Thursday, September 9, 2010
And what better place to get that view than from Mallowan's Memoirs: The Autobiography of Max Mallowan (1977). The book is excellent for its vivid recollections of the digs at Ur, Nineveh, and Chagar Bazar, among others; its plates and illustrations of people, excavation sites and artifacts; and of course its observations on life with Dame Agatha. He was her husband, after all.
Fourteen years younger than Agatha, Sir Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan (he was knighted in 1968) was a classmate of Evelyn Waugh at Lancing and went on to earn a B.A. in classics at Oxford. After graduation, he foundered a bit until being invited to join Leonard Wooley as an apprentice at Ur, an ancient city, now located partway between Baghdad and the head of the Persian Gulf.
The odyssey at Ur is where Sir Max's absorbing tale begins. He describes the notoriously difficult nature of the Wooleys -- both of Leonard and even more so, of Katherine, who is gently portrayed in Agatha's Murder in Mesopotamia (1936). But it was Katherine's imperious nature that brought Max and Agatha together. She ordered Max to escort Agatha, who was on her second excursion to the Middle East, on a round-trip tour of Baghdad. He found the task -- and the mystery writer -- so agreeable that Max Mallowan and Agatha Christie were married on 11 September 1930.
The two -- Max no great mystery fan and Agatha no great archaeologist -- in the end made an interesting pair. And the marriage -- despite rumours of Max's affair with Barbara Parker, whom he married after Agatha's death -- was a happy one. Indeed, Mallowan's Memoirs is dedicated to Rosalind, Agatha's only child, 'with love.'
autobiography or Come Tell Me How You Live (1946) or any of her works set in the Middle East is to get a special sense of insight when reading Max's account.
Sir Max himself gives a charming perspective on Agatha's novels and craft, though he is careful to stop short of offering literary criticism. The critic of detective fiction, he wryly observes, 'must be either a knave or a fool,' for the elegance of the narrative lies in the arc from crime to solution. One cannot discuss mysteries intelligently, he writes, without discussing their endings.
Miss Lemon will bear that in mind.
In the meantime, she will say that this post is part of a series, the Agatha Christie Blog Tour, intended to commemorate her life and work. If you like Agatha Christie and her milieu, stop by and have a look round.