Agatha Christie, the “Queen of Mystery”
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Agatha Christie (September 15, 1890 – January 12, 1976), the renowned British author, borrowed from her observations of the world and people surrounding her to become the Queen of Crime.
Born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, U.K, a fashionable seaside resort, she was the youngest of three children. Her childhood was a conventional and happy one, according to her own accounts, and she was educated at home.
Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), was written as a dare from her sister. Though it took a few years to go to press, Christie was the clear winner of the bet. This was the book that introduced the iconic detective character, Hercule Poirot. She has remained the world’s best-selling fiction author of all time, with billions of copies sold, and is an icon in the world of mystery, thriller, and crime novels.
Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple
Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple are among the most iconic fictional detectives of all time. As described in the 2010 New Yorker piece, “Queen of Crime: How Agatha Christie Created the Modern Mystery Novel”:
“Poirot, formerly a member of the Belgian police force, is retired, but he is willing, occasionally, to interest himself in a case. Poirot’s most obvious characteristic is his dandyism … He deplores the English preference for fresh air, thin women, and tea. Poirot says that, in interrogations, he always exaggerates his foreignness.
The person being questioned then takes him less seriously, and in consequence tells him more. His Franglais is a treat. ‘I speak the English very well,’ he says proudly.
Miss Marple is the opposite of Poirot. She comes from a sleepy village, St. Mary Mead, and she seems a ‘sweetly bewildered old lady.’ She has china-blue eyes; she knits constantly; nobody thinks anything of her.
They should, because she is a steely-minded detective. When she is on a case, she says, she makes it a rule to believe the worst of everyone—in her words, she has a mind ‘like a sink’—and she reports with regret that experience has confirmed her in this point of view.'”
The Dodd, Mead edition of a duo of Christie novels places Hercule Poirot along Sherlock Holmes as “one of the immortals of detective fiction. “Poirot made his debut in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. More than a generation later, he meets his final challenge in Curtain, in which he meets the most fiendishly clever murderer of his long career.”
A stormy marriage & mysterious disappearance
Agatha met Archie Christie in 1912, and their stormy two-year engagement should have been a warning sign of things to come. They married in 1914 and lived in London. Their daughter and only child, Rosalind, was born in Agatha’s childhood home in Torquay in 1919.
Already a well-known author, Agatha went missing for eleven days starting in early December of 1926, sparking a nationwide search. Some time before the disappearance incident, Archie had met Nancy Neele, and the two embarked on an affair.
When he confessed the liaison to Agatha, the couple quarreled, and in a pique, Agatha took off in her car. Read more about this episode and its outcome here.
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The 1926 disappearance of Agatha Christie
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Forays into archeology
Agatha took some time to rebuild her life after her divorce from Archie, which shook her confidence and sense of security. Her writing was her refuge, and her retreat resulted in the copious flow of the mysteries that generations of readers have loved. From her prolific pen came books under her own name as well as pseudonyms. She also wrote romance novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott.
Agatha’s misery was short-lived, as two years later, in 1930, she married Sir Max Mallowan, a noted archaeologist. With him, she found the happiness that eluded her in her marriage, and the years she spent with her second husband were also among her most productive.
Agatha had a longstanding interest in archaeology, so it’s fitting that she met her second husband while on a trip to Ur, an excavation site, in 1930. Once they married, she and Mallowan went to archeological sites at which they could work together.
She happily accompanied her husband on numerous trips, not only as an observer (the details sometimes made their way into her novels and stories, including Death on the Nile and Murder in Mesopotamia), but did tasks like labeling, restoring, cleaning, photographing, and taking field notes.
She not only paid her own way on their trips, which she could well afford, but often funded the explorations as an anonymous sponsor.
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10 Quotes by Agatha Christie on Writing
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The phenomenal success of a private person
Despite her worldwide renown, Agatha strove to live a quiet life. She felt that the public had no need to know of her private affairs, and that her books spoke for themselves. The blandly titled An Autobiography wasn’t published until nearly two years after her death.
The first authorized biography, Agatha Christie by Janet Morgan, came out in 1980. It offers one of the fullest explorations of the author’s 1926 disappearance, and muses on how the author who led such a gentle and genteel life could produce such a large body of work with themes of violence, death, and terror.
Agatha saw incredible success during her lifetime. At the time of her death, her books had sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide, and the number has only grown since then. Both before and after her death, a number of her books have been made into feature films.
Her life of education, travel, archeological digs, and volunteer nursing all helped shape her as a writer. She earned many honors in her lifetime, including President of the Detection Club and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
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New research on Christie readership
New research has revealed that an estimated 32 million Americans have read an Agatha Christie book, and in 2019 alone over 900,000 people bought an Agatha Christie book in the U.S.! Additionally, Agatha Christie is the introduction to mysteries for 3 out of every 10 readers in the nation.
The research was commissioned by HarperCollins to mark the centenary of Christie’s being in print (with the aforementioned publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 1920) and was conducted by an independent research agency. It included 4,500 nationally representative fiction readers in the U.K. U.S. and Australia.
Surprising Facts and Figures About Agatha Christie
Here are more fascinating facts and statistics about Agatha Christie, provided by HarperCollins to commemorate the centenary of Agatha’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920):
- Over 2 billion books published, with as many published in foreign languages as in English.
- Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
- Her books continue to sell 4,000,000 copies every year.
- A writing career spanning six decades, with 66 crime novels, 6 non-crime novels and over 150 short stories.
- The most successful female playwright of all time, holding a world record as the only female playwright to have three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End.
- Wrote around 25 plays, of which the most famous, The Mousetrap, is the longest running play in the world, having debuted in 1952.
- Since first publication, her books have been published in over 100 languages, making her the most translated writer of all time. Currently she is published in 57 languages and in over 100 countries.
- Her best-known works includes Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and the genre-defining And Then There Were None.
- Created Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, two of the most famous detectives of all time.
- Received a DBE (Dame of the British Empire) in 1971.
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More about Agatha Christie
On this site
- Influential Quotes by Agatha Christie
- Dear Literary Ladies: Why Am I imitating authors I admire?
- The Writing Habits of Agatha Christie by Tony Riches
- 10 Quotes by Agatha Christie on Writing
- The 1926 Disappearance of Agatha Christie
- Agatha Christie Postage Stamps
- 4 Noted Women Authors as World War I Nurses and Relief Workers
- Celebrating the Centenary of The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Dame Agatha was incredibly prolific; this represents a tiny fraction of her output. There’s an entire Wikipedia page just dedicated to her bibliography. She wrote some 75 novels, 28 collections, and 16 plays, among other writings.
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
- Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
- The A.B.C Murders (1936)
- Death on the Nile (1937)
- And Then There Were None (1939)
- Evil Under the Sun (1941)
- Murder on the Nile (1945)
- Dead Man’s Folly (1956)
- Ordeal by Innocence (1958)
- The Mirror Crack’d (1962)
- By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968)
- Curtain (1975)
- An Autobiography
- Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archeological Memoir
Biographies about Agatha Christie
- Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack
- Agatha Christie: A Biography by Janet Morgan
- Agatha Christie and The Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade
- Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran
- Reader discussion of Agatha Christie’s books on Goodreads
- Agatha Christie Limited (rights management)
Selected film adaptations of Agatha Christie’s works
- Marple: The Classic Mysteries Collection (1930-1989)
- And Then There Were None (1945)
- Endless Night (1972)
- Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
- Death on the Nile (1978)
- Seven Dials Mystery (1982)
- The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
- Evil Under the Sun (1982)
- Miss Marple (1984-85)
- Poirot: The Definitive Collection (1989)