Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, England. Her father, Frederick, was an outgoing American with an independent income. Her mother, Clara, was rather shy; Agatha resembled her greatly in personality. There were two other children - Madge and Monty, both older than Agatha.
Although Madge received a formal education, Clara decided Agatha should not. She intended that Agatha be taught to read when she was eight; however, by the age of five Agatha had already taught herself to read. The rest of her education was through a mixture of tutors, part-time schooling and French finishing schools. She also trained as a singer and pianist and had it not been for her extreme shyness, she had the talent to have made this her career.
When Agatha was eleven her father died and she became even closer to her mother. Without Frederick, Clara became restless and began to travel, at times taking Agatha with her; these early trips began Agatha's lifelong love of travel.
In 1912 Agatha met Archie Christie, her future husband, a qualified aviator who had applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. After a tempestuous romance, they married on Christmas Eve 1914, by special licence, with Archie returning to the war in France on Boxing Day.
Agatha was not idle during the war. She became a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay - ultimately working in the dispensary where she enjoyed the work and completed the examination of the Society of Apothecaries.
Although Agatha had amused herself as a child, acting out stories and make believe, her writing career really began after her sister Madge challenged her to write a novel. It took several years to get her first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles published - with the publisher suggesting an alternative final chapter - but the reviews were kind and the murder by poison so well described that Agatha received the unprecedented honour of a review in the Pharmaceutical Journal!
Agatha’s happiness was complete when Rosalind, her only daughter was born on 5th August 1919 but by 1926, her life was in tatters: Christie’s mother Clara died and Archie left her for another woman.
Christie slowly rebuilt her life and in 1930 she visited Baghdad for a second time. It was here she met Max Mallowan. Max took Agatha on a tour of Baghdad and the desert - it was an action-packed journey - their car got stuck in the sand and they were rescued by the Desert Camel Corps! When they reached Athens, Agatha received a telegram saying that Rosalind was seriously ill. Agatha's only concern was to get home, however she had badly sprained her ankle on an Athens street and was unable to walk. Max chose to accompany her back to England. She could not have made the trip without him and when they reached home he proposed and she happily accepted.
Agatha accompanied Max on his annual archaeological expeditions for nearly 30 years. She continued to write, both at home and on field trips and her book Come, Tell Me How You Live wittily describes her days on digs in Syria. She and Max were happily married for 46 years. After a hugely successful career and a wonderful life Agatha died peacefully on 12 January 1976.
You can read Agatha Christie's own account of her life in An Autobiography which was published after her death in 1977.
Agatha Christie is a mystery and writing about her is a detection job in itself. But, with access to all of Christie's letters, papers, and writing notebooks, as well as interviews with her grandson, daughter, son-in-law, and their living relations, Thompson is able to unravel not only the detailed workings of Christies detective fiction, but the truth behind her private life as well.
Using family papers and other protected material, Janet Morgan sheds light on Agatha Christie's life, work and relationships.
Masthead Photography: Joan Hickson image © BBC
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