Known all across the globe as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie’s books have sold over a million copies in the English and an even greater number in other languages. Author of over four scores of crime novels and short stories, nineteen plays, and six more novels under the pseudonym of ‘Mary Westmacott’, Christie suffered from dyslexia as a child.
However, she believed that dyslexia is the result of a neurological difference, and not an intellectual disability, and talked about it humorously – “Writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me. My letters were without originality. I was…an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so.”
Born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in 1890, on 15 September, in Torquay, Devon, South West England into a comfortably well off middle class family, she taught herself to read by the age of five and grew up with The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Railway Children, Little Women, and also poetry and startling thrillers from America.
Her first short story was ‘The House of Beauty’ which described the world of ‘madness and dreams’. She continued writing short stories, which mirrored her interest in spiritualism and paranormal activities.
As an avid reader of detective novels of prominent authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, she created a detective character, one of the most famous fictional characters of all time, through her detective novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’. Synonymous with waxed moustaches, perfectionism and “he should be brainy; he should have little grey cells of the mind”, the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, has been, for over ninety years been fascinating crime fiction lovers across the world.
Poirot stars in 33 novels and 54 short stories, including some of Christie’s most successful such as ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and ‘Death on the Nile’.
He has love of elegance, beauty, and precision, as well as his eccentric mannerisms that bumbling characters often mock, Poirot is always the one who has the last word, making him the self-proclaimed, “greatest mind in Europe.” When ‘Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case’ (written in the 1940s) , was published in 1974, Poirot got a well-deserved obituary in The New York Times; and is the only fictional character to have received such an honour.
Other major character created by Agatha Christie include Miss Jane Marple, a woman who has spent her life in the small village of St Mary Mead, but is surprisingly worldly. “There was no unkindness in Miss Marple, she just did not trust people. Though she expected the worst, she often accepted people kindly in spite of what they were”, is what Christie noted about her.
Tommy and Tuppence, who formed the “Young Adventurers Limited – willing to do anything, go anywhere – no unreasonable offer refused”, are a couple and one of Christie’s less popular investigators. Other investigators created by her include, Ariadne Oliver, Harley Quin, and Parker Pyne.
‘And Then There Were None’, generally recognised as “the most baffling mystery Agatha Christie has ever written”, continues to be one of her best works.
In the early part of her rise to fame, the world-famous author was struggling with personal tribulations, but was able to rise above it and be the success that she is recognised as today.
An intensely private person, she stayed away from the public eye, and the hues and cries of the press.
‘N or M?’ was her own patriotic gesture to the war effort; she was disconcerted to see its publication held off in the US until after the Americans had joined the Allies.
“Plots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop… suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head”, said she, and as studied by John Curran, it is said that she made erratic notes of plots and ideas in her notebooks, and after writing and revising, a couple of months later, one could see these stories in the bookshops.
Her second husband, with whom she travelled to excavation sites in the Middle East, the images she saw were not lost, and can be seen in books such as ‘Death on the Nile’, ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’, ‘Appointment With Death’ and many more.
She also wrote romantic, non-detective novels, such as Absent in the Spring (1944), under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Her Autobiography (1977) appeared posthumously. Christie wrote many plays during her lifetime, more popular ones being ‘The Mousetrap’ and ‘Witness for Prosecution’. She was honoured as a Dame of the British Empire in 1971.
Agatha Christie wrote about herself :
I may spend three weeks to nine months in thinking up a plot – the actual time of writing and typing it would be approximately three months. I usually spend four months of every year with my husband on archaeological expeditions. I have nothing to do with any film work, therefore work depends on when and where plays are produced. A new play of mine appeared last November – Witness for the Prosecution – and I have just finished another play in which Margaret Lockwood will appear, and which will probably be produced in the late summer or autumn.
I did nursing in the 1914-18 war, but never became a qualified nurse or took it up professionally. When I was young and badly off I did most of my interior decorating and produced some very good effects I think. I am still very interested in interior decorating and anything to do with houses.
I am passionately fond of cooking, and can make an excellent omelette and a good many other things too.
I used to play the piano a good deal and hoped when very young to be a professional, but was far too nervous. Bach is one of my favourite composers, also Elgar, Sibelius, and Vaughan Williams, but I played mainly Chopin and Beethoven.
I am fond of collecting papier mache furniture and I take enormous pleasure in doing flower arrangements, and I agree with the Chinese that the years between 60 and 70 are some of the best in one’s life.
After a hugely successful career and a happy life Agatha Christie passed away on 12 January, 1976. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Cholsey, near Wallingford.
Christie was one of the greatest writers of “animated algebra”, due to whose works, “the little grey cells” of crime-novel readers all across the world have been agitated.
And about this agitation, this thinking, this occupation of the mind, Poirot would definitely have remarked – “An admirable exercise my friend. Continue it.”