Agatha Christie (September 15, 1890 – January 12, 1976) is the world’s most bestselling author. A woman whose mother didn’t want her to read until she was eight, who claimed to have had no early ambition as a writer, wrote books that have sold over a billion copies in English and another billion in translation.
Agatha Christie’s Book Publishing Accomplishments
Christie is best known for her 66 detective novel mysteries but wrote additional novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott non-detective novels (sometimes considered “romance”, but they do not strictly adhere to the conventions of that genre).
Christie was also a playwright; she penned 15 stage plays including Mousetrap, the longest continuously running play in history. Mousetrap opened in the West End of London in 1952, logged its 25,000 performance in November 2012, and is still performed.
Agatha Christie’s Early Life – Reading and Writing
Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on September 15, 1890 in Torquay, Devon, South West England to a somewhat eccentric British mother, Clara Boehmer, and a wealthy American father, Frederick Alvah Miller.
Far younger than her siblings, Agatha taught herself to read by the age of five and read broadly even at a early age — everything from Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to poetry to “startling thrillers from America.”
Agatha was home-schooled mostly by her father, whose business interests suffered throughout her childhood, as did his health (perhaps as a consequence of his financial difficulties).
As a child, Agatha wrote poems and her first was printed in a newspaper when she was eleven years old. She was quoted as saying she’d had a very happy childhood but also that her childhood ended when her father passed away – also when she was eleven.
After Frederick’s death, Clara and Agatha struggled financially. In her mid-teens, Christie boarded at various pensions in France to “finish” her education with music, language, and other skills. By her late teens she’d published more poems and had written a number of short stories. When she was about twenty, she and her mother spent three months in Cairo — a hot vacation spot for upper class British — for financial reasons, to improve her mother’s ill health and to shore up her own marital prospects.
After a number of suitors and a broken engagement, Agatha married her first husband, aviator Archie Christie on Christmas Eve 1914. However, they were both embroiled in World War I duties — he in France, her at a Red Cross dispensary in Torquay.
Husband away, bored with her dispensary duties, Agatha Christie wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles partly on a bet with her older sister Madge that she couldn’t do it.
Archie was assigned to the War Office in London in 1918 and he and Agatha began living together for the first time. In 1919, at the end of the war, Archie got a job in London and Agatha gave birth to their first and only child, Rosalind.
In 1919, Agatha was offered her first book deal as John Lane of The Bodley Head contracted not only The Mysterious Affair at Styles but five additional books, as well.
The Original Gone Girl?
A confluence of sad events — her mother’s death, Archie’s unfaithfulness to their marriage and request for a divorce, and writer’s burnout — may have contributed to the real-life mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance for 11 days in 1926.
Leaving her Rosalind with her secretary, Agatha took off and abandoned her car. The search for the missing author caused a huge public sensation and made the front page of the New York Times. Christie was discovered to have checked herself into a hotel in Surrey under the surname of Archie’s mistress and was diagnosed with amnesia. However, there is some evidence that she planned the disappearance to embarrass Archie.
But the writer ultimately divorced, then remarried in 1930 to Max Mallowan, an archeologist 14 years her junior. Their travels together contributed to her book research.
Grand Master of the mystery genre and quite a Dame
The 1930s and 1940s were prolific ones for Christie. In 1955, Agatha Christie was the recipient of the first Grand Master honor at the Edgar Awards sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. In 1971, she was awarded the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Christie’s works on film and TV
Agatha Christie’s works have been adapted for the screen since 1928. Her classic novels—such as like Murder on the Orient Express—and iconic characters have enjoyed numerous adaptations. Belgian detective Hercule Poirot has been interpreted by stars ranging from Tony Randall to Albert Finney to John Malkovich and Miss Marple has been played by Helen Hayes, Angela Lansbury, Dame Margaret Rutherford and (notably in hit films from 1974 – 1982) Joan Hickson.
The passing of two icons
The death of Hercule Poirot was marked by an obituary in The New York Times on August 6, 1975—the only fiction character that the paper thus honored. Dame Agatha Christie herself passed away half a year later on January 12, 1976 at the age of 85.
Though Christie died nearly 50 years ago, she maintains her status as the world’s best-selling writer.
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