MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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4.50 from Paddington (1957)
Agatha Christie
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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Contributed by Johan Richter

A suggestion for your site: In the Agatha Christie novel 4.50 from Paddington an important role is played by Lucy Eyelesbarrow, a woman in her thirties who has a First in Maths from Oxford. She declined to continue in academia because she thought it unrewarding and instead works as an ambulating house-keeper. (!)

Lucy helps the detective Miss Marple with the investigation, and there is a subplot that focuses on which man she will pick as her husband.

Lucy's mathematical background and aptitude plays no real role in the book, and is rarely mentioned after she is introduced. (There is a suggestion that she was probably good at arithmetic as a child.) Still I suppose she is a mathematician of sorts, and since 4.50 from Paddington is a pretty well-known book you may wish to mention it on your site.

Thank you, Johan, for this suggestion. Indeed, there is barely any mention of math in this book and it is mostly irrelevant to the plot. On the other hand, a mention of a woman trained in mathematics at Oxford in 1957 is interesting, and the inclusion of these remarks in the book seem to imply something about the author's opinion of math(s) and academia. The relevant passage in the book is:

(quoted from 4.50 from Paddington)

The name of Lucy Eyelesbarrow and already made itself felt in certain circles.

Lucy Eyelesbarrow was thirty-two. She had taken a First in Mathematics at Oxford, was acknowledged to have a brilliant mind and was confidently expected to take up a distinguished academic career.

But Lucy Eyelesbarrow, in addition to scholarly brilliance, had a core of good sound common sense. She could not fail to observe that a life of academic distinction was singularly ill rewarded. She had no desire whatever to teach and she took pleasure in contacts with minds much less brilliant than her own. In short, she had a taste for people, all sorts of people -- and not the same people the whole time. She also, quite frankly, liked money. To gain money one must exploit shortage.

Lucy Eyelesbarrow hit at once upon a very serious shortage -- the shortage of any kind of skilled domestic labour.

So, what can we conclude about mathematics (at least, according to the author), from this? One important implication is that a woman can be brilliant at mathematics, which in 1957 was not as obviously true as it is today. Furthermore, since Lucy Eyelesbarrow is also a "people person", one can conclude from this that mathematically talented people are not necessarily anti-social (although it also could imply that those who end up in academia are...and lacking common sense as well). Moreover, the mere fact that Christie included this description suggests that the reader will be convinced of Lucy Eyelesbarrow's potential to be helpful to Miss Marple in solving a murder mystery by virtue of her high scores in mathematics. In other words, mathematical ability is presumed to be a sign of general intelligence.

This book was published under various names. The time in the title was 4.15 or 4.30 or 4.54 in some versions. (I wonder what that was about!) And, in America it was published as What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw. There are also various TV and Radio productions based on this story. I don't know whether those include more (or less) about Eyelesbarrow's mathematical background than the novel.

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(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to 4.50 from Paddington
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins
  2. The Three Body Problem by Catherine Shaw
  3. Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer
  4. The Bird with the Broken Wing by Agatha Christie
  5. Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout
  6. Advanced Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  7. In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff
  8. No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
  9. NUMB3RS by Nick Falacci / Cheryl Heuton
  10. The Bishop Murder Case by S.S. van Dine (pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright)
Ratings for 4.50 from Paddington:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreMystery,
MotifAcademia, Female Mathematicians,
Topic
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)