World-famous English mystery author and playwright Agatha Christie, creator of the fictional detectives Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, with more than two billion copies the best-selling fiction writer of all time, died on January 12th, 1976 in Wallingford, a town south of Oxford.
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family on September 15th, 1890, in Torquay, in the southwestern county of Devon.
Largely home-schooled, the youngest of three siblings enjoyed fantasy play and creating characters, also learning to play the piano and the mandolin at a young age.
When her American father Frederick Alvah Miller (1846-1901) passed away, her happy childhood abruptly ended at a time when their financial situation had worsened.
Still, in 1905 her mother Clarissa Margaret “Clara” Miller (1854-1926) was able to send her to Paris to have her educated in a series of boarding schools focused on voice training and piano playing.
Christie completed her education in France, but gave up her goal of performing professionally as a concert pianist or an opera singer after realizing that she lacked the necessary temperament and talent.
Although encouraged by her mother to write, Christie experienced six consecutive rejections before her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was finally published in 1920.
During World War I, on Christmas Eve 1914, she wed Colonel Archibald Christie (1889-1962), a Royal Flying Corps pilot, in Bristol. She had taken up nursing through the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) of the Red Cross in October 1914 and did so for most of the conflict.
Afterwards Christie settled into married life, giving birth to her only child, Rosalind Margaret Clarissa (1919-2004), who inherited most of her huge fortune and declined many biography requests.
After her second work, The Secret Adversary (1922), which featured the new detective couple Tommy and Tuppence, and her third, The Murder on the Links, as well as some short stories came out in 1923, she had no difficulty living on her writing. In 1926, Christie released The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a genre classic and one of her all-time favorites.
That same year, following the death of her mother, Christie fell into a long, deep depression, aggravated by her husband asking for a divorce because he had begun a relationship with Nancy Neele (1899-1958).
Christie suddenly disappeared on December 3rd after quarreling with her spouse. More than 1,000 police officers and 15,000 volunteers as well as several airplanes unsuccessfully searched the rural landscape of Surrey, where her car had been discovered.
On December 14th, she was located at a hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered under the name of her husband’s mistress and her nationality indicated as South African.
The estranged couple ultimately divorced in October 1928. In September 1930, she married archaeologist Max Mallowan (1904-1978), whom she had met on a trip to Baghdad earlier that year. She recounted those events in the 1946 memoir Come, tell me how you live.
During World War II, Christie worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital (UCH) in London, where she updated her knowledge of poisons. The Pale Horse was inspired by that experience.
Elected fellow of The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) in 1950, Christie was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1956 and promoted to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1971.
In 1958 she became life-long co-president of the Detection Club, formed in 1930 by a group of British writers, and in 1961 she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Exeter.
Extremely prolific, Christie wrote more than sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections, but also romances under the name Mary Westmacott, like Unfinished Portrait in 1934 and A Daughter’s a Daughter in 1952, of which her offspring believed that the main character was based on her.
Christie’s play The Mousetrap opened in October 1952 at London’s Ambassador Theatre and ran continuously until March 2020, when the record-holding stage performances had to be temporarily discontinued due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Additionally, several of Christie’s works have become popular movies, including Ten little Indians, Witness for the Prosecution, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, The Mirror crack’d, Evil under the Sun and Crooked House, as well as the British television series with David Suchet, broadcast from 1989 to 2013.
While her last opus was 1973’s Postern of Fate, in 1974 Christie made her last public appearance for the opening night of the film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, which she enjoyed.