Dame Agatha Christie [pseudonym Mary Westmacott] (1890-1976), prolific English ‘Queen of Crime’ author of world-renown created such famous detectives as Hercule Poirot, the eccentric Belgian who relied on his keen grasp of logic to nab crooks;
“Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions.”—Poirot, in The ABC Murders Ch. 17
and English spinster Miss Jane Marple (partly inspired by her maternal grandmother) who used her feminine intuition to solve crime. Her motto:
“The young people think the old people are fools, but the old people know the young people are fools.”
Some of Christie’s best-known works are The ABC Murders (1936), And Then There Were None [also known as Ten Little Indians] (1945), The Mousetrap (longest ever running stage play in London, first performed in 1952), Hickory Dickory Dock (1955), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), and Death on the Nile (1978). From her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) “This affair must all be unravelled from within.” He tapped his forehead. “These little grey cells. It is ‘up to them’—as you say over here.” (Poirot, Ch. 10) to her last, Sleeping Murder (1976), Christie enjoyed a career that spanned over fifty years and her works have now sold into the billions. They have been translated to dozens of languages, inspired numerous other authors’ works, and have been adapted to radio, the stage, and film. As well as a writer of crime mysteries, she also read stories for BBC Radio, wrote non-fiction, romances, plays, and poetry.
Born in the family home Ashfield in Torquay, Devon, England on 15 September 1890, Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was the youngest of the three children born to Clarissa ‘Clara’ Margaret née Boehmer (1855-1926) and American Frederick Alvah Miller (1846-1901), who died when Agatha was just ten years old. The shy and sensitive Agatha, who was very close to her mother, had an older sister, Margaret ‘Madge’ (1879-1950) and brother Louis ‘Monty’ Montant (1880-1929). The family attended All Saint’s Church where Agatha was baptised. While she received no formal education, her mother and then governesses taught her at home to read before she entered finishing school in Paris, France in 1906. Having long been encouraged by her mother to write, Agatha continued to write there while also studying music (which became a life-long love), singing, and piano.
On 24 December 1914, at the age of twenty-four, Christie married Royal Flying Corps pilot Archie Christie, with whom she would have a daughter, Rosalind (1919-2004). During WWI Agatha worked as a nurse, tending to the ill and injured, many who were displaced Belgians. Their bewilderment and personal sorrows affected her deeply. She amassed a great deal of knowledge about sicknesses and poisons such as strychnine and ricin that she often featured in her novels. Around this time she also started writing her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, an immediate best-seller. In 1926, profoundly grieving the death of her mother, Christie created some mystery of her own, disappearing for a time; when she was found she claimed that she had had a bout of amnesia.
In 1928, Archie divorced Agatha. She then set off on her first of many trips to the Middle East, travelling on the famed Orient Express from Calais, France to Baghdad, Iraq, then on to the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia. It was on her second trip there she met her future husband, archaeologist Sir Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan, (1904-1978). They were married in Scotland on 11 September 1930. She often accompanied him on digs as a member of the team, photographing and cataloguing finds. In 1960 Max was honoured as Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and in 1968 knighted for his archaeological work. Christie herself won many awards and honours in her life-time including; 1955, received the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award; 1961, awarded an honorary degree from Exeter University; 1967, became president of The British Detection Club; and in 1971 she received England’s highest honor, the Order of the British Empire, Dame Commander.
In 1974 Christie appeared for the last time in public on opening night for her play Murder on the Orient Express. When she was not travelling the world, her and Max’s home in England was in the town of Wallingford, Oxfordshire, where she died peacefully on 12 January 1976. Max survived her by two years. They now rest together in the Parish Church cemetery of St. Mary’s in Cholsey, Oxfordshire.
“I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming that comes when you finish the life of the emotions and of personal relations; and suddenly you find—at the age of fifty, say—that a whole new life has opened before you, filled with things you can think about, study, or read about.... It is as if a fresh sap of ideas and thoughts was rising in you.”—An Autobiography (1977).
Partial list of Works by Agatha Christie:
The Murder on the Links (1923),
Poirot Investigates (1924),
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926),
The Big Four (1927),
The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928),
Peril at End House (1932),
Three Act Tragedy [also known as Murder in Three Acts] (1934),
Death in the Clouds (1935),
Murder in Mesopotamia (1936),
Murder in the Mews (1937),
Appointment with Death (1938),
Sad Cypress (1940),
Evil Under the Sun (1941),
Five Little Pigs (1942),
The Hollow (1946),
The Labours of Hercules (1947),
Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (1952),
After the Funeral (1953),
Dead Man’s Folly (1956),
Cat Among the Pigeons (1959),
Hallowe’en Party (dedicated to P. G. Wodehouse, 1969),
Elephants Can Remember (1972), and
Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975).
The Murder at the Vicarage (1930),
The Thirteen Problems (1932),
The Body in the Library (1942),
The Moving Finger (1943),
A Murder Is Announced (1950),
They Do It with Mirrors (1952),
4.50 from Paddington (1957),
The Mirror Crack’d (1962),
A Caribbean Mystery (1964),
At Bertram’s Hotel (1965), and
As Mary Westmacott:
Unfinished Portrait (1934),
Absent in the Spring (1944),
The Rose and the Yew Tree (1948),
A Daughter’s a Daughter (1952), and
The Burden (1956).
Other Titles include:
The Man in the Brown Suit (1924),
The Road of Dreams (poetry collection, 1924),
plays The Alibi (1928) and Black Coffee (1930),
The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1930),
The Sittaford Mystery (1931),
The Floating Admiral (a collaboration with other authors including Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1931),
Parker Pyne Investigates (1934),
Murder Is Easy (1939),
They Came to Baghdad (1951),
Destination Unknown (1954),
The Pale Horse (1961),
Star Over Bethlehem (poems and children’s stories, 1965),
Passenger to Frankfurt (1970),
Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir (non-fiction, 1976), and
Agatha Christie: An Autobiography (1977).
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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