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...
Agatha’s 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 Marple’s Last Case, was published posthumously in October 1976.