Witness for the Prosecution Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 25-page guide for the short story “Witness for the Prosecution” by Agatha Christie includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Lies and Deception and Perception and Prejudice.
“The Witness for the Prosecution,” by British author Agatha Christie, is a short story that was later turned into a play. It was originally published in the periodical Flynn’s Weekly in January of 1925, under the title “Traitor Hands.” It was first published under the title “The Witness for the Prosecution”in the United Kingdom in 1933, when Christie’s collection, The Hound of Death, was released. In the United States, the story was first published in the 1948 collection, The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories.
The story begins with a conversation between Mr.Mayherne, a lawyer who often catches himself mindlessly cleaning his spectacles, and his client, Leonard Vole, a 33-year-old, handsome man who is accused of the murder of Miss Emily French, an elderly, wealthy, woman he recently befriended. Mayherne stresses to his client the gravity of the situation in which he finds himself: “I must impress upon you again that you are in very grave danger, and that the utmost frankness is necessary” (5). Leonard, however, seems dazed, as if he cannot believe what he has been accused of. Mayherne tells him that the best strategy is simply to reveal everything, so that Mayherne can figure out the most appropriate defense. Leonard takes this to mean that Mayherne suspects him of being guilty, and assures his lawyer that he did not murder anyone. Despite the evidence, Mayherne finds himself believing Leonard: “You are right, Mr Vole. The case does look very black against you. Nevertheless, I accept your assurance” (6).
Mayherne asks Leonard how he knew the victim, Miss Emily French, a woman in her 70s. Leonard states that one day, on Oxford Street, he saw her having difficulty crossing the street because she was overloaded with packages. When she got to the middle of the street, she dropped the packages and was almost run over by a bus. Leonard had helped her pick up the parcels and cleaned the dirt off them for her. He said that Miss French thanked him, was very grateful, and communicated that his manners were not the same as those of most of the younger generation. That same night, he saw her again at a party thrown by his friend, George Harvey. He spent some time talking to her, and she seemed to take a liking to him:“She was, I imagine, an old lady who took sudden violent fancies to people. She took one to me on the strength of a perfectly simple action which anyone might have performed” (7). French invites Vole to come over and visit her, and when he agrees, she puts him on the spot to commit to a specific day. Leonard agrees to visit her the following Saturday. After she leaves, Leonard discovers she is very wealthy, single, and lives with at least eight cats.
Mayherne tries to determine exactly when Leonard found out that Miss French was wealthy, stating that such a fact could be important to how the jury reacts to him. If he did not know the woman was wealthy at first—and indeed, she was not the type to appear wealthy at first glance—then the jury would view Leonard as a charitable man, rather than an opportunist. The issue is an important one, Mayherne states, because the prosecution will argue that Leonard was in dire financial straits at the time, which was true, and will think he only agreed to spend time with her to get at her money. However, Leonard cannot establish or prove exactly when he found out about Miss French’s wealth, only that he was told by his friend, George Harvey, who threw the party Leonard was attending.
Mayherne asks Leonard why, as a young man who is good-looking, sporty and popular, he would spend so much time with a single, elderly woman. Leonard suggests it was a…