Agatha Christie Detailed Biography:
Agatha Christie was a very prolific British author of mystery novels and short stories, creator of Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective, and Miss Jane Marple. Christie wrote more than 70 detective novels under the surname of her first husband, Colonel Archibald Christie. Agatha Christie also published a series of romances under the name of Mary Westmacott, and a children's book.
Agatha Christie (Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller) was born in Torquay, in the county of Devon, as the daughter of Frederick Alvah Miller, an American with a moderate private income, and Clarissa Miller (Clarissa Margaret Boehmer). The Millers, Agatha's parents, had two other children: Margaret Frary Miller (1879–1950), called Madge, who was eleven years Agatha Christie's senior, and Louis Montant Miller (1880–1929), called Monty, ten years older than Agatha. Later, in her autobiography, Agatha Christie would refer to her brother as "an amiable scapegrace of a brother".
Agatha's father died when she was a child. Agatha Christie was at educated home, where her mother encouraged her to write from very early age. With her mother’s encouragement, Agatha Christie had already begun to write both stories and poetry. Agatha had some success with her poems, some of which were published in Poetry Reviews, but fared less well with her short stories, which she regularly submitted without success to various magazines. Agatha began a novel, which she entitled, Snow upon the Desert, and solicited the help of a local author and family friend, Eden Phillpotts. He gave Agatha advice and in due course the novel was submitted to this literary agent in London. But the interview between the literary agent and the budding young author was not a success and the novel was discarded.
At sixteen Agatha was sent to school in Paris where she studied singing and piano. Agatha Christie was an accomplished pianist but her stage fright and shyness prevented her from pursuing a career in music. In her books Agatha Christie seldom referred to music, although her detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, show interest in opera and Poirot sings in THE ABC MURDERS (1936) a World War I song.
Now in her early 20s, Agatha was in considerable demand by any number of young men and in due course, while engaged to someone else, she met and fell in love with a young officer in the Field Artillery, one Archie Christie. On Christmas Eve 1914 Agatha Miller married Archibald Christie, an officer in the Flying Royal Corps who was beginning to earn a reputation as an aviator ace. Agatha and Archie had one daughter, Rosalind Hicks, who was born in 1919.
During World War I Agatha Christie worked in a Red Cross Hospital in Torquay as a nurse. After two years of nursing, Agatha Christie graduated to the dispensary, where she acquired a knowledge of poisons that was to yield dividends in due course. Christie had already considered writing a detective novel, but her sister Madge was dismissive of the idea. Now perhaps encouraged by the proximity of the poison cabinet, Agatha Christie decided to prove her sister wrong.
Agatha chose a setting, a country house in a small Essex village, and a method, poison, and most importantly invented a detective, a retired Belgian policeman by the name of Hercule Poirot. With the necessary ingredients in place Christie set to work and wrote steadily until, about half way through, she became stuck. Following family suggestions, Agatha Christie took herself off to a remote hotel in the middle of Dartmoor and immersed herself in her writing, finishing the manuscript within a fortnight in the summer of 1916.
Agatha Christie's husband, home on leave, enjoyed the story, entitled the Mysterious Affair at Styles, and recommended that the manuscript be submitted to Methuen where a friend of his was a director. But Methuen sat on the novel for 6 months before rejecting it, and another publisher was approached with a similar result. Agatha Christie sent her manuscript to yet a third publisher, The Bodley Head, where it languished.
Agatha Christie's first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, introduced Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective, who appeared in more than 40 books, the last of which was CURTAIN (1975). The Christies bought a house and named it 'Styles' after the first novel.
Agatha Christie's marriage broke up in 1926, and in the same year Agatha Christie's beloved mother died. It had been during this marriage that Agatha Christie published her first novel in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Agatha Christie's husband Archie Christie had revealed that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 3 December 1926 the couple quarrelled, and Archie Christie left their house in Sunningdale, Berkshire to spend the weekend with his mistress. After hearing that her husband had left for Miss Neele's house, Agatha Christie disappeared for a time. That same evening Agatha Christie had left behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Agatha’s disappearance caused a public outcry, many of whom were admirers of Agatha Christie's novels. Despite a massive manhunt, there were no results until eleven days later. "I would gladly give £500 if I could only hear where my wife is," said Colonel Archie Christie.
Eleven days after her disappearance, Agatha Christie was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire where she was registered as 'Mrs Teresa Neele' from Cape Town. Christie gave no account of her disappearance. Although two doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, opinion remains divided as to the reasons for Agatha Christie's disappearance. One suggestion is that Christie had suffered a nervous breakdown brought about by a natural propensity for depression, exacerbated by Agatha’s mother's death earlier that year, and the discovery of Agatha Christie’s husband's infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative with many believing it was all just a publicity stunt, whilst others speculated Agatha Christie was trying to make the police think her husband killed her as revenge for his affair. The disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926 was basis for the film Agatha. It was directed in 1978 by Michael Apted. In title role was Vanessa Redgrave as Agatha Christie.
Agatha Christie's divorce was finalized in 1928, and two years later she married the archaeologist Max Mallowan. Agatha had met him on her travels in the Middle East in 1927, and accompanied him on his excavations of sites in Syria and Iraq. Later Agatha Christie used these exotic settings in her novels MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA (1936) and Death on the Nile (1937). Agatha Christie's own archeological adventures were recounted in COME TELL ME HOW YOU LIVE (1946). Max Mallowan was Catholic and fourteen years Agatha's junior; Max Mallowan became one of the most prominent archaeologist of his generation. Of her marriage Agatha Christie told reporters: "An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her." Max Mallowan worked in Iraq in the 1950s but returned to England, when Agatha Christie's health grew weaker. Max Mallowan's most famous book was Nimrud and its Remains. Agatha Christie's second marriage was happy in the early years and endured despite Mallowan's alleged affairs in later life, notably with Barbara Parker whom he married in 1977, the year after Agatha Christie's death.
As already mentioned, Agatha Christie's travels with Max 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, Devon where Agatha Christie was born. Christie's 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Hotel Pera Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, the southern terminus of the railway. The hotel maintains Agatha Christie's room as a memorial to the author. The Greenway Estate in Devon, acquired by Agatha Christie as a summer residence in 1938, is now in the care of the National Trust. Agatha Christie often stayed at Abney Hall in Cheshire, which was owned by Christie’s brother-in-law, James Watts. Agatha based at least two of her stories on the hall: The short story The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, which is in the story collection of the same name, and the novel After the Funeral. Abney became Agatha Christie's greatest inspiration for country-house life, with all the servants and grandeur which have been woven into her plots. The descriptions of the fictional Styles, Chimneys, Stoneygates and the other houses in Agatha Christie’s stories are mostly said to be Abney in various forms.
Agatha Christie's most prolific period began in the late 1920s. During the 1930s Agatha published four non-series mystery novels, fourteen Hercule Poirot novels, two Jane Marple novels, two Superintendent Battle books, a book of stories featuring Harley Quin and another featuring Mr Parker Pyne, an additional Mary Westmacott book, and two original plays. In 1936 Agatha Christie published the first of six psychological romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. After visiting Luxor in 1937, where Agatha Christie saw Howard Carter, she wrote the play AKHNATON, which was not published until 1973. Agatha Christie's play was produced in New York as Akhnaton and Nefertiti in 1979 and next year in London.
During WW II Agatha Christie worked in the dispensary of University College Hospital in London. Agatha Christie also produced twelve completed novels. After the war Christie continued to write prolifically, also gaining success on the stage and in the cinema. Witness for the Prosecution, for example, was chosen the best foreign play of the 1954-55 season by the New York Drama Critics Circle. Witness for the Prosecution had opened in London in October 1953 and by December 1954, it was on Broadway. With Max Mallowan Agatha Christie traveled in 1947 and 1949 to expeditions to Nimrud, the ancient capital of Assyria, and in the Tigris Valley.
Among the many film adaptations of Agatha Christie's work are Murder on the Orient Express (1974), directed by Sidney Lument and with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, and Death on the Nile (1978), with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. Both films were nostalgic costume dramas. Even the small parts in Murder on the Orient Express were filled by famous stars.
According to Billy Wilder, Agatha Christie herself considered his Witness for the Prosecution the best film adaptation of her work. Wilder rewrote Agatha Christie's dialogue but did not change the clever plot with a surprise ending.
Agatha Christie's characters are usually well-to-do people. Often the comfortable lifestyle of Agatha's characters are undermined by financial problems, which lead to murder. Although Agatha's villains use very complicated plans, they are not impossible, but are firmly grounded on the everyday reality. In many stories the reader is fooled to suspect an innocent character, but most innovative was when Agatha Christie revealed the guilty party: it has been the narrator, a group of people, a serial killer who tries to hide an obvious motive for his killing one of the victims, and so forth. Agatha Christie's world view was conservative and rational, but there is always a place for accidents: "'...Does it not strike you that the easiest way of removing someone you want to remove from your path is to take advantage of accident? Accidents are happening all the time. And sometimes - Hastings - they can be helped to happen!'"(Dumb Witness 1937). Agatha Christie always gives a logical explanation for crimes, but society is not blamed. Murder is not a sign of degeneration of middle-class values. After the crime is solved, life continues happily. Although Agatha Christie's writing career spanned over six decades, she was conscious of social change without fixating on the period between the two World Wars. "When I reread those first books," she said in 1966, "I'm amazed at the number of servants drifting around. And nobody is really doing any work, they're always having tea on the lawn." However, Agatha Christie did not like editing her own text and was even reluctant to change the spelling unless a word has actually been misspelt.
To honour her many literary works, Agatha Christie was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956.
In 1967 Agatha Christie became president of the British Detection Club. When Agatha Christie was asked to be President of the Detection Club in 1958, the only possible successor to Dorothy L. Sayers, she agreed but made it a condition that she should not be asked to speak at its public meetings. Nor, living comparatively far out of London and increasingly aged, did Agatha Christie often attend our gatherings.
From 1971 to 1974, Agatha Christie's health began to fail however Christie continued to write. In 1975, sensing her increasing weakness, Agatha Christie signed over the rights of her most successful play, The Mousetrap, to her grandson. 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 Berkshire). Agatha Christie is buried in the nearby St. Mary's Churchyard in Cholsey. Max Mallowan died two years later, but he had married after Agatha Christie's death an old family friend.
With over one hundred novels and over one hundred translations into foreign languages, Agatha Christie was by the time of her death the best-selling English novelist of all time. As Margery Allingham said: Agatha Christie has "entertained more people for more hours at time that any other writer of her generation."
Agatha Christie's only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, also died aged 85 in 28 October 2004, from natural causes, in Torbay, Devon. Agatha Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, was heir to the copyright to some of his grandmother's literary work (including The Mousetrap) and is still associated with Agatha Christie Limited.
Agatha Christie Legacy
Agatha Christie died in 1976. Her literary legacy inludes 66 crime novels, 13 plays, as well as 154 short stories, most of which have been published in 16 collections in the UK. A few of Agatha Christie's stories evaded publication as part of collections and are only available in their original serial form. Agatha Christie also contributed to 3 collaborative detective novels, and under the name of Mary Westmacott wrote 6 romantic novels.
All of Agatha Christie's works published in book form remain in print in UK and the Mousetrap has more than 20,000 West End performances and countless amateur performances. Agatha's works have been translated into more than 50 languages and published in 70 countries. Christie has sold over 2 billion books and her UK publishes, Harper Collins, expects to sell 600,000 each year. At least 30 feature films and over 100 TV productions been made.
It amazing that Agatha Christie's first book, Mysterious Affair at Styles, was rejected by 2 major publishing houses, and nearly 6 years were to pass before eventually accepted by John Lane of The Bodley Head. Such a tight deal was struck that Agatha Christie made virtually no money and found herself contracted to offer next 5 novels on terms only marginally better than those agreed for first book.
The BBC reported Agatha Christie's death as follows:
The most popular novelist in the world, Dame Agatha Christie, has died leaving rumours of a multi-million pound fortune and a final book waiting to be published. The British author, who sold an estimated 300 million books during her lifetime, had been in poor health for several years. Agatha Christie died at her home in Wallingford in Oxfordshire, aged 85.
Two London theatres dimmed their lights this evening - St Martin's where her record-breaking "The Mousetrap" is now in its 24th year and the Savoy, where "Murder at the Vicarage" will have its 200th performance next week.
Newspaper estimates of Agatha Christie’s fortune vary, but in the late 1950s she was reputed to be earning about £100,000 a year. The hugely successful play Mousetrap - first written as a radio sketch called Three Blind Mice for the 80th birthday of Queen Mary - is said to have made more than £3m. Agatha Christie gave the proceeds to her only grandson, Matthew Prichard.
Christie was known to be a shrewd businesswoman, anxious to avoid leaving too much of her personal fortune to the taxman. Agatha once said: "I only write one book a year now, which is sufficient to give me a good income. If I wrote more, I'd enlarge the finances of the Inland Revenue who would spent it mostly on idiotic things."
In 1955 Agatha Christie formed a company, Agatha Christie Ltd and to save its dividends from tax, she later sold 51% to Booker McConnell, a firm best known as sugar giants but also with other investments including authors' copyrights.
Agatha Christie's Will
Dame Agatha Christie's will was published on 30 April 1976 and revealed she had left only £106,683, having managed to dispose of most of her wealth before she died. Agatha Christie left most of her property to her husband and daughter with a number of smaller bequests such as £500 to her gardener, £250 to her secretary and £200 to her garden manager. Sleeping Murder, Miss Marple's last case, was published after her death. Agatha Christie’s autobiography was also published posthumously.
Her legacy lives on in Torquay, Devon, where her daughter by her first marriage Rosalind Hicks lived until her death in 2004. Today there is an Agatha Christie museum and a bronze bust of the author at the harbourside. Christie’s only grandson, Matthew Pritchard, is chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd.