Real life: The amaz­ing Agatha Christie

The life of the world-fa­mous crime nov­el­ist was shrouded in mys­tery,

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents - dis­cov­ers Clare Wal­ters

Agatha Christie is rightly known as the Queen of Crime.

With 66 de­tec­tive nov­els and 14 col­lec­tions of short sto­ries, as well as po­ems, plays and mem­oirs to her name, she is the best-sell­ing nov­el­ist in the world. Beaten only by the Bi­ble and Shake­speare, her pub­li­ca­tions have sold around two bil­lion copies, and have been trans­lated into at least 103 dif­fer­ent lan­guages. But how did this unas­sum­ing woman achieve such phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess?

A rich and var­ied life

Agatha was born in Torquay in 1890, and grew up in a wealthy, happy house­hold. Mostly ed­u­cated at home, she was a shy child who loved to in­vent sto­ries. She also read widely, choos­ing de­tec­tive nov­els such as the Sher­lock Holmes sto­ries and Wilkie Collins’ mys­ter­ies as her favourites. One day, her older sis­ter Madge chal­lenged her to write a de­tec­tive story of her own. So, in 1916, in the mid­dle of World War I, Agatha be­gan the novel that would be­come

her first book, The Mys­te­ri­ous

Af­fair at Styles, even­tu­ally pub­lished in 1920.

Dur­ing the war, Agatha was a VAD (Vol­un­tary Aid De­tach­ment) nurse in a Red Cross hos­pi­tal in Torquay. On Christ­mas Eve 1914, she mar­ried a young mil­i­tary

of­fi­cer, Archibald (Archie)

Christie. Dur­ing her time at

the hos­pi­tal, Agatha qual­i­fied as an apothe­cary’s as­sis­tant, which gave her a use­ful knowl­edge of medicines and poi­sons, both of which play an im­por­tant part in The Mys­te­ri­ous Af­fair at Styles

– so much so that The Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Jour­nal gave her book a re­view.

The plot, which in­tro­duces the Bel­gian de­tec­tive Her­cule Poirot, fol­lowed a now fa­mil­iar pat­tern: a mur­der in a coun­try house, mul­ti­ple sus­pects (all with some­thing to hide) and a bril­liant de­tec­tive who even­tu­ally solves the crime.

A mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance

In 1919, Agatha and Archie had a daugh­ter, Ros­alind. Dur­ing the early 1920s, Ros­alind re­mained in Eng­land while the cou­ple toured the world to pro­mote the Bri­tish Em­pire Ex­hi­bi­tion of 1924–1925. But, when Archie fell in love with a

golf­ing friend, Nancy Neale, things fell apart, and he even­tu­ally asked Agatha for a divorce. On 3 Dec 1926, the pair quar­relled in their Sun­ning­dale home and, that night, Archie left his wife to

join Nancy. Agatha also left the house the same evening.

The fol­low­ing day, Agatha’s car was found aban­doned above a chalk quarry, and she was re­ported to have ‘dis­ap­peared’. A huge po­lice hunt was launched and, 10 days later, on 14 De­cem­ber, Agatha was found in a ho­tel in Har­ro­gate. But when

Archie came to col­lect Agatha, she ap­par­ently didn’t recog­nise him.

What re­ally went on dur­ing those days re­mains a mys­tery to this day, but whether it was an at­tempt to get her own back on Archie or whether her mind was gen­uinely af­fected, no-one will ever know. How­ever,

she was of­fi­cially di­ag­nosed with am­ne­sia, pos­si­bly caused by con­cus­sion.

Hap­pi­ness re­gained

Fol­low­ing her divorce in 1928, Agatha de­cided to

ful­fil a long-held am­bi­tion to travel on the Ori­ent

Ex­press. She went to Is­tan­bul and Bagh­dad, and sub­se­quently on to the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site of Ur, where she was in­tro­duced to a young ar­chae­ol­o­gist called Max Mal­lowan. Al­though he was 13 years her ju­nior, Agatha got on fa­mously with Max, and, in Septem­ber 1930, they mar­ried. It was a mar­riage that re­mained strong to the end of her life.

In the mid-30s, the cou­ple bought their main home in Ox­ford­shire, but Agatha also loved to travel with Max on his ar­chae­o­log­i­cal trips to the

Mid­dle East. These jour­neys

strongly in­flu­enced books

such as Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press, Mur­der in Me­sopotamia and Death on the Nile.

Agatha wrote through­out World War II, and, in 1943, she adapted one of her nov­els, And Then There Were

None, for the stage. Nine years later, in 1952, an­other of her plays, The Mousetrap, opened in Lon­don’s West

End. Now fa­mously known as the world long­est-run­ning play, the iconic mur­der mys­tery has been per­formed with­out a break for 66 years!

The 1950s pro­duced more no­table nov­els, in­clud­ing They Came to Bagh­dad, 4.50 From Padding­ton and Or­deal by In­no­cence. In these post-war years, Agatha was ap­pointed Com­man­der of the Or­der of the Bri­tish

Em­pire in the 1956 New Year’s Hon­ours, and made a Dame in 1971.

The last time Agatha ap­peared in pub­lic was on the open­ing night of the

1974 film Mur­der on the

Ori­ent Ex­press. Ap­par­ently, Agatha com­mented that Poirot’s mous­tache wasn’t lux­u­ri­ant enough!

Just over a year later, on 12 Jan­uary 1976, Agatha Christie died, aged 85, at her home in Walling­ford. That evening, out of re­spect, the West End the­atres dimmed their lights for an hour.

See agath­

run­ning for 66 years and count­ing…

As a young girl

With first hus­band Archie

Agatha at the height of her fame

✿ With sec­ond hus­band Max

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