say when she arrives.”

Miss Lemon (arriving later and meeting Hastings with a snarl): “I thought this was meant to be a holiday, Captain Hastings. I’ll talk to you later.”

Hastings gets told... again. Chap just can't win.

Hastings gets told… again. Chap just can’t win.

Then there’s Evil Under the Sun, in which the script writers decided to invent the pretext of a health concern for sending Poirot and Hastings off to the Sandy Cove Hotel. While Poirot sits in leisure, conversely moaning pitifully and then complaining that everyone knows he’s ill, Miss Lemon is at her most sternly efficient. Call it maternal rather than paternal– she’s in league with the doctor and brooks no denial as she arranges for the pair to head to the island without a word of consent from either of them. Undoubtably, Hastings’ subsequent hovering at the hotel is due largely to the fear of the wrath of Miss Lemon.

Hastings: “How are you feeling, Poirot? Not too tired after the journey?”
Poirot: “Hastings, I am recovered, I am not the invalid. There’s no need to act like a mother chicken.”

No longer under the spectre of Miss Lemon, Poirot tells off Hastings. Again.

No longer directly under the spectre of Miss Lemon, Poirot– surprise– tells off Hastings.

Later, we have further evidence of what lies behind Hastings’ concern…

Hastings: “So, how are you feeling, Poirot?”
Poirot: “Do you refer to my health, Hastings, or to my feelings concerning the events on this island to which I am confined?”
Hastings: “Well, both, really. I’m going to have to phone Miss Lemon today. She wanted a daily report.”
Poirot: “You may tell to her that I am not sure.”

Miss Lemon eventually shows up, grumbling: “He was meant to be having a rest.” But as Christie readers (and viewers) know, Poirot does not actually need coddling to get better– just opportunities to exercise the little grey cells, a tisane or two, and a good boost to the ego. The opening scenes of The Third Floor Flat feature more of Miss Lemon making a fuss.

Miss Lemon: “Ah– Mr. Poirot. You’ve only done seven minutes. You’ll never cure your cold if you don’t obey the instructions.”
Poirot: “I can’t imagine a method so undignified can cure anything, Miss Lemon. And now also I have the backache, eh!”

Hastings doesn't get told here, but he gets told later when Poirot blames riding in the Lagonda for his "present malady." #BlameHastings

Hastings doesn’t get told here, but he gets told later when Poirot blames riding in the Lagonda for his “present malady.” #BlameHastings

Sure enough, the stimulation of the case soon has him on his feet again: “Poirot does not have colds, Miss Lemon. It is well-known that Poirot scorns all but the gravest afflictions.”

Then, again, there’s Curtain. So many of these themes that wind through the Poirot canon come full circle in that book and episode. In the final story, Poirot is faced with the ultimate in coddling, and expresses his disgust openly at being treated like a child– although some of it is a ruse. And of course, he’s forever howling at Hastings, alternately for his stubbornness, his denseness, or even his inability to coddle properly.

One thing is not a ruse: Poirot’s arthritis. In the critical scene of Hastings’ confession to Poirot of his nearly-attempted murder, something is happening throughout the course of the conversation. It is not commented on, but in many ways, it is just as meaningful and gut-wrenching as the dialog. Poirot is sitting in front of an ancient mirror, attempting to tie his perfect bow tie. He can’t quite manage it. Finally, wordlessly, he appeals to Hastings for help– the one whose tie he had been straightening for so many years.

Full circle.

Full circle.

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6 thoughts on “Hypochondria, and patronizing Poirot to your peril (a.k.a. “Hastings gets told”)

  1. There’s a serious problem with the plot of Evil Under The Sun, and I’m very surprised no one else seems to be bothered by it.
    It would be next to impossible for the main criminal(s) to make such extensive preparations that the succesful completion of the plot demands… unless the killer has been stalking the victim prior to the events, knowing details of her clothes (the style and color of her swimsuit among others) would have been absolutely out of the question.
    I get it that this is work of fiction. But since Poirot is such a fan of logic, I cannot help but to point this out…

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    • Evil Under the Sun does involve some complex plot points. Other than the nature of the swimsuit and hat worn by Arlena, what other points strike you as impossible? I don’t see that it would necessarily be too difficult for the murderer to simply ask her what her bathing suit looks like and maybe where she got it (it’s a simple white one, I think), and even to just ask her to wear it to the rendezvous. 🙂

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      • Yes, it is a possibility, but still, does strike me as too unprobable. Mind you, this was England with plenty of high fashion available, not a North Korea with just a bare minimum in the shops… I don’t believe Arlene would have allowed anyone to dictate to her what to wear when on holiday 🙂 even for a lover.

        Too risky to make the preparations, only to find out the props don’t match Arlene’s outfit perfectly.
        This is such a serious gap in the plot that I cannot enjoy the story – purist as I am 🙂

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    • “Somewhat farfetched” is part of the fun of all these stories! 😉 (Also, the duplicate bathing dress was only seen very briefly by one witness, and the subject was face-down. Unlikely that every hem would have been noticed, even if the witness *had* caught a glimpse of dead Arlena afterwards before the police took the body away– do we even know that she did? And the other witness could “confirm” that what the police saw is exactly what was first observed. I think that other risks taken were much greater than that one, and some risk does need to be taken.)

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      • Yes, of course. I’m all for risky plots and twists. Some of them are brilliant, and well and logically explained, especially in the books. This one, sadly, is too far in the ‘twilight zone’ 😉

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  2. For the last pic, with Poirot standing just to the side of Miss Lemon, he almost looks guilty. “Sorry I told mom on you!” And, in an odd way, Miss Lemon did keep a reign on those two.

    Oy! Poirot was an odd little duck. On one hand, (like most guys) he could turn something like a cold or flu into a variation of ‘Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ 😉 On the other hand, UNLIKE most guys, Poirot was at his best when he had something to do! I mean, THINK about it! Even in CURTAIN, where an Angina attack could fell him any minute, Poirot still got Norton into a wheelchair, wheeled him back to his room, got him into his bed and then shot him before going back to his own room and writing the letter to Hastings. Then lived to the next day. With most people, (and I don’t guess women are any different) some of us get a SORE THROAT and want to take the week off!

    “…Thru the sacrifice you made!
    We can’t believe the price you paid…”
    ( ‘Goodbye Eddie Goodbye
    Phantom of the Paradise 1974)

    I did feel sorry for poor Hastings . His wife just died, his best friend is dying and his daughter is acting like a right cow! On top of which, Poirot, so used of being able to just do things for himself, can’t do so much anymore, and this makes him angry, which he takes out on his friend. And then there’s the whole issue of the killer, that leaves our Hastings in the dark. The DINNER from HELL should have been the huge tip-off, though. Norton, over-confident as he was, in light of past successes, was plying Judith Hastings with dares and snipes, (i.e.) “I don’t think you have the guts” . He was seriously over-playing his hand, pretty much giving Poirot the game. Sorry, Hastings, but I see Poirot’s anger on this one. How could anyone NOT see what who the killer was and what his game was about?! Had Judith been allowed (per story) to go through with what she wanted to do, this could have been a very different movie; with Hastings being FORCED to choose between shielding his daughter from justice, or letting his grown up daughter take her just dessert.

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