This Day In Literary History
On September 15th, 1890, the legendary English writer Agatha Christie was born. She was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, Devon, England. Her mother was the daughter of a British Army captain, her father an American stockbroker.
During World War I, Agatha worked as a hospital nurse. She liked nursing, calling it "one of the most rewarding professions that anyone can follow." After the war, she worked as a pharmacist - a position that would prove helpful to her future writing career, as many murders in her books are committed by poisoning.
Although their courtship was rocky, on Christmas Eve, 1914, Agatha married her boyfriend, Archibald Christie, a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps, which, along with the Royal Air Naval Service, would later be merged and renamed the Royal Air Force.
Agatha bore him one child, a daughter, Rosalind, who would found the Agatha Christie Society and serve as its president until her death.
In 1920, Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Set in World War I England in a country manor called Styles Court, the novel introduced one of Christie's most famous characters - the brilliant Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
Narrated by Poirot's lieutenant, Arthur Hastings, the story tells of a case where Poirot is called to investigate the mysterious poisoning of wealthy widow Emily Cavendish. The book is filled with a half-dozen suspects, red herrings, and surprise plot twists.
Christie's debut novel introduced her distinctive style of detective fiction to the world. It was a big hit with critics and readers alike. Christie would write 33 novels and 51 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot.
The public loved Poirot, though Christie described him as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep." Yet, she refused to kill him off. She believed it was her duty to write what her readers liked, and what they liked was Poirot.
In her 1927 short story, The Tuesday Night Club, Agatha Christie introduced another detective character, one that would become just as beloved as Hercule Poirot. Her name was Jane Marple, and she was an elderly British spinster and amateur detective.
When she wasn't knitting or weeding her garden, Miss Marple was using her brilliant mind and keen understanding of human nature to solve crimes. Christie's first full-length Miss Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage, was published in 1930.
In the village of St. Mary Mead, Colonel Protheroe is so hated that even the local vicar once said that killing him would be a public service. He's soon found murdered in the vicar's study.
Two different people confess to killing Protheroe, so Miss Marple sets out to solve the crime and uncover the real killer. The Murder At The Vicarage would be the first of twelve Miss Marple crime novels.
In late 1926, Agatha Christie's life would imitate her fiction. Her husband, Archie, told her that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. After a nasty fight on December 3rd, Archie took off to spend the weekend with his mistress in Surrey.
Agatha also took off, leaving a note for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Instead, she mysteriously vanished. Her disappearance led to a public outcry; a massive manhunt took place and her husband was suspected of killing her.
Eleven days after she vanished, Agatha Christie was found at a hotel in Yorkshire, where she had checked in as Mrs. Teresa Neele. She gave no account of her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her with amnesia.
Some believe that she suffered a nervous breakdown, but at the time, most of the British public believed that Christie's disappearance was a staged publicity stunt. Others suspected she'd hatched an elaborate plot of revenge on her husband for the affair.
The couple was later divorced. In 1930, Christie married her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she met at a dig. It was a happy marriage that lasted until Christie's death in 1976 at the age of 85.
In her lifetime, Agatha Christie wrote over 80 detective novels, as well as several romances under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She was also a playwright, and wrote over a dozen plays.
Her play The Mousetrap (1952), an adaptation of her classic 1948 short story Three Blind Mice, which opened in London on November 25th, 1952, is still running after more than 24,000 performances - a record for the longest initial run of a play.
Of course, Agatha Christie will always be known as the grand dame of crime fiction. Her novels and short stories, which have been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television, have sold approximately four billion copies combined - the only book to outsell hers is the Bible.
Quote Of The Day
"Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it." - Agatha Christie
Today's video features a complete reading of Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel, Sparkling Cyanide. Enjoy!