Agatha Christie writing desk to be sold at auction
A writing desk used by Agatha Christie to pen some of her novels is to be auctioned.
The desk upon which Agatha Christie wrote many of her novels is up for auction at Cheffins of Cambridge. It is expected to fetch around £1,000 Photo: BNPS
The antique desk will be sold alongside her address book and a letter written to her by the author Robert Graves .
After her death in 1976 it was passed down through the family of her husband Sir Max Mallowan and has been stored in an attic ever since.
Jean Read, an Agatha Christie expert, said: "These items are really terrific - I think there will be a great deal of interest.
"Christie is certainly the most famous crime writer of all time and to have such personal items is something special. She was quite a private lady, so to get an insight into her life like this is interesting.
"To have the chance to buy the desk she wrote her books at is an opportunity a lot of people would jump at."
The letter by Graves, sent to Christie from Majorca in December 1946, was found inside a copy of his book The Golden Fleece, which he gave to her as a gift. It is inscribed: "Agatha and Max, with love Robert, 1944."
Experts think this incident may have inspired the plots of her later crime novels.
Mrs Read said: "The book and letter are interesting because she lived near Robert Graves in Devon and they were known to be friendly. She even dedicated one of her books to him.
"It seems very likely that the drop of blood referred to in the letter could have inspired her writing, but she produced so many books we can't say exactly which one."
Christie's handwritten address book includes the contact details of author J B Priestley, actress Dame Sybil Thorndyke, archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler and historian Sir John Pope-Hennessy.
After her death in 1976 he married a close friend and travelling companion of Christie's, Barbara Hastings-Parker.
Christie's belongings remained in the London house with the childless couple, and on their death were inherited by Mrs Hastings-Parker's niece.
The writing desk is expected to sell for up to £1,000 and the letter, book and address book for up to £700.
Luke McDonald, from Cheffins Auctioneers, said: "We're expecting a lot of interest because of where it comes from and who it belonged to.
"We've already been contacted by some huge Agatha Christie fans - it will cause quite a stir."
The items will be auctioned by Cheffins in Cambridge on March 25.
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born at home on September 15, 1890. She was the third child of Frederick Alvah and Clarissa Beochmer Miller. Her father was an American who had been living in England for twenty years. Her mother was English. Agatha lived at Ashfield in Torquay, Devonshire.
When Agatha was 11, her father died. Before his death, he had begun teaching her arithmetic. Agatha never went to school. Her mother believed education destroyed the brain and ruined the eyes. She taught Agatha history and something called "general knowledge". Agatha read newspaper articles. The house was filled with books, and all three children were encouraged to read.
As a teenager, Agatha read the Sherlock Holmes books. Early in the 1900s, she was heavily influenced by the novelist Eden Phillpotts. He lived nearby and she would visit him regularly. He mentored Agatha, encouraging and guiding her reading.
After the death of her father, Agatha was taken to arithmetic classes twice a week. Her teachers instilled a respect for money in her. She also took Swedish exercise classes, piano, singing, and dancing lessons. At 16, she attended finishing school in Paris, where she remained for two years. She spoke French and German. She also took gymnastics and tennis lessons.
As a young woman, she was attached to her mother. Mrs. Miller wanted her daughter to be a concert pianist or a professional opera singer. Agatha was a talented pianist and had a clear soprano voice. However, Agatha preferred nursing. She was described as tall, Scandinavian in coloring with reddish-gold hair, nice, fun, shy, bright, and loyal.
After finishing school, Agatha spent three months in Egypt with her mother. During this time, she was officially engaged to Reggie Lucy, a major in the gunners. Upon returning to England, Agatha met Lieutenant Archibald Christie of the Royal Field Artillery, later of the Royal Flying Corps. Archibald was described as steady and popular by a fellow officer. After a two year engagement, Agatha and Archibald were married by special license at the parish church of Emmanuel, Clifton, Bristol, on December 24, 1914.
During the war, she became a nurse near Torquay to be near her mother. She was a favorite with the recovering soldiers. She soon advanced to the dispensary. She used her nursing experience later to write her first detective novel.
Agatha's first foray into public writing was a poem that was published in "The Road of Dreams". The only detective stories she had read were Sherlock Holmes and a French novel called Mystery of the Yellow Room. Her sister Madge taunted Agatha to write a detective story in which the ending could not be guessed quickly. For three weeks, Agatha stayed at Moorland Hotel, Hay Tor, Dartmoor, where she wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. This was the world's first introduction to her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The book was based on Agatha's nursing experience. Styles was an exact replica of Torquay.
Mrs. Christie was in charge of herself and her career. Letters to her publishers were businesslike and crisp. Her second book was published in 1922. This marked the beginning of a book-a-year record. She was on the bestseller list for the rest of her life. Agatha took great pleasure attending parties with other authors at the home of one of her lifelong friends, who happened to be her first publisher's nephew. He enjoyed gathering writers to talk about their styles, interests, and lives.
In 1919, Agatha gave birth to her only child, Rosalind, named after Shakespeare's heroine. Agatha went with her husband on a British Empire Exhibition in 1922. Her sister looked after Rosalind. Agatha was seasick most of the time. The tour went to Madeira, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Hawaii, Canada, and the United States. In 1923, Archibald joined Austral Trust Ltd. He was immediately placed on the board. He was responsible for share activities. The family moved to Scotswood, Sunningdale. They stayed for two years. A larger house was bought nearby. It was called Styles after Agatha's first book. Agatha retained a flat at 8 Addison Mansions, Kensington, where much of her business was done. Agatha's agent for over fifty years was Edmunk Cork of Hughes Massie Ltd. He took her from Bodley Head, where six of her books had been published, to William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., who published the rest of her work.
In 1926, she wrote her masterpiece, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. It was the most discussed detective story ever written. Many believed she had broken the sacred rules set down by the Detection Club. The idea for the plot device was given to her by a friend. He suggested she should make the narrator of the story double as the murderer.
On December 3, 1926, the newspaper headlines stated "Agatha Christie Vanishes". Mrs. Christie disappeared for ten days. The solution was partly resolved when she was found on the eleventh day in the north of London. Clarissa Miller, Agatha's mother, had died after a severe illness. Agatha spent a month in the south of France to recuperate, mourn, and relax from the stress of overwork. She had also found out her husband was in love with another woman. Agatha was highly imaginative and sensitive. She was caught by surprise and thrown totally off balance. The police at the time believed she dealt with the situation in a way she could understand it; with mystery, deception, and revenge. Her disappearance was planned with methodical care.
On the morning of her disappearance, she and her husband had an argument. She left a letter for her husband and one for her secretary, telling her to cancel all weekend engagements. Then she went for a drive.
Mrs. Christie was found living at the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel. She claimed she was suffering from amnesia. Seeing her husband at the hotel, she said he was her brother. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from an unquestionable loss of memory. Mrs. Christie said it was the result of too many troubles at once: the death of her mother, an earache, a toothache, gastritis, memory lapses, sleepwalking, and "buckets of tears". The police believed Agatha Christie was mentally distraught, filled with revenge, and in degradation of misery. She did what any other woman would have done, deciding to teach her husband a lesson.
Archibald and Agatha Christie stayed together for two more years. Divorce was granted in an undefended suit. Agatha received custody of Rosalind. After the divorce, she went to southern Iraq to join an archaeological dig. There she met Max Mallowan, an archaeological assistant. The two were completely unlike in background, education, profession and age, but both recognized they complimented each other. Max and Agatha were married in September 1930.
Agatha Christie's book sales are only surpassed by the Bible. She is second only to Shakespeare as the most often translated writer in the English language. Between 1930 and 1956, six romantic novels appeared under her pseudonym, Mary Westmacott. Between 1930 and 1939, twenty-four mysteries were published. She wrote an original play, produced in 1934. She wrote another play that was not published until 1973. She also adapted a short story into a play, produced in 1936. She accompanied Max on his archaeological digs, taking her portable typewriter along. She believed, however, she owed a higher responsibility to her husband and household than to her publishers and readers.
In September 1939, during the Second World War, Max was stationed in Tripolitania. Agatha lived in London, serving as dispenser at University College Hospital. Her daughter Rosalind had married Huber deBurgh Prichard. Her grandson Matthew was born in 1943. Rosalind was widowed during the war. She later married Anthony Hicks.
Agatha's off-duty hours were spent plotting, planning, and writing. Between 1940 and 1945, ten new novels were published and two stage adaptations of earlier novels were made. She also wrote the last Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries. These were to be kept in her publisher's vault. Neither would be published until after her death. She deeded all rights to her novels to her husband and her daughter. Her fifty-sixth novel was published in 1950. Her short story, "Three Blind Mice", was first aired on the radio in 1947. It was adapted to a stage play and called "The Mousetrap". It holds the record as the longest running play produced. It opened on the London stage in 1952. On the night of Agatha's death, "The Mousetrap" was giving its 9,612th consecutive performance.
Agatha Christie won the Commander of the Order of the British Empire decoration in 1956 for being the most popular British crime mystery writer. She became president of the Detection Club in 1958. Between 1956 and 1960, four mysteries and one collection of short stories were published, as well as three plays being produced. Her husband received the same decoration as she in 1960, his for archaeology. In 1966, she and Max went on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada. Max received a knighthood in 1968, giving them the titles of Sir Max and Lady Mallowan. Agatha received an Order of Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971. She was now Dame Agatha Christie.
By 1971 most of her time was spent at her home, Winterbrook House, in Wallingford. In 1972, she broke her leg and experienced heart trouble that required considerable bed rest. New mysteries were produced regularly every year to the end of 1973. In 1974, Agatha had a recurrence of heart trouble. She gave her last interview to Lord Snowdon in the same year. She told him she wanted to be remembered as a good writer of detective and thriller books. She also told him the writing that had given her the most enjoyment was her romance books. Her last public appearance was in 1974 at the opening of the movie version of her novel, Murder On The Orient Express.
In 1975, Agatha Christie was experiencing failing health and increasing weakness. She made over all rights to "The Mousetrap" to her grandson. Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller Christie Mallowan died peacefully in Wallingford on January 12, 1976. She was buried in the country churchyard of Cholsey parish near her home.
Agatha's interests spanned her lifetime. She loved cricket and enjoyed collecting objects, two things she picked up from her father. She picked up her interest in trees and love for gardening from her mentor, Eden Phillpotts. She enjoyed shopping and was pleased she could do so in Torquay undetected. She took a professional interest in the design of her own book covers. She was fascinated by archaeology.
Agatha Christie was described in her life as imaginative, happy in her own company, never lonely, modest, and a good listener. She was paranoiac in her shyness of strangers. She was secretive, professional in business, and had an inborn sense of public relations. She projected sturdy middle class respectability. She was reserved, reluctant to be interviewed, and averse to discussing her personal life. She had an engaging sense of humor and delighted in perceived incongruity. She was a talented pianist and singer. She was a non-smoker and a non-drinker. She had a deep-rooted avoidance of controversy and worked hard to attain her privacy.