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The Biography Of Agatha Christie

The Biography Of Agatha Christie Born Name                       : Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller Born Date                         : 15 Sept...

The Biography Of Agatha Christie
Born Name                       : Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller
Born Date                         : 15 September 1890
                                            Torquay, Devon, England
Died                                  : 12 January 1976 (aged 85)
                                             Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England
Pen name                           : Mary Westmacott
Occupation                        : Novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet
Genres                                : Murder mystery, thriller, crime fiction, detective, romance
Literary                                Golden Age of Detective          
movement                          :  Fiction
Spouse(s)                            : Archibald Christie
                                              (m. 1914; div. 1928)
                                               Max Mallowan
                                               (m. 1930–76; her death)
 Children                              : Rosalind Hicks (1919–2004)

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, South West England into a comfortably well off middle class family. What made her upbringing unusual, even for its time, was that she was home schooled largely by her father, an American. Her mother, Clara, who was an excellent storyteller, did not want her to learn to read until she was eight but Agatha, bored and as the only child at home (she was a much loved “after thought” with two older siblings) taught herself to read by the age of five. 

Where did her creativity come from?  She absorbed the children’s stories of the time - Edith Nesbit (The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Railway Children) and Louisa M Alcott (Little Women) but also poetry and startling thrillers from America. Agatha invented imaginary friends, played with her animals, attended dance classes and began writing poems when she was still a child. 

When she was five, the family spent some time in France having rented out the family home of Ashfield to economise, and it was here with her “governess” Marie, that Agatha learnt her idiomatic but erratically spelt French. At the age of eleven there was a shock. Her father, not well since the advent of financial difficulties, died after a series of heart attacks. Clara was distraught and Agatha became her mother’s closest companion. There were more money worries and talk of selling Ashfield. But Clara and Agatha found a way forward and from the age of 15 Agatha boarded at a succession of pensions and took piano and singing lessons. She could have been a professional pianist but for her excruciating shyness in front of those she did not know. 

By the age of 18 she was amusing herself with writing short stories – some of which were published in much revised form in the 1930s - with family friend and author Eden Philpotts offering shrew and constructive advice. “The artist is only the glass through which we see nature, and the clearer and more absolutely pure that glass, so much the more perfect picture we can see through it. Never intrude yourself.”

Clara’s health and the need for economies dictated their next move. In 1910 they set off for Cairo and a three month “season” at the Gezirah Palace Hotel. There were evening dresses and parties and young Agatha showed more interest in these than the local archaeological sites. The friends and young couples she met in Cairo invited her to house parties back home on her return. Various marriage proposals followed.

It was in 1912 that Agatha met Archie Christie, a qualified aviator who had applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. Their courtship was a whirlwind affair; both were desperate to marry but with no money. According to her autobiography, it was the “excitement of the stranger” that attracted them both.  They married on Christmas Eve 1914 after both had experienced war – Archie in France and Agatha on the Home Front now working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in a Red Cross Hospital in Torquay. They spent their honeymoon night in The Grand Hotel, Torquay and on the 27th December Archie returned to France. They met infrequently during the War Years and it wasn’t until January 1918 when Archie was posted to the War Office in London that Agatha felt her married life truly began.

poirot is born

It was during the First World War that Agatha turned to writing detective stories. Her debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles took some time to finish and even longer to find a publisher. She started writing partly in response to a bet from her sister Madge that she couldn’t write a good detective story and partly to relieve the monotony of the dispensing work which she was now doing. (When the Hospital opened a dispensary, she accepted an offer to work there and completed the examination of the Society of Apothecaries.) She first worked out her plot and then “found” her characters on a tram in Torquay.  She finished the manuscript during her two week holiday which she spent at the Moorland Hotel at Haytor on Dartmoor. Her new found expertise in poisons was also put to good use. The murderer’s use of poison was so well described that when the book was eventually published Agatha received an unprecedented honour for a writer of fiction - a review in the Pharmaceutical Journal.



1919 was a momentous year for Agatha. With the end of the war, Archie had found a job in the City and they had just enough money to rent and furnish a flat in London. Later that year, on the 5th August, Agatha gave birth to their only daughter, Rosalind. It was also the year that a publisher, John Lane of The Bodley Head, and the fourth to have received the manuscript, accepted The Mysterious Affair at Styles for publication and contracted Agatha to produce five more books. John Lane insisted on a couple of changes to her manuscript including a reworked final chapter – instead of a courtroom climax, Lane proposed the now familiar denouement in the library.

So where did the inspiration for Hercule Poirot come from? During the First World War there were Belgian refugees in most parts of the English countryside, Torquay being no exception. Although he was not based on any particular person, Agatha thought that a Belgian refugee, a former great Belgian policeman, would make an excellent detective for The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Hercule Poirot was born.

Following the war Agatha continued to write – experimenting with different types of thriller and murder mystery stories, creating first Tommy and Tuppence and then Miss Marple in quick succession. In 1922, leaving Rosalind with her nurse and her mother, she and Archie travelled across the then British Empire, promoting The Empire Exhibition of 1924. She continued to write: Agatha received the joyous news of good reviews for The Secret Adversary while in Cape Town (where she also became the first British woman to surf standing up) and Archie’s boss proved the inspiration for Sir Eustace Pedlar in The Man in the Brown Suit, also set in Africa.  By this time Christie had already decided to change publishers. Fed up with what she saw as the unfair terms offered by The Bodley Head, she sought out an agent, Edmund Cork, of Hughes Massie and he found her a new publisher - William Collins and Sons (now HarperCollins).


A Difficult Time

Once returned from the Grand Tour, the family were reunited and settled in a house they named Styles in the suburbs outside London. It was a difficult time for Agatha – her mother had died and she was often alone clearing out the family home in Torquay and struggling to write the next novel for Collins. Archie and Agatha’s relationship, strained by the sadness in her life, broke down when Archie fell in love with a fellow golfer and friend of the family, Nancy Neale. Archie was a keen golfer; Agatha not.

One night in early December, overwhelmed and with close friend and secretary Carlo away for the night, Agatha left Rosalind and the house to the care of the maids without saying where she was going. Her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. A nationwide search ensued. The press and public enjoyed various speculations as to what might have happened and why but no one knew for sure. It eventually transpired that Agatha had somehow travelled to Kings Cross station where she took the train to Harrogate and checked into the Harrogate Spa Hotel under the name of Theresa Neale, previously of South Africa. Having been recognised by the hotel staff, who alerted the police, she did not recognise Archie when he came to meet her. Possibly concussed but certainly suffering from amnesia, Agatha had no recollection of who she was. An intensely private person, made even more so by the hue and cry of the press, Agatha never spoke of this time with friends or family.

Agatha and Archie remained apart; Agatha living with Rosalind and Carlo in London and following a course of psychiatric treatment in Harley Street. Needing an income and unable to write new material, her brother-in-law Campbell Christie suggested she combine Poirot short stories composed for The Sketch magazine thus creating The Big Four. Finally accepting that her marriage was over, divorce from Archie was granted in 1928. Agatha and Rosalind immediately escaped England to the Canary Islands where Agatha painfully finished The Mystery of The Blue Train, the book she had struggled with as she mourned her mother. Late in 1928 Agatha wrote her first Mary Westmacott novel, Giant’s Bread, not a detective novel but a work of fiction about a composer forced to work for financial reasons. Source : http://www.agathachristie.com/about-christie/christies-life/childhood/
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