Tag: Agatha Christie’s disappearance

Why do we run away from trauma?

Why do we run away from trauma?

Characters that run away from trauma

As I write this, I realize that all of my five novels have characters, mostly women that run away from their current lives. They run away from trauma. Maybe it is a coincidence I choose this theme or is it because I myself am a runaway? Mind you, history is full of examples of women running away. I never realized until I started researching the matter. The correct term for this response to trauma is called ‘dissociative fugue.’

In my first novel, Whispers through Time, set in early 1900s, two sisters, Francesca and Winifred run away from London to Australia to escape their unhappiness. The characters were inspired by me reflecting why my grandmother ran off from her large family of siblings in London. Then later in life she runs away again from her new family and that is why I barely knew her. Why do we run away from trauma?  She shut herself off from her loved ones.

Why does a woman run away? It is the subject of today’s blog, The runaway response to trauma.

Then in my best seller, The Last Hotel, my character Jenny escapes her abusive marriage for a holiday in France with her ballet dancer son. Unwittingly, I’m at it again, in Colour Comes to Tangles, my next book. One of the characters is missing in action somewhere and her friends mount a search. In Time Heal my Heart, another historical, it is a minor character but a mysterious one who leaves her native France to come to Australia. To tell you more would contain spoilers. Find more plot details on my website or Amazon books.

Agatha Christie, the runaway

So let me start exploring this runaway phenomenon as it is a recurring theme and true to life, not just the stuff of fiction. Did you know that Agatha Christie, the famous mystery writer ran away? In 1926, she disappeared for ten days and the police from two counties were looking for her. It was as sensational as her best seller of a few years previous, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the book that made her famous.  After a quarrel with her cheating husband, Archie, Agatha drives off and parks her car precariously overlooking a Surrey quarry and plain disappears. She leaves behind her fur coat and driver’s license and also leaves the car headlights on.

What are the police to presume from this? Yes, of course, it looks suspicious, and Archie is the prime suspect. Agatha is missing presumed the victim of foul play. But in reality, she just wandered off and caught public transport to Harrogate where she booked into a hotel under the name of her husband’s mistress. Curious and curiouser as Alice would say. Finally, after an exhaustive police hunt and public newspaper appeals someone at the hotel recognizes Agatha and she is found.

Public opinion is mixed. Was it a staged disappearance to gain publicity or a desperate appeal to her husband to rethink his request for a divorce. Or was it neither of these and just amnesia? This seems more likely as Agatha was a shy woman not one to invite attention. Indeed, although today the answer to her strange disappearance is not any of these for sure, it makes sense that she was so distressed by the recent death of her mother and infidelity of Archie, that she just ran away. It was all too much.

Fugue or running away from trauma

I can relate to this myself as I did just that twenty odd years ago. Like Agatha it was out of character and surprised everyone even me. This condition is called ‘dissociative fugue’ and is a way of avoiding a situation because the trauma is too much to process at the time. This all makes sense but was not a known condition at the time. Nor is it today. I had never heard of it until I was researching Agatha Christie for my blog and a U3A talk.

This fugue state is one of four reactions to trauma that all start with the letter ‘f’. They are freeze, fight, fawn or flee. Fugue is the equivalent of the flee version. The others involve doing nothing, fighting, submitting in that order. These are common responses seen in domestic violence situations. Often the woman abused is too afraid to do anything and so ultimately submits and tries to please or appease her abuser. Fighting is not often a viable method especially if the other person is much bigger or stronger. Fleeing can work if you have somewhere safe to go. Agatha had a car and money to stay at a hotel, but many women cannot just run away especially if children are involved.

Historical cases of women running away from trauma

Decades ago, many women had unwanted pregnancies and had nowhere to turn. The shame of their situation led them to be dismissed from their domestic service and shunned by the father. This terrible situation is the plot for many a historical novel ie beautiful young servant impregnated by rogue son of the manor. Thomas Hardy was the master of such tales. Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a tragedy due to the Victorian morals that set one rule for men and another for women. Tess is seduced and shamed by a bad man and suffers the damnation of society.

Women who cannot run away from trauma

Fortunately, in Western countries this is not such an issue. Governments now support unwed mothers to be. But in many African and Arabic cultures the shame is still there, and fathers or brothers still murder female family members that dishonor the family name. It is very difficult for these women to run away and start again. Women instead often stay and submit to the penalty. Most times it is not even their fault that they shame the family. Many are victims of rape or incest. It is a sad world where this still happens.

Despite progress, it is still a patriarchal world where women and girls suffer. The suffragettes fought for women’s rights, women gained the right to vote but they are still often the victims of men’s aggression.

If you like to read books about real women, then try one of my novels. I have three historical and two contemporary and all are based on real lives and situations.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels: Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel Colour Comes to Tangles and her latest historical WWI drama, Time Heal my Heart. Joni has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.