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Christie, Agatha

Page history last edited by Jon 8 years, 2 months ago

Agatha ChristieSource: Wikipedia

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, DBE (September 15, 1890 – January 12, 1976), was a British crime fiction writer. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and another billion in over 45 foreign languages (as of 2003). As an example of her broad appeal, she is the all-time best-selling author in France, with over 40 million copies sold in French (as of 2003) versus 22 million for Émile Zola, the nearest contender. She is famously known as the 'Queen of Crime' and is the most important and innovative writer in the development of the English mystery novel. Her stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest run ever in London, opening at the Ambassadors Theatre on November 25, 1952 and as of 2005 still running after more than 20,000 performances.

 

Christie published over eighty novels and stageplays, mainly whodunnits and locked room mysteries, many of these featuring one of her main series characters, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Although she delighted in twisting the established detective fiction form -- one of her early books, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, is renowned for its surprise denouement -- she was scrupulous in "playing fair" with the reader by making sure information for solving the puzzle was given.

 

Most of her books and short stories have been filmed, some many times over (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, 4:50 from Paddington). The BBC has produced television and radio versions of most of the Poirot and Marple stories. A later series of Poirot dramatizations starring David Suchet was made by Granada Television.

 

Some of Christie's early novels are available from Project Gutenberg.

 

A detailed examination of most of her works can be found here.

 

Born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, in Torquay, Devon, England. Christie's first marriage, an unhappy one, was in 1914 to Colonel Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind, and divorced in 1928.

 

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

 

In December 1926 she disappeared for eleven days, causing quite a storm in the press. Her car was found abandoned in a chalk pit. She was eventually found staying at a hotel in Harrogate, where she claimed to have suffered amnesia due to a nervous breakdown following the death of her mother and her husband's confessed infidelity. Opinions are still divided as to whether this was a publicity stunt or not. A 1979 film, Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Christie, recounted a fictionalised version of the disappearance.

 

In 1930, Christie married (despite her divorce) a Roman Catholic, Sir Max Mallowan, a British archaeologist 14 years her junior, and her travels with him contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. Other novels (such as Ten Little Indians) were set in and around Torquay, Devon, where she was born.

 

In 1971 she was granted the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire.

 

Dame Agatha Christie died on January 12, 1976, at age 85 from natural causes, at Winterbrook House, Cholsey near Wallingford, Oxfordshire. She is buried at St. Mary's Churchyard in Cholsey. Agatha Christie's only child, Rosalind Hicks, died on October 28, 2004, coincidentally also aged 85, from natural causes. Christie's grandson, Matthew Prichard, now owns the royalties to his grandmother's works.

 

Two of her novels were written at the height of her career, but held back until after her death: they were the last cases of Poirot and Miss Marple. In the final Poirot novel Curtain, Christie killed her creation and explained in her diary that she had always found him insufferable. She had a great fondness for Miss Marple however, as she had based her characterisation largely on her own grandmother, so she allowed Miss Marple to solve one more mystery in Sleeping Murder and return to the solitude of her village.

 


In `A Talent to Deceive,' written 25 years ago, Robert Barnard does a brilliant job of analyzing the disdain for Christie's allegedly `simple' writing style and demolishing the canard about life being simpler in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

He points out that those espousing the former view have themselves been duped by the Queen of Crime, whose so-called `simplicity' was in fact a devastatingly effective technique for encouraging the reader to make his/her own assumptions and thus fall into the trap laid for him/her. Examples of this technique:

  • making a character appear stereotypical as a way of diverting the reader's suspicion away from that character.
  • the use of cliché situations like eternal triangles where she could predict the reader's response and use it against him/her.
  • making the deep traditional structure of the bourgeois (cozy) life with its emphasis on the need for order, function as a means of distracting the reader's attention from the real culprit.
  • the use of commonplace objects such as matchboxes as clues instead of depending on the detective's knowledge of some arcane subject

 

Regarding the simpler times: it is hard to envisage a more turbulent period than that in which Christie wrote: the aftermath of World War I and the Russian revolution; the spread of Communism; the General Strike; the Great Depression; World War II and the subsequent devastation, etc. In her detective novels (as opposed to her earlier thrillers,) she largely excludes any mention of these events, which may be where the notion of `simpler times' comes from. I haven't read anywhere that Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in simpler times, yet she was a contemporary of Christie's.

 

According to Barnard, those expressing amazement that Christie's simple style should have sold so many books (c.f. Edmund Wilson's Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd) fail to recognize that the detective novel is not an inferior attempt to write a classical novel: it is a literary form in its own right and should be so judged. The complex lives and turgid emotions of the classical form do not work in the detective form because the narrative is too constrained by the author and so the reader is not left free to jump to his/her (usually wrong) own conclusions. I'm not sure I agree with this (one notable exception would have to be The Moonstone) but it's an interesting theory.

 

John P.

 


 

Christie fans often dislike other "Queens of Crime" or at least have little interest in their works. On the other hand, readers of Marsh, Allingham, Tey or Sayers, especially the latter's fans, tend to be highly critical of Dame Agatha, dismissing her poor writing, cardboard characterization, etc. A good example is Sayers enthusiast Ruth Rendell who never misses an occasion to trash Christie. Christie fans usually blame other female (and sometimes, male as well) mystery authors first for not being like her. As clever as they might be at times, Sayers, Marsh, Allingham and the ilk never or rarely produced the kind of stunning tricks Agatha is famous for - and as a matter of fact, they had little to no interest in doing so. On the other hand, authors like Berkeley, Carr or Queen were just as cunning as Christie but their works lacked her cozy touch (not to mention that their plots tended to be much more complicated and harder to follow).

 

Xavier

 


 

Bibliography

 

See also Nick Hay on Christie TV adaptations

 

The Mysterious Affair at Styles {her first book, which introduced Hercule Poirot, Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings} (1920)

The Secret Adversary {introduced Tommy and Tuppence} (1922)

The Murder on the Links (1923)

The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)

Poirot Investigates {eleven short stories} (1924)

The Secret of Chimneys (1925)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

The Big Four (1927)

The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)

The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)

Partners in Crime {fifteen short stories} (1929)

The Mysterious Mr Quin {introduced Mr. Harley Quin, short stories} (1930)

The Murder at the Vicarage {introduced Jane Marple} (1930)

The Sittaford Mystery aka Murder at Hazelmoor (1931)

Peril at End House (1932)

The Thirteen Problems aka The Tuesday Club Murders (thirteen short mysteries, featuring Miss Marple) (1932)

Lord Edgware Dies aka Thirteen at Dinner (1933)

The Hound of Death {twelve short mysteries} (1933)

Murder on the Orient Express aka Murder in the Calais Coach (1934)

The Listerdale Mystery {twelve short mysteries} (1934)

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? aka The Boomerang Clue (1934)

Parker Pyne Investigates aka Mr Parker Pyne, Detective {twelve short mysteries} {introduced Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver} (1934)

Three Act Tragedy aka Murder in Three Acts (1935)

Death in the Clouds aka Death in the Air (1935)

The ABC Murders aka The Alphabet Murders (1936)

Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)

Cards on the Table (1936)

Murder in the Mews {Four short stories: Murder in the Mews, The Incredible Theft, Dead Man's Mirror, Triangle at Rhodes} (1937)

Dumb Witness (1937)

Death on the Nile (1937)

Appointment with Death (1938)

Hercule Poirot's Christmas aka Murder for Christmas aka A Holiday for Murder (1938)

Murder is Easy (1939)

Ten Little Niggers aka And Then There Were None aka Ten Little Indians (1939)

The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories {Nine short stories} (1939)

Sad Cypress (1940)

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe aka The Patriotic Murders (1940)

Evil Under the Sun (1941)

N or M? (1941)

The Body in the Library (1942)

Five Little Pigs aka Murder in Retrospect (1943)

The Moving Finger (1943)

Towards Zero (1944)

Death Comes as the End (1945)

Sparkling Cyanide aka Remembered Death (1945)

The Hollow (1946)

The Labours of Hercules {twelve short mysteries featuring Hercule Poirot} (1947)

Taken at the Flood aka There is a Tide (1948)

Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (1948)

Crooked House (1949)

A Murder is Announced (1950)

Three Blind Mice and Other Stories (1950)

They Came to Baghdad (1951)

The Under Dog and Other Stories {Nine short stories} (1951)

Mrs McGinty's Dead aka Blood Will Tell (1952)

They Do It With Mirrors (1952)

After the Funeral aka Funerals are Fatal (1953)

A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)

Destination Unknown (1954)

Hickory, Dickory, Dock aka Hickory Dickory Death (1955)

Dead Man's Folly (1956)

4:50 from Paddington aka What Mrs McGillycuddy Saw! (1957)

Ordeal by Innocence (1958)

Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding {Six short stories} (1960)

The Pale Horse (1961)

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side aka The Mirror Crack'd (1962)

The Clocks (1963)

A Caribbean Mystery (1964)

At Bertram's Hotel (1965)

Third Girl (1966)

Endless Night (1967)

By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968)

Hallowe'en Party (1969)

Passenger to Frankfurt (1970)

Nemesis (1971)

The Golden Ball and Other Stories {Fifteen short stories} (1971)

Elephants Can Remember (1972)

Akhnaton - A play in three acts (1973)

Postern of Fate {final Tommy and Tuppence, last novel Christie wrote} (1974)

Poirot's Early Cases {eighteen short mysteries} (1974)

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (written four decades earlier} (1975)

Sleeping Murder {Miss Marple's last case, written four decades earlier} (1976)

Miss Marple's Final Cases and Two Other Stories (1979)

Hercule Poirot's Casebook (1984)

Problem at Pollensa Bay (1991)

While the Light Lasts and Other Stories (1997)

The Harlequin Tea Set (1997)

Masterpieces in Miniature: The Detectives (2005)

 

With the Detection Club

 

The Floating Admiral (1931)

 

With Charles Osborne

 

Black Coffee (1998)

The Unexpected Guest (2001)

The Spider's Web (2003)

 

Plays:

 

  • 1928 Alibi
  • 1930 Black Coffee
  • 1936 Love from a Stranger
  • 1937 or 1939 A Daughter's a Daughter (Never Performed)
  • 1940 Peril at End House
  • 1943 Ten Little Indians
  • 1945 Appointment With Death
  • 1946 Murder on the Nile aka Hiddon Horizon
  • 1949 Murder at the Vicarage
  • 1951 The Hollow
  • 1952 The Mousetrap
  • 1953 Witness for the Prosecution
  • 1954 The Spider's Web
  • 1956 Towards Zero
  • 1958 Verdict
  • 1958 The Unexpected Guest
  • 1960 Go Back for Murder
  • 1962 Rule of Three
  • 1972 Fiddler's Three (Originally written as Fiddler's Five. Never Published. Final play she wrote.)
  • 1973 Aknaton (Written in 1937)
  • 1977 Murder is Announced
  • 1981 Cards on the Table
  • 1993 Murder is Easy
  • 2000? And Then There Were None

 

Radio Plays:

 

  • 1937 The Yellow Iris
  • 1947 Three Blind Mice
  • 1948 Butter In a Lordly Dish
  • 1960 Personal Call

 

Television Plays:

 

  • 1937 Wasp's Nest

 

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