Saturday, September 5, 2009

Felicitations, Agatha Christie

Miss Lemon begs your pardon whilst she marvels over the swift passage of time. She's not the first to observe the indifferent haste of the time-space continuum, she realizes; however the 15th of September, which will be so suddenly upon us, is Agatha's Christie's birthday. Were she alive today, she would be 119 years old.

To Miss Lemon, it seems only as if it were yesterday when she could look forward to a tantalizing new whodunit from the pen of this doyenne of mystery at the rate of at least two a year. The creative winds that filled Mrs. Christie's sails in the late '30s and 1940s still stagger:
And Then There Were None (1939)
Sad Cypress (1940)
Evil Under the Sun (1941)
N or M
The Body in the Library (1942)
Five Little Pigs (1942)
The Moving Finger (1943)
Death Comes as the End (1945)
Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946)
Taken at the Flood
Crooked House (1949)
A Murder Is Announced (1950)
Good heavens. These books came out more than sixty years ago. And they are only the highlights.

Mind you, there was a war was going on then. And when there wasn't, Agatha Christie spent a significant portion of her time helping her second husband, Max Mallowan, with a major archaeological dig at Ur.

But lest Miss Lemon set herself adrift on a sea of sentimentality and stray from the purpose of her column, she'll use the felicitous occasion of Mrs. Christie's birthday to recommend her magnum opus memoir: An Autobiography.

The book was published in 1977, the year after her death on 12 January 1976. But Agatha Christie had set to work on it in Nimrud, Iraq, on the second of April 1950. She wouldn't put the final period on it for another 15 years.

As one might expect, the scope of Mrs. Christie's memoir is wide and richly detailed. Her characteristic joie de vivre tumbles over most all of the 644 pages.

One will remark also her shyness and professionally uncharacteristic modesty. Mrs. Christie simply refused to view herself as a professional writer until well after the roaring success of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) and her divorce, when she turned to her writing to support herself. Even then, she looked at her success as a writer grudgingly and with a laundry list of qualifiers.

Nevertheless, the narrative of An Autobiography belies her own assessment. She recalls vividly, for example, the creepy story of 'The Elder Sister,' that Agatha's own elder sister would tell to frighten her as a child. Madge would assume the low voice and shifting countenance of a mad sister sent away and now returned to seek revenge. Agatha would shriek with an equal mix of terror and glee. From that moment, she must have remarked that there's something intensely enjoyable about feeling afraid in the comforts of one's own drawing room.

As in so many of Mrs. Christie's mysteries, the most simply stated observations can be the most revealing.

Voyeurs and sensation-seekers, Miss Lemon fears, will be disappointed. There's no mention of Mrs. Christie's eleven-day disappearance: the 1926 mystery that led her husband Archie to be briefly suspected of Agatha's murder. But then, Miss Lemon wouldn't have mentioned it either.

Indeed, Agatha Christie writes in preface to her memoirs, "I have remembered, I suppose, what I wanted to remember." That for Miss Lemon -- and, she suspects, for most of Mrs. Christie's admirers -- is more than enough.


  1. I agree with Ms Christie (and you Miss Lemon) that the benefit of writing one's own memoir is that you don't have to mention the awkward or sad things if you don't want to. I'm not a fan of the modern fad that celebrities seem to have of airing all their dirtiest laundry for all to see - who wants to know all those tawdry details?

  2. Here, here. My Nana always said a woman needed to maintain an air of mystery.

  3. Thanks for participating in the blog tour Elizabeth. Have you seen Margot Kinberg's blog? - might be of interest to you. She is on the tour later this week

  4. Oh, this was perfect! I loved every word. Thank you,

  5. I loved it too! Agatha's autobiography is now top of my wish list. I am intrigued though by those eleven missing days in 1926 ...

  6. After this week, I shall have to look up this autobiography. Right now I'm in the midst of reading a book per day and then doing a review also. However, this sound very intriguing, even if it looks the most intriguing part of her life out of it.

  7. Great post. I featured her autobiography too. I understand why she want to keep her private life private. It hasn't stopped my curiosity about her. But I will respect her privacy.