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Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, DBE (née Miller; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for the 66 detective novels and more than 15 short story collections she wrote under her own name, most of which revolve around the investigations of such characters as Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence. She also wrote the world's longest-running play, The Mousetrap.
Born to a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon, Christie served in a hospital during the First World War, before marrying and starting a family in London. Although initially unsuccessful at getting her work published, in 1920, The Bodley Head press published her novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the character of Poirot. This launched her literary career.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 4 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works rank third, after those of William Shakespeare and the Bible, as the world's most-widely published books. According to Index Translationum, Christie is the most-translated individual author, and her books have been translated into at least 103 languages. And Then There Were None is Christie's best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world's best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. In 1971, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Christie's stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952 and as of 2012 is still running after more than 25,000 performances. In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's highest honour, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year Witness for the Prosecution was given an Edgar Award by the MWA for Best Play. Many of her books and short stories have been filmed, and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.
Life and career
Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie was born on 15 September 1890 into a wealthy upper middle-class family in Ashfield, Torquay, Devon in South West England. Christie's mother, Clara Boehmer was an Englishwoman who had been born in Belfast, modern day Northern Ireland, in 1854 to Captain Frederick Boehmer and Mary Ann West; the couple's only daughter, she had four brothers, one of whom died young. Captain Boehmer was killed in a riding accident while stationed on Jersey in April 1863, leaving Mary Ann to raise her children alone on a meagre income. Under financial strain, she sent Clara to live with her aunt Margaret Miller née West, who had married a wealthy American Nathaniel Frary Miller in 1863 and lived in Prinsted, West Sussex. Clara stayed with Margaret and there she would meet her future husband, an American stockbroker named Frederick Alvah Miller the son of Nathaniel. Frederick was a member of the small and wealthy American upper class, and had been sent to Europe to gain an education in Switzerland. Considered personable and friendly by those who knew him, he soon developed a romantic relationship with Clara, and they were married in April 1878. Their first child, Margaret "Madge" Frary Miller (1879–1950) was born in Torquay, where the couple were renting lodgings, while their second, Louis "Monty" Montant (1880–1929) was born in the U.S. state of New York, where Frederick was on a business trip. Clara soon purchased a villa in Torquay, named "Ashfield", in which to raise her family, and it was here that her third and final child, Agatha, was born.
Christie would describe her childhood as "very happy", and was surrounded by a series of strong and independent women from an early age. Her time was spent alternating between her Devonshire home, her step grandmother/aunt's house in Ealing, West London and parts of Southern Europe, where her family would holiday during the winter. Nominally Christian, she was also raised in a household with various esoteric beliefs, and like her siblings believed that their mother Clara was a psychic with the ability of second sight. Her mother insisted that she receive a home education, and so her parents were responsible for teaching her to read and write, and to be able to perform basic arithmetic, a subject that she particularly enjoyed. They also taught her about music, and she learned to play both the piano and the mandolin. A voracious reader from an early age, among her earliest memories were those of reading the children's books written by Mrs Molesworth, including The Adventures of Herr Baby (1881), Christmas Tree Land (1897) and The Magic Nuts (1898). She also read the work of Edith Nesbit, including The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899), The Phoenix and the Carpet (1903) and The Railway Children (1906). When a little older she moved on to reading the surreal verse of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Much of her childhood was spent largely alone and separate from other children, although she spent much time with her pets, whom she adored. Eventually making friends with a group of other girls in Torquay, she noted that "one of the highlights of my existence" was her appearance in a local theatrical production of The Yeomen of the Guard where she starred alongside them.
Her father was often ill, suffering from a series of heart attacks, and in November 1901 he died, aged 55. His death left the family devastated, and in an uncertain economic situation. Clara and Agatha continued to live together in their Torquay home; Madge had moved to the nearby Cheadle Hall with her new husband and Monty had joined the army and been sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. Agatha would later claim that her father's death, occurring when she was 11 years old, marked the end of her childhood for her. In 1902, Agatha would be sent to receive a formal education at Miss Guyer's Girls School in Torquay, but found it difficult to adjust to the disciplined atmosphere. In 1905 she was then sent to the city of Paris, France, where she was educated in three pensions – Mademoiselle Cabernet's, Les Marroniers and then Miss Dryden's – the latter of which served primarily as a finishing school.
Early literary attempts and the First World War: 1910–1919
Returning to England in 1910, Agatha found that her mother Clara had been taken ill, and so they decided to head for a holiday in the warmer climate of Cairo in Egypt, then a part of the British Empire and a popular tourist destination for wealthy Britons. Staying for three months at the Gezirah Palace Hotel, Agatha – always chaperoned by her mother – spent much of her time attending social functions in search of a potential husband. Although visiting such ancient Egyptian monuments as the Great Pyramid of Giza, she did not exhibit the interest in archaeology and Egyptology that she would in later life. Returning to Britain, she continued her social activities in search of a husband, also taking part in writing and performing in amateur theatrics, helping to put together a play called The Blue Beard of Unhappiness with a number of female friends. Her writing extended to both poetry and music, and some of her early works saw publication, but she decided against focusing on either of these as future professions. It was while recovering in bed from an illness that she penned her first short story; entitled "The House of Beauty", it consisted of about 6000 words and dealt with the world of "madness and dreams" which fascinated Christie. Later Christie biographer Janet Morgan would comment that while it suffered from "infelicities of style", it was nevertheless "a compelling story". She soon followed this up with a string of other shorts, most of which illustrated her interest in spiritualism and the paranormal, including "The Call of Wings" and "The Little Lonely God". Sending them to various magazines under a series of pseudonyms, all of her early texts were rejected, although they would all be revised and published at a later date, sometimes under new titles.
Christie then began to put together her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert, which was set in Cairo and drew from her recent experiences in the city. Sending it to various publishers under the pseudonym of Monosyllaba, she was perturbed when they all declined. Clara suggested that her daughter ask for advice from a family friend, the successful writer Eden Philpotts, which she duly did. Philpotts obliged, encouraging her with her writing and sending her an introduction to his literary agent, Hughes Massie; he too however rejected Snow Upon the Desert, suggesting that she try writing a second novel. Meanwhile, she had continued searching for a husband, and had entered into short-lived relationships with four separate men before meeting a young man named Archibald "Archie" Christie (1889-1962) at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford of Chudleigh, about 12 miles from Torquay. Archie had been born in India, the son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service, before travelling to England where he joined the air force, who stationed him in Devon in 1912. Soon entering into a relationship, the couple fell in love, and after being informed that he was being stationed in Farnborough, Archie asked her to marry him, and she accepted.
1914 saw the outbreak of World War I, and Archie was sent to France to battle the German forces. Agatha also involved herself in the war effort, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and attending to wounded soldiers at the hospital in Torquay. In this position she was responsible for aiding the doctors and trying to keep up morale, performing 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916 before earning a wage as a dispenser at an annual rate of £16 until the end of her service in September 1918. She met her fiancé in London during his leave at the end of 1914, and they were married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. They would meet up again throughout the war each time that he was posted home. Rising through the ranks, he was eventually stationed back to Britain in September 1918 as a colonel in the Air Ministry, and with Agatha he settled into a flat at 5 Northwick Terrace in St. John's Wood, Northwest London.
First novels: 1919–1923
Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White and The Moonstone as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's early Sherlock Holmes stories. Deciding to write her own detective novel, entitled The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she created a detective named Hercule Poirot to be her protagonist. A former Belgian police officer noted for his twirly moustache and egg-shaped head, Poirot had been a refugee who had fled to Britain following Germany's invasion of Belgium; in this manner, Christie had been influenced by the Belgian refugees whom she had encountered in Torquay. After unsuccessfully sending her manuscript to such publishing companies as Hodder and Stoughton and Methuen, she sent it to John Lane at The Bodley Head, who kept it for several months before announcing that the press would publish it on the condition that Christie agreed to change the ending. She duly did so, and signed a contract with Lane that she would later claim to have been exploitative. Christie meanwhile settled into married life, giving birth to a daughter named Rosalind at Ashfield in August 1919, where the couple – having few friends in London – spent much of their time. Having left the Air Force at the end of the war, Archie gained a job in the City working in the financial sector, and although he started out on a relatively low salary, he was still able to employ a maid for his family.
Christie's second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featured new protagonists in the form of detective couple Tommy and Tuppence; again published by The Bodley Head, it earned her £50. She followed this with a third novel, once again featuring Poirot, entitled Murder on the Links (1923), as well as a series of Poirot short stories commissioned by Bruce Ingram, editor of Sketch magazine. When Archie was offered a job organising a world tour to promote the British Empire Exhibition, the couple left their daughter with Agatha's mother and sister and travelled to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. The couple learnt to surf prone in South Africa and in Waikiki became some of the first Britons to surf standing up.
In late 1926, Christie's husband Archie revealed that he was in love with Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 3 December 1926, the couple quarrelled, and Archie left their house Styles in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening, around 9.45pm, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car, a Morris Cowley, was later found at Newlands Corner, near Guildford. On the back seat was found her driving licence and some clothes. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public. The Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, put pressure on the police department to find her; a reward was offered. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers and several aeroplanes were used to scour the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took one of Christie's gloves to a spirit medium in order to discover the location of the missing woman. At this time, Dorothy L Sayers visited the house in Surrey, later using the scenario in her book Unnatural Death. Christie's disappearance featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days.
On 14 December 1926, Agatha Christie was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, where she had been registered as 'Mrs Teresa Neele' from Cape Town, since the day of her disappearance. Christie never explained her disappearance from Surrey. Although two doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from psychogenic fugue, opinion remains divided. A nervous breakdown from a natural propensity for depression may have been exacerbated by her mother's death earlier that year and her husband's infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or attempt to frame her husband for murder.
The author Jared Cade interviewed numerous witnesses and relatives for his sympathetic biography, Agatha Christie and the Missing Eleven Days, and provided a substantial amount of evidence to suggest that Christie planned the entire disappearance to embarrass her husband, never thinking it would escalate into the melodrama it became. The 1979 Michael Apted film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman and Timothy Dalton depicts Christie as planning to commit suicide and frame her husband's mistress for her "murder"; an American reporter, played by Hoffman, closely follows her movements and stops her from carrying out the plan. The Christies divorced in 1928. During their marriage, she had published six novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of short stories in magazines.
Second marriage and later life
In 1930, Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan after joining him in an archaeological dig. Their marriage was always happy, continuing until Christie's death in 1976. Max introduced her to wine, which she never enjoyed, preferring to drink water in restaurants. She tried unsuccessfully to make herself like cigarettes by smoking one after lunch and one after dinner every day for six months.
Christie frequently used settings which were familiar to her for her stories. 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, where she was born. Christie's 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Pera Palace Hotel 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, owned by her brother-in-law, James Watts, basing at least two stories there: short story "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding", 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 Chimneys, Stoneygates, and other houses in her stories are mostly Abney in various forms."
During the Second World War, Christie worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital, London, where she acquired a knowledge of poisons that she put to good use in her post-war crime novels. For example, the use of thallium as a poison was suggested to her by UCH Chief Pharmacist Harold Davis (later appointed Chief Pharmacist at the UK Ministry of Health), and in The Pale Horse, published in 1961, she employed it to dispatch a series of victims, the first clue to the murder method coming from the victims' loss of hair. So accurate was her description of thallium poisoning that on at least one occasion it helped solve a case that was baffling doctors.
Around 1941–1942, the British intelligence agency MI5 investigated Agatha Christie. A character called Major Bletchley appeared in her 1941 thriller N or M?, a story that features a hunt for two of Hitler's top secret spy agents in Britain. MI5 was afraid that Christie had a spy in Britain's top-secret codebreaking centre, Bletchley Park. The agency's fears were allayed when Christie commented to codebreaker Dilly Knox that Bletchley was simply the name of "one of my least lovable characters."
To honour her many literary works, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours. The next year, she became the President of the Detection Club. In the 1971 New Year Honours, she was promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, three years after her husband had been knighted for his archaeological work in 1968. They were one of the few married couples where both partners were honoured in their own right. From 1968, due to her husband's knighthood, Christie could also be styled as Lady Mallowan.
From 1971 to 1974, Christie's health began to fail, although she continued to write. In 1975, sensing her increasing weakness, Christie signed over the rights of her most successful play, The Mousetrap, to her grandson. Recently, using experimental textual tools of analysis, Canadian researchers have suggested that Christie may have begun to suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.
Agatha Christie died on 12 January 1976 at age 85 from natural causes at her Winterbrook House in the north of Cholsey parish, adjoining Wallingford in Oxfordshire (formerly part of Berkshire). She is buried in the nearby churchyard of St Mary's, Cholsey.
Christie's only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, died, also aged 85, on 28 October 2004 from natural causes in Torbay, Devon. 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.
Well-known Miss Marple was introduced in The Thirteen Problems in 1927 (short stories) and was based on Christie's grandmother and her "Ealing cronies". Both Jane and Gran "always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right." Miss Marple appeared in 12 of Christie's novels.
During the Second World War, Christie wrote two novels, Curtain, and Sleeping Murder, intended as the last cases of these two great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. 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 Sir 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 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 the public liked Poirot. Feeling tied down, stuck with a love interest, she did marry off Hastings in an attempt to trim her cast commitments.
In contrast, Christie was fond of Miss Marple. However, it is interesting to note that the Belgian detective's titles outnumber the Marple titles 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 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. It appeared on the front page of the paper on 6 August 1975.
Following the great success of Curtain, Dame Agatha 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.
Formula and plot devices
Almost all of Christie's books are well-known whodunits, focusing on the British 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 killer's identity and need silencing. In a few of her novels, including Death Comes as the End and And Then There Were None, 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.
Seven stories are inspired by a nursery rhyme: And Then There Were None by Ten Little Indians; One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; Five Little Pigs by This Little Piggy; Crooked House by There Was a Crooked Man; A Pocket Full of Rye by Sing a Song of Sixpence; Hickory Dickory Dock by Hickory Dickory Dock, and Three Blind Mice by Three Blind Mice.
Twice, the murderer surprisingly turns out to be the unreliable narrator of the story.
In six stories, Christie allows the murderer to escape justice (and in the case of the last three, implicitly almost approves of their crimes); these are The Witness for the Prosecution, Five Little Pigs, The Man in the Brown Suit, Murder on the Orient Express, Curtain and The Unexpected Guest. (When Christie adapted Witness into a stage play, she lengthened the ending so that the murderer was also killed.) There are also numerous instances where the killer is not brought to justice in the legal sense but instead dies (death usually being presented as a more 'sympathetic' outcome), for example Death Comes as the End, And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, Dumb Witness, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Crooked House, Appointment with Death, The Hollow, Nemesis, Cat Among the Pigeons, and The Secret Adversary. In some cases this is with the collusion of the detective involved. In some stories the question of whether formal justice will be done is left unresolved, such as Five Little Pigs, and arguably Ordeal by Innocence.
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, then decided who the most-unlikely suspect was, after which she would then go back and make the necessary changes to "frame" that person. John Curran's Agatha Christie: The Secret Notebooks describes different working methods for every book in her autobiography, thus contradicting this claim.
The first Hercule Poirot began with tram passengers and Belgian refugees. Man in the Brown Suit started with Belcher from the world tour. Murder on the Links began with news from France, a wife debunked, who claimed intruders tied her up and murdered her husband. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd killer was suggested by brother-in-law James Watt. The Big Four, helped by Archie's brother Cambell, was a stop-gap collection of Sketch magazine stories, for money when her husband left.
The world's best-selling mystery writer, and often referred to as the "Queen of Crime", Agatha Christie is considered a master of suspense, plotting, and characterisation. Some critics however regarded Christie's plotting abilities as considerably exceeding her literary ones. The novelist Raymond Chandler criticised her in his essay, "The Simple Art of Murder", and the American literary critic Edmund Wilson was dismissive of Christie and the detective fiction genre generally in his New Yorker essay, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?".
Christie occasionally inserted stereotyped descriptions of characters into her work, particularly before the end of the Second World War (when such attitudes were more commonly expressed publicly), and particularly in regard to Italians, Jews, and non-Europeans. For example, in the first editions of the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930), in the short story "The Soul of the Croupier," she described "Hebraic men with hook-noses wearing rather flamboyant jewellery"; in later editions the passage was edited to describe "sallow men" wearing same. To contrast with the more stereotyped descriptions, Christie often characterised the "foreigners" in such a way as to make the reader understand and sympathise with them; this is particularly true of her Jewish characters, who are seldom actually criminals. (See, for example, the character of Oliver Manders in Three Act Tragedy.)
Most often, she is lovingly affectionate or teasing with her prejudices. After four years of war-torn London, Christie hoped to return some day to Syria, which she described as "gentle fertile country and its simple people, who know how to laugh and how to enjoy life; who are idle and gay, and who have dignity, good manners, and a great sense of humour, and to whom death is not terrible."
After trouble with an incompetent Swiss French nursery helper Marcelle for toddler Rosalind, she decides "Scottish preferred ... good with the young. The French were hopeless disciplinarians ... Germans good and methodical, but it was not German that I really wanted Rosalind to learn. The Irish were gay but made trouble in the house; the English were of all kinds" She proposes this, after the fact, knowing the chosen Charlotte lasts decades.
Her book titles, changed by American publishers, for example Ten Little Niggers to Ten Little Indians, were kept the same across the Atlantic, after bushels of fan mail.
Christie had always had an interest in archaeology.
The lure of the past came up to grab me. To see a dagger slowly appearing, with its gold glint, through the sand was romantic. The carefulness of lifting pots and objects from the soil filled me with a longing to be an archaeologist myself.
— Christie , An Autobiography (London, 1984), p. 389
On a trip to the excavation site at Ur in 1930, she met her future husband, Sir Max Mallowan, a distinguished archaeologist, but her fame as an author far surpassed his fame in archaeology. Prior to meeting Mallowan, Christie had not had any extensive brushes with archaeology, but once the two married they made sure to only go to sites where they could work together.
Many years ago, when I was once saying sadly to Max it was a pity I couldn't have taken up archaeology when I was a girl, so as to be more knowledgeable on the subject, he said, 'Don't you realize that at this moment you know more about prehistoric pottery than any woman in England?
While accompanying Mallowan on countless archaeological trips (spending up to 3–4 months at a time in Syria and Iraq at excavation sites at Ur, Ninevah, Tell Arpachiyah, Chagar Bazar, Tell Brak, and Nimrud), Christie not only wrote novels and short stories, but also contributed work to the archaeological sites, more specifically to the archaeological restoration and labeling of ancient exhibits which includes tasks such as cleaning and conserving delicate ivory pieces, reconstructing pottery, developing photos from early excavations which later led to taking photographs of the site and its findings, and taking field notes.
So as to not influence the funding of the archaeological excavations, Christie would always pay for her own board and lodging and her travel expenses, and supported excavations as an anonymous sponsor.
After the Second World War, she chronicled her time in Syria with fondness in "Come Tell Me How You Live". Anecdotes, memories, funny episodes, are strung in a rough timeline, with more emphasis on eccentric characters, lovely scenery, than factual accuracy.
From 8 November 2001 to 24 March 2002, The British Museum had an exhibit named Agatha Christie and Archaeology: Mystery in Mesopotamia, which presented the secret life of Agatha Christie and the influences of archaeology in her life and works.
Archaeological influences in her writing
Many of the settings for Agatha Christie's books were directly inspired by the many archaeological field seasons spent in the Middle East on the sites managed by her second husband Max Mallowan. Her time spent at the many locations featured in her books is very apparent by the extreme detail in which she describes them. One such site featured in her books is the temple site of Abu Simbel in Death on the Nile, as well as the great detail in which she describes life at the dig site in Murder in Mesopotamia.
Of the characters in her books, Christie has often showcased the archaeologist and experts in Middle Eastern cultures and artifacts. Most notably are the characters of Dr. Eric Leidner in Murder in Mesopotamia, Signor Richetti in Death on the Nile, and many minor characters in They Came to Baghdad were archaeologists.
More indirectly, Christie's famous character of Hercule Poirot can be compared to an archaeologist in his detailed scrutiny of all facts both large and small. Cornelius Holtorf, an academic archaeologist, describes an archaeologist as a detective as one of the key themes of archaeology in popular culture. He describes an archaeologist as a professional detective of the past who has the ability to reveal secrets for the greater of society. Holtorf's description of the archaeologist as a detective is very similar to Christie's Poirot who is hugely observant and is very careful to look at the small details as they often impart the most information. Many of Christie's detective characters show some archaeological traits through their careful attention to clues and artifacts alike. Miss Marple, another of Christie's most-famous characters, shares these characteristics of careful deduction though the attention paid to the small clues.
Christie's life within the archaeological world not only shaped her settings and characters for her books but also in the issues she highlights. One of the stronger influences is her love of the mystical and mysterious. Many of Christie's books and short stories both set in the Middle East and back in England have a decidedly otherworldly influence in which religious sects, sacrifices, ceremony, and seances play a part. Such stories include "The Hound of Death" and "the Idol House of Astarte". This theme was greater strengthened by Christie's time spent in the Middle East where she was consistently surrounded by the religious temples and spiritual history of the towns and cities they were excavating in Mallowan's archaeological work.
Travel as adventure
During Christie and Mallowan's time in the Middle East, along with their time spent among the many tombs, temples, and museums, there was also a large amount of time spent traveling to and from Mallowan's sites. The travelling involved in the archaeology had a large influence on Christie's writing, which is often reflected as some type of transportation playing a part in her murderer's schemes. The large amount of travel done by Christie and Mallowan has not only made for a great writing theme, as shown in her famous novel The Murder on the Orient Express, but also tied into the idea of archaeology as an adventure that has become so important in today's popular culture as described by Cornelius Holtorf in his book Archaeology is a Brand.
Popular novels with heavy archaeological influences
Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)
Christie's Murder in Mesopotamia is the most archaeologically influenced of all her novels as it is set in the Middle East at an archaeological dig site and associated expedition house. The Main characters included an archaeologist, Dr. Eric Leidner, as well as his wife, multiple specialists, assistants and the men working on the site. The novel is most noted for its careful description of the dig site and house, which showed the author had spent much of her own time in very similar situations herself. The characters in this book in particular are also based on archaeologists Christie knew from her personal experiences on excavations sites.
Appointment with Death (1938)
Appointment with Death is set in Jerusalem and its surrounding area. The death itself occurs at an old cave site and offers some very descriptive details of sites which Christie herself would have visited in order to write the book.
Death on the Nile (1937)
Death on the Nile takes place on a tour boat on the Nile. Many archaeological sites are visited along the way and one of the main characters is an archaeologist, Signor Richetti.
They Came to Baghdad (1951)
They Came to Baghdad was inspired by Christie's own trips to Baghdad with Mallowan, and involves an archaeologist as the heroine's love interest.
Portrayals of Christie
Christie has been portrayed on a number of occasions in film and television. Several biographical programs have been made, such as the 2004 BBC television programme entitled Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures, in which she is portrayed by Olivia Williams, Anna Massey, and Bonnie Wright.
Christie has also been portrayed fictionally. Some of these have explored and offered accounts of Christie's disappearance in 1926, including the 1979 film Agatha (with Vanessa Redgrave, where she sneaks away to plan revenge against her husband) and the Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp" (with Fenella Woolgar, her disappearance being the result of her suffering a temporary breakdown due to a brief psychic link being formed between her and an alien). Others, such as 1980 Hungarian film, Kojak Budapesten (not to be confused with the 1986 comedy by the same name) create their own scenarios involving Christie's criminal skill. In the 1986 TV play, Murder by the Book, Christie herself (Dame Peggy Ashcroft) murdered one of her fictional-turned-real characters, Poirot. The heroine of Liar-Soft's 2008 visual novel Shikkoku no Sharnoth: What a Beautiful Tomorrow, Mary Clarissa Christie, is based on the real-life Christie. Christie features as a character in Gaylord Larsen's Dorothy and Agatha and The London Blitz Murders by Max Allan Collins.