Agatha Christie Biography

Agatha surf

Born in Torquay in 1890, Agatha Christie became, and remains, the best-selling novelist of all time.

She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation.

What can I say at seventy-five? ‘Thank God for my good life, and for all the love that has been given to me.

Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Early Life

Agatha Christie was the youngest of three children born to Frederick Alvah Miller and his wife, Clara Boehmer, a well-off upper-middle-class couple. Miller was the American-born son of a dry goods merchant whose second wife, Margaret, was Boehmer’s aunt. They settled in Torquay, Devon, and had two children before Agatha. Their oldest child, a daughter named Madge (short for Margaret) was born in 1879, and their son, Louis (who went by “Monty”), was born in Morristown, New Jersey, during an 1880 visit to the United States. Agatha, like her sister, was born in Torquay, ten years after her brother.

By most accounts, Christie’s childhood was a happy and fulfilling one. Along with her immediate family, she spent time with Margaret Miller (her mother’s aunt/father’s stepmother) and her maternal grandmother, Mary Boehmer. The family held an eclectic set of beliefs—including the idea that Christie’s mother Clara had psychic abilities—and Christie herself was homeschooled, with her parents teaching her reading, writing, math, and music. Although Christie’s mother wanted to wait until she was eight to begin teaching her to read, Christie essentially taught herself to read much earlier and became a passionate reader from a very young age. Her favorites included the work of children’s authors Edith Nesbit and Mrs. Molesworth, and, later, Lewis Carroll.

Because of her homeschooling, Christie didn’t have as much of an opportunity to form close friendships with other children in the first decade of her life. In 1901, her father died from chronic kidney disease and pneumonia after being in failing health for some time. The following year, she was sent to a regular school for the first time. Christie was enrolled at Miss Guyer’s Girls’ School in Torquay, but after years of a less-structured educational atmosphere at home, she found it hard to adjust. She was sent to Paris in 1905, where she attended a series of boarding and finishing schools.

Agatha Christie is one of the most popular writers in history. Almost four billion copies of her novels have been sold across the globe, and her book sales are beaten only by William Shakespeare. Here, we take a look at the life of the best-selling author, whose novels include some of the most recognisable characters in British literature, including Poirot and Miss Marple

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Agatha Christie

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Published: January 7, 2021 at 3:30 pm

Your guide to best-selling author Agatha Christie…

When was Agatha Christie born?

15 September 1890, Torquay, Devon

When did she die?

12 January 1976, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

What is she remembered for?

Being one of the best-selling authors in history, Agatha Christie’s crime novels have produced some of the most recognisable characters in British literature, including Poirot and Miss Marple.

In 1971 Christie was presented with a damehood by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to literature.

Who were her family?

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born into a comfortably middle-class family. Her father, Frederick Alvah Miller, was a stockbroker from New York, and her mother, Clara Boehmer, was the daughter of an army officer. Agatha had two older siblings named Margaret and Louis.

In 1914 Agatha married Archibald Christie, an officer in the military. Together they had one child, named Rosalind, in 1919. The couple divorced in 1928.

Agatha married her second husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, in 1930.

Agatha Christie

How did she become an author?

Growing up in Devon during the last decade of the 19th century, Agatha taught herself to read by the age of five. While her two siblings were sent away for their education, Agatha was homeschooled by her parents, and from a young age she enjoyed reading, writing poetry and playing music. In her autobiography, published in 1977, Agatha commented that she was lucky to have a “very happy childhood”. However, Agatha lost her father in November 1901 after he suffered numerous heart attacks.

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In 1902 Agatha began her formal education at Miss Guyer’s Girls’ School in Torquay, before moving to France in 1905 to continue her education at three different Parisian schools.

After moving back to England in 1910, Agatha began writing her first short story, The House of Dreams. Not until 1926 was the tale published, in an issue of The Sovereign Magazine.

Who was her first husband?

While attending a dance in 1912, Agatha met Archie Christie, an officer in the Royal Flying Corps. The pair very quickly fell in love, but had to delay getting married.

Following the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914, Archie was sent to fight in France, while Agatha joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment as an unpaid nurse at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay. The couple married on Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church in Bristol while Archie was on leave. They stayed at The Grand Hotel in Torquay on the first night of their honeymoon, before Archie had to return to France on 27 December.

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The couple’s early married life was disrupted by the war – they were able to meet on only a few rare occasions throughout the duration of the conflict.

However, they were reunited in January 1918 when Archie moved to London after being given a position in the War Office. After the war ended in November 1918, Archie found a job in finance in London, and the couple’s daughter, Rosalind, was born in August 1919.

When did she begin writing detective stories and crime novels?

It was during the First World War that Agatha began writing detective stories. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was written in 1916, but was not published until four years later.

Christie’s second novel, The Secret Adversary, was published in 1922 and was well received by reviewers. In the same year, Archie was asked to tour areas of the British Empire to promote the opening of the British Empire Exhibition (which promoted Britain and its colonies and was due to open in London in 1924). Agatha joined her husband on his travels, and while visiting Hawaii the couple possibly became two of the first Europeans to master surfing standing up.

Agatha Christie

After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Agatha volunteered at the pharmacy of the University College Hospital in London. There she learned about different poisons and medicines, and she used this newfound knowledge in her later crime novels.

Agatha continued to write after the Second World War, and was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1956 New Year Honours list for her contribution to literature. Her husband was presented with a knighthood in 1968 for his archaeological work, and Agatha was promoted to Dame Commander in 1971.

What were the circumstances surrounding her mysterious disappearance in 1926?

The year 1926 proved to be a difficult one for Agatha: her mother died, and her husband unexpectedly announced that he was leaving her for another woman. Overwhelmed by these events, on 3 December Agatha left her home during the night, leaving a letter stating she was travelling to Yorkshire.

However, the next morning Agatha’s car was discovered near the top of a chalk quarry, several miles from her home, sparking a nationwide search to find the novelist. Agatha’s picture featured in scores of newspapers, including the New York Times, and journalists speculated over what might have happened to her.

Agatha Christie newspaper clipping

Following an extensive search, Agatha was discovered at a hotel in Harrogate 11 days after going missing, having checked in under the name of her husband’s mistress, Theresa Neele. Agatha famously could not recall what had happened to her, and she never spoke publicly of her disappearance. Despite numerous speculations by the police, the press and Agatha’s family members, it is probable that we will never know for sure what happened to her.

When did she divorce?

In 1928 Agatha completed one of her most famous novels, The Mystery of the Blue Train. Also in this year, her divorce was finalised.

Two years later, during a visit to an archaeological site in Ur, near Baghdad, Agatha met archaeologist Max Mallowan, who was almost 14 years her junior. The couple married in September 1930, just six months after first meeting.

Agatha continued to write popular detective novels, which included Murder on the Orient Express (1934); Death on the Nile (1937) and Appointment with Death (1938).

Agatha Christie with second husband, Max Mallowan

How did she die?

Agatha’s health began to decline during the 1970s, and on 12 January 1976 she died from natural causes at her home in Oxfordshire. Agatha’s final novel, Sleeping Murder: Miss Marples Last Case, was published posthumously in October 1976.

Agatha Christie (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English writer of crime and romantic novels. She is best remembered for her detective stories including the two diverse characters of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She is considered to be the best selling writer of all time. Only the Bible is known to have outstripped her collected sales of roughly four billion worldwide copies. Her works have been translated into more languages than any other individual writer.

Early life

Agatha_Christie

Agatha Christie was born in Torquay, Devon 1890 to Clarissa Margaret Boehmer and a wealthy American stockbroker. She said her father was a most agreeable man “but (he) was a gentleman of substance and never did a handsturn in his life.” She received little formal education and was brought up by both her mother and her sister. She did have access to many books and became an avid reader. She recalls her childhood days with fondness.

“One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is to have a happy childhood. I had a very happy childhood. I had a home and a garden that I loved; a wise and patient Nanny; as father and mother two people who loved each other dearly and made a success of their marriage and of parenthood.” A. Christie Autobiography

In 1905, she went to Paris where she was educated at finishing schools and hoped to become a singer, however, she realised that her voice was not strong enough to make it a career. She experimented with writing short novels, but not much came of it. She approached several publishers but, in the period before the First World War, received several rejections.

In 1914, Agatha Christie met Archibald Christie an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps – they married a few months after the outbreak of war in December 1914. They had a child, Rosalind in August 1919.

During the First World war, with her husband away in France, she trained and worked as a nurse helping to treat wounded soldiers. She also became educated in the field of pharmacy. She recalled her time as a nurse with great fondness, saying it was one of the most rewarding jobs she ever undertook.

Writing Career of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie was first published in 1920. Her first book was The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (1920) which featured the detective – Hercule Poirot, who at the time was portrayed as a Belgian refugee from the Great War. Poirot is one of the most recognised fictional characters in English with his mixture of personal pride, broken English and immaculate appearance and moustache. The book sold reasonably well and helped meet the public’s great appetite for detective novels. It was a genre that had been popularised through Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories at the turn of the century. In 1926, she made her big breakthrough with the publication of “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” This became a best-seller and made Christie famous as a writer.

Mysterious disappearance

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” – Foreward to Autobiography

In the same year (1926) as her major breakthrough, Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. It became national headline news as the whole country became absorbed in the mystery of where she had disappeared to. After much-publicised efforts, she was discovered eleven days later in a Harrogate hotel living under a false name. She appeared to be suffering from amnesia. Agatha Christie herself never gave a full explanation for those 11 days, preferring to ignore the subject.

agatha_Christie_with_Max_Mallowan_in_Tell_Halaf_1930s

However, it may have been partly due to her turbulent marriage. She frequently rowed with her husband, and in that year discovered he was having an affair. Also, she had recently lost her mother, to whom she was very close. In a way, the drama of her disappearance increased her profile as a writer of fiction.

After the affair, with created negative publicity towards her, she travelled to the Canary Islands for recuperation. In 1930, she married her second husband, Max Mallowan. This marriage was happier, though her only child, Rosalind Hicks, came from her first marriage. Her second husband Max Mallowan was an archaeologist and she often accompanied him on trips to the Middle East. She learnt to help in archaeological digs, taking photographs and working on the sites. Christie paid her own way and tried to keep out of the limelight, working anonymously.

Writings of Agatha Christie

Agatha_Christie_in_1925

Agatha Christie wrote over 40 novels featuring the proud and immaculate Hercule Poirot. Like Conan Doyle, Christie had no great love for her own creation – Poirot seemed to be admired by the public more than the writer herself. Also, she was similarly unenthused by Poirot’s foil – Captain Hastings. Christie felt he was a rather underdeveloped character, but the public loved him.

Agatha Christie preferred her other great detective – the quiet but effective old lady – Miss Marple, who used to solve crimes through her intricate knowledge of how people in English villages behave. The character of Miss Marple was based on the traditional English country lady – and her own relatives. In later life, she increasingly preferred Miss Marple to Poirot.

The plot of Agatha Christies novels could be described as formulaic. Murders were committed by ingenious methods – often involving poison, which Agatha Christie had great knowledge of. After interrogating all the main suspects, the detective would bring all the participants into some drawing-room before explaining who was the murderer. Her writing was quite clear and it is easy to get absorbed in the flow of the story. It also gave readers the chance to try and work out who the murderer was before it was revealed at the end.

Agatha Christie enjoyed writing. For her there was great satisfaction in creating plots and stories. She also wrote six novels in the genre of romance and suspense under a pseudonym – Mary Westmacott.

During the Second World War, Christie worked in the pharmacy of the University College London, which gave her ideas for some of her murder methods. After the war, her books continued to grow in international popularity. In 1952, her play The Mousetrap was debuted at the Ambassador’s Theatre in London and has been performed without a break ever since. Her success led to her being honoured in the New Year’s honour list. In 1971 she was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire.

Personal life

Agatha Christie loved embroidery, travelling and gardening – she won various horticultural prizes. She expressed a dislike of alcohol, smoking and the gramophone. She preferred to avoid the limelight and rarely gave public interviews. To some extent she hankered after the more idyllic days of Edwardian England she experienced in her childhood and was dubious about aspects of modern life.

“The quality of agreeableness is not much stressed nowadays. People tend to ask if a man is clever, industrious, if he contributes to the well-being of the community, if he ‘counts’ in the scheme of things.” -A. Christie, Part I of Autobiography

Religious views

Agatha Christie was baptised in the Anglican Church and remained a Christian throughout her life, though she went through periods of difficulty. She was very close to her mother, who was a practising Christian but also was willing to experiment in following practices of Catholocism and spiritualism. Agatha and her other siblings believed that her mother had a degree of psychic ability. Her own writings are not explicitly Christian, but generally have a theme of justice with the sinners unable to escape the consequences of their bad actions, and the moral universe restored. She kept her mother’s copy of “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis – close to her bed. In her own autobiography, she writes about her own awareness and interest in the inner spiritual sense.

“We never know the whole man, though sometimes, in quick flashes, we know the true man. I think, myself, that one’s memories represent those moments which, insignificant as they may seem, nevertheless represent the inner self and oneself as most really oneself.” – A. Christie

She died in 1976 aged 85 from natural causes, though may have experienced some dementia in her final years.

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