So much has been written about Agatha Christie’s life, her books, her houses, and so on and so forth, that I wasn’t sure what to write about for this post to celebrate the 121st anniversary of her birth. Last year I wrote an A – Z of facts about her taken from her autobiography and the year before I visited her grave and wrote a bit about that and Winterbrook House, her house at Wallingford.
Looking for inspiration I came across the Agatha Christie: Official Centenary Celebration 1890- 1990, which is a mine of information with articles about Agatha Christie to celebrate her life and work. Along with lists of her books, plays, films and TV adaptations (up to 1990) there are articles about her poetry, life before the First World War, her family life, the actors and actresses playing the roles of Poirot and Miss Marple, including many fascinating facts and photographs.
For example there is this “Confession” reproduced in Michael Parkinson’s Confession Album, 1973 in which famous people filled in a questionnaire about their likes and dislikes. The reproduction in the book is indistinct and I can’t make out some of the words but here are some of Agatha’s favourite things and her greatest misery:
- My ideal value: Courage
- My idea of beauty in nature: A Bank of Primroses in Spring
- My favourite qualities in men: Integrity and Good Manners
- My favourite qualities in women: Loving and Merry
- My greatest happiness: Listening to Music
- My greatest misery: Noise and Long Vehicles on Roads
- My favourite authors: Elizabeth Bowen Graham Greene
- My favourite actors and plays: Alec Guinness Murder in the Cathedral
- My favourite quotation: Life is a pure flame and we live by an invisible sun within us – Sir Thomas Browne
- My favourite state of mind: Peaceful
There is also an article by Mathew Pritchard – Agatha Christie – a Legend for a Grandmother, which reveals that
She was an intensely private kind of person, who listened more than she talked, who saw more that she was seen, and whose perception, humour and enjoyment of living was in many ways the opposite of what you might expect from the nature of her stories. Her family was what she prized most – I think she regarded our summers together as a reward in part for the completion of another Christie for Christmas which had usually taken place by May or June each year and partly as relaxation from the strenuous archaeological tours she undertook with her husband Max Mallowan most springs during the 1950s. We all looked forward to them, I as a schoolboy more than most.
Amongst other memories he wrote about her plays in the West End, and her house in Wallingford where he took school friends, who were all impressed by her modesty, friendliness and the interest she took in what they were doing. He revealed that her greatest passion apart from reading and writing was music (see her greatest happiness, above) and remembered her singing and their visits to the opera, visiting Bayreuth together to see a production of Wagner’s Parsifal.
One strand of Agatha Christie’s work that I’m not familiar with is the books she wrote under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Her daughter Rosalind Hicks explained how she had chosen the name – Mary was Agatha’s second name and Westmacott the name of some distant relatives. She managed to keep her identity as Mary Westmacott unknown for fifteen years. She wrote six books under this name:
- Giant’s Bread, published in 1930, a novel about Vernon Deyre and his obsession with music, in line with her love of the musical world. She had been trained as a singer and a concert pianist.
- Unfinished Portrait (1934), based on her own experiences and early life.
- Absent in the Spring (1944), which was for Agatha the most satisfying book she wrote, about a woman alone in the desert finally coming to recognise what she was really like.
- The Rose and the Yew Tree (1947), which Rosalind described as a favourite of both Agatha and herself.
- A Daughter’s a Daughter (1952) about the battle between a widowed woman and her grown-up daughter.
- The Burden (1956), the story of the weight of one person’s love on another.
Rosalind didn’t think it was fair to describe them as ‘romantic novels’, nor yet ‘love stories’, but books about ‘love in some of its most powerful and destructive forms.’ Definitely books I’m going to seek out.
See more celebratory birthday posts at the Agatha Christie Blog Challenge Celebration.