The Mysterious Affair at Styles
In her first published mystery, Agatha Christie introduces readers to the heroic detective, Hercule Poirot. This is a classic murder mystery set in the outskirts of Essex. The victim is the wealthy mistress of Styles Court. The list of suspects is long and includes her gold-digging new spouse and stepsons, her doctor, and her hired companion. (From feedbooks.com)
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Chapter 1 - I GO TO STYLES
Before we begin reading, it is important to note that this is a detective story, which is an offshoot of the mystery genre. This is important because in a detective story the primary focus is on the plot and sequence of events. Setting is also an important element of the text because it may provide clues to help solve the crime. Characterization is secondary or tertiary. Click on the link below to read a brief description of the detective story genre. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on the highlighted passage, what can you infer about how Mrs. Inglethorp's children feel about Alfred Inglethrop?
As you read, it is important to keep a list of characters because in a detective story any character is a potential suspect. Hastings is the narrator, so he will not be on the suspect list, but you should include Alfred Inglethorp, John Cavendish, Mary Cavendish, Evie Howard, and Lawrence Cavendish. Be sure to include a brief description of how the characters are connected.
The narrator claims, "From the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike to [Alfred Inglethorp], and I flatter myself that my first judgments are usually fairly shrewd." Which statement from the text contradicts this assessment?
The highlighted passage illustrates how the setting plays an important role in the text. Cynthia is a young orphaned woman who Mrs. Inglethorp has taken in. She works for the V.A.D. which stands for Voluntary Aid Detachment. This group of women aided the trained military staff at hospitals during WWI. To read more about the V.A.D, please click on the link below. If you scroll down to the section labeled "primary sources," you can read first hand accounts of V.A.D. volunteers during WWI. (This annotation contains a link)
You can use the dictionary feature to help you to define terms you do not know. But sometimes an author uses a form of slang and a denotation may not be provided in the dictionary feature. Based on context clues, the definition of the term "row" means a(n)
Miss Howard's warning is important because it casts more suspicions on Alfred Inglethorp (even before a crime is committed). How do you think this will influence the other characters when a crime is committed?
At this point in the text, which two characters are readers most inclined to distrust?
Chapter 2 - THE 16TH AND 17TH OF JULY
This text was written in 1916 and published in 1920. It is considered part of the "Golden Age" of Detective Stories. According to Ronald Knox, there are several criteria that define these stories. Click on the link below to read his "Ten Commandments" of a detective story. As you read, consider what means and motive each character may have to commit a crime. (This annotation contains a link)
According to the narrator, Cynthia and Lawrence "chatted together like a couple of children" when they visited Cynthia at work. Why is this unusual?
In a detective story, the plot is integral in deciphering who the criminal is. It is important to pay close attention during the exposition and rising action to determine the dynamics of the characters and establish conflicts between characters. To review conflict, please click on the link below. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on Cynthia's belief that, "Aunt Emily will send him away, and will never speak to him again," she believes that the argument Dorcas overhead was between Mrs. Inglethorp and
The highlighted passage is an example of foreshadowing because it intimates something nefarious will occur in the next chapter. To review the definition of foreshadowing, please click on the link below. Read the excerpt and draw your own conclusions. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter 3 - THE NIGHT OF THE TRAGEDY
It is evident from the "alarming sounds" coming from Mrs. Inglethorp's room that she is in need of assistance, yet her husband is nowhere to be found. What can you infer about Alfred Inglethorp based on the state of his room?
Was Mrs. Inglethorp's death a crime? As you read, record textual evidence that supports this theory.
Dr. Bauerstein would like to perform a "postmortem" (an autopsy) on Mrs. Inglethorp. Based on this request, what can you infer about Mrs. Inglethorp's death?
Based on the highlighted passage, are you suspicious of Lawrence? Why or why not?
Chapter 4 - POIROT INVESTIGATES
Poirot will be featured in over thirty of Agatha Christie's novels. In a detective story it is important to note that the detective is not impacted personally by events in the text. In a sense, he is a flat character because he is introduced into the text as a fully developed characters. Poirot's purpose in the text is to discern the facts from the circumstantial evidence and uncover the truth. (This annotation contains an image)
Hastings' role has expanded from narrator to "sidekick" to Poirot's lead detective. Which other literary duo do Poirot and Hastings resemble?
Though the narrator does not trust Dr. Bauerstein, does his behavior suggest that he is a criminal? Does he have means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime?
By telling the story from Hastings' perspective, what is heightened?
The role Poirot plays is the observant detective and Hasting plays the slightly less observant sidekick. Hastings' role is just as important as Poirot's in the structure of the text. Hasting shares the reader's perspective because it is limited and is may not be as observant as the detective's. Also Hastings will doubt Poirot at certain points in the text; you may as well because you do not have the same keen abilities as Poirot.
What is a logical reason why Dorcas is reluctant to share the details about the quarrel she overheard?
Remember that in a detective story, the clues are clearly stated, but often a person who is innocent will be accused based on circumstantial evidence or a misinterpretation of the evidence. As you read, be sure to read through the evidence carefully to determine where it logically leads. Click on the link below for a definition of circumstantial evidence (you only have to read the first two paragraphs). (This annotation contains a link)
Why is it important that Mrs. Inglethorp DID NOT take a "sleeping powder" that night?
What is the logical explanation why the powder box did not have a pharmacist's name on the label?
Hastings is excited by the revelation that there was what appeared to be coarse salt on the tray that carried Mrs. Inglethorp's cocoa, but Poirot remains calm. What does this indicate?
The highlighted passage exemplifies two elements of a detective story: 1. How misinterpreted evidence can lead to the wrong conclusion 2. A function of Hastings' character is to cast some doubt about Poirot's abilities. If he did not, the story would not be as engaging or tense.
Chapter 5 - "IT ISN'T STRYCHNINE, IS IT?"
Based on Poirot's tone in the highlighted passage, what does he believe about the cocoa theory?
What does the highlighted passage reveal about the relationship between John Cavendish and his wife?
Hastings is working alongside Poirot in the investigation. What does the highlighted passage reveal about Hastings? Do you think he could impede the investigation?
Typically in a detective story there is one sole perpetrator who may have an accomplice. Do you think the author does a good job of casting suspicion on more than one character? Do you think that there is more than one murderer?
Based on the highlighted passage, what is ruled OUT as a motive for Lawrence Cavendish to commit the murder?
Please read carefully and pay attention to the details of Poirot's explanation. If you go back and reread the details of the first few chapters, you will find the clues that Poirot observes were mentioned.
It is not unusual for servants to blindly follow the orders of their bosses. The gardeners probably did not play any role in Mrs. Inglethorp's death because they didn't know enough about the situation to do her harm.
Miss Howard is admired for ALL of the following EXCEPT
Though Evie knows "he's done it," why is John Cavendish reluctant to openly accuse Alfred Inglethorp of the murder?
Throughout the text, there will be elements that heighten suspense. Unlike a typical plot structure with an obvious climax, the climax in a detective story may be less obvious to the readers. The exposition introduces the background information about the characters and includes the setting. In the rising action, conflicts (and possible motives) are established. It is here where the detective collects the clues and tries to deduce what exactly happened. The climax occurs when the detective has finally determined what may have happened, BUT that will not be revealed until the denouement. So it is important to follow the clues and follow to Poirot's logic.
In what tone does Hastings say the highlighted passage?
The highlighted passage is an important element in characterizing Poirot and also in identifying important clues in the text. Be sure to carefully discern the clues or you may be following the wrong lead. For example, you may deduce that Cynthia was responsible for poisoning Mrs. Inglethrop. But consider this: what was her motive? And if she chose to murder her benefactor, why would she choose to poison her? Isn't that a bit obvious?
What does Poirot mean when he says, "Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master"? Use examples to illustrate your response.
Poirot reminds Hastings and the readers that all logical explanations must be explored when looking at clues. If you simply hone in on one idea, then you may be blind to the truth and the facts.
What does the highlighted passage imply about Mr. Mace?
Read the highlighted passage. The statement may be interpreted two ways. How would you interpret it?
Chapter 6 - THE INQUEST
Who does Hastings believe the villager is referring to when he says, "One does, mister. Naming no names, mind. And a very liberal gentleman too"?
Click on the link below to read some information about strychnine and its effects. At one point, strychnine (in small doses) was used as a medicine for various ailments. (This annotation contains a link)
ALL of the following are reasons for Lawrence Cavendish to insist his mother died of any means other than murder EXCEPT
Mary Cavendish's testimony makes her appear guilty. You have to wonder- of what? Is it as simple as feeling guilty for eavesdropping (a very impolite and unladylike thing to do), or is she involved in the crime?
The narrator notes that Miss Howard is "quite a public character." What does this imply about her testimony?
Though the prosecutor believes he has a "smoking gun" with Mr. Mace's testimony and the ledger with Alfred Inglethorp's signature, he is mistaken. Note the tone in which Alfred replies. He is imperturbable or incapable of being upset.
Why are Alfred Inglethorp's denials believable?
Chapter 7 - POIROT PAYS HIS DEBTS
"Moosier" is Inspector Japp's way of saying "Monsieur" which is french for Mister. Poirot is from Belgium, and French is one of the three official languages of Belgium.
What does Japp's reaction to Poirot's assertion that Alfred Inglethorp NOT be arrested imply about Poirot?
Do you agree with Poirot's claim that "real evidence is usually vague and unsatisfactory"? Is he implying that someone is framing Alfred Inglethorp?
Based on the highlighted passage, do you think Poirot thinks Alfred Inglethorp is innocent? Use textual evidence to support your response.
As you read, consider who is omitting the truth or simply lying. Sometimes people's motives are not to commit a crime but to conceal their shame. It is your job to discern between the two.
Read the highlighted statement and then go back and reread Chapter Six. What is wrong with Hastings' assertion?
If you haven't already done so, you should make a list of suspects, motives, means, and opportunity. We know that Emily Inglethorp was poisoned with strychnine, but we need to find out who had access to the poison. If Alfred Inglethorp did not purchase it from the pharmacy, who else could have?
Chapter 8 - FRESH SUSPICIONS
Hastings reveals that "with the exception Cynthia Murdoch's, every one's room was in this left wing." Why is this significant?
Are you able to put together the clues faster than Hastings? Remember, the "Watson" character is supposed to be slightly less intelligent than the reader.
What does Poirot imply about Miss Howard's feelings of animosity towards Mr. Inglethorp?
Due to the "fresh suspicions" revealed in this chapter, underlying tensions may be revealed. This may result in further development of conflicts of the emergence of additional conflicts. To review how tension is used to enhance mood and develop conflicts, please click on the clip below. (This annotation contains a video)
If you take Dorcas statement about the old "dressing-up box" at face value, who does she implicate as possible suspects?
What is a possible explanation as to why Dorcas knew nothing about the beard?
Miss Howard states that she "never tell lies." Keep this in mind as you read her dialogue.
What tone does Miss Howard use when she states she is "always watching - always hoping I shall be proved wrong"?
Who do you think will be the best detective in the text: Poirot or Hastings?
Chapter 9 - DR. BAUERSTEIN
Compare and contrast Hastings' view of his abilities as a detective versus his actual abilities as a detective. Use textual evidence to support your response.
The questions that Poirot asks the various houseguests are known as deductive reasoning. Click on the link below to read about the differences between inductive reasoning versus deductive reasoning. (This annotation contains a link)
Cynthia's role at the dispensary is gleaned from the author's actual life experience. It is probably why she chose poison as the murder weapon; she could write accurately about the topic.
The explicit prejudice comments are indicative of which literary element of the text?
Do you trust John Cavendish? Do you think he may be correct in his assumption?
What is the problem with Hastings' assumption that Dr. Bauerstein has "found some way of making strychnine tasteless"?
Do you think Cynthia had a motive for murder? Hastings informs us that "Mrs. Inglethorp had made no provisions of any kind for her."
Unlike Piorot, who is not impacted by the events in the text, Hastings is obviously influenced by Cynthia's situation. Hastings is a ________ character.
Chapter 10 - THE ARREST
The setting is an essential part of this text. During WWI in Europe, people were displaced from their homelands and foreigners were living throughout Europe. To read more about refugees during WWI, please click on the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
What does the dialogue between Hastings and Piorot reveal about Hastings' character?
There were 31 German spies captured in England during WWI. Click on the link below to read a letter written by the first German spy to be executed to his executioners. (This annotation contains a link)
Some critics believe that some detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes, are portrayed as superhuman on some level. View the clip from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. (Notice how Holmes has almost a prophetic quality.) (This annotation contains a video)
Do you think that Poirot is portrayed as infallible? Or do you think that he is more relatable than other famous detectives such as Sherlock Holmes? Use textual evidence to support your response.
Mary Cavendish reveals she married John because the marriage was "a way of escape from the insufferable monotony of my life." This implies that she doesn't truly love him, but is it motive enough for murder?
Which term does Hastings repeatedly use to describe Mary Cavendish?
Poirot is alluding to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet's soliloquy can be seen by clicking the link below. (This annotation contains a video)
Who does the evidence suggest is the person who obtained the poison?
Why do Poirot's eyes look triumphant? Does the evidence suggest that John is the murder? Again think about this: means, motive, opportunity.
Chapter 11 - THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION
The highlighted statement illustrates which typical characteristic of the detective story genre?
Hastings believes that Poirot is a "true prophet" because his reasoning skills and instincts are not as honed as Poirot's.
What does the prosecution believe is John Cavendish's motive to commit murder?
The discussion about the parcel and where it was delivered and who received it is a prime example of circumstantial evidence. The prosecution cannot prove that John Cavendish received the package, but they can imply he could have received the package.
In the promo for the ABC show "How to Get Away with Murder," the lead character describes how to practice law. View the first minute and fifty seconds of the clip. (This annotation contains a video)
Through a series of questions, Sir Ernest is able to get Japp to admit that the vial found in John Cavendish's drawer could have been planted there. What has John Cavendish's attorney successfully achieved?
If you were on the jury, what would you be thinking? Do you think you could convict John Cavendish of murder or is there too much doubt?
What does the note provide John Cavendish?
Depending on the tone, the highlighted statement could be interpreted in two different ways. Hastings believes that Poirot is disappointed that John may be acquitted. What is the second interpretation?
Chapter 12 - THE LAST LINK
Based on Poirot's mood, what do you think he has uncovered?
The highlighted excerpt indicates that Mary Cavendish's is loyal to her husband.
Poirot indicates that Mary Cavendish's illicit behavior is motivated by
Based on the facts and Mary Cavendish's behavior, she is more committed to her husband than even she believed. She also did not intend any harm to her mother-in-law. This removes any motive that Mary Cavendish had to commit murder.
Go back to Chapter One and reread the introductory characterization of Alfred Inglethorp. How is he connected to Miss Howard? Use textual evidence to support your response.
Chapter 13 - POIROT EXPLAINS
The author uses semantics in order to develop Poirot's character. Though he didn't explicitly say that he wanted to prevent Alfred Inglethorp's arrest to prevent double jeopardy, it was implied. Click on the link below to review more about semantics, connotation, denotation, and how word order may impact meaning (You can read until the sample letters). (This annotation contains a link)
Poirot juxtaposes the simplicity of Miss Howard and Alfred Inglethorp's plan and the complexity of their idea to frame John Cavendish in order to illustrate
Do you like the way Alfred Inglethorp hid the incriminating evidence? Do you find it believable? How would you change this element of the story?
How does Miss Howard's guilt demonstrate Poirot's fallibility?
Poirot's observations about the relationships between Cynthia and Lawrence and John and Mary are evidence that he is not personally impacted by the events surrounding the investigation because unlike Hastings, he is able to see how deeply they care for one another.
Do you think Poirot would have revealed the murder's identity if he believed John Cavendish would be convicted? Use textual evidence to support your response.
What does the final lines of the text imply?