In the novel After the Funeral by Agatha Christie, the lawyer Mr Entwhistle visits Susan after her Aunt Cora's death.

“Miss Gilchrist is quite a sensible woman, I should say. Besides,” added the lawyer dryly, “I don’t think she has anywhere else to go until she gets another situation.”

“So Aunt Cora’s death left her high and dry? [said Susan] Did she—were she and Aunt Cora—on intimate terms—?”

Mr. Entwhistle looked at her rather curiously, wondering just exactly what was in her mind.

“Moderately so, I imagine,” he said. “She never treated Miss Gilchrist as a servant.”

“Treated her a damned sight worse, I dare say,” said Susan. “These wretched so called ‘ladies’ are the ones who get it taken out of them nowadays. I'll try and find her a decent post somewhere. It won’t be difficult. Anyone who’s willing to do a bit of housework and cook is worth their weight in gold—she does cook, doesn’t she?”

What does the sentence in bold mean? Is Susan criticizing her aunt, or expressing pity for Miss Gilchrist, Cora's paid companion?


1 Answer 1


TL;DR: Susan is expressing pity for Miss Gilchrist.

The Wikipedia article on lady’s companions explains the social background to the situation in the novel (the article also contains spoilers for After the Funeral, however). Formerly, upper-class women (“ladies” as Susan Banks puts it in the novel) who had neither money nor a husband were faced with the choice between losing their class status by earning a wage, or taking roles that were considered respectable, such as acting as paid companions to upper-class women of means.

The role of companion was inherently ambiguous: neither friendship nor employment but combining elements of both. Servants took orders but could give notice and seek work elsewhere if exploited, but companions were more precariously placed. Susan implies that Miss Gilchrist had been made to do the work of a housekeeper or servant without having the freedom to leave.

In “get it taken out of them”, the sense of “take out” that we need is:

take out, v. 7. To take (something) from (a person) in compensation.

Oxford English Dictionary.

So Susan is saying that Cora got more than enough work out of Miss Gilchrist to compensate for the (no doubt inadequate) allowance the latter was paid.

Companions feature in several of Christie’s other novels and short stories:

Year Title Companion Employer
1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles Evelyn Howard Emily Inglethorp
1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train Katherine Grey Mrs Harfield
1936 Cards on the Table Anne Meredith Mrs Benson
1937 Dumb Witness Minnie Lawson Emily Arundell
1947 ‘The Nemean Lion’ Amy Carnaby Milly Hoggin
1950 A Murder is Announced Dora Bunner Letitia Blacklock
1952 They Do It with Mirrors Juliet Bellever Carrie Louise
1960 ‘The Under Dog’ Lily Margrave Lady Astwell

The figure of the companion is useful for Christie because of the ambiguity in the relationship between companion and employer. The subservient position of the companion gives rise to resentment or concealment, since she cannot speak her mind for fear of alienating her employer. A couple of these novels feature the issue of whether the rich employer will compensate the poor companion in her will. I think this is what Susan’s referring to when she asks whether Miss Gilchrist and Cora were “on intimate terms”—that is, did Cora like Miss Gilchrist well enough to leave her a significant sum in her will?

The Second World War, in which millions of women entered the workforce, demolished much of the remaining class prejudice against earning a living, so that companions vanished more or less completely. Even in 1953 when After the Funeral was published the character of Miss Gilchrist was something of an anachronism.

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