I do like a literary biography and Lucy Worsley's Agatha Christie - A Very Elusive Woman is a great autumnal read. It's a traditional 'womb to tomb' format which can sometimes be tricky but Worsley keeps this fresh by interjecting her own thoughts. For example, when she was researching Agatha's first husband, handsome pilot Archie Christie and saw his picture she thought he was 'totally hot!'
I expected the most intriguing part of the book to be Agatha's famous eleven day disappearance in 1926 which caused so many repercussions and gave her an unfair reputation for being difficult. Actually though I became absorbed in the voluntary nursing that Agatha did during the Great War before switching to pharmacy dispensing which she did as a volunteer in both world wars. Of course, it was the pharmaceutical knowledge of drugs and dosage which inspired some of her famous plots.
The popular image of Agatha Christie is that of a formidable older women but Worsley brings into clear view the young Agatha described by a contemporary as 'tall, very pretty, Scandinavian coloring and a lovely complexion' who falls in love with the dashing aviator Archibald Christie. Sadly the marriage didn't last and Archie's affair prompted Agatha's disappearance where she drove aimlessly around the Surrey Hills at night contemplating suicide before heading towards a quarry. The car wheels became jammed in a hedge and hitting her head on the steering wheel may have shocked her back into an appreciation of life. Worsley attributes this to a mental breakdown and fear that she was losing her mind and incapable of looking after her young daughter which seems entirely plausible.
Less easy to explain is the subsequent trip to a department store and booking into the Spa Hotel in Harrogate under a pseudonym where she seems to have rather enjoyed herself. While friends and family grew frantic with worry and rival police forces were searching for her Agatha was socialising with other guests, dancing the Charleston and having parcels of clothes, books, magazines and flowers delivered to her room.
What an extraordinary life she had! A hugely successful writing career. Author of The Mousetrap the longest running West End play. A passion for buying and restoring houses. A subsequent marriage to Max Mallowan which launched a new interest in archeology, excavation and travel. I can't say I warmed to Max or her chilly daughter Rosalind in this biography but Agatha comes across as a joy who adored and financially supported her family and friends and when the taxman finally came calling said 'I shall go on enjoying myself and have a slap up bankruptcy!'
This will join Valerie Grove's Dear Dodie (biography of Dodie Smith, author of I Capture the Castle) as one of my favourite writer biographies. What are yours?
I'm not a huge fan of Christie's mysteries, but she did have a very interesting life!
Favorite author biographies? Let's see, this year I was blown away by Red Comet, the exhaustive biography of Sylvia Plath. Last year I think the standout was Prairie Fires, which is essential for anyone who's read the Little House books -- there is so much to learn through the true story, much more complex and nuanced than the fiction, even though I loved those.
I also really enjoyed Manderley Forever, about Daphne Du Maurier, and The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things.
I just read this too! I had been reading and re-reading some Miss Marples, and it was fascinating to read about the differences between the character that Agatha Christie created and the way she was portayed on television. And reading this bio made me want to read more Agatha Christie!
Jenny Uglow's biography of Elizabeth Gaskell, Claire Tomalin's bio of Jane Austen, and Paula Byrne's recent bio of Barbara Pym are high on my list.
Oh yes I read Prairie Fires and I loved it! I then binge read all the Little House on The Prairie series. Those pioneers were so resilient!
Audrey, I've not read many Christie novels, can you recommend a good one? Yes I think Claire Tomalin wrote the definitive biography of Austen to date and I've read 'em all! I need to read the Pym biog.
I have long found Agatha Christie fascinating and especially like her writing set in Egypt and other countries in that area, and involving archeology. I would like to read this book. I enjoyed several C.S. Lewis biographies including Shadowlands, and the novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patty Callahan was excellent and well researched.
A little off topic but.I am always impressed by Lucy Worsley’s historical research. I just watched her documentary on the Plague, where she explored the history of a Suffolk community Walsham,, and researched a farm family who had 3 generations die as a result of the Plague, I learned more from her documentary than other reading I had done on the Plague.
Terra, I recently visited a pub in Cambridge called The Pickerill which CS Lewis was known to frequent! I would like to read more about his like so will check out the books you mentioned.
Jean. Yes, I watched her documentary on the Blitz which was excellent. She has been criticised for 'dressing up' in historical costumes but I don't have a problem with it if it enhances the story.
I’d love to read it.
Ooh this does sound interesting! I just saw See How They Run which does include Agatha Christie as a fictionalized version of herself. It's not a great movie but parts of it are quite fun and I did enjoy all the theater bits. I've already add my name to the library's waiting list!
She did live a very interesting life! This biography sounds like a good one. :)
I just bought this - looking forward to it!
I really enjoyed Worsley's biography! I knew nothing about Christie, aside from enjoying the Miss Marple books, and was fascinated. I was also glad it was short. :)
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