Agatha Christie: her Life and her Work

Como le dije a Javi Martín Real en una entrevista que me hizo no  hace mucho y que publicó en su espléndido blog (javiervallestero.blogspot.com), me encanta leer y releer las novelas de Agatha Christie y siempre se las he recomendado a mis alumnos, no solo por el interés que tiene tratar de descubrir al asesino por las pistas que la autora va dejando caer a lo largo del  relato, aunque a veces resulten engañosas, sino porque cada página de cualquier novela de Agatha Christie está llena de modismos y expresiones coloquiales que no han perdido actualidad y que les ayudan por tanto a mejorar su inglés. Si queréis saber algo más sobre su vida y su obra, aquí tenéis hoy una charla que di en la EOI de Málaga en diciembre de 2011:


1.- Introduction: some facts and figures that make Agatha Christie great

First of all, I must thank you the Official School of Languages for having invited me to talk about Agatha Christie. I’m far from being an expert in literature and so I can really hold no claims for this honour, if we except the fact that I am and have always been a fan of Agatha Christie’s and have read and re-read all her books with pleasure.
Well, I’ll begin my talk by giving you some facts and figures about Agatha Christie that make her great:
- she wrote 94 books, including six romantic novels under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott
- her novels have been translated into 103 languages
 - The Mousetrap, her most famous play, has been running in London since 1952 to the present day
- more than one thousand million copies of her books in English and another one thousand million in other languages have been sold
- in a normal year 5 million A. Christie paperbacks are sold in the United States alone

2.- Agatha Christie’s life

some important dates in Agatha Christie’s life

15th September 1890 – Born at Torquay, Devon, in Ashfield, her parents’ home. Her parents were Frederick Alvah Miller, an American businessman from New York and Clarissa Margaret Boehmer, called Clara by the family. She had one sister (Marjorie) and an elder brother (Louis) who she called Monty, both older than her. Agatha adored them both, especially Monty, although he used to tease her quite a lot. But Agatha’s childhood was a very happy one. In the first chapter of her Autobiography, which she began writing in April 1950 and finished 15 years later, in 1965, when she was 75 years old, she says: “One of the happiest things that can happen to you in life is to have a happy childhood. I had a very happy childhood. I had a home and a garden that I loved; a wise and patient Nanny; and as father and mother two people who loved each other dearly and made a success of their marriage and of parenthood.” Like the Victorian woman she was her mother gave Agatha a very good education, though she didn’t go to school for long. But she was taught at home and she was very good at Arithmetic, French (at speaking it, not at spelling), music, singing, etc. When she was 15 she was sent to Paris to a fashionable finishing school for young girls to complete her education.

1914 – Marries Archibald Christie – Lieutenant-colonel from the Royal Flying Corps. She fell in love with this handsome soldier, though as she later admitted that marriage was a mistake because they had nothing in common. But she didn’t have much experience with men. It’s true that she had flirted with many young men both in England and in  Cairo where she had been with her mother after her father’s death, but she had had no serious engagements. As a child she was very naive, and when she was 11 or twelve years old she believed what her sister Madge told her about how women had children: children came through the navel. The mother had a key to her daughter’s  navel and when she got married the mother gave the key to the husband. Anyway, she married Archie; this marriage lasted 14 years and she had a daughter, Rosalind, by him.

1920 – her first novel gets published by The Bodley Head (they published her first 6 novels, then her literary agent took her novels to Collins). The novel had previously been refused by several publishers and it took a year for it to be accepted.

1926 – On Dec. the 3rd, the Queen of Crime or the Duchess of Death as she preferred to be called, mysteriously disappears for 11 days. Her car, a green Morris, is found by a gypsy abandoned in a quarry. She was finally found at a hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, a fashionable resort near Leeds, where she had checked in with the name of her husband’s mistress, Mrs. Nancy Neele. Nowadays people would think it was a publicity stunt, but apparently Agatha suffered from amnesia. The mystery has never been solved. It’s been suggested that she wanted to teach her husband a lesson for his infidelity, but Agatha never mentioned this, not even in her autobiography, published by Collins one year after her death, so nobody knows the reason for her disappearence.

1928 – she divorces her first husband.

1930 – she marries Sir Max Mallowan, the famous archeologist, who was 14 years younger than her. Curiously, when they got married she gave her age as 37, three years less than she was and he, as 31, 5 years older than he really was. It was a very happy marriage. She’s reputed to have once said: “Marry an archeologist. The older you get, the more charming he will find you.” They loved and respected each other very much. She accompanied her husband in his archeological diggings in the Middle East (Baghdad, Nimrud) and help him classify the items that were found.
They were devoted to each other all their lives and they were together until Agatha’s death in January 1976. Sir Max Mallowan died two years later.

Nov. 25th 1952 – The Mousetrap’s first night at the Ambassadors Theatre in London. It had been previously presented in Nottingham on the 6th of October, where it had been a resounding success. The Mousetrap was later (1974) transferred to the larger St. Martin´s Theatre where it is still running. It holds the record for the play with the longest run in the history of the theatre and it has become a must for visitors to London. It was written by Agatha in 1947 as a thirty-minute radio play with the title Three Blind Mice to commemorate Queen Mary’s 80th birthday. When the BBC asked her what she’d want to celebrate the event Queen Mary said she would like a play by Agatha Christie. Agatha gave the rights to the play to Matthew Prichard, her only grandson, who has become a millionaire thanks to this.

Oct. 28th 1953 – Witness for the Prosecution’s first night in London. It was also highly successful and later it was filmed several times.

1971 – she’s granted the title Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. She said that it had been one of the happiest moments in her life.

Jan. 12th 1976 – she dies in Cholsey, near Wellingford, Oxfordshire, where she’s buried at St Mary’s, the parish church.

let’s check how good your memory is: what important events in agatha’s life happened on the following dates:

1971 –
1930 –
1952 –
1926 –
1976 -


1971 – made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.
1914 – she married Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Christie
1930 – She married the famous archeologist Sir Max Mallowan, 14 years younger than her
1952 – Her most famous play, The Mousetrap, is produced in London, where it’s still running.
1926 – she disappears mysteriously for 11 days.
1976 – She dies in Cholsey, near Wellingford, Oxfordshire.

3.- Agatha Christie’s work

order the following novels by date of publication


Murder at the Vicarage
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
They Came to Baghdad
Elephants Can Remember
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Murder on the Orient Express  


The Mysterious Affair at Styles – 1920 (her sister Marjorie told her once: “I’ll bet you can’t write a mystery to which I can’t guess the ending”. Agatha replied: “Wait and see. I have an idea going around in my head about medicine.” And in three weeks she had finished her first novel. Agatha had worked as a volunteer in the dispensary of a London hospital during the 1st World War, and there she had learnt quite a lot about poisons).
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – 1926 (she was accused of playing a trick on her readers)

Murder at the Vicarage - 1930 (where Miss Jane Marple first appears)

Murder on the Orient Express – 1934 (filmed several times)
They Came to Baghdad – 1951 (also filmed)
Elephants Can Remember – 1972 (one of her last novels)

the most famous characters she created

Hercule Poirot – the Belgian detective (first appears at The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first novel, 1920). Agatha describes him as follows: “ An extraordinary-looking little man. He was precisely five feet four inches tall; he carried himself with great dignity; his head was exactly the shape of an egg and he always had it perched a little to one side. And above all there was his moustache, very stiff and military and his pride and joy... he always wore striped trousers, correct black jacket, bow tie, and patent leather shoes, and a muffler if the weather was less than hot.” (Agatha ‘killed’ him in Curtain – 1975)

Miss Jane Marple, the spinster, living in the small village of St.Mary Mead (modelled on her great-aunt and her grandmother), first appeared in Murder at the Vicarage (1930). Agatha imagines her as follows: “a tall, slender, fragile, pink-and-white lady with silver curling hair and an expression of the utmost gentleness in her china-blue eyes.” (she appears for the last time in Agatha’s posthumous novel Sleeping Murder – 1976 – she doesn’t ‘kill’ Miss Marple, maybe because in a way she identified herself with this old lady).

her favourite novels

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - 1926
Moving Finger - 1942
Crooked House - 1949
The Pale Horse - 1961
Endless Night - 1967

4.- the language in Agatha Christie’s novels

colourful language: no lengthy descriptions, plenty of dialogues and idioms

Match the numbers with the letters

1.- to talk turkey
2.- to talk nineteen to the dozen
3.- to take a month of Sundays
4.- to send sb. off with a flea in their ear
5.- to put the wind up sb.
6.- He didn’t cut any ice with Helen
7.- To stick out one’s neck

a.- tardar un verano
b.- jugarse el tipo
c.- meter las cabras en el corral a alguien
d.- hablar con franqueza
e.- no hacía buenas migas con Helen
f.- echar a alguien con viento fresco
g.- hablar por los codos

KEY: 1-d; 2-g; 3-a; 4-f; 5-c; 6-e; 7-b

the grammar of some of her uneducated characters (maids, gardeners, etc.)

-         I says, instead of I say
-         he was took, instead of he was taken
-         there’s a man wants to see you, for there’s a man who/that wants to see you
-         hoping as you will forgive me for troubling you – for hoping that...
-         you mean Jackie Afflick as was in Fane & Watchman’s office - ...who was...
-         I did hear as you and your husband was some kind of relations – for I did hear that you and your husband were some kind of relations
-         the lady said as how you could do with a little extra help of a Wednesday – the lady said that you could do with a little extra help on Wednesdays
-         smoke me pipe in peace for smoke my pipe in peace
-         she didn’t have no luck for she didn’t have any luck
-         some people ain’t got no eye for geraniums no more for some people have no eye for geraniums any more

novel titles based on well-known nursery rhymes (verses read to children in bed before they go to sleep)

Match the numbers with the letters:

1.- Three blind mice, see how they run?
They all ran after the farmer´s wife,
who cut off their tails with a carving knife...

2.- Mrs McGinty’s dead. How did she die?
Sticking her neck out just like I...

3.- The clock struck one.
The mouse ran down
Hickory, dickory, dock.

4.- One, two,
Buckle my shoe;
Three, fout,
Knock at the door;
Five, six.
Pick up sticks;
Seven, eight,
Lay them straight;
Nine, ten,
A big fat hen...

5.- Ten little nigger boys went out to dine.
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little nigger boys sat up very late.
One overslept himself and then there were eight...
And then there were none.

6.- This little pig went to market;
This little pig stayed at home;
This little pig had roast beef;
This little pig had none;
And this little pig cried, wee-wee-wee-wee-wee,
I can’t find my way home.

a.- One, Two, Buckle my Shoe.
b.- Five Little Pigs.
c.- Ten Little Niggers (later And Then There None)
d.- Three Blind Mice (later the Mousetrap)
e.- Hickory, Dickory, Dock.
f.- Mrs. McGinty’s Dead.


1-d; 2-f; 3-e; 4-a; 5-c; 6-b

Well, that’s all. I hope you enjoyed my talk and are willing to say with me: “Thank you so much Agatha for the hours of fun that you have given us.” And I thank you for your kind attention.


Christie, Agatha, 1977, An Autobiography, London: Collins.
Robyns, Gwen, 1976, The Mystery of Agatha Christie, New York: Doubleday.
Opie, Iona and Peter (eds.), 1973, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

further notes

After A. Christie’s father’s death when she was 11 years old the family had some financial difficulties.
A. Christie’s idea of complete happiness was to have a houseful of servants.
In the 2nd World War, Greenway, A. Christie’s mansion in Devon was taken over by the Admiralty.
Hubert, her daughter’s Rosalind’s husband was killed in action in the war.
Charles Laughton played the judge’s role in Witness for the Prosecution (film).
20 months after A. Christie’s death, Sir Max Mallowan married a mutual friend of theirs, Barbara, also an archeologist. Agatha had always told her husband that if she were to die before him she would like him to remarry. This marriage lasted only a few months.

5 comentarios :

  1. That's a very interesting talk.

    I've got to make time to read some of her novels!

  2. I'm glad you liked them. Agatha Christie is one of my favourite writers and I have read all her novels. By the way, when are you going to start writing your own detective novels? I'm sure they would be quite a success.

  3. Really interesting! I love Agatha Christie, my favourite of all I've read, would be, without a doubt, "Crooked House", that girl... ;)

  4. She's my favourite too, and I still re-read her novels with pleasure.