Thursday, October 15, 2015

Let's talk about: Agatha Christie

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on September 15, 1890 in Ashfield, Torquay, Devon. 
Her father was a wealthy American that had been sent to Switzerland for his education. He met her mother, Clara (an English woman) and they were married. 
Agatha said that she had a very happy childhood. She was surrounded by strong and independent women. They spent their time going between their home in Devon, her step-grandmother and aunt's home in Ealing, West London, and parts of Southern Europe where they would go in the winter for vacation. 
She and her siblings were home educated, learning to read, write, and do math as well as being taught music. Agatha learned to play the piano and the mandolin. 
She also, along with her siblings, believed that her mother was psychic. 
Agatha loved reading right from the start. She read as much as she could. 
 "One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood."
She also spent a lot of time by herself or with her pets. She didn't have many friends  until she was a little older and stated that it was "one of the highlights of my existence" to be in the youth production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of The Guard with this group of friends. 

Agatha's father was sick a lot. He suffered from a series of heart attacks and died in November of 1901 when he was 55 years old. She was eleven. His death was devastating and she said it marked the end of her childhood. The next year she was sent to receive a formal education at Miss Guyer's Girls School in Torquay. She did not like it and found the disciplined school really hard to get used to. 
A few years later she was sent to Paris where she was educated in three separate places- Mademoiselle Cabernet's, Les Marroniers, and then Miss Dryden's which was a finishing school. 

When she returned to England her mother was ill and they went together to Cairo for the warmer weather. They stayed three months.
Back in Britain she wrote and performed in amateur theatrics, poetry, and music. 
She wrote her first story, The House of Beauty (early version of her later published story The House of Dreams) while she was ill in bed. She continued to write short stories and another novel set in Cairo. 
She was also looking for a husband during this time. She had short relationships with four men and was even engaged to another. But then she met Archibald Christie at a dance. He was born in India and was an army officer. They fell in love quickly. Archie proposed and she accepted. 
World War 1 began and Archie was sent to France to fight. They married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church in Bristol while he was home on leave. 
Agatha also wanted to be a part of the war effort and joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment. She attended to wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay. 
After the war they settled in St. John's Wood in northwest London. 

Agatha was a fan of detective novels and decided to write her own. 
She wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles featuring Hercule Poirot, a former Belgian police officer with a large twirly moustache. It was rejected by a few publishing companies but then accepted by The Bodley Head if she would change the ending. She did and then signed the contract which she later felt was exploitative. 
During this time she gave birth to her only child, Rosalind, in August 1919. 
Her second novel, The Secret Adversary had a new detective couple, Tommy and Tuppence. It was also published by The Bodley Head and she got 50 pounds for it. She soon followed it up with another Poirot novel and short stories. 
She and her husband left their daughter with her mother and sister in order to travel promoting the British Empire Exhibition. They went to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. While in Africa they learned to surf prone and then in Hawaii they surfed standing up. 

A few years later, in 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. He was in love with Nancy Neele, a friend of someone from their tour. On December 3, 1926 they fought and he left the house to spend the weekend with his mistress. That evening Christie left their home leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. 
Her car was later found at Newlands Corner with her expired driving licence and her clothes. 
The Home Secretary , police, and a newspaper offered a 100 pounds reward to find her. Over a thousand police officers and 15,000 volunteers along with some airplanes searched the area for her. 
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave a spiritual medium one of Agatha's gloves to try to find her. 
Her disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. 
She was not found for ten days. 
On December 14, 1926, she was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire. She had registered as Mrs. Teresa Neele from Cape Town. 
Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering amnesia from a depressed state brought on by overwork, her mother's death earlier in the year, and her husband's infidelity. 
Public opinion varied however, thinking that it was a publicity stunt or possibly an attempt to frame her husband for murder. 
She made no reference to it in her autobiography. 

They divorced in 1928 and Archie married Nancy Neele. 
Agatha was given custody of Rosalind and the right to keep the last name Christie for her writing. 
In 1930 she married archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan after meeting him during an archaeological dig. Their marriage was happy they remained married for the rest of her life. 

"An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her."

Agatha continued to travel and write. She used many of the places that she traveled (as well as the area she lived in) for settings for her books. During World War 2 she worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital in London and acquired a knowledge of poisons that she put to use in her later novels. 
In 1941-1942 she was investigated by the British Intelligence Agency MI5 because they were afraid that she had a spy in their top secret code breaking center Bletchley Park after one of her characters was named Major Bletchley. 
She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours for her many literary works and was promoted to Dame Commander three years after her husband was knighted for his archaeological work in 1968. 

"I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."

In 1971 her health began to suffer though she continued to write. It is believed that she may have begun to suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia. 
She died on January 12, 1976. 

Agatha is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections but she also wrote six romances under the name of Mary Westmacott. 

"The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes."

*Do you have a favorite Agatha Christie novel?


Donna said...

She is one of my favorite mystery writers. I can't believe all the differenty mysteries she came up with. She was so good! I'm happy to hear that she re-married. I knew about what happened with her first husband, and I thought she was alone after that. My favorite of her novels so far is "Murder on the Orient Express." I'm looking forward to reading "And Then There Were None" soon, thanks to your recommendation. I just bought a copy on amazon last Friday. :)

cheryl said...

Nice! I think you will like it. I just love how different it is from everything else I have read. It seems like she wrote what she wanted without worrying what people would think. I haven't read the Murder on the Orient Express. I will have to read that one!

The Kings said...

I haven't read any of her books but have seen a few movies. I enjoyed reading the write-up on her!

cheryl said...

You should try some Agatha Christie soon! I know I need to read more of her. She is really so talented.