Agatha Assumptions Upended

Many of you know that I am an unabashed Agatha Christie fan. I discovered her books when I was fourteen, the summer my family moved from Massachusetts to Maryland. It was a miserable time for me, but I got lost in the world of Miss Marple, and stayed there all summer. Hercule Poirot and I met a little later. Still later I read her short stories, and her stand alones. And, of course, Tommy and Tuppence.

Agatha Christie writingThe picture on the right is how most of us know her–older, writerly, sitting at a desk. She was very shy, and did not love the public eye. This past Sunday I read an article about a new exhibition of photos of her. They upend the expectations that have been cultivated. She wasn’t always an old woman. We know that, of course, but evidence is always good to have. More importantly, as importantly, she lived a life. She surfed, she traveled, she had her heart broken by her first husband, met her second husband and followed him on his archaeological adventures. I love this photographic evidence. What great adventures!

Agatha Christie’s work continues to impact my life. When I went to the Harvard Extension School, and was working on my thesis topic, I decided to write about her, and herAgatha Christie surfing use of point of view. I focused on the novels sheac 22 wrote from 1920, when she started to write, to 1940. Though she wrote some fine novels after that period, those twenty years included And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I dream of writing a book to equal any one of these three. She wrote 75 other novels as well as over 100 short stories, and 19 plays.

As a writer, her craft provides a lot of lessons. Her characters were broad, and played into stereotypes of her age. That said, the way she draws her characters allows readers to identify with them easily, even today. Her plots are clever, and play a good game with the reader. Her narrative style, including use of point of view, is expert.

Last year I wrote a post about the “Lessons from Dame Agatha”. A year later, close to her 125th birthday (next month!) I can still learn more about her, and be surprised by her life. She continues to inspire me.

Maybe I should try and surf?

31 Thoughts

  1. This is so interesting! Love the photos, too!

    Agatha became my closest friend under a similar circumstance. I was getting ready to start high school… exams taken, measured for uniforms, very excited. Then in the middle of the summer my mother borrowed a truck and moved us back to Marblehead. I loved it there but was hideously depressed. I walked for hours one day trying to meet other kids. Instead I found Dame Agatha in a little bookstore. I had just enough money to buy a book. I don’t remember which one it was, but it and others of hers kept me company for the rest of the summer.

  2. I always think, there are the stories the writer tells and there are the stories the writer lives. Who knows where one ends and the other begins or which is more interesting? Dame Agatha is a fascinating example of this and the more we learn, the more intriguing she becomes. I love how you’ve helped bring her story to us, Julie. I could listen to a lot more!

  3. Not long ago I took stock of which Christies I owned (and had read), and came up with 24. Which is curious because (brace yourselves) I don’t really like Agatha Christie. Gasp! I respect her plotting abilities, and enjoy the details of a bygone age that she captures, but I’ve always found her characters dry. Miss Marple is an excellent observer, but I don’t find her well-rounded. Poirot just annoys me. Tommy and Tuppence are silly (to be completely fair, Lord Peter Wimsey was also silly when he first appeared on the scene). I honor Christie as the Godmother of All Cozies, but I think the books themselves lack balance between story and character. There, I’ve said it. You may now start throwing things at me.

      1. Yes, interesting points of view, all, from you both. We are all more sophisticated now, as it goes in life, than we were years ago in the days of Dame Agatha’s creativity. What I love about our dear progenitor is where she led us, when we were less sophisticated, to where we are now in our state of growth. Others will move on from here, too, as the present moves through history causing all to adjust accordingly—as you both do so very well, my dear creative friends.

  4. I don’t read Agatha Christie for the characters, but how she puts the puzzle together. Sometimes I wonder if she knew who the murderer was as she started writing the book, or wrote to discover his identity.

  5. I read and reread her for many reasons, including the dialogue. She can have such insight into social intercourse. Take the Mahjong scene in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as the various village characters gossip and Pung and handle their tiles. Mahjong enjoyed a huge following in the West in the 1920s, and it’s a delightful window into that world.

    And Captain Hastings. He’s so dim (but sweet) and thinks highly of his own cognitive powers, despite Poirot’s opposing opinion. He is the narrator, and yet we see right through his fond self-delusions, so that while he describes things one way, we, the smug readers, clearly know better.

  6. Though I count the movie Murder on the Orient Express as one of my all-time favorites, I did not read an Agatha Christie book until I was forty. Hercule Poirot is, in my opinion, one of the best characters ever written. I find Agatha herself as interesting, if not more so, than the people in her books. I always enjoy reading anything about her life.

  7. I’m glad Sheila said it first. I tried her when I was young and didn’t enjoy the books. Maybe it’s time to give them another try. I’ll start with the three you mentioned, Julie. As to the surfing, for me at least, it’s a no.

  8. Count me among Dame Agatha’s many fans. I discovered her around the same age as Julie and Reine, and to me she captures my sense memory of rainy days at the beach. She was a fascinating woman and her accomplishments are mind-boggling. How many other authors created not one, but two detectives who almost anyone can name?

    1. As I read your comment, Barb, I realized that when I recall Dame Agatha’s characters and plotlines, I reexperience those aspects of the environment that I lived while reading her books for the first time. Most of those were back when I lived with on the rocky coast around Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts. I was very young and never thought I would connect those visceral events that created a lasting atmospheric experience between the lived and the fantasy that revisits me yet today and will likely continue to be evocative of her and her creations. While mention of her brings back to life the sound of waves breaking on rocks, the sight of gulls catching fish that we tossed into the air, or the way the air tasted with an approaching hurricane—with one calling up the reality of the living past by evocation of the fictional other.

  9. Have I confessed here before that I haven’t read many of Agatha Christie’s books? It’s not that I don’t like her, I just have so many other books calling to me.

    With that out of the way, I listened to And Then There Were None on tape 20 years ago and loved it – once I got over the ending. And I’ve seen the play multiple times. I’ve seen other play versions of her stories, including Mousetrap. And I just listened to Murder on the Orient Express (review coming tomorrow). Even knowing the ending, it was still a captivating read.

    1. The 1970s movie of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is wonderful. The David Suchet version–not so much. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE–I love that the play and the book have different endings, even though she wrote them both. The book is bleak, but really good. REALLY good.

      1. Actually, multiple theaters around put on the play three years in a row, and I went to see all three productions of it. The final one we saw has the original ending – almost. It still has the final two being innocent, like the play does, however, it keeps the outcome of the book.

  10. Love Agatha! In fact, I named my yarn shop in my November release Miss Marple Knits. And coincidentally, I discovered her the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I had a babysitting gig in another town and the baby slept a lot! So plenty of time to read. And btw, if you haven’t heard about it yet, BBC is filming a new version of And Then There Were None right now.

  11. I probably know Christie best from her stage/screen adaptations—I actually played the killer in Mousetrap for community theater.
    Agatha Christie, surfer. I think if someone wrote that into a piece of fiction, everyone would think they made it up.

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