Celebrating 100 Years of Agatha Christie

November 11, 2020


“I like living. 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.”

― Agatha Christie

This year marks an important anniversary for those who love Agatha Christie’s books: the 100th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring her famous Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. Remarkably, even now, 44 years after her death, versions of her books are still being adapted for film and television, like Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming Death on the Nile or Amazon Prime’s Crooked House. In addition, with the Christie estate’s blessing, author Sophie Hannah has written four “Poirot continuation novels.” (Has anyone read these? I haven’t yet, but I’ve heard good things.) 

Agatha and me

In the mists of my memory, it was my mom who introduced me to “Aggie” as we affectionately called her. I took it from there, devouring her entire collection of novels, including the non-crime books she wrote as Mary Westmacott (I wrote about my favorite of these here) by the time I was in my 20s. I believe I own every mystery novel and American collection of short stories she wrote, or close to it, mostly in secondhand paperbacks, some of which are beginning to show their age. Even though I’ve read all of them, sometimes more than once, I don’t always remember whodunit. 

I often turn to Christie for a comfort read. Her stories are interesting, her characters are memorable, and in general the books move briskly along. Most of the puzzles confound me, but I don’t mind. I just sit back and watch the fun, without trying to solve the crime. Her books don’t trigger anxiety or give me nightmares, so they make good before bed reading. The solutions are satisfyingly tidy, in a world that is unsatisfyingly messy. Somewhat to my surprise, I don’t have a favorite of her novels, possibly because there are so many to choose from!

She was a lover of dogs, food, travel, and an intensely private person. I admire her for her adventurous spirit and incredible imagination and productivity.

The secret notebooks

One of the most interesting books I read was Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making, by John Curran. Curran had access to the 73 surviving notebooks Christie used to jot ideas about plots and characters. As Christie said, “I usually have about half a dozen (notebooks) on hand and I used to make notes in them of ideas that struck me, or about some poison or drug, or a clever little bit of swindling that I had read about in the paper.”

Some of the notebooks, from the endpapers of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks



Curran wrote, “The process of production was…random and haphazard. And yet, this seeming randomness was transformed into an annual bestseller and for many years into more than one bestseller. For over 50 years she delivered the latest ‘Christie for Christmas’ to her agent; for 20 years she presented London’s West End with one box-office success after another; she kept magazine editors busy editing her latest offering. And all of them—novels, short stories and plays—flow with the fluid precision of the Changing of the Guard.”

Curran also noted, “During the height of her powers publication could hardly keep pace with creation—1934 saw the publication of no fewer than four crime titles and a Mary Westmacott, the name under which she wrote six non-crime novels published between 1930 and 1956. And this remarkable output is also a factor in her continuing success. It is possible to read a different Christie title every month for almost seven years; and at that state it is possible to start all over again safe in the knowledge that you will have forgotten the earliest. And it is possible to watch a different Agatha Christie dramatisation every month for two years.”

Here are a few tidbits I found interesting about the woman and her writing (much of the following information came from agathachristie.com, where you can also find quizzes, film recommendations, and much more about Agatha Christie’s life and work):

  • Her father was an American, Frederick Alva Miller, from a wealthy, upper class family.
  • She was educated at home by nurses and governesses and never went to school.
  • She sang and played the piano, and considered becoming either an opera singer or a concert pianist. Her voice was deemed not strong enough for operatic roles, and her crippling stage fright when playing the piano made her temperamentally unsuited to being a concert pianist.

  • She worked in a dispensary during World War I where she learned all about poisons.
  • Her first marriage, to Archie Christie, ended in divorce in 1928. They had one daughter, Rosalind. In 1926 after a quarrel with Archie, Christie vanished for 11 days, eventually turning up at Harrowgate Spa Hotel, registered under the name of Theresa Neale. She claimed amnesia, and never spoke of this time with friends or family.
  • Her second, very happy marriage was to Max Mallowan, an archaeologist who was 14 years younger than she. She once said, “An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.”

  • Christie was also a successful playwright. Her play The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world. It had been running since 1952 until shut down in March due to the coronavirus. My family and I saw it in London in 1989!
  • That first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was written on a dare from her older sister Madge. It was rejected by six publishers before Bodley Head took it on, and published it in 1920.
  • Christie’s maternal grandmother and her friends inspired the creation of Miss Marple, Christie’s other well-known sleuth.
  • More than two billion Christie books have been published. She’s outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
  • One of Christie’s most popular titles, The A.B.C. Murders, was one of the first books to feature what has become a staple of crime fiction, a serial killer. That phrase did not exist at the time.
  • She wrote her autobiography over a period of 15 years (1950-1965), but it wasn’t published until a year after her death.

And those are just a few of the interesting facts about this remarkable woman! If I’ve piqued your interest, check out agathachristie.com, or one of the books from the list below.

Have you read any of Agatha Christie’s books? Which one is your favorite?

Recommended reading (click on book titles to learn more):

Any of her crime novels (click here for a list) 

The non-crime Mary Westmacott novels  

An Autobiography, Agatha Christie

Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir, Agatha Christie Mallowan

Agatha Christie: A Biography, Janet Morgan. Reading this right now!

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years ofMysteries in the Making, John Curran. Probably too much minutiae for the casual fan, but I enjoyed the peek into Christie’s handwritten notebooks.

The Grand Tour: Around the World With the Queen ofMystery, Agatha Christie. I’ve borrowed this from the library but haven’t started reading it yet.

Agatha Christie At Home, Hilary Macaskill. Photos and information about Christie’s favorite home, Greenway, in Devon.

 

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2 comments

  1. Kathy you have me convinced I need to read an Agatha Christie novel. She is one of those famous authors that I have overlooked. With winter around the corner this will be the perfect time to check her out. Hope you have a great weekend. Hugs!

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    Replies
    1. Yay, Debbie! I do hope she's your cup of tea :) If so, you have many books ahead of you to enjoy.

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