Interesting facts from the life of Agatha Christie (1890-1976), prolific author of detective novels
As it’s Agatha Christie’s birthday today – she was born 15 September 1890 – we felt it was time we honoured one of the most popular novelists who has ever lived. So here are five great facts about the life and work of Agatha Christie.
1. Agatha Christie is the bestselling writer of all time, with over 2 billion novels sold. The history of detective fiction is a history of bestselling writers – Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and more recently, crime writers like James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell – but Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (to give her her full name and title) is the most successful of them all.
2. Christie wrote her first book as the response to a challenge from her sister Madge. Like H. Rider Haggard, who wrote his first successful novel as a bet, Christie rose to the challenge and produced The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, in 1916. It would be published after the First World War, in 1920. Christie wrote numerous further Poirot novels, as well as novels featuring her other most enduring creation, Miss Marple; in all, she wrote some 66 full-length crime novels. She also penned romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Christie liked to think up murder plots for her novels while eating apples in the bath. (Dylan Thomas may have had this story in mind when he remarked that he’d much rather lie in a bath reading Agatha Christie than spend his time writing poetry.)
3. When Christie killed him off, Hercule Poirot was given a full front-page obituary in the New York Times. Christie disliked Hercule Poirot, calling him ‘a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep’. Much like Arthur Conan Doyle with his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, Christie tired of her creation and actually planned to kill him off as early as the 1940s, when she wrote Curtain, the novel in which Poirot meets his end. The novel would not be published – and Poirot not finally killed off – until 1975, a year before Christie herself died. Hercule Poirot’s surname, by the way, comes from the French poireau, meaning ‘leek’.
4. She once chloroformed a hedgehog that had become tangled up in her tennis net, in order to free it. As well as being kind to animals, the crime writer was something of a sportswoman, and a trailblazing one at that: Agatha Christie was one of the first people to enjoy surfing while standing up. (Other devotees of the sport, which is inextricably associated with Christie’s home county of Devon in England, included George Bernard Shaw.)
5. Christie is the only female dramatist to have had three plays running in the West End at the same time. The most famous – and enduring – of these three is undoubtedly The Mousetrap, which long ago broke all records for the longest-running stage production. Richard Attenborough was in the original cast when the play opened in 1952. It is still running in the West End, over 25,000 performances later. It began life as a radio play, Three Blind Mice, in 1947 before being turned into a short story, which was then transformed into the murder mystery that has been keeping audiences entertained for over 60 years ever since. The eventual rodent-themed title is an allusion to the name of the play-within-the-play in Hamlet by William Shakespeare.
If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie and enjoyed these facts, you may be interested to hear what she sounded like. This may be the only known recording of Agatha Christie’s voice.
Image: Agatha Christie in 1925, author unknown; via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).