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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.

The 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 her use of point of view. I focused on the novels she 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?

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