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Agatha Christie, the Great Dame of Crime

Updated on April 7, 2011

Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, Devon, England on September 15, 1890. Agatha Christie died on January 12, 1976. Agatha Christie's father was a New Yorker; her mother the daughter of an army captain and related to the Pierpont Morgans, a very wealthy New York family and one of the original New York 400. In spite of this, and the ability if she had wished to claim dual citizenship with America and the UK, Agatha Christie never viewed herself as American in any way. Her novels are quintessentially English--that's part of their charm.

Ms. Christie was the youngest of three children. She had a brother and a sister.

During World War I, Agatha Christie worked as a hospital nurse; she liked that profession and named it as one of the most rewarding a person can follow. She married a flying ace in the Royal Flying Corps named Archibald Christie, in a whirlwind courtship during WWI. She divorced him for infidelity, later on, in 1928. That marriage produced one child, Rosalind.

Her first novel came out in 1920. It was "The Mysterious Affair at Styles." Some sources list "Black Coffee" as her first novel: that isn't quite accurate.

Agatha Christie was living in a house named Styles in Sunningdale, Bershire, when she published this novel. She later disappeared from that very same house after a terrible argument with her husband over his infidelities. Agatha Christie's fame as a novelist had grown far and wide in the ensuing eight years following the publication of her first novel: her disappearance caused a huge hue and cry, a terrific manhunt all over the British Isles.

She wasn't found for eleven days. Agatha Christie was identified as a guest at the Swan in Harrogate. She had given her name as "Mrs. Teresa Neele", and presumably invented enough of a back-story that her antecedents weren't even questioned. Agatha wanted to be alone, I guess. She was very, very mad at her faithless husband.

Stage set for "The Mousetrap"

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Agatha Christie is the best-selling writer of books in all of time. Her books have sold over four billion copies and have been translated into over 100 languages. Most of her books are still in print, after over 80 years.

Agatha Christie's stage play, "The Mousetrap", holds the record for the longest initial run: it's still running after all these years. The debut was at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on November 25, 1952, and it's still going strong, after more than 20,000 performances. If you haven't seen the play, I won't spoil it for you. The ending is a shocker, still. It's very well worth the price of admission. It's the very best of West End theatre, for my money.

A
St. Martin's Theatre, West Street, London WC2H9NZ:
Westminster, London WC2H 9NZ, UK

get directions

Now why have these books lasted? It's a mystery in and of itself, considering they were written lightly and rapidly, and definitely according to a standard formula for English murder mysteries. Most of her books don't quite make 200 pages, even in large print paperbacks.

What is the enduring charm in these novels?

The characters are stock characters: we have the doctor, the lawyer, the country squre, the country squire's wife...the Reverend Minister...you get the idea..

The plots are quite often very obviously contrived, and, though they are ingenious, they aren't quite real. For example, in the story "Ten Little Indians", a wealthy person builds a luxurious home on an island and invites a miscellany of guests, who are murdered, one by one. They are all isolated on the island; the murderer must be one of themselves.

It's a great plot, riveting, a real page-turner and one of Agatha Christie's most popular novels. Is it real? No. could this actually happen? No, not likely.

But somehow her writing just sucks you in. You believe at the time.

Many of Agatha Christie's novels use the town of Market Basing, or the town of Little Piddleton (don't you love that name?) as a setting. I think that town, that English country village, is what I personally find most charming about Agatha Christie stories. The town and the time period are distant, charming, peaceful, rural, and essentially civilized, which is a strange thing to say about the setting for a crime novel.

Agatha Christie's crimes are virtually bloodless. I find that charming, too. I don't wish to wallow in gore when I read a murder mystery. It is the mystery that fascinates me, not the murder. It's a puzzle I want to solve. I want to know whodunit, so I keep turning the pages.

The hard-boiled naked city type crime novel with a lot of graphic details about the corpse doesn't thrill me. That turns me off.

Agatha Christie wrote ladylike murders, if you will.

For escapist fiction, a good Agatha Christie can't be beat. It's sad, to me, that there will be no more new ones. Sort of like the Sherlock Holmes stories--imitators have tried to keep the ball rolling with very indifferent success.

 

Two years after Agatha Christie divorced Archie, she married archaeologist Max Mallowan. Their marriage was very happy and ended with Agatha's death in 1976.

Due to her great popularity as a novelist, Agatha Christie was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1971; her husband, Max Mallowan, was knighted for his archaeological work in 1968.

Agatha Christie began to experience ill health in 1971, even though she continued to write. She died on January 12, 1976 at age 85 from natural causes in her home at Winterbrook House, in Oxfordshire. She is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Cholsey.

Her daughter and only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, died, also at age 85, on October 28, 2004, from natural causes in Torby, Devon, very close to Agatha's original home.

Surviving is a grandson, Mathew Prichard, who is still associated with Agatha Christie Limited.

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    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the wonderful comment. Everybody, right, not just me, that loves a mystery. I like all our friends here on HubPages but we can't help having some favorites, can we?

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      7 years ago

      ...well that makes two of us - because I love your hubs too - and so nice to see Radioguy here - boy oh boy he really puts together world class hubs like you, Hello Hello and DRBJ - and gee I really do love this hub subject - and this could well be the most definitive tribute yet - who doesn't like a good mystery - like Watergate, the Kennedy assassinations and my favorite show on CBS - 48 Hours Mystery.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, vet, and I couldn't agree more!

    • vietnamvet68 profile image

      vietnamvet68 

      7 years ago from New York State

      excellent hub on one of the great writers, she could sure spin a great tale. I loved to read her novels.

      Voeted up

      God Bless

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're welcome!!!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      What a woman! I seriously need to read some of her work. Thanks for the awesome intro!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Radioguy, thanks for the comment. You'd LOVE "The Mousetrap".

    • Radioguy profile image

      Radioguy 

      7 years ago from Maine

      Great job! I love her stories and plots but only when made into a play or movie. I found her writing too slow and hard to stay with but that's just me and I'm in a minority here.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Genna. I enjoyed writing this hub very much!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I am probably one of Agatha's number 1 fans. Wonderful hub that is interesting and well-researched. Thank you!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks you, scarytaff and sofs for your comments. I was interested to research this lady, having read so many of her books throughout the years. She had a very interesting life.

    • sofs profile image

      Sophie 

      7 years ago

      Paradise, I like your style, this hub is so informative and interesting. Most of this information is new to me though I was an avid fan of Agatha Christie. It is such a good read!

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      7 years ago from South Wales

      I was really surprised at Agatha's private life. You've really done your research, No.7. A very enjoyable hub, thank you.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you so much, suziecat, Teylina and mck for your kind comments. Long live Dame Agatha! (In the bookstore, that is.)

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Paradise7, you've done a nice job here. Agatha Christie's work will stay popular for decades to come. Glad to see her praised by your work.

    • Teylina profile image

      Teylina 

      7 years ago

      This should be a must read, must see for any Christie fan. I'm not, but always appreciate good biographical work, and love the photos! Good piece. You said it, suziecat

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 

      7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Great portrait of Agatha Christie. Thanks for the enjoyable read.

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