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September 6, 2019

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie on the set of Witness for the Prosecution (The Christie Archive Trust)

The undisputed Queen of whodunits, Agatha Christie, had a few mysteries of her own. From an unconventional childhood to a mysterious disappearance, untangle the complex and storied life of one of literature’s greatest crime writers.

1. She published six books under a pseudonym.

When not writing some of the most classic crime thrillers of all time, Agatha Christie was writing under the alias Mary Westmacott. The six Westmacott novels were bittersweet explorations of life and love, and much to Christie’s joy were rather successful. The name “Mary Westmacott” comes from Christie’s second name, Mary, and the “Westmacott” from some distant relatives. She successfully kept her identity as Mary Westmacott a secret for 20 years.

2. Her first novel was written as a dare.

Though Christie growing up was an avid reader, she did not pen her first novel until her sister, Madge, dared her to. The dare produced Christie’s first thriller The Mysterious Affair at Styles about the poisoning of a one Mrs. Inglethorp and was the introduction of the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. It was rejected by six publishers before it was printed in 1920.

3. Her mother did not want her to read.

Agatha Christie’s childhood was unconventional for many reasons, one of which being her homeschooling and her mother’s insistence that she not learn to read until the age of eight. Fortunately, the bright young Agatha was able to teach herself and fell in love with English poetry. She received no formal education until she was sent to finishing school in Paris at the age of 15.

4. Miss Marple was based on real people.

The only other detective Christie wrote who rivaled Hercule Poirot in popularity was Miss Jane Marple. Marple was an amalgam of old women Christie used to meet in the villages as a child, as well as her grandmother. In particular, it was her grandmother’s cheerfulness cut by her ability to (correctly) assume the worst in everyone that truly drove the character.

5. Hercule Poirot received a New York Times obituary.

Hercule Poirot is the only fictional character in history to receive an obituary from The New York Times. When he perished in the 1975 novel Curtain the reaction from fans was fierce. The New York Times printed a front-page obituary for the character on August 6, detailing his fictional life’s achievements. But seeing as Poirot’s debut was also that of Christie’s, it is poetic that the following year Christie herself passed away.

6. Poison please — no guns!

Though most of Christie’s novels involved murder, she was not big on gruesome violence. Many of her slain characters were poisoned, and this is likely due to Christie’s past working in a dispensary during war-time which equipped her with a working knowledge of pharmaceuticals. In fact, her knowledge of poisons was such that her debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles received a glowing write-up… from a pharmaceutical magazine.

7. She swore the official oath of detective writing.

Founded in 1928, The London Detective Club was a social club for crime writers, of which Christie was a member in good standing. As part of its membership, each writer needed to swear a (mostly tongue-in-cheek) oath to never keep vital clues from their readers and to never use entirely fictional poisons as a plot crutch. Christie even took the role of honorary president of the club in 1956, so presumably she kept her word.

8. She did not like taking author photos.

Though Christie took many photographs in her personal life, she was known to request that no likeness was printed on the jackets of her novels. Since she was not particularly camera-shy, it is likely she simply did not want to be recognized in public.

9. She once disappeared for 11 days.

In a plot worthy of one of her own novels, Agatha Christie disappeared from her London home in 1926 without a trace for 11 days. 1926 was a turbulent year for the writer: her mother had just passed away, and her husband, Archie, had recently revealed he was having an affair and had asked for a divorce. After she left her home, her car was found abandoned and the police feared the worst – dredging the local lakes and even tapping Archie’s phone. Eleven days later she turned up at the Old Swan Hotel, checked in under her husband’s mistress’s last name. To this day, no one knows exactly what happened, but it seems likely she simply wanted to get away from her tumultuous home life. The disappearance has been the subject of great speculation and imagination, and has even been the subject of an episode of Doctor Who, and Comedy Central’s Drunk History.

10. Agatha Christie was a surfer.

As a reminder that we all contain multitudes, Agatha Christie, the well-coiffed, put-together author of mystery was also known to hang ten. Along with her first husband, Archie, Christie went on an official tour of the British Empire in 1922 to promote the forthcoming British Empire Exhibition. The trip began in South Africa and included a stop in Hawaii. During their stay on Oahu, they became more and more capable of riding surf boards. Some historians even believe they may have been among the first British surfers to learn to ride standing up. Totally tubular.

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