Article abstract: Because of her ingenuity in devising plots, her skill in creating characters (particularly detectives such as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot), and her genial humor, Christie won international fame and a considerable fortune as the best-selling detective story writer in history.
Agatha Miller was born September 15, 1890, in the seaside English town of Torquay. Although her father, Frederick Alvah Miller, was a New York businessman, he had settled in Torquay with his English wife, née Clarissa Margaret Beochmer, the daughter of a military officer who had died young. Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was the third child in the family.
At their country home, Ashfield, the Millers lived the pleasant life of the prewar English gentry, depending on their servants for the care of the large house and of the young children. Perhaps because she was shy, Agatha was educated at home until she turned sixteen, when she spent two years at a finishing school in Paris. Even as a child, she dabbled in writing. Later, she had some poems published. The important business of life, however, was to find a husband.
There was no shortage of candidates. With her fine features, fair complexion, gray eyes, striking reddish-gold hair, and, above all, her lively personality, Miller was popular. Yet she did not lose her heart until she met handsome, dashing Lieutenant Archibald Christie, of the Royal Field Artillery. In 1914, they were married. Then he went to war, and Agatha went into nursing.
By 1916, Christie had accumulated some weeks of leave, and on a bet from her sister, she retreated to a hotel on Dartmoor. There she wrote her first detective story, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Set in a seaside town like Torquay, the novel introduced the kind of characters which were to be typical of Christie: ladies and gentlemen of the British upper classes and their servants. This first novel was also significant because it introduced the Belgian detective who was to appear in many of her later works: the vain, precise, and delightful Hercule Poirot. Although at the time no one realized it, certainly not Christie herself, a career which was to make her famous throughout the world had begun.
Christie had already demonstrated the qualities which would ensure her success. The vivacity which had attracted Lieutenant Christie could sparkle in her works. The firsthand knowledge of life in a country house would serve her well in stories which so often have such a setting, where murder is more fascinating because it seems impossible. Above all, the discipline which she had evidenced in her nursing years would be necessary for the long career in which she wrote at least one book every year for fifty-six years.
Even before the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920, Christie was at work on another book, The Secret Adversary (1922), which introduced her seemingly scatterbrained detective couple, Tuppence and Tommy Beresford.
Although her first novel sold only two thousand copies, by 1926 Christie’s earnings were substantial. She had a country home, a daughter, Rosalind, a satisfying career, and a handsome husband. The year which saw the publication of her seventh book, however, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), was one of personal disaster. Not only did her beloved mother die, but also Christie discovered that her husband was involved with an acquaintance of hers named Nancy Neele. On December 3, 1926, began the great mystery of Christie’s own life. She disappeared, and despite the publicity that her name now attracted and the efforts of police throughout England, she was not found until December 14, when she was spotted at a Harrowgate hotel, where she was registered as “Mrs. Neele.” Whether she planned her disappearance or had some kind of mental breakdown, perhaps amnesia, has never been determined. At any rate, she was divorced in 1928. Meanwhile, she continued to write, completing The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), which used as its setting the boat-train on which she and her husband had traveled during the unhappy final period of their marriage.
In 1930, Christie’s fortunes took a turn for the better. In September, she married the archaeologist Max Mallowan, whose enthusiasm for his profession she had come to share, and with whom she lived happily until her death. In that year she also published Murder at the Vicarage, the book in which her spinster detective Miss Jane Marple first appeared, a character who would reappear in...
(The entire section is 1906 words.)