AGATHA CHRISTIE 1890-1976
All of Agatha Christie’s 84 novels and 157 short stories remain in print. There were 19 plays, including The Mousetrap, which has been playing continually in the West End since 1952. It is estimated that over four billion of her books have been sold in more than 45 languages, making her the best selling author of all time, according to the Guinness Book Of Records.
Agatha Christie, born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, youngest sister to Madge and brother Monty. Agatha often refers to her status in the family, as it was her parents will that she was not to be educated or marry, but to stay at home to care for them. However, in 1901, when Agatha was 11, her father died, leaving the family in some financial difficulty. Her sister married James Watts in 1902.
It was at the wedding that Agatha met Nan Watts, James’ cousin, and they formed a life long friendship. At 18, Agatha went to live in the genteel Anglo-Egyptian community in Cairo for a while with her mother, and later returned to Torquay to polite English society. When she was 22, she met Archie Christie at a dance and embarked on a tumultuous relationship of which her mother disapproved, and married him suddenly two years later, on Christmas Eve, 1914, before he returned to duties in the Great War. She saw him very little over the next four years. Agatha worked first as a volunteer nurse, and then in the hospital dispensary, where she acquired her knowledge of poisons, which she would use to great effect later in her novels.
Agatha’s family home of Ashfield in Torquay became seriously threatened by financial difficulties by 1916 and it was then she resolved to put her imagination to work, and to create her first crime novel, “The Mysterious Affair At Styles”.
Agatha created her imaginary world by talking through all the characters, going over and over plots while walking or bathing, and her writing developed from speech, which is considered contradictory by those who knew her, to her shy and reserved nature. She sent her work for critical analysis to a successful local writer, and was encouraged by this and also by the support from her mother, sister and brother in law, James Watts.
Her daughter Rosalind was born in 1918, but a month after, Agatha left her with her mother at Ashfield and went with Archie into rented accommodation in London. In 1921 they went on a round the world tour with The British Empire Exhibition and Rosalind stayed with the Watt’s. While she was away her second novel, ‘The Secret Adversary” was published. After her return in 1922 she continued to write a book a year, with some being serialised in newspapers.
By 1926 she had written six novels and her name was well known. However, the next few years were to prove difficult. Her mother died in the spring of 1926 and Agatha was devastated, losing her closest confidante. Her marriage was experiencing difficulties and Archie was unable to support her grief. Clearing out forty years of memories at her childhood home Ashfield was a trial for Agatha, and she started to lose her sense of self. Archie agreed to come to Torquay for Rosalind’s eighth birthday, and then for a family holiday in Italy. However in the event he told her he had fallen in love with Nancy Neele, a secretary where he worked, and he wanted a divorce as soon as possible.
Agatha struggled through the next few months, but on December 3rd 1926 she disappeared. Her abandoned car was found a few miles from home, which made headline news for several days, with much speculation circulating. Eventually it appears that a maid in a hotel in Harrogate recognised her, and that she had been staying in the hotel for about ten days, under the name of Miss Neele. Archie collected her, and an explanation of amnesia was given to the newspapers.
She divorced Archie in April 1928, and had been making steady creative and psychological progress by that time. In the Autumn of 1928 she embarked on a major trip on the Orient Express from Calais to Istanbul, and across the desert to Baghdad.
On a return journey to Baghdad in 1930 she met Max Mallowman, a young archeologist, and they married soon after. She entered a period she describes as utter happiness and contentment. In 1938 she bought Greenaway in Brixham, Devon, another house she adored. It was left to the National Trust by her daughter Rosalind in 2001.
Agatha travelled extensively with Max and became very involved with digs on archeological sites in Syria and Iraq, which she wrote about semi autobiographically in the book ‘Come, Show Me How You Live’ published in 1946.
She continued to visit James Watts with Max over the following years, both at the Watt’s family seat Abney Hall in Cheadle, and at their shooting lodge on Kinder.
Agatha Christie’s mystery books have been outsold in the western world only by Shakespeare and the Bible. She also wrote poetry and romance under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She died on 12th January 1976, aged 86, but her spirit lives on in nearly 70 mystery novels and over 100 short stories.
Agatha’s daughter Rosalind was born on 5th August 1919 in Cheadle near Manchester. She spent much of her early years with her uncle James Watts and aunty Madge, visiting Upper House in Hayfield with them often. Rosalind married Hubert Prichard in 1943, who died in active service in 1944. They had a son, Matthew, born in 1943. She then married Anthony Hicks in 1949. They worked hard on The Greenway Estate house and gardens until 2000, when they gave them to The National Trust. Rosalind played a very active role in directing her mothers estate and intellectual property. She became president of the newly formed Agatha Christie Society in 1993. She passed away on 28 October 2004, leaving Matthew as the sole survivor of the family.