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Agatha Christie

[kris-tee]

Agatha Mary Clarissa, Lady Mallowan, DBE (née Miller; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976), commonly known as Agatha Christie, was an English crime writer of novels, short stories and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but is best remembered for her 80 detective novels and her successful West End theatre plays. Her works, particularly featuring detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple, have given her the title the 'Queen of Crime' and made her one of the most important and innovative writers in the development of the genre.

Christie has been called—by the Guinness Book of World Records, among others — the best-selling writer of books of all time and the best-selling writer of any kind, along with William Shakespeare. Only the Bible is known to have outsold her collected sales of roughly four billion copies of novels. UNESCO states that she is currently the most translated individual author in the world with only the collective corporate works of Walt Disney Productions surpassing her. Christie's books have been translated into (at least) 56 languages.

Her stage play, The Mousetrap, holds the record for the longest initial run in the world, opening at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952, and as of 2008 is still running after more than 23,000 performances. In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's highest honor, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year, Witness for the Prosecution was given an Edgar Award by the MWA, for Best Play. Most of her books and short stories have been filmed, some many times over (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and 4.50 From Paddington for instance), and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.

In 1968, Booker Books, a subsidiary of the agri-industrial conglomerate Booker-McConnell, bought a 51% stake in Agatha Christie Limited, the private company that Christie had set up for tax reasons. Booker later increased its stake to 64%. In 1998, Booker sold its shares to Chorion, a company whose portfolio also includes the literary estates of Enid Blyton and Dennis Wheatley.

Biography

Agatha Christie was born as Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, Devon, in the United Kingdom. Her parents were Frederick Alvah Miller, a rich American stockbroker, and Clarissa Margaret Boehmer, the English daughter of a British army captain. She never claimed United States citizenship. Christie had a sister, Margaret Frary Miller (1879 – 1950), called Madge, eleven years her senior, and a brother, Louis Montant Miller (1880 – 1929), called Monty, ten years older than Christie. Her father died when she was eleven years old. Her mother taught her at home, encouraging her to write at a very young age. At the age of 16, she went to Mrs Dryden's finishing school in Paris to study singing and piano.

Her first marriage, an unhappy one, was in 1914 to Colonel Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind Hicks. They divorced in 1928, two years after Agatha discovered her husband was having an affair. It was during this marriage that she published her first novel in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

During World War I she worked at a hospital and then a pharmacy, a job that influenced her work. Many of the murders in her books are carried out with poison.

Disappearance

In late 1926, Christie's husband revealed that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 3 December 1926, the couple quarrelled, and Archie Christie left their house in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire; she also sent a letter to the Deputy Chief Constable of Surrey Police saying that she feared for her life. When her car was found at Newland's Corner, near Guildford, Surrey, police dredged a nearby lake and conducted a search of the surrounding countryside. Her disappearance excited great interest in the press, though the novelist Edgar Wallace speculated that her disappearance was an attempt to spite her husband and that she would be found alive and well in London.

Eleven days after her disappearance, Christie was identified as a guest at the Hydropathic Hotel (now the Hydro hotel), Harrogate, Yorkshire, where she was registered as 'Mrs Teresa Neele', from Cape Town. Christie gave no account of her disappearance, two doctors having diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, and opinion remains divided as to the reasons for her disappearance. One suggestion is that she had suffered a nervous breakdown, brought about by a natural propensity for depression, exacerbated by her mother's death earlier that year and by her husband's infidelity. Many people at the time believed the disappearance to be a publicity stunt, and public sentiment was predominantly negative and Edgar Wallace's suggestion that the disappearance was an attempt to embarrass her husband continues to find support, even to the extent of suggestions that Christie was trying to make people believe her husband had killed her in order to punish him for his infidelity.

Second marriage and later life

In 1930, Christie married the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. Mallowan was 14 years younger than Christie, and a Roman Catholic, while she was of the Anglican faith. Their marriage was happy in the early years, and endured despite Mallowan's many affairs in later life, notably with Barbara Parker, whom he married in 1977, the year after Christie's death.

Christie's travels with Mallowan contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. Other novels (such as And Then There Were None) were set in and around Torquay, Devon, where she was born. Christie's 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Hotel Pera Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, the southern terminus of the railway. The hotel maintains Christie's room as a memorial to the author. The Greenway Estate in Devon, acquired by the couple as a summer residence in 1938, is now in the care of the National Trust. Christie often stayed at Abney Hall in Cheshire, which was owned by her brother-in-law, James Watts. She based at least two of her stories on the hall: The short story The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, which is in the story collection of the same name, and the novel After the Funeral. "Abney became Agatha's greatest inspiration for country-house life, with all the servants and grandeur which have been woven into her plots. The descriptions of the fictional Styles, Chimneys, Stoneygates and the other houses in her stories are mostly Abney in various forms.

In 1971 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Agatha Christie died on 12 January 1976, at age 85, from natural causes, at Winterbrook House in the north of Cholsey parish, adjoining Wallingford in Oxfordshire (formerly Berkshire). She is buried in the nearby St. Mary's Churchyard in Cholsey.

Christie's only child, Rosalind Hicks, died on 28 October 2004, also aged 85, from natural causes. Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, was heir to the copyright to some of his grandmother's literary work (including The Mousetrap) and is still associated with Agatha Christie Limited.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple

Agatha Christie's first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920 and introduced the long-running character detective Hercule Poirot, who appeared in 33 of Christie's novels and 54 short stories.

Her other well known character, Miss Marple, was introduced in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, and was based on women like Christie's grandmother and her "cronies"

During World War II, Christie wrote two novels intended as the last cases of these two great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, respectively. These have been identified as Curtain and Sleeping Murder. Both books were sealed in a bank vault for over thirty years, and were released for publication by Christie only at the end of her life, when she realised that she could not write any more novels. These publications came on the heels of the success of the film version of Murder on the Orient Express in 1974.

Like Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, Christie was to become increasingly tired of her detective, Poirot. In fact, by the end of the 1930s, Christie confided to her diary that she was finding Poirot “insufferable," and by the 1960s she felt that he was "an ego-centric creep." However, unlike Conan Doyle, Christie resisted the temptation to kill her detective off while he was still popular. She saw herself as an entertainer whose job was to produce what the public liked, and what the public liked was Poirot.

In contrast, Christie was fond of Miss Marple. However it is interesting to note that the Belgian detective’s titles outnumber the Marple titles by more than two to one. This is largely because Christie wrote numerous Poirot novels early in her career, while The Murder at the Vicarage remained the sole Marple novel until the 1940s.

Christie never wrote a novel or short story featuring both Poirot and Miss Marple. In a recording, recently re-discovered and released in 2008, Christie revealed the reason for this: "Hercule Poirot, a complete egoist, would not like being taught his business or having suggestions made to him by an elderly spinster lady."

Poirot is the only fictional character to have been given an obituary in The New York Times, following the publication of Curtain in 1975.

Following the great success of Curtain, Christie gave permission for the release of Sleeping Murder sometime in 1976, but died in January 1976 before the book could be released. This may explain some of the inconsistencies compared to the rest of the Marple series — for example, Colonel Arthur Bantry, husband of Miss Marple's friend, Dolly, is still alive and well in Sleeping Murder despite the fact he is noted as having died in books published earlier. It may be that Christie simply did not have time to revise the manuscript before she died. Miss Marple fared better than Poirot, since after solving the mystery in Sleeping Murder she returns home to her regular life in St. Mary Mead.

On an edition of Desert Island Discs in 2007, Brian Aldiss claimed that Agatha Christie told him that she wrote her books up to the last chapter, and then decided who the most unlikely suspect was. She would then go back and make the necessary changes to "frame" that person. The evidence of Christie's working methods, as described by successive biographers, belies this claim.

Formula

Almost all of Agatha Christie’s books are whodunits, focusing on the English middle and upper classes. Usually, the detective either stumbles across the murder or is called upon by an old acquaintance, who is somehow involved. Gradually, the detective interrogates each suspect, examines the scene of the crime and makes a note of each clue, so readers can analyse it and be allowed a fair chance of solving the mystery themselves. Then, about halfway through, or sometimes even during the final act, one of the suspects usually dies, often because they have inadvertently deduced the killers identity and need silencing. In a few of her novels, including Death Comes as the End and Ten Little Indians, there are multiple victims. Finally, the detective organises a meeting of all the suspects and slowly denounces the guilty party, exposing several unrelated secrets along the way, sometimes over the course of thirty or so pages. The murders are often extremely ingenious, involving some convoluted piece of deception. Christie’s stories are also known for their taut atmosphere and strong psychological suspense, developed from the deliberately slow pace of her prose.

Twice, the murderer surprisingly turns out to be the narrator of the story, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Endless Night.

On four occasions, Agatha Christie lets the murderer escape justice (and in the latter three stories, implicitly almost approves of the murder), in The Witness for the Prosecution (short story version), Murder on the Orient Express, Curtain and The Unexpected Guest. On a fifth occasion (Taken at the Flood), Poirot exculpates the perpetrator of manslaughter.

Critical reception

Agatha Christie was revered as a master of suspense, plotting and characterisation by most of her contemporaries and, even today, her stories have received glowing reviews in most literary circles. Fellow crime writer Anthony Berkeley Cox was an admitted fan of her work, once saying that nobody can write an Agatha Christie novel but the authoress herself.

In popular culture

List of works

The books of the "Middle Period" (representing the years 1934 to 1946) are often regarded, especially by the critic Robert Barnard, as Christie's finest works.

Novels

Year
published
Title Detectives
1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
Chief Inspector Japp
1922 The Secret Adversary Tommy and Tuppence
1923 The Murder on the Links Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1924 The Man in the Brown Suit Anne Beddingfeld
Colonel Race
1925 The Secret of Chimneys Superintendent Battle
1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Hercule Poirot
1927 The Big Four Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
Chief Inspector Japp
1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train Hercule Poirot
1929 The Seven Dials Mystery Bill Eversleigh
Superintendent Battle
1930 The Murder at the Vicarage Miss Marple
1931 The Sittaford Mystery
also Murder at Hazelmoor
Inspector Narracott
1932 Peril at End House Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
Chief Inspector Japp
1933 Lord Edgware Dies
also Thirteen at Dinner
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
Chief Inspector Japp
1934 Murder on the Orient Express
also Murder in the Calais Coach
Hercule Poirot
1934 Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
also The Boomerang Clue
Bobby Jones
Frankie Derwent
1935 Three Act Tragedy
also Murder in Three Acts
Hercule Poirot
1935 Death in the Clouds
also Death in the Air
Hercule Poirot
Chief Inspector Japp
1936 The A.B.C. Murders
also The Alphabet Murders
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
Chief Inspector Japp
1936 Murder in Mesopotamia Hercule Poirot
1936 Cards on the Table Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race
Superintendent Battle
Ariadne Oliver
1937 Dumb Witness
also Poirot Loses a Client
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1937 Death on the Nile Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race
1938 Appointment with Death Hercule Poirot
1938 Hercule Poirot's Christmas
also Murder for Christmas
also A Holiday for Murder
Hercule Poirot
1939 Murder is Easy
also Easy to Kill
Superintendent Battle
1939 And Then There Were None
also Ten Little Indians
also Ten Little Niggers
1940 Sad Cypress Hercule Poirot
1940 One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
also An Overdose of Death
also The Patriotic Murders
Hercule Poirot
Chief Inspector Japp
1941 Evil Under the Sun Hercule Poirot
1941 N or M? Tommy and Tuppence
1942 The Body in the Library Miss Marple
1942 Five Little Pigs
also Murder in Retrospect
Hercule Poirot
1942 The Moving Finger
also The Case of the Moving Finger
Miss Marple
1944 Towards Zero Superintendent Battle
Inspector James Leach
1944 Death Comes as the End
1945 Sparkling Cyanide
also Remembered Death
Colonel Race
1946 The Hollow
also Murder After Hours
Hercule Poirot
1948 Taken at the Flood
also There is a Tide...
Hercule Poirot
1949 Crooked House Charles Hayward
1950 A Murder is Announced Miss Marple
1951 They Came to Baghdad Victoria Jones
1952 Mrs McGinty's Dead
also Blood Will Tell
Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1952 They Do It with Mirrors
also Murder with Mirrors
Miss Marple
1953 After the Funeral
also Funerals are Fatal
also Murder at the Gallop
Hercule Poirot
1953 A Pocket Full of Rye Miss Marple
1954 Destination Unknown
also So Many Steps to Death
1955 Hickory Dickory Dock
also Hickory Dickory Death
Hercule Poirot
1956 Dead Man's Folly Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1957 4.50 from Paddington
also What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!
also Murder She Said
Miss Marple
1958 Ordeal by Innocence
1959 Cat Among the Pigeons Hercule Poirot
1961 The Pale Horse Inspector Lejeune
Ariadne Oliver
1962 The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
also The Mirror Crack'd
Miss Marple
1963 The Clocks Hercule Poirot
1964 A Caribbean Mystery Miss Marple
1965 At Bertram's Hotel Miss Marple
1966 Third Girl Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1967 Endless Night
1968 By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tommy and Tuppence
1969 Hallowe'en Party Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1970 Passenger to Frankfurt
1971 Nemesis Miss Marple
1972 Elephants Can Remember Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1973 Postern of Fate
final Tommy and Tuppence
last novel Christie wrote
Tommy and Tuppence
1975 Curtain
Poirot's last case, written four decades earlier
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1976 Sleeping Murder
Miss Marple's last case, written four decades earlier
Miss Marple

Collections of short stories

In addition to her novels Christie wrote and published 160 short stories in her career. Almost all of these were written for publication in fiction magazines with over half of them first appearing in the 1920s. They were then published in book form in various collections, some of which were identical in the UK and US (e.g., The Labours of Hercules) and others where publication took place in one market but not the other.

Twelve of the stories which were published in The Sketch magazine in 1924 under the sub-heading of The Man who was No. 4 were further joined into one continuous narrative in the novel The Big Four in 1927. Four further stories, The Submarine Plans (1923), Christmas Adventure (1923), The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest (1932) and The Second Gong (1932), were expanded into longer narratives by Christie (respectively The Incredible Theft, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mystery of the Spanish Chest and Dead Man's Mirror although the shorter versions of all four have also been published in the UK).

Only one short story remains unpublished in the UK in book form: Three Blind Mice (1948) on which a Christie placed a moratorium whilst the stage play based on the story, The Mousetrap, was still running in the West End.

In the US, the story Christmas Adventure has not been published in book form.

The main collections in both markets are:

In addition, various collections have been published over the years which re-print short stories which have previously appeared in other collections e.g. Surprise, Surprise! (1965 in the US). On occasion, in among the reprinted material, these collections have sometimes contained the first book printing of an individual story e.g. The Market Basing Mystery in the UK version of Thirteen for Luck! (1966) which later appeared in the same market in Poirot's Early Cases.

Novels written as Mary Westmacott

Plays

Radio Plays

Television Plays

  • 1937 Wasp's Nest (Based on the short story of the same name)

Nonfiction

Other published works

Co-authored works

Other works based on Christie's books and plays

Plays adapted into novels by Charles Osborne

Plays adapted by other authors

Movie Adaptations

Television Adaptations

Agatha Christie's Poirot television series

Episodes include:

Graphic novels

Euro Comics India began issuing a series of graphic novel adaptations of Christie's work in 2007.

HarperCollins independently began issuing this series also in 2007.

In addition to the titles issued the following titles are also planned for release:

Video games

Unpublished material

  • Snow Upon the Desert (romantic novel)
  • Personal Call (supernatural radio play, featuring Inspector Narracott - a recording is in the British National Sound Archive)
  • The Woman and the Kenite (horror: an Italian translation, allegedly transcribed from an Italian magazine of the 1920s, is available on the internet La moglie del Kenita
  • Butter In a Lordly Dish (horror/detective radio play, adapted from The Woman and the Kenite)
  • Being So Very Wilful (romantic)
  • In September 2008, the Christie authority Jon Curran revealed the existence of two unpublished Poirot short stories, apparently to be published in a book he is editing.

Animation

In 2004, the Japanese broadcasting company Nippon Housou Kyoukai turned Poirot and Marple into animated characters in the anime series Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, introducing Mabel West (daughter of Miss Marple's mystery-writer nephew Raymond West, a canonical Christie character) and her duck Oliver as new characters.

See also

References

Further reading

Articles

Books

  • Barnard, Robert (1980). A Talent to Deceive – An Appreciation of Agatha Christie. London: Collins. Reprinted as New York: Mysterious Press, 1987.
  • Thompson, Laura (2007). Agatha Christie : An English Mystery. London: Headline Review.

External links

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