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Agatha Christie 1890-1976
 


Country : Torquay, Devon, England
Profession : Novelist
Date of birth : 1890-09-15
Date of death : 1976-01-12
Cause of Death : Natural causes

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agatha_christie_portrait

Agatha Mary Clarissa, Lady Mallowan ( 15 September 1890  – 12 January 1976), commonly known as Agatha Christie, was an English crime writer of novels, short stories and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but is best remembered for her 80 detective novels and her successful West End theatre plays. Her works, particularly featuring detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple, have given her the title the 'Queen of Crime' and made her one of the most important and innovative writers in the development of the genre.

Christie has been called by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling writer of books of all time and the best-selling writer of any kind, along with William Shakespeare. Only the Bible is known to have outsold her collected sales of roughly four billion copies of novels. UNESCO states that she is currently the most translated individual author in the world with only the collective corporate works of Walt Disney Productions surpassing her. Christie's books have been translated into (at least) 56 languages.

Her stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run in the world, opening at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November, 1952, and as of 2009 is still running after more than 23,000 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. Most of her books and short stories have been filmed, some many times over (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and 4.50 From Paddington for instance), and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.

In 1968 Booker Books, a subsidiary of the agri-industrial conglomerate Booker-McConnell, bought a 51 percent stake in Agatha Christie Limited, the private company that Christie had set up for tax purposes. Booker later increased its stake to 64 percent. In 1998, Booker sold its shares to Chorion, a company whose portfolio also includes the literary estates of Enid Blyton and Dennis Wheatley.

Biography

Early life and first marriage

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay, Devon, England. Her mother, Clarissa Margaret Boehmer, was the daughter of a British army captain, but had been sent as a child to live with her own mother's sister, who was the second wife of a wealthy American. Eventually Margaret married her stepfather's son from his first marriage, Frederick Alvah Miller, an American stockbroker. Thus the two women Agatha called "Grannie" were sisters. Despite her father's nationality as a "New Yorker" and her aunt's relation to the Pierpont Morgans, Agatha never claimed United States citizenship or connection.

The Millers had two other children: Margaret Frary Miller (1879–1950), called Madge, who was eleven years Agatha's senior, and Louis Montant Miller (1880–1929), called Monty, ten years older than Agatha. Later, in her autobiography, Agatha would refer to her brother as "an amiable scapegrace of a brother".

Despite turbulent courtship, on Christmas Eve 1914 Agatha married Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps who was beginning to earn a reputation as an aviator ace. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind Hicks. They divorced in 1928, two years after Christie discovered her husband was having an affair. It was during this marriage that she published her first novel in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

During World War I she worked at a hospital and then a pharmacy, a job that influenced her work, as many of the murders in her books are carried out with poison.

Disappearance

In late 1926 Agatha's husband Archie revealed that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 3 December 1926 the couple quarreled, and Archie Christie left their house in Sunningdale, Berkshire to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening Agatha disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public, many of whom were admirers of Agatha Christie's novels. Despite a massive manhunt, there were no results until eleven days later.

Eleven days after her disappearance, Christie was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire where she was registered as 'Mrs Teresa Neele' from Cape Town. Christie gave no account of her disappearance. Although two doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, opinion remains divided as to the reasons for her disappearance. One suggestion is that she had suffered a nervous breakdown brought about by a natural propensity for depression, exacerbated by her mother's death earlier that year, and the discovery of her husband's infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative with many believing it was all just a publicity stunt, whilst others speculated she was trying to make the police think her husband killed her as revenge for his affair.

Second marriage and later life

In 1930 Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan after joining him in an archaeological dig. Their marriage was happy in the early years and endured despite Mallowan's many affairs in later life, notably with Barbara Parker whom he married in 1977, the year after Christie's death.

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, Devon where she was born. Christie's 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Hotel Pera Palace 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, which was owned by her brother-in-law, James Watts. She based at least two of her stories on the hall: The short story The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, which is 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 Styles, Chimneys, Stoneygates and the other houses in her stories are mostly Abney in various forms."

To honour her many literary works, she was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. The next year, she became the President of the Detection Club. In 1971 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, three years after her husband was knighted in 1968 for his archeological work.

From 1971 to 1974, Christie's health began to fail however 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. 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 Berkshire). She is buried in the nearby St. Mary's Churchyard in 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.

Her other well known character, Miss Marple, was introduced in The Tuesday Night Club in 1927 (short story), and was based on women like Christie's grandmother and her "cronies".

During World War II, Christie wrote two novels, Curtain and Sleeping Murder, intended as the last cases of these two great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, respectively. 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 realized 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 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 Conan 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.

In contrast, Christie was fond of Miss Marple. However it is interesting to note that the Belgian detective’s titles outnumber the Marple titles by 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, recently re-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 in 1975.

Following the great success of Curtain, Christie 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.

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, and then decided who the most unlikely suspect was. She would then go back and make the necessary changes to "frame" that person.  The evidence of Christie's working methods, as described by successive biographers, belies this claim.

Formula and plot devices

Almost all of Agatha Christie’s books are whodunits, focusing on the English 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 analyze 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 Ten Little Indians, there are multiple victims. Finally, the detective organizes 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.

Twice, the murderer surprisingly turns out to be the narrator of the story.

In four 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, Murder on the Orient Express, Curtain and The Unexpected Guest. After the denouement of Taken at the Flood, her sleuth Poirot has the guilty party arrested for the lesser crime of manslaughter. (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 on the Nile, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Crooked House, Appointment with Death and The Hollow. In some cases this is with the collusion of the detective involved. Five Little Pigs, and arguably Ordeal by Innocence, end with the question of whether formal justice will be done unresolved.

Critical reception

Agatha Christie was revered as a master of suspense, plotting and characterization by most of her contemporaries and, even today, her stories have received glowing reviews in most literary circles. Fellow crime writer Anthony Berkeley Cox was an admitted fan of her work, once saying that nobody can write an Agatha Christie novel but the authoress herself.

However, she does have her detractors, most notably the American novelist Raymond Chandler, who criticised her in his book, The Simple Art of Murder.

Portrayals

Christie has been portrayed on a number of occasions in film and television. Several films, such as the 1979 film Agatha by Vanessa Redgrave and the Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp" by Fenella Woolgar, explored and offered accounts of Christie's disappearance in 1926. Others, such as 1980 Hungarian film, Kojak Budapesten (not to be confused with the 1986 comedy by the same name) recreate their own scenarios involving Christie's criminal skill. In the 1986 TV play, Murder by the Book, Christie herself (Peggy Ashcroft) murdered one of her fictional-turned-real characters, Poirot. Several educational programs have been made, such as the 2004 BBC television program entitled Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures, in which she is portrayed by Olivia Williams, Anna Massey, and Bonnie Wright. Several parodies have been made, including Murder by Indecision, where she is parodied as "Agatha Crispy".

List of works

Author of books:
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920, novel)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926, novel)
Murder at the Vicarage (1930, novel)
Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
The Hound of Death (1933, short stories)
Death on the Nile (1937)
Ten Little Niggers (1939, novel, aka And Then There Were None)
The Body in the Library (1942, novel)
Absent in the Spring (1944, novel)
Witness for the Prosecution (1953)
Passenger to Frankfurt (1970, novel)
Curtain (1975, novel)
Autobiography (1977, memoir, posthumous)

Other works based on Christie's books and plays

Plays adapted into novels by Charles Osborne

  • 1998 Black Coffee
  • 1999 The Unexpected Guest
  • 2000 Spider's Web

Plays adapted by other authors

  • 1928 Alibi (dramatized by Michael Morton from the novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • 1936 Love from a Stranger (play) (dramatized by Frank Vosper from the short story Philomel Cottage)
  • 1939 Tea for Three (dramatized by Margery Vosper from the short story Accident)
  • 1940 Peril at End House (dramatized from her novel by Arnold Ridley)
  • 1949 Murder at the Vicarage (dramatized from the novel by Moie Charles and Barbara Toy)
  • 1977 Murder at the Vicarage (dramatized from the novel by Leslie Darbon)
  • 1981 Cards on the Table (dramatized from the novel by Leslie Darbon)
  • 1993 Murder is Easy (dramatized from the novel by Clive Exton)
  • 2005 And Then There Were None (dramatized from the novel by Kevin Elyot)

Movie Adaptations

  • 1928 The Coming of Mr. Quin (Based on the short story The Coming of Mr. Quin)
  • 1929 Die Abenteurer GmbH (Based on The Secret Adversary)
  • 1931 Alibi (Based on the stage play of the same name from the novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • 1931 Black Coffee
  • 1932 Le Coffret de laque (Black Coffee)
  • 1934 Lord Edgware Dies
  • 1937 Love from a Stranger (Based on the stage play of the same name from the short story Philomel Cottage. Released in the US as A Night of Terror)
  • 1945 And Then There Were None
  • 1947 Love from a Stranger (Released in the UK as A Stranger Walked In)
  • 1957 Witness for the Prosecution
  • 1960 Spider's Web
  • 1962 Murder, She Said (Based on the novel 4.50 From Paddington)
  • 1963 Murder at the Gallop (Based on the novel After the Funeral)
  • 1964 Murder Most Foul (Based on the novel Mrs. McGinty's Dead)
  • 1964 Murder Ahoy! (An original movie not based on any of the books, though it borrows some of the elements of They Do It with Mirrors)
  • 1965 Gumnaam (uncredited adaptation of And Then There Were None)
  • 1966 Ten Little Indians
  • 1966 The Alphabet Murders (Based on The A.B.C. Murders)
  • 1972 Endless Night
  • 1974 Murder on the Orient Express
  • 1975 Ten Little Indians
  • 1978 Death on the Nile
  • 1980 The Mirror Crack'd (Based on The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side)
  • 1982 Evil Under the Sun
  • 1984 Ordeal by Innocence
  • 1988 Appointment with Death
  • 1987 Desyat Negrityat (Ten Little Niggers)
  • 1989 Ten Little Indians
  • 1995 Innocent Lies (Loosely based on the novel Towards Zero)
  • 2005 Mon petit doigt m'a dit... (By the Pricking of my Thumbs)
  • 2007 L'Heure zéro (Towards Zero)
  • 2008 Le Crime est notre Affaire (Partners in Crime)

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