Monday, September 15, 2008

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie!

by Julia Buckley

It's September 15th already. The school year is well underway, the weather is cooling (and damping, thanks to all those hurricane after-effects), and before we know it trick-or-treaters will be at our door. But I like mid-September, the calm before the holiday storm. Perhaps that's why I always remember Agatha Christie's birthday; today she would be 118 years old.

There are all sorts of websites dedicated to Agatha; this one looks intriguing, and I hadn't ever noticed it before. I like the picture of Agatha on the mysterynet website, and they offer all of the most notable events of Agatha's life.
I discovered Dame Agatha, thanks to a tip from my mom, when I was about fourteen years old, with a charming little adventure called They Came to Baghdad. I loved it. My mother, knowing me, had selected the best Christie to engage my teenage mind, but after that every one of the mysteries was fair game, because I knew that each one would hold a puzzle that I would most likely not be able to solve. But boy, I sure loved trying. And there were no hard feelings in the end, when I failed again to guess the solution. I'd always give Agatha a figurative bow, deferring to her cleverness.

You know when people sometimes ask "Who would you want to meet, if you could go back in time?" Well, aside from my own grandparents when they were young, and probably Abe Lincoln (I'd try to save him at the theatre), I'd want to meet Agatha Christie. Just sit and have some tea with her and say, "So what are you working on now, Agatha?" And I'd take a fairy cake from the tray, (hey, it's my fantasy, there's going to be cake), luxuriate back in my chair, and listen.

I recently stumbled across a book I got for Christmas long ago called In the Footsteps of Agatha Christie, by Francois Riviere and with photos by Jean-Bernard Naudin. The book is simply breathtaking with its images of Agatha's Torquay and of the many settings she made into the settings of her books. My particular favorites were the little English village of Miss Marple and, of course, the old seaside resorts.

The book recounts tales from Agatha's life, one of which was her determination to write The Mysterious Affair at Styles and how she ended up staying in moody Dartmoor for inspiration (this Dartmoor photo">link). Here's a little excerpt which I find particularly interesting and ironic:

"Mrs. Miller suggested that she leave the hospital for a while and stay in a hotel which they both knew well, on the edge of Dartmoor.

Dartmoor is a bleak tableland in the very heart of Devon, scattered with weirdly shaped rocks and haunting to susceptible spirits. It is a remote, empty, windswept place at whose centre only two roads of any note cross. Seemingly uninhabited, except by ponies and sheep, the impressive scenery had always fascinated Agatha. As a child she had followed her parents looking for prehistoric traces known as 'hut circles', which seem to fade away as one draws near. She also remembered picnics on the moor in the pouring rain, and, like many of her contemporaries, had been marked by The Hound of the Baskervilles, that long investigation conducted by Sherlock Holmes in an other-worldly atmosphere and the setting of Dartmoor. It was to this land of dreams and mysteries that Agatha came to regain her forces and set her imagination to work again. . . .

The manuscript of The Mysterious Affair at Styles was completed in 1916 and sent to four publishers in succession. The first three replied with a polite refusal. The fourth, John Lane of The Bodley Head, did not deign to answer."

Even Agatha, the woman who would become the GREAT Agatha, couldn't get past those rejection letters. And that should give hope to us all. :) (Sounds a bit like J.K. Rowling's experience).

What's your favorite Christie?


David Cranmer said...

I just read They Came to Baghdad a few months ago. It's still a great read. My favorite Christie would have to be And Then There Were None.

Julia Buckley said...

That is a classic, David! I remember reading it and getting closer and closer to the end, thinking "She can't do this!" But she did. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

I didn't start reading mysteries until I was in my early thirties (no childhood spent devouring Nancy Drew for me -- I've still never read a single Nancy Drew). During one summer, I read just about everything Agatha Christie wrote, and my interest in mysteries was born. After I discovered Ruth Rendell, I realized the Christie type of story wasn't for me -- I want something much darker and more complex -- but I give her credit for awakening my love of mysteries.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Mine is THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. I love reading Christie.

Julia Buckley said...

Ah, yes. I heard someone slam Ruth Rendell at a recent writer's conference--they dismissed her and PD James as "dry, academic writers" and I was offended on their behalf.

That's a great one, Lonnie. It really surprised me in a good way.