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Agony Agatha

Thursday, 2 July, 2015

Agony Agatha, I’ve fallen in love with my best friend. The only problem is that she’s straight… what should I do?

I was wondering when I would get this question – Or perhaps, more accurately, dreading when I would. Without meaning to dismiss your problem as trite, the unrequited-straight-friend-love conundrum is the bread and butter of advice columns. It was only a matter of time.

But why was I dreading it? Because in this instance, the words of Agatha Christie are, at face value at least, the last thing you need to hear right now.

Throughout Christie’s work, there are approximately fifty-four lesbians. Of course, they were never explicitly referred to as such. From the beginnings of her mystery-writing career in the early ‘20s, all the way through to the early ‘70s, Christie was under constant pressure to edit out mentions of anything other than good old ‘wholesome’ heterosexuality.

“Close female friendships” thus became a shorthand for same-sex relationships. Every other novel Christie wrote had a middle-aged, unmarried woman living in close quarters with her ‘companion’. In A Murder Is Announced, for instance, there are in fact two of these ‘friendships’. One is between potential shooting target Letitia Blacklock and Dora Bunner – affectionately called “Bunny” by Letitia – and another between farmer Miss Hinchcliffe and her ‘live-in’ companion Miss Murgatroyd. So obvious is this queer coding that many subsequent adaptations opted to make the romantic nature of the relationships explicit.

Where does that leave you? If you read as many Christie books as I did during adolescence, you might delude yourself into thinking that your relationships, like literature, have subtext attached. You might start to believe that any close friendship you have must be something more. Throughout history, same-sex friendships have always been a necessary preamble into taking things further.

However, 99% of the time they remain unrequited. Trust me. And what I’ve since learnt to take from Christie’s works isn’t that all close relationships are underpinned by romance. It’s that platonic relationships are valuable in and of themselves. To conservative readers, the grief Miss Hinchcliffe feels after Miss Murgatroyd is strangled to death isn’t any less meaningful for being platonic.

Romantic and platonic relationships are different – despite how much Christie’s works may see them overlap, the former isn’t simply an evolution of the latter. As tough as it may be, the best advice I can give you is this: don’t squander the joy of what you have now by focusing on what might never be.

Trouble in paradise? Need love advice? Email Alistair <alistairb@student.unimelb.edu.au>