Agatha Christie

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Dame Agatha Christie
DBE
Agatha Christie.png
Born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller
(1890-09-15)15 September 1890
Torquay, Devon, England
Died 12 January 1976(1976-01-12) (aged 85)
Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England
Pen name Mary Westmacott
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet
Genres Murder mystery, thriller, crime fiction, detective, romance
Literary movement Golden Age of Detective Fiction
Notable work(s) Creation of characters Hercule Poirot and Miss (Jane) Marple
Spouse(s) Archibald Christie
(m. 1914; div. 1928)
Max Mallowan
(m. 1930–76; her death)
Children Rosalind Hicks (1919–2004)

www.agathachristie.com

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, DBE (née Miller; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English crime novelist, short story writer, and playwright. She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best known for the 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections she wrote under her own name, most of which revolve around the investigations of such characters as Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence. She also wrote the world's longest-running play, The Mousetrap.[1]

Born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon, Christie served in a hospital during the First World War, before marrying and starting a family in London. She was initially unsuccessful at getting her work published; but in 1920 The Bodley Head press published her novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the character of Poirot. This launched her literary career.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 4 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world's most-widely published books,[2] behind Shakespeare's works and the Bible. According to Index Translationum, Christie is the most-translated individual author – having been translated into at least 103 languages.[3] And Then There Were None is Christie's best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world's best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time.[4] In 1971, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.[5] In 2013, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was voted the best crime novel ever by 600 fellow writers of the Crime Writers' Association.[6]

Christie's stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952 and as of 2012 is still running after more than 25,000 performances.[7] In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's highest honour, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year Witness for the Prosecution was given an Edgar Award by the MWA for Best Play. Most of her books and short stories have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics, and more than thirty feature films have been based on her work.

Life and career[edit]

Childhood: 1890–1910[edit]

Agatha-Mary Clarissa Christie was born on 15 September 1890 into a wealthy upper middle-class family in Ashfield, Torquay, Devon in South West England.[8] Christie's mother, Clara Boehmer, was an Englishwoman who had been born in Belfast, modern-day Northern Ireland, in 1854 to Captain Frederick Boehmer and Mary Ann West; the couple's only daughter, she had four brothers, one of whom died young. Captain Boehmer was killed in a riding accident while stationed on Jersey in April 1863, leaving Mary Ann to raise her children alone on a meagre income. Under financial strain, she sent Clara to live with her aunt Margaret Miller née West, who had married wealthy American Nathaniel Frary Miller in 1863 and lived in Prinsted, West Sussex. Clara stayed with Margaret, and there she would meet her future husband, an American stockbroker named Frederick Alvah Miller, who was the son of Nathaniel.[9] Frederick was a member of the small and wealthy American upper class, and had been sent to Europe to gain an education in Switzerland. Considered personable and friendly by those who knew him, he soon developed a romantic relationship with Clara, and they were married in April 1878.[10] Their first child, Margaret "Madge" Frary Miller (1879–1950) was born in Torquay, where the couple were renting lodgings, while their second, Louis "Monty" Montant (1880–1929) was born in the U.S. state of New York, where Frederick was on a business trip. Clara soon purchased a villa in Torquay, named "Ashfield", in which to raise her family, and it was here that her third and final child, Agatha, was born.[11]

Agatha Christie as a girl, date unknown

Christie would describe her childhood as "very happy",[12] and was surrounded by a series of strong and independent women from an early age.[13] Her time was spent alternating between her Devonshire home, her step grandmother/aunt's house in Ealing, West London and parts of Southern Europe, where her family would holiday during the winter.[14] Nominally Christian, she was also raised in a household with various esoteric beliefs, and like her siblings believed that their mother Clara was a psychic with the ability of second sight.[15] Her mother insisted that she receive a home education, and so her parents were responsible for teaching her to read and write, and to be able to perform basic arithmetic, a subject that she particularly enjoyed. They also taught her about music, and she learned to play both the piano and the mandolin.[16] A voracious reader from an early age, among her earliest memories were those of reading the children's books written by Mrs Molesworth, including The Adventures of Herr Baby (1881), Christmas Tree Land (1897) and The Magic Nuts (1898). She also read the work of Edith Nesbit, including The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899), The Phoenix and the Carpet (1903) and The Railway Children (1906). When a little older she moved on to reading the surreal verse of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll.[17] Much of her childhood was spent largely alone and separate from other children, although she spent much time with her pets, whom she adored. Eventually making friends with a group of other girls in Torquay, she noted that "one of the highlights of my existence" was her appearance with them in a youth production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard, in which she played the hero, Colonel Fairfax.[18] This was to be her last operatic role, for as she later wrote, "an experience that you really enjoyed should never be repeated."[19]

Her father was often ill, suffering from a series of heart attacks, and in November 1901 he died, aged 55. His death left the family devastated, and in an uncertain economic situation. Clara and Agatha continued to live together in their Torquay home; Madge had moved to the nearby Cheadle Hall with her new husband and Monty had joined the army and been sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. Agatha would later claim that her father's death, occurring when she was 11 years old, marked the end of her childhood for her.[20] In 1902, Agatha would be sent to receive a formal education at Miss Guyer's Girls School in Torquay, but found it difficult to adjust to the disciplined atmosphere. In 1905 she was then sent to the city of Paris, France, where she was educated in three pensions – Mademoiselle Cabernet's, Les Marroniers and then Miss Dryden's – the latter of which served primarily as a finishing school.[21]

Early literary attempts and the First World War: 1910–1919[edit]

Returning to England in 1910, Agatha found that her mother Clara was ill. They decided to spend time together in the warmer climate of Cairo, then a popular tourist destination for wealthy Britons; staying for three months at the Gezirah Palace Hotel. Agatha – always chaperoned by her mother – attended many social functions in search of a husband. She visited such ancient Egyptian monuments as the Great Pyramid of Giza, but did not exhibit the great interest in archaeology and Egyptology that became prominent in her later years.[22]

Returning to Britain, she continued her social activities. Writing and performing in amateur theatrics, she also helped put on a play called The Blue Beard of Unhappiness with female friends. Her writing extended to both poetry and music. Some early works saw publication, but she decided against focusing on either of these as future professions.[23]

While recovering in bed from illness she penned her first short story – "The House of Beauty". This was about 6000 words on the world of "madness and dreams", a subject of fascination for her. Biographer Janet Morgan later commented that despite "infelicities of style", the story was nevertheless "compelling".[24] Other shorts followed, most of them illustrating her interest in spiritualism and the paranormal. These included "The Call of Wings" and "The Little Lonely God". Various magazines rejected all her early submissions, made under pseudonyms, although some were revised and published later, often with new titles.[25]

Christie then set her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert, in Cairo, and drew from her recent experiences in that city. Under the pseudonym Monosyllaba, she was perturbed when various publishers all declined.[26] Clara suggested that her daughter ask for advice from a family friend and neighbour, the successful writer Eden Philpotts. Philpotts obliged her enquiry, encouraged her writing, and sent her an introduction to his literary agent, Hughes Massie. However, he too rejected Snow Upon the Desert, and suggested a second novel.[27]

Meanwhile, Christie continued searching for a husband, and entered into short-lived relationships with four separate men and an engagement with another. She then met Archibald "Archie" Christie (1889–1962)[28] at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford of Chudleigh, about 12 miles (19 kilometres) from Torquay. Archie had been born in India, the son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service. In England he joined the air service, stationed at Devon in 1912. The couple quickly fell in love. Upon learning he would be stationed in Farnborough, Archie proposed marriage, and Agatha accepted.[29]

1914 saw the outbreak of World War I, and Archie was sent to France to do battle with the German forces. Agatha also involved herself in the war effort, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and attending to wounded soldiers at the hospital in Torquay. In this position she was responsible for aiding the doctors and maintaining morale; performing 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916. As a dispenser, she finally earned £16 yearly until the end of her service in September 1918.

She met her fiancé Archie in London during his leave at the end of 1914, and they married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. They met throughout the war every time he was posted home. Rising through the ranks, he was eventually stationed back to Britain in September 1918 as a colonel in the Air Ministry. They settled into a flat at 5 Northwick Terrace in St. John's Wood, Northwest London.[30]

First novels: 1919–1923[edit]

Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White and The Moonstone as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's early Sherlock Holmes stories. She wrote her own detective novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles featuring Hercule Poirot; portrayed as a former Belgian police officer noted for his twirly large "magnificent moustaches" and egg-shaped head, who took refuge in Britain after Germany had invaded Belgium. Christie's inspiration for this stemmed from real Belgian refugees who existed in Torquay.[31]

The Styles manuscript was not accepted by such publishing companies as Hodder and Stoughton and Methuen. However, John Lane at The Bodley Head kept the submission for several months, then offered to accept it provided Christie change the ending. She duly did so, and then signed a contract that she later felt was exploitative.[32] Christie meanwhile settled into married life, giving birth to daughter Rosalind at Ashfield in August 1919, where the couple – having few friends in London – spent much of their time.[33] Archie left the Air Force at the end of the war and started working in the City financial sector at a relatively low salary, though they still employed a maid.[34]

Christie's second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featured a new detective couple Tommy and Tuppence. Again published by The Bodley Head, it earned her £50. A third novel again featured Poirot, Murder on the Links (1923), as did short stories commissioned by Bruce Ingram, editor of Sketch magazine.[35] In order to tour the world promoting the British Empire Exhibition the couple left their daughter Rosalind with Agatha's mother and sister then travelled to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.[36][37] They learned to surf prone in South Africa, then in Waikiki were among the first Britons to surf standing up.[38]

Disappearance[edit]

In late 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. He was in love with Nancy Neele, who had been a friend of Major Belcher, director of the British Empire Mission, on the promotional tour a few years earlier. On 3 December 1926, the Christies quarrelled, and Archie left their house, Styles, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening, around 9.45 pm, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire.

Her car, a Morris Cowley, was later found at Newlands Corner, by a lake near Guildford, with an expired driving licence and clothes.[39] Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public. The Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressured police, and a newspaper offered £100 reward.

Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers and several aeroplanes scoured the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even gave a spirit medium one of Christie's gloves to find the missing woman. Dorothy L Sayers visited the house in Surrey, later using the scenario in her book Unnatural Death.[40]

Christie's disappearance featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days.[41][42][43][44] On 14 December 1926, Agatha Christie was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel[a]) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Teresa Neele from Cape Town.

Christie's autobiography makes no reference to her disappearance.[42] Although two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, opinion remains divided as to why she disappeared. She was known to be in a depressed state from literary overwork, her mother's death earlier that year and her husband's infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or attempt to frame her husband for murder.[46][b]

The 1979 Michael Apted film Agatha features a disclaimer in the opening credits stating that what follows is an imaginary solution to an authentic mystery. The film stars Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman and Timothy Dalton and depicts Christie planning suicide in such a way as to frame her husband's mistress for her "murder". An American reporter, played by Hoffman, follows her closely and stops the plan. The film outraged Christie's heirs who fought two unsuccessful lawsuits in America in an attempt to prevent the film from being distributed.

Author Jared Cade interviewed numerous witnesses and relatives for his sympathetic biography, Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days, revised 2011.[48] He provided substantial evidence to suggest she planned the event to embarrass her husband, never supposing the resulting escalated melodrama.[49]

The Christies divorced in 1928, and Archie married Nancy Neele. Agatha retained custody of daughter Rosalind, and the Christie name for her writing. During their marriage, she published six novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of short stories in magazines.

Second marriage and later life[edit]

Agatha Christie's room at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, where she wrote Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie blue plaque. No. 58 Sheffield Terrace, Kensington & Chelsea, London

In 1930 Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan, having met him in an archaeological dig. Their marriage was always happy, and it continued until Christie's death in 1976.[50] Max introduced her to wine, which she never enjoyed – preferring to drink water in restaurants. She tried unsuccessfully to make herself like cigarettes by smoking one after lunch and one after dinner every day for six months.[51]

Christie frequently used settings that were familiar to her for her stories. Her travels with Mallowan contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. Other novels (such as And Then There Were None) were set in and around Torquay, where she was raised. Christie's 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, the southern terminus of the railway. The hotel maintains Christie's room as a memorial to the author.[52] The Greenway Estate in Devon, acquired by the couple as a summer residence in 1938, is now in the care of the National Trust.

Christie often stayed at Abney Hall in Cheshire, owned by her brother-in-law, James Watts, basing at least two stories there: a short story "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding", in the story collection of the same name, and the novel After the Funeral. "Abney became Agatha's greatest inspiration for country-house life, with all its servants and grandeur being woven into her plots. The descriptions of the fictional Chimneys, Stoneygates, and other houses in her stories are mostly Abney in various forms."[53]

During the Second World War, Christie worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital, London, where she acquired a knowledge of poisons that she put to good use in her post-war crime novels. For example, the use of thallium as a poison was suggested to her by UCH Chief Pharmacist Harold Davis (later appointed Chief Pharmacist at the UK Ministry of Health), and in The Pale Horse, published in 1961, she employed it to dispatch a series of victims, the first clue to the murder method coming from the victims' loss of hair. So accurate was her description of thallium poisoning that on at least one occasion it helped solve a case that was baffling doctors.[54][55]

Christie lived in Chelsea, first in Cresswell Place and later in Sheffield Terrace. Both properties are now marked by blue plaques.

Around 1941–1942, the British intelligence agency MI5 investigated Agatha Christie. A character called Major Bletchley appeared in her 1941 thriller N or M?, a story that features a hunt for two of Hitler's top secret spy agents in Britain.[56] MI5 was afraid that Christie had a spy in Britain's top-secret codebreaking centre, Bletchley Park. The agency's fears were allayed when Christie commented to codebreaker Dilly Knox that Bletchley was simply the name of "one of my least lovable characters."[56]

To honour her many literary works, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours.[57] The next year, she became the President of the Detection Club.[58] In the 1971 New Year Honours, she was promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire,[59] three years after her husband had been knighted for his archaeological work in 1968.[60] They were one of the few married couples where both partners were honoured in their own right. From 1968, owing to her husband's knighthood, Christie could also be styled Lady Mallowan.

Agatha Christie's gravestone in Cholsey

From 1971 to 1974, Christie's health began to fail, although she continued to write. In 1975, sensing her increasing weakness, Christie signed over the rights of her most successful play, The Mousetrap, to her grandson.[50] Recently, using experimental textual tools of analysis, Canadian researchers have suggested that Christie may have begun to suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.[61][62][63][64]

Agatha Christie died on 12 January 1976 at age 85 from natural causes at her Winterbrook House in the north of Cholsey parish, adjoining Wallingford in Oxfordshire (formerly part of Berkshire). She is buried in the nearby churchyard of St Mary's, Cholsey. She was survived by her only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks.[65]

Agatha Christie's estate and subsequent ownership of works[edit]

During Agatha Christie's life, she had set up a private company, Agatha Christie Limited to hold the rights to her works, and around 1959 she had also transferred her 278 acre home, Greenway Estate, to her daughter Rosalind.[66] In 1968, when she was almost 80 years old, she sold a 51% stake in Agatha Christie Limited (and therefore the works it owned) to Booker Books (better known as Booker Author's Division), a subsidiary of the British food and transport conglomerate Booker-McConnell (now Booker Group), the founder of the Booker Prize for literature, which later increased its stake to 64%.[when?] Agatha Christie Limited remains the owner of the worldwide rights for over 80 of Christie's novels and short stories, 19 plays and nearly 40 TV films.[67]

After her death in 1976, Christie's remaining 36% share of the company was additionally inherited by Rosalind, who passionately preserved her mother's works, image and legacy until her own death 28 years later.[66] The family's share of the company allowed them to appoint 50% of the board and the chairman, and thereby to retain a veto over new treatments, updated versions, and republications, of her works.[66][68] In 1993 Rosalind founded the Agatha Christie Society and became its first president.[66] In 2004 her obituary in The Telegraph commented that Rosalind had been "determined to remain true to her mother's vision and to protect the integrity of her creations" and disapproved of "merchandising" activities.[66] On Rosalind's death – also at age 85 (28 October 2004 in Torbay, Devon, from natural causes[65]) – both this and the Greenway Estate passed to Christie's grandson Matthew Pritchard, who in 2000 gifted Greenway - both house and contents - to the National Trust.[66][69] Christie's family and family trusts, including Prichard, continue to own the remaining 36% stake in Agatha Christie Limited,[67] and remain associated with the company. In particular Prichard remains as the company's chairman,[67] and also in his own right holds the copyright to some of his grandmother's later literary works (including The Mousetrap).[70]

In 1998, Booker sold a number of its non-food assets to focus on its core business.[68] As part of that, its shares in Agatha Christie Limited (at the time earning £2.1m annual revenue[68]) were sold for £10m to Chorion,[68] a major international media company whose portfolio of well known authors' works also included the literary estates of Enid Blyton and Dennis Wheatley. However in February 2012, Chorion found itself in financial difficulties some years after a management buy-out, and began to sell off their literary assets on the market,[67] selling their stake in Christie’s estate (specifically, their 64% stake in Agatha Christie Limited) to the current owner Acorn Media UK (part of RLJ Entertainment, Inc. and the RLJ Companies, owned by American entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson) during that same month.[71]

As of 2014, media reports state that the BBC had acquired the exclusive television rights to Christie's works in the UK (previously associated with ITV) and plans with Acorn's co-operation to air new productions for the 125th anniversary of Christie's birth in 2015.[72]

Writings[edit]

Fictional writings[edit]

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple[edit]

Agatha Christie's first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920 and introduced the detective Hercule Poirot, who became a long-running character in many of Christie's works, appearing in 33 novels and 54 short stories.

Miss (Jane) Marple, who also became well known, was introduced in the short stories The Thirteen Problems in 1927 and was based on Christie's grandmother and her "Ealing cronies".[73] Both Jane and Gran "always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and were, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right."[74] Miss Marple appeared in 12 of Christie's novels.

During the Second World War, Christie wrote two novels, Curtain, and Sleeping Murder, intended as the last cases of these two great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Both books were sealed in a bank vault for over thirty years and were released for publication by Christie only at the end of her life, when she realised that she could not write any more novels. These publications came on the heels of the success of the film version of Murder on the Orient Express in 1974.

Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, Christie was to become increasingly tired of her detective Poirot. By the end of the 1930s, Christie wrote in her diary that she was finding Poirot "insufferable," and by the 1960s she felt that he was "an egocentric creep." However, unlike Conan Doyle, Christie resisted the temptation to kill her detective off while he was still popular. She saw herself as an entertainer whose job was to produce what the public liked, and the public liked Poirot.[75] Feeling tied down, stuck with a love interest, she did marry off Hastings in an attempt to trim her cast commitments.[76] In contrast, Christie was fond of Miss Marple. However, the Belgian detective's titles outnumber the Marple titles more than two to one: this is largely because Christie wrote numerous Poirot novels early in her career, while The Murder at the Vicarage remained the sole Marple novel until the 1940s. Christie never wrote a novel or short story featuring both Poirot and Miss Marple. In a recording discovered and released in 2008, Christie revealed the reason for this: "Hercule Poirot, a complete egoist, would not like being taught his business or having suggestions made to him by an elderly spinster lady".[73]

Poirot is the only fictional character to have been given an obituary in The New York Times, following the publication of Curtain. It appeared on the front page of the paper on 6 August 1975.[77]

Following the great success of Curtain, Christie gave permission for the release of Sleeping Murder sometime in 1976 but died in January 1976 before the book could be released. This may explain some of the inconsistencies compared to the rest of the Marple series — for example, Colonel Arthur Bantry, husband of Miss Marple's friend Dolly, is still alive and well in Sleeping Murder despite the fact he is noted as having died in books published earlier. It may be that Christie simply did not have time to revise the manuscript before she died.[citation needed] Miss Marple fared better than Poirot, since after solving the mystery in Sleeping Murder she returns home to her regular life in St. Mary Mead.

Formula and plot devices[edit]

Agatha Christie's reputation as "The Queen of Crime" was built upon the large number of classic motifs that she introduced, or for which she provided the most famous example. Christie built these tropes into what is now considered classic mystery structure: a murder is committed, there are multiple suspects who are all concealing secrets, and the detective gradually uncovers these secrets over the course of the story, discovering the most shocking twists towards the end. At the end, in a Christie hallmark, the detective usually gathers the surviving suspects into one room, explains the course of his or her deductive reasoning, and reveals the guilty party, although there are exceptions in which it is left to the guilty party (or parties) to explain all (such as And Then There Were None and Endless Night, both rather nihilistic in nature).[78][79]

Seven stories are named for, or built around words from, well known children's nursery rhymes: And Then There Were None (by Ten Little Indians), One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (by One, Two, Buckle My Shoe), Five Little Pigs (by This Little Piggy), Crooked House (by There Was a Crooked Man), A Pocket Full of Rye (by Sing a Song of Sixpence), Hickory Dickory Dock (by Hickory Dickory Dock), and Three Blind Mice (by Three Blind Mice).

Twice, the murderer turns out to be the unreliable narrator of the story.[citation needed] In six stories, Christie allows the murderer to escape justice: these are The Witness for the Prosecution, Five Little Pigs, The Man in the Brown Suit, Murder on the Orient Express, Curtain and The Unexpected Guest. (When Christie adapted Witness into a stage play, she lengthened the ending so that the murderer was also killed.) There are also numerous instances where the killer is not brought to justice in the legal sense but instead dies (death usually being presented as a more 'sympathetic' outcome), for example Death Comes as the End, And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, Dumb Witness, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Crooked House, Appointment with Death, The Hollow, Nemesis, Cat Among the Pigeons, and The Secret Adversary. In some cases, this is with the collusion of the detective involved. In some stories, the question of whether formal justice will be done is left unresolved, such as Five Little Pigs and Ordeal by Innocence.[citation needed]

Christie often made the unlikeliest character guilty. This happened so often that it became a cliché; savvy readers could identify the murderer by simply identifying the least likely suspect.[80] On an edition of Desert Island Discs in 2007, Brian Aldiss claimed that Agatha Christie told him that she wrote her books up to the last chapter, then decided who the most unlikely suspect was, after which she would then go back and make the necessary changes to "frame" that person.[81] John Curran's Agatha Christie: The Secret Notebooks describes different working methods for every book in her autobiography, thus contradicting this claim.[citation needed]

The first Hercule Poirot began with tram passengers and Belgian refugees.[82] Man in the Brown Suit started with Belcher from the world tour.[83] Murder on the Links began with news from France, a wife debunked, who claimed intruders tied her up and murdered her husband.[84] The Murder of Roger Ackroyd killer was suggested by brother-in-law James Watt.[85] The Big Four, helped by Archie's brother Cambell, was a stop-gap collection of Sketch magazine stories, for money when her husband left.[86]

Character stereotypes[edit]

Christie occasionally inserted stereotyped descriptions of characters into her work, particularly before the end of the Second World War (when such attitudes were more commonly expressed publicly), and particularly in regard to Italians, Jews, and non-Europeans. For example, in the first editions of the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930), in the short story "The Soul of the Croupier," she described "Hebraic men with hook-noses wearing rather flamboyant jewellery"; in later editions the passage was edited to describe "sallow men" wearing same. In The Hollow, published as late as 1946, one of the more unsympathetic characters is "a Whitechapel Jewess with dyed hair and a voice like a corncrake ..... a small woman with a thick nose, henna red and a disagreeable voice". To contrast with the more stereotyped descriptions, Christie sometimes characterised the "foreigners" in such a way as to make the reader understand and sympathise with them; this is particularly true of her Jewish characters, who while seen as un-English are seldom actually criminals. (See, for example, the character of Oliver Manders in Three Act Tragedy.)[87]

Often she is lovingly affectionate or teasing with her prejudices. After four years of war-torn London, Christie hoped to return some day to Syria, which she described as "gentle fertile country and its simple people, who know how to laugh and how to enjoy life; who are idle and gay, and who have dignity, good manners, and a great sense of humour, and to whom death is not terrible."[88]

After trouble with an incompetent Swiss French nursery helper Marcelle for toddler Rosalind, she decides "Scottish preferred ... good with the young. The French were hopeless disciplinarians ... Germans good and methodical, but it was not German that I really wanted Rosalind to learn. The Irish were gay but made trouble in the house; the English were of all kinds"[89] She proposes this, after the fact, knowing the chosen Charlotte lasts decades.

Her book titles, changed by American publishers, for example Ten Little Niggers to Ten Little Indians, were kept the same across the Atlantic, after bushels of fan mail.[90]

Non-fictional writings[edit]

Among Christie published relatively few nonfiction works.

  • Come, Tell Me How You Live, about working on an archaeological dig, drawn from her life with second husband Max Mallowan.
  • The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery, a collection of correspondence from her 1922 Grand Tour of the British empire, including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
  • Agatha Christie: An Autobiography was published posthumously in 1977.

Critical reception[edit]

The world's best-selling mystery writer, and often referred to as the "Queen of Crime", Agatha Christie is considered a master of suspense, plotting, and characterisation.[91][92][93] Some critics however regarded Christie's plotting abilities as considerably exceeding her literary ones. The novelist Raymond Chandler criticised her in his essay, "The Simple Art of Murder", and the American literary critic Edmund Wilson was dismissive of Christie and the detective fiction genre generally in his New Yorker essay, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?".[94]

Interests and influences[edit]

Archaeology[edit]

The lure of the past came up to grab me. To see a dagger slowly appearing, with its gold glint, through the sand was romantic. The carefulness of lifting pots and objects from the soil filled me with a longing to be an archaeologist myself.

– Christie, An Autobiography (1984), p. 389[95]

Many years ago, when I was once saying sadly to Max it was a pity I couldn't have taken up archaeology when I was a girl, so as to be more knowledgeable on the subject, he said, "Don't you realize that at this moment you know more about prehistoric pottery than any woman in England?"

– Christie, An Autobiography (1984), p. 546[96]

Christie had a lifelong interest in archaeology. On a trip to the excavation site at Ur in 1930, she met her future husband, Sir Max Mallowan, a distinguished archaeologist, but her fame as an author far surpassed his fame in archaeology.[97] Prior to meeting Mallowan, Christie had not had any extensive brushes with archaeology, but once the two married they made sure to only go to sites where they could work together.

While accompanying Mallowan on countless archaeological trips (spending up to 3–4 months at a time in Syria and Iraq at excavation sites at Ur, Ninevah, Tell Arpachiyah, Chagar Bazar, Tell Brak, and Nimrud), Christie not only wrote novels and short stories, but also contributed work to the archaeological sites, more specifically to the archaeological restoration and labelling of ancient exhibits which includes tasks such as cleaning and conserving delicate ivory pieces, reconstructing pottery, developing photos from early excavations which later led to taking photographs of the site and its findings, and taking field notes.[98]

So as to not influence the funding of the archaeological excavations, Christie would always pay for her own board and lodging and her travel expenses, and supported excavations as an anonymous sponsor.[99]

During their time in the Middle East, there was also a large amount of time spent travelling to and from Mallowan's sites. Their extensive travelling had a strong influence on her writing, which is often reflected as some type of transportation playing a part in her murderer's schemes. The large amount of travel was reused in novels such as The Murder on the Orient Express, as well as suggesting the idea of archaeology as an adventure itself.[100]

After the Second World War, she chronicled her time in Syria with fondness in "Come Tell Me How You Live". Anecdotes, memories, funny episodes, are strung in a rough timeline, with more emphasis on eccentric characters, lovely scenery, than factual accuracy.[101]

From 8 November 2001 to 24 March 2002, The British Museum had an exhibit named Agatha Christie and Archaeology: Mystery in Mesopotamia, which presented the secret life of Agatha Christie and the influences of archaeology in her life and works.[102]

Spirituality[edit]

Christie's life within the archaeological world shaped not only the settings and characters for her books but also the issues she highlights. One of the stronger influences is her love of the mystical and mysterious. Many of Christie's books and short stories set both in the Middle East and back in England have a decidedly otherworldly influence in which religious sects, sacrifices, ceremony, and seances play a part. Such stories include "The Hound of Death" and "the Idol House of Astarte". This theme was greatly strengthened by those times Christie spent in the Middle East where she was consistently surrounded by the religious temples and spiritual history of the towns and cities they were excavating during Mallowan's archaeological work.

Use of archaeology and spirituality in her writing[edit]

Many of the settings for Agatha Christie's books were directly inspired by the many archaeological field seasons spent in the Middle East on the sites managed by her husband Max. The extent of her time spent at the many locations featured in her books is apparent from the extreme detail in which she describes them. One such site featured in her work is the temple site of Abu Simbel, depicted in Death on the Nile. Also there is the great detail in which she describes life at the dig site in Murder in Mesopotamia.

Among the characters in her books, Christie has often given prominence to the archaeologists and experts in Middle Eastern cultures and artefacts. Most notable are the characters of Dr. Eric Leidner in Murder in Mesopotamia and Signor Richetti in Death on the Nile, while many minor characters in They Came to Baghdad were archaeologists.

Indirectly, Christie's famous character Hercule Poirot may be compared to an archaeologist by the manner of his detailed scrutiny of all facts both large and small.[original research?][citation needed] Cornelius Holtorf, an academic archaeologist, cites an archaeologist as a detective as being one of the key themes of archaeology in popular culture.[103] He describes an archaeologist as a professional detective of the past who has the ability to reveal secrets for the greater good of society.[improper synthesis?] Holtorf's description of the archaeologist as a detective is very similar to Christie's depiction of Poirot, who is hugely observant and is very careful to look at small details as they often impart the most information. Many of Christie's detective characters show some archaeological traits through their careful attention to clues and artefacts alike. Miss Marple, another of Christie's famous characters, shares these characteristics of careful deduction though the attention paid to the small clues.

Some of Christie's best known novels with heavy archaeological influences are:

  • Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) - the most archaeologically influenced of all her novels, as it is set in the Middle East at an archaeological dig site and associated expedition house. The main characters include an archaeologist, Dr. Eric Leidner, his wife, multiple specialists, assistants, and the men working on the site. The novel is noted most for its careful description of the dig site and house, which showed the author had spent much of her time in very similar situations. The characters in this book in particular are also based on archaeologists Christie knew from her personal experiences on excavation sites.
  • Appointment with Death (1938) - set in Jerusalem and its surrounding area. The death itself occurs at an old cave site in Petra and offers some very descriptive details of sites which Christie herself could have visited in order to write the book.
  • Death on the Nile (1937) - takes place on a tour boat on the Nile. Many archaeological sites are visited along the way and one of the main characters is an archaeologist, Signor Richetti.

Portrayals of Christie[edit]

Christie has been portrayed on a number of occasions in film and television. Several biographical programmes have been made, such as the 2004 BBC's Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures, in which she is portrayed by Olivia Williams, Anna Massey, and Bonnie Wright.

Christie has also been portrayed fictionally. Some of these portrayals have explored and offered accounts of Christie's disappearance in 1926, including the 1979 film Agatha (with Vanessa Redgrave, in which she sneaks away to plan revenge against her husband), and the Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp" (with Fenella Woolgar, in which her disappearance is the result of her suffering a temporary breakdown owing to a brief psychic link being formed between her and an alien). Others, such as 1980 Hungarian film, Kojak Budapesten (not to be confused with the 1986 comedy by the same name) create their own scenarios involving Christie's criminal skill.[104] In the 1986 TV play, Murder by the Book, Christie herself (Dame Peggy Ashcroft) murdered one of her fictional-turned-real characters, Poirot. The heroine of Liar-Soft's 2008 visual novel Shikkoku no Sharnoth: What a Beautiful Tomorrow, Mary Clarissa Christie, is based on the real-life Christie. Christie features as a character in Gaylord Larsen's Dorothy and Agatha and The London Blitz Murders by Max Allan Collins.[105][106]

Lists of works and adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Harrogate Hydropathic hotel, now known as the Old Swan Hotel, on the site of an earlier Old Swan Hotel, or as the Swan Hydro, for the location on Swan Road.[45]
  2. ^ Christie herself hints at a nervous breakdown, saying to a woman with similar symptoms "I think you had better be very careful; it is probably the beginning of a nervous breakdown."[47]

References[edit]

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Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Articles[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Barnard, Robert (1980), A Talent to Deceive –An Appreciation of Agatha Christie, London: Collins, ISBN 0-00-216190-7  Reprinted as A Talent to Deceive, New York: Mysterious Press, 1987 .
  • Sanders, Dennis; Lovallo, Len (1989) [1984], The Agatha Christie Companion, Berkley, ISBN 0-425-11845-2 .
  • Cade, Jared (1997), Agatha Christie and the Missing Eleven Days, Peter Owen, ISBN 978-0-7206-1280-6 .
  • Cade, Jared (7 July 2011), Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days (2nd Revised & Expanded ed.), Peter Owen, ISBN 978-0720613902 
  • Osborne, Charles (1982), The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie, London: Collins 
  • Osborne, Charles (2001) [1982], The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie, St Martins, ISBN 0-312-30116-2 
  • Riley, Dick; McAllister, Pam (1986) [1979], The (New) Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie, Ungar, ISBN 0-8044-6725-0 .
  • Sova, Dawn B. (1996), The Agatha Christie A to Z, Checkmark, ISBN 0-8160-4311-6 .
  • Thompson, Laura (2007), Agatha Christie: An English Mystery, London: Headline Review, ISBN 0-7553-1487-5 .

External links[edit]