• Birth—September 15, 1890
• Where—Torquay, Devon, UK
• Death—January 12, 1976
• Where—Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK
• Education—home schooled and fininshing school
• Awards—Edgar Award and the Grand Master Award
(broth from Mystery Writers of American)
Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, DBE was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for the 66 detective novels and more than 15 short story collections she wrote under her own name, most of which revolve around the investigations of such characters as Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence. She also wrote the world's longest-running play The Mousetrap.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly four billion copies, and her estate claims that her works rank third, after those of William Shakespeare and the Bible, as the world's most widely published books. According to Index Translationum, Christie is the most translated individual author, and her books have been translated into at least 103 languages. And Then There Were None is Christie's best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world's best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. In 1971, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Christie's stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952 and as of 2012 was still running after more than 25,000 performances. In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's highest honour, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year Witness for the Prosecution was given an Edgar Award by the MWA for Best Play. Many of her books and short stories have been filmed, and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.
Born to a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon, Christie would describe her childhood as "very happy" and was surrounded by a series of strong and independent women from an early age. Her time was spent alternating between her Devonshire home, her grandmother's house in Ealing, West London, and parts of Southern Europe, where her family would holiday during the winter. Nominally Christian, she was also raised in a household with various esoteric beliefs, and like her siblings believed that their mother Clara was a psychic with the ability of second sight.
Her mother insisted that she receive a home education, and so her parents were responsible for teaching her to read and write, and to be able to perform basic arithmetic, a subject that she particularly enjoyed. They also taught her about music, and she learned to play both the piano and the mandolin; she was also a voracious reader from an early age. Much of her childhood was spent largely alone and separate from other children, although she spent much time with her pets, whom she adored. Eventually making friends with a group of other girls in Torquay, she noted that "one of the highlights of my existence" was her appearance in a local theatrical production of The Yeomen of the Guard where she starred alongside them.
Her father was often ill, suffering from a series of heart attacks, and in November 1901 he died, aged 55. His death left the family devastated, and in an uncertain economic situation. Clara and Agatha continued to live together in their Torquay home; Madge had moved to the nearby Cheadle Hall with her new husband, and Monty, who had joined the army, had been sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. Agatha would later claim that her father's death, occurring when she was 11 years old, marked the end of her childhood for her.
In 1902, Agatha would be sent to receive a formal education at Miss Guyer's Girls School in Torquay, but found it difficult to adjust to the disciplined atmosphere. In 1905 she was then sent to the city of Paris, France, where she was educated in three pensions—Mademoiselle Cabernet's, Les Marroniers and then Miss Dryden's—the latter of which served primarily as a finishing school.
Returning to England in 1910, she engaged in social activities in search of a husband and also took part in writing and performing in amateur theatrics. She helped put together a play called The Blue Beard of Unhappiness with a number of female friends.
Her writing extended to both poetry and music, and some of her early works saw publication, but she decided against focusing on either of these as future professions. It was while recovering in bed from an illness that she penned her first short story; entitled "The House of Beauty", it consisted of about 6000 words and dealt with the world of "madness and dreams" which fascinated Christie. She soon followed this up with a string of other shorts, all of which were rejected, although they would all be revised and published at a later date, sometimes under new titles.
Christie then began to put together her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert, which was set in Cairo and drew from a recent visit to the city. Sending it to various publishers under the pseudonym of Monosyllaba, which was rejected by a number of publishers.
Meanwhile, she had continued searching for a husband, and had entered into short-lived relationships with four separate men before meeting a young man named Archibald "Archie" Christie at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford of Chudleigh, about 12 miles from Torquay. Archie had been born in India, the son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service, before travelling to England where he joined the air force, who stationed him in Devon in 1912. Soon entering into a relationship, the couple fell in love, and after being informed that he was being stationed in Farnborough, Archie asked her to marry him, and she accepted.
1914 saw the outbreak of the First World War, and Archie was sent to France to battle the German forces. Agatha also involved herself in the war effort, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and attending to wounded soldiers at the hospital in Torquay. In this position she was responsible for aiding the doctors and trying to keep up morale, performing 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916 before earning a wage as a dispenser at an annual rate of £16 until the end of her service in September 1918.
She met her fiance in London during his leave at the end of 1914, and they were married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. They would meet up again throughout the war each time that he was posted home. Rising through the ranks, he was eventually stationed back to Britain in September 1918 as a colonel in the Air Ministry, and with Agatha he settled into a flat at 5 Northwick Terrace in St. John's Wood, Northwest London.
First novels: 1919–1923
Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White and The Moonstone as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's early Sherlock Holmes stories. Deciding to write her own detective novel, entitled The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she created a detective named Hercule Poirot to be her protagonist. A former Belgian police officer noted for his twirly moustache and egg-shaped head, Poirot had been a refugee who had fled to Britain following Germany's invasion of Belgium; in this manner, Christie had been influenced by the Belgian refugees whom she had encountered in Torquay.
After unsuccessfully sending her manuscript to such publishing companies as Hodder and Stoughton and Methuen, she sent it to John Lane at The Bodley Head, who kept it for several months before announcing that the press would publish it on the condition that Christie agreed to change the ending. She duly did so, and signed a contract with Lane that she would later claim was exploitative.
Christie meanwhile settled into married life, giving birth to a daughter named Rosalind at Ashfield, where the couple—having few friends in London—spent much of their time. Archie obtained a job in the City working in the financial sector, and although he started out on a relatively low salary, he was still able to employ a maid for his family.
Christie's second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featured new protagonists in the form of detective couple Tommy and Tuppence; again published by The Bodley Head, it earned her £50. She followed this with a third novel, once again featuring Poirot, entitled Murder on the Links (1923), as well as a series of Poirot short stories commissioned by Bruce Ingram, editor of Sketch magazine. When Archie was offered a job organising a world tour to promote the British Empire Exhibition, the couple left their daughter with Agatha's mother and sister and travelled to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. The couple learnt to surf prone in South Africa and in Waikiki became some of the first Britons to surf standing up.
In late 1926, Christie's husband Archie announced he was in love with Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 3 December 1926 the couple quarrelled, and Archie left their house Styles in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening Agatha disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public, many of whom were admirers of her novels. Despite a massive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days.
On 14 December 1926 Agatha Christie was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, where she was registered as Mrs Teresa Neele from Cape Town. Christie never accounted for her disappearance. Although two doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from psychogenic fugue, opinion remains divided. A nervous breakdown from a natural propensity for depression may have been exacerbated by her mother's death earlier that year and her husband's infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or attempt to frame her husband for murder.
Author Jared Cade interviewed numerous witnesses and relatives for his sympathetic biography, Agatha Christie and the Missing Eleven Days, and provided a substantial amount of evidence to suggest that Christie planned the entire disappearance to embarrass her husband, never thinking it would escalate into the melodrama it became. The Christies divorced in 1928.
Second marriage and later life
In 1930, Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan after joining him in an archaeological dig. Their marriage was always happy, continuing until Christie's death in 1976. Max introduced her to wine, which she never enjoyed, preferring to drink water in restaurants. She tried unsuccessfully to make herself like cigarettes by smoking one after lunch and one after dinner every day for six months.
Christie frequently used settings which were familiar to her for her stories. Christie's travels with 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, where she was born. Christie's 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, the southern terminus of the railway. The hotel maintains Christie's room as a memorial to the author. The Greenway Estate in Devon, acquired by the couple as a summer residence in 1938, is now in the care of the National Trust.
During the Second World War, Christie worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital, London, where she acquired a knowledge of poisons that she put to good use in her post-war crime novels. For example, the use of thallium as a poison was suggested to her by UCH Chief Pharmacist Harold Davis, and in The Pale Horse, (1961) she employed it to dispatch a series of victims, the first clue to the murder method coming from the victims' loss of hair. So accurate was her description of thallium poisoning that on at least one occasion it helped solve a case that was baffling doctors.
To honour her many literary works, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours The next year, she became the President of the Detection Club. In the 1971 New Year Honours she was promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, three years after her husband had been knighted for his archaeological work in 1968. They were one of the few married couples where both partners were honoured in their own right. From 1968, due to her husband's knighthood, Christie could also be styled as Lady Mallowan.
From 1971 to 1974, Christie's health began to fail, although she continued to write. In 1975, sensing her increasing weakness, Christie signed over the rights of her most successful play, The Mousetrap, to her grandson. Recently, using experimental textual tools of analysis, Canadian researchers have suggested that Christie may have begun to suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.
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. She is buried in the nearby churchyard of St Mary's, Cholsey.
Christie's only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, died, also aged 85, on 28 October 2004 from natural causes in Torbay, Devon. Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, was heir to the copyright to some of his grandmother's literary works (including The Mousetrap) and is still associated with Agatha Christie Limited. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)
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