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Academic Research Grants 2018: Funded Research Report
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Mary Anna Evans, Assistant Professor at University of Oklahoma


Agatha Christie, Witness to the Evolution: Women, Justice, Crime Fiction, and the Twentieth Century

The 2018 Sisters in Crime Academic Research Grant supported my research on Agatha Christie’s approach to gender and justice by funding the purchase of ten books related to the subject, nine of which were written by women. These books explore subjects like feminism in detective fiction, political issues in British women’s fiction, and modernity in detective fiction. The purchase of these books supports the goal of Sisters in Crime, promoting women in crime fiction, in at least three ways. It directly supports the work of one woman, which highlights the deft social commentary in works written by a woman who has often been underestimated, despite or perhaps because of her status as one of the bestselling writers of all time. It focuses conversation on a topic that deserves more discussion in the literature, twentieth-century women writers’ use of crime literature to critique justice systems that had long excluded them during the period of time when the ballot box and the jury box were being opened to them. And the purchase of the books themselves supports female literary critics by increasing their sales and their citations in the academic literature.

These books supported the primary goal of my proposed work, a study of gender issues in Witness for the Prosecution. Preliminary results of this study were presented at the Captivating Criminality conference in Corsham, England, and a final paper is near completion. While in England, I was able to visit archives at the University of Reading, the University of Exeter, and The Agatha Christie Trust. These archival visits provided access to materials that will be used in future papers, including one currently in process on “Philomel Cottage.” The Agatha Christie Trust’s archives provided access to a particularly interesting document, the 1932 typescript of a play based on “Philomel Cottage” called The Stranger, which was never produced or published in Christie’s lifetime. Preliminary results of my work on “Philomel Cottage” and The Stranger will be presented at the 2020 Popular Culture Association’s annual conference, where I will also participate in a panel discussion on cozy mysteries. The books purchased with my Sisters in Crime Academic Research Grant will be useful in writing this paper and in writing many papers to come.

On the strength of the work supported by this grant, I was invited to give a lecture on my Christie research to a September 2018 conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. As a member of the Sisters in Crime Speakers Bureau, I will be speaking at the Durham chapter in May 2019. One goal of my Christie research is to take advantage of such opportunities to speak to non-academic audiences such as these about the cultural significance of crime fiction, making them aware of current research in the field. I am grateful for the support of Sisters in Crime for making it possible for me to pursue my research and make it available to the community at large.
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