Agatha Christie became immortal as the Queen of Crime. She strongly influenced crime literature: like no other, she consolidated the classic murder mystery structure - in which a murder is committed, where there are various suspects, and a detective who gradually uncovers all of their secrets.
She was born as Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller on September 15, 1890, in Torquay, Devon into a wealthy upper-middle-class family. She started writing early. By age 10, she wrote her first poems and short stories, some of which were being published in regional papers. Because she had troubles to adjust to the disciplined atmosphere in Torquay’s girl’s school, she was sent to Paris in 1905 to get an education there. In France, she attempts for a career as professional pianist and singer, but without success.
Returning to England in 1910, Agatha found that her mother suffered from lung illness, and mother and daughter travelled to Egypt that same year. Agatha got inspired for her first novel during that trip: Snow upon the desert is set in Cairo. She showed the work to their family friend and neighbour, writer Eden Philpotts, who encouraged her writing, and sent her an introduction to his own literary agent.
In 1912, she met Archibald ‚Archie‘ Christie at a dance party held not far from Torquay. The two quickly fell in love and Agatha even cancelled her engagement with a certain Reggie Lucy to accept Archie’s proposal instead.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Archie was sent to France to fight the German troops. The couple married on Christmas Eve 1914, while Archie was on home leave. During the war, Agatha nursed wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay and qualified as an apothecaries' assistant in 1917. It was during the Second World War that she worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital, London, and acquired a good knowledge of poisons - which featured in many of her post-war novels such as The Pale Horse (Thallium), 4.50 From Paddington (Monkshood) and A Pocketful of Rye (Taxine).
British Empire Exhibition Trade Mission
On a day in 1921, Archie’s old schoolmaster Major Belcher invited Archie and Agatha to join his mission to prepare for and promote the British Empire Exhibition which was to be held from April 1924 to October 1925. Belcher needed a financial adviser, asked Archie to take the job and invited Agatha to join the mission. Realizing this was a once-in-a-lifetime oppurtunity, the couple accepted, left their newborn Rosalind with Agatha’s mother and left on January 20, 1922 for a trip around the world. The trade mission lasted ten months, with first class accommodations in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii.
Divorce and disappearance
The marriage of the Christie’s wasn’t a happy one, and in late 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. He was in love with Nancy Neele, who had been a friend of Major Belcher. As recommended by her publisher, she did keep his last name. On 3 December 1926, the Christies had an argument, and Archie left their house to spend the weekend with his mistress. That same evening, Christie left their home as well to go to Yorkshire – at least she had written that in a note to her secretary. Her car was later found perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving licence and clothes – and no Agatha anywhere near.
Her disappearance made headlines. Over a thousand police officers, 15.000 volunteers, and several airplanes searched the area. Colleague-writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even consulted a spirit medium to find the missing woman. It was not until ten days later, on 14 December 1926, that Agatha was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Teresa Neele (the surname of her husband’s lover!). Doctors diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, yet is has always remained unclear why she disappeared. She was known to be in a depressed state from literary overwork, her mother's death earlier that year, and her husband's infidelity. Public supposed a publicity stunt or an attempt to frame her husband for murder – we’ll never know.
In 1928, Christie left England for Istanbul and subsequently for Baghdad on the Orient Express. Late in this trip, in 1930, she met young archaeologist Max Mallowan on the excavation site at Ur (Iraq), whom she married in September 1930. The two travelled a lot, which had a strong influence on her books.
Miss Marple & Hercule Poirot
Miss Jane Marple and detective Hercule Poirot are Christie’s best known characters by far. Miss Marple appeared in 12 novels and 20 stories, and was introduced in the short-story collection The Thirteen Problems in 1927. Her character was based on Christie’s grandmother: both Ms Marple and Agatha’s grandmother "always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and were, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right."
Detective Hercule Poirot solves the crimes in 33 novels and 54 short stories and was highly loved by her readers – even if Christie herself eventually got more than tired of him. She wrote in her diary that Poirot was ‘insufferable’, and by the 1960s she felt that he was ‘an egocentric creep’. Despite her aversion against him, he kept on appearing in her novels.
She is very successful and gets much acknowledgement during her life – she was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire, got a wax statue at Madame Tussaud’s in London and won several awards. By the 1970s, her health began to fail and in 1974, she last appeared in public. She died of natural causes in 1976.
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