Publication History of "Five Little Pigs" / "Murder in Retrospect?"

Madeleine_UTAustinMadeleine_UTAustin Austin, Texas
edited October 2017 in Ask an expert
I am trying to understand the publication history of "Five Little Pigs," and I keep getting confused. Was it first published in 1941 in America as "Murder in Retrospect"? If so, why was it not published in Britain first? 

There does not appear to be a definitive edition, and I have noticed a fairly major (to my research) difference between editions.
I'm not sure what edition is on my Kindle, but it has a whole passage where Mr. Johnathan compares Elsa Greer to Juliet, and even reads aloud a passage from Romeo and Juliet, which is printed as a long quotation. The edition that I have so far found in the library (Black Dog & Leviathan Publishers Inc.) have omitted this passage. 

This question is important to me, because I am writing an undergraduate thesis on the media, text and act of reading used by Agatha Christie, and I find this novel a very interesting case in point. 

Here are the two versions that I have found on this passage. 

Poirot said, "What of Elsa Greer?" 
"She was, I believe, a crude young woman - with a crude outlook on life. Not, I think, an interesting character. 


Poirot said: 'What of Elsa Greer?'

Mr Johnathan said unexpectedly:
'Poor child. Poor child.'
Poirot said: 'So you feel like that about her?'
Jonathan said:
'Maybe it is because I am an old man, but I find, M. Poirot, that there is something about the defencelessness of youth that moves me to tears. Youth is so vulnerable. It is so ruthless - so sure. So generous and so demanding.' 
Getting up, he crossed to the bookcase. Taking out a volume he opened it, turned the pages, and then read out:

"If that thy bent of love be honourable,
The purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow
By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite,
And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay,
And follow thee my word throughout the world."

Poirot said thoughtfully: 
'So to you Elsa Greer spoke in the words of Juliet?'
'Yes. She was a spoiled child of fortune -- young, lovely, rich. She found her mate and claimed him -- no young Romeo, a married, middle-aged painter. Elsa Greer had no code to restrain her, she had the code of modernity. "Take what you want - we shall only live once!"
He sighed, leaned back and again tapped gently on the arm of his chair.
'A predatory Juliet. Young, ruthless, but horribly vulnerable! Staking everything on the one audacious throw. And seemingly she won . . . and then -- at the last moment -- death steps in -- and the living, ardent, joyous Elsa died also. There was left only a vindictive, cold, hard woman, hating with all her soul the woman whose hand had done this thing.'

His voice changed:
'Dear, dear. Pray forgive this little lapse into melodrama. A crude young woman -- with a crude outlook on life. Not I think, an interesting character. 


  • I never realized there were 2 versions! I know some other AC books were shortened for the American audience, e.g. The moving finger. I have the feeling American publishers felt that American readers wouldn't understand a lot of the English background and culture (e.g. the reference to Romeo and Juliet) and it is probably insulting to the U.S....
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    Evidence conflicts, but general reports say that Five Little Pigs was published in the UK in either Nov. 1942 or Jan. 1943.  The US version came out with the new title in May 1942.  US publishers had a habit of changing titles because they thought Christie's originals were "too British" and wouldn't appeal to American authors.  Release dates just depended on the publishing schedules of the publishing houses– sometimes the American version came out first, sometimes the other way around.  There often wasn't any rhyme or reason to it, just when different houses thought it would be a better time to put out the book.  Also, US editions used to make lots of cuts, especially during the WWII years when paper was scarce.  Editors made lots of weird cuts and changes...
  • Thank you both.
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    You're welcome!
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