Dame Agatha Christie (September 15, 1890 – January 12, 1976)
The Public Persona
Everyone who had studied or written about Agatha Christie agrees on one point. She is very famous – the most famous woman writer ever. During her 85 years of life, she authored 78 crime novels, 150 short stories, 6 conventional (not crime) novels, 4 non-fiction books, and 19 plays. By one count, more than 2 billion copies of her books and plays had been sold in 104 languages – outselling even William Shakespeare! More than 7.5 million people have seen her most famous play, The Mousetrap, since it first opened in 1952.
But, despite all of this fame, Agatha Christie was a complex woman, whom few people fully understand. The public’s knowledge of Christie is limited, because she carefully avoided public appearances, said little in public, and never gave public speeches.
In her autobiography, Christie wrote how slow-witted she was a child, and chronically incapable
of expressing her feelings. In frustration, Christie once decided to turn to music, since she was sufficiently talented as a pianist to consider becoming a professional. But, alas, even with small audiences, Christie would freeze up when playing the piano. She wrote, “Inarticulate I shall always be. It is probably one of the causes that have made me a writer.”
As she grew older, and became more and more famous, Christie seemed to become even more private, silent and inadequate in public. Here’s an example. In 1962, at the age of 72, Christie was invited as the guest of honor to an exclusive party at the Savoy Hotel in London. The party was made to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the running of her popular play, The Mousetrap. However, the doorman refused to let Christie in, not knowing who she was. Christie did not protest or brush the doorman aside. Instead, she turned meekly away, saddened and confused, later to write how the party ended up as a pitiful failure.
Some writers have suggested that Christie may have suffered throughout her life from a chronic form of agoraphobia. This is a mental disorder creating an intense fear of public places.
An Adventurous and Happy Childhood
Christie was born in an upper-middle class family, growing up in a large Italian-style stucco villa on the English seashore. She had a happy and peaceful childhood.
Christie was allowed by her free-spirited mother to run wild as much as possible. She would regularly amaze family and friends with her actions. On her own, she went out at a very young age on a sailboat with her unreliable brother. She went on a mule trip with her sister without permission. At the age of 6, she climbed out the 4th floor window of a hotel and walked riskily along the foot-wide ledge. In 1911, at the age of 21, Agatha’s mother paid 5 pounds for her to go up in that new invention called an airplane for 5 minutes. Despite her public shyness, Agatha was obviously adventurous and bold.
Agatha Christie was home-tutored, which was customary for young women during the Victorian era. She nevertheless demonstrated she had a brilliant mind, excelling in mathematics, logic, and music.
Christie also grew up from being a scrawny little kid into a tall, slim blonde, who was very popular with the opposite sex. She had many suitors as a young woman, before she finally married.