This is my contribution to The Agatha Christie blog tour to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth in September, in which each participant focuses on some aspect of Agatha Christie’s life and work. As I’m reading her books and writing about them already I thought I’d concentrate more on her life. I’ve listed the books I’ve read on my Agatha Christie Reading Challenge page.
This is a mixture of quotations and Agatha’s thoughts and observations that I noted whilst reading her book An Autobiography (I’m reading the paperback version). First of all a quotation which I think sums up her attitude so well:
I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. (An Autobiography, page 11)
Here is an A-Z of miscellaneous information relating to Agatha Christie, all found in An Autobiography, except for the letters G, X and Z. For many letters I could have chosen many different subjects, so this is really just a sketchy look at Agatha’s life. I have tried not to use the titles of her books or the characters, but there are one or two:
A is for An Autobiography. She started to write this in April 1950 when she was 60 and stopped writing it 15 years later. She didn’t include everything and there is no mention of her disappearance in 1926. In the Epilogue she wrote:
I have remembered, I suppose, what I wanted to remember; many ridiculous things for no reason that makes sense. That is the way humans are made. (page 548)
B is for Baghdad. When Agatha first met her second husband, Max Mallowan he took her on a tour of Baghdad. She accompanied Max on many of his archaeological expeditions, staying in different places. Agatha’s house in Baghdad was an old Turkish house on the west bank of the Tigris. It was cool, with a courtyard and palm-trees coming up to the balcony rail, in front of palm-gardens and a tiny squatter’s house made out of petrol tins. (page 546-7)
C is for Crime and Criminals. Agatha was interested in reading books by people who had been in contact with criminals, especially those who had tried to help them, or ‘reform’ them. (page 452)
D is for Divorce. She wrote:
I had been brought up, of course, like everyone in my day to have a horror of divorce, and I still have it. (page 365)
E is for Earliest Memory. Agatha had a happy childhood. Her first memory is of her 3rd birthday and having tea in the garden at Ashfield. There was a birthday cake with sugar icing and candles and what was exciting to her was a tiny red spider that ran across the white tablecoth, which her mother told her was ‘a lucky spider, Agatha, a lucky spider for your birthday’. (page 19)
F is for her First short story written when she was a child:
It was in the nature of a melodrama, very short, since both writing and spelling were a pain to me. It concerned the noble Lady Madge (good) and the bloody Lady Agatha (bad) and a plot that involved the inheritance of a castle. (page 55)
G is for Grave. Agatha died on 12 January 1976 at Winterbrook, her home in Wallingford. Her grave is in St Mary’s Parish Church in Cholsey, a village near Wallingford. I wrote about it last September (including photos).
H is for Houses. Agatha’s love of houses stemmed from her childhood dolls’ house. She enjoyed buying all the things to put in it – not just furniture, but all the household implements such as brushes and dustpans, and food, cutlery and glasses. She also liked playing at moving house, using a cardboard box as a furniture van.
I can see quite plainly now that I have continued to play houses ever since. I have gone over innumerable houses, bought houses, exchanged them for other houses, furnished houses, decorated houses, made structural alterations to houses. Houses! God bless houses! (page 62)
I is for Imagination and Ideas. Sometimes Agatha’s ideas just came into her head, and she jotted them down in her notebooks, which she invariably then lost. Sometimes she devised plots that teased her mind and she liked to think about and play with them before fixing the details. (pages 451-2) She liked the light-hearted thriller and the intricate detective story with an involved plot, which required a great deal of work, but was always rewarding.(page 453)
J is for Jane Marple. When Miss Marple first appeared she was about 65 -70 years old. Agatha envisaged her as ‘the sort of old lady who would have been rather like some of my grandmother’s Ealing cronies’. But she was not like Agatha’s grandmother at all – being ‘far more fussy and spinsterish‘. People suggested that Miss Marple and Poirot should meet, but Agatha dismissed that idea because she didn’t think they would enjoy it at all and wouldn’t be at home in each other’s world. In one way Miss Marple was like her grandmother – in her powers of prophecy and kindness. (pages 447 -50)
K is for Nancy Kon. Nancy and Agatha met when Madge, her sister, married James Watts, Nancy’s brother. They were friends from then on. They both liked to drink cream by the half-pint.
L is for Life. She wrote that life seemed to fall into three parts: the present, absorbing and rushing by, the future, dim and uncertain, and the past ‘the memories and realities that are the bedrock of one’s present life…’ (page 10)
M is for Memories. She thought that:
one’s memories represent those moments, which insignificant as they may seem, nevertheless represent the inner self and oneself as most really oneself. (page 11)
N is for Nimrud where Agatha was living when she started writing her autobiography, on an expedition with her second husband, Max Mallowan, who was leading the British School of Archaeology in Iraq team’s excavations of the ancient city. They lived in the Expedition House, built of mud-brick. She wrote in a room added to the House, a room measuring about three metres square, with rush mats and rugs. Through the window she looked out east towards the snow-topped mountains of Kurdistan. (page 9)
O is for Orient Express. It was Agatha’s ambition to travel on the Orient Express, which she achieved in 1928. She went on her own on a journey on the Simpleton-Orient Express from Calais to Stamboul, and from there to Damascus. Her account of her journey is in pages 374 – 9. After a three-day stay in Damascus she travelled to Baghdad across the desert, a forty-eight-hour trip in a bus operated by two Australian brothers Gerry and Norman Nairn.
P is for Poetry. As well as her fiction works Agatha also wrote poetry and in her teens won several prizes in The Poetry Review. A collection of her poems was published in 1924 – The Road of Dreams and a later collection entitled Poems in 1973.
Q is for Quin. Mr Quin was one of Agatha’s favourite characters;
Mr Quin was a figure who just entered into a story – a catalyst, no more – his mere presence affected human beings. There would be some little fact, some apparently irrelevant phrase, to point him out for what he was: a man shown in a harlequin-coloured light that fell on him through a glass window; a sudden appearance or disappearance. Always he stood for the same thing: he was a friend of lovers, and connected with death. (page 447)
R is for Rosalind. Agatha’s daughter was born in 1919. When she was born Agatha thought that ‘she seemed from an early age both gay and determined.’ (page 274) Later in their lives AgathA wrote that Rosalind had ‘had the valuable role in life of eternally trying to discourage me without success.’ (page 489)
S is for Siblings. As a child Agatha remembered little of her older brother and sister, Monty and Madge, as they were away at school. Madge also wrote stories, many of which were accepted for Vanity Fair, a literary achievement (page 128). Agatha thought she wrote very well. Monty was a source of family trouble and worry. He was intensely musical, very charming and always had someone who would lend him money and do things for him (page 83).
T is for Travel. Agatha loved travelling and longed to see the world, which she did with her first husband, Archie Christie (pages 298 – 317). Later she travelled extensively with her second husband, Max.
U is for Ur. Agatha also visited the archaeological dig at Ur for the first time after her trip on the Orient Express. She went as a guest of the Woolleys (Sir Charles was the leader of the expedition). She was given VIP treament because Sir Charles’s wife, Katherine had just read and enjoyed Agatha’s book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. (page 386-9)
V is for VAD. Agatha was a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. She had taken First Aid and Home Nursing classes before the outbreak of war in 1914. She like nursing:
From the beginning I enjoyed nursing. I took to it easily, and found it, and have always found it, one of the most rewarding professions that anyone could follow. I think if I had not married, that after the war I should have trained as a real nurse. (page 236)
W is for Writing. Throughout her autobiography Agatha writes about writing, how she wrote, where she wrote and so on. Just one quote:
… I knew that writing was my steady, solid profession. I could go on inventing my plots and writing my books until I went gaga.
There is always, of course, that terrible three weeks, or a month, which you have to get through when you are trying to get started on a book. There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off. (page 490)
X is an interesting letter. As Dr Thompson thinking about the murderer in The ABC Murders, said:
Interesting to know how he’d have dealt with the letter X.
Y is for Yugoslavia. Agatha and Max went to Dubrovnik and Split for their honeymoon, where they ‘had enormous fun with the menus‘; written in Yugoslavian they didn’t know what they were ordering and none of the restaurants ever wished them to pay the bill.
Z is for Zero Hour. I haven’t come across anything in the autobiography for Z. Towards Zero is both a play and a novel in which Agatha asserts that destiny manipulates us, moving us towards a decisive zero hour. (The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie by Charles Osborne, page 172)