Agatha Christie's Autobiography

Agatha Christie's Autobiography is more a collection of personal reminiscences than a biographical rendering of her lineage and recorded experiences. It escapes "home videos" territory through the same quality that illuminates her writing: her ability to encapsulate everyman/everywoman, to discuss the human experience. Highlights follow.


Agatha Christie discusses being on her own as a child. She also discusses how being alone was a good circumstance--

I have never, all through my life, suffered from the tedium of "nothing to do"...If things are constantly being done to amuse you, naturally you expect it. And when nothing is done for you, you are at a loss. (47)

I'm with Christie here--oh, sure, when I was a kid, I complained of being booored. It was practically expected, like opening the refrigerator and claiming, "There's nothing to eat!" But in truth, I spent a lot of my time wandering about making up stories and talking to myself. As an adult, I have never had to hunt for something to do. Not to appear to be 100 years old but I feel sometimes that kids "these days," with their smartphones and instant gratification, have lost out on the benefits of boredom, of falling back on one's own resources, of being forced to be creative in a vacuum. 


About marriage, Agatha Christie commends the quality of respect:

Respect--which is not to be confused with admiration. To feel admiration for a man through one's married life would, I think, be excessively tedious. You would get, as it were, a mental crick in the neck. But respect is a thing that you don't have to think about, that you know thankfully is there...a woman...wants to feel that in her mate there is integrity, that she can depend on him and respect his judgment (51). 

Very Jane Austenish! It is respect for Darcy that Lizzie attempts to convey to her father when she agrees to the engagement. Interesting enough, Gottman states that the biggest indicator to him that a marriage will fail is not anger but contempt. 

The Past

On a number of occasions, Christie discusses going back to visit a place from the past. Many times, she expresses her gratitude that she didn't go back--

I could not go back. One cannot, ever, go back to the place which exists in memory. You would not see it with the same eyes--even supposing that it should improbably have remained much the same. (71)


Christie was not one of those who gets her energy from parties. I can relate. Social events exhaust me (even, especially, Zoom). Even more amusingly, Christie questions children's parties for children:

At any children's party of any size that I have gone to, I have come to the conclusion that at least a third of the children are not really enjoying themselves. (95)

The only group party I remember enjoying as a child (I may have enjoyed others but this is the one I remember) started when my father challenged my friends and me to pick all the dandelions in the yard. I think he agreed to give us a penny a dandelion--I remember us running through the back gate into the grounds of the church near our house. It was a warm day with a bright sun (my birthday is the beginning of May). It's a strong memory and seems entirely disconnected from anything party-like. 

Enjoying Life

Christie writes a great deal about enjoying life. She obviously did despite trauma and heartache and even despair. She was a fundamental optimist and had a great capacity for dealing with things in the moment. 

She also gently ridicules covetous people who disguise their covetousness as disapproval:

It is also exciting, I think, to see someone having luck, someone who is rich, someone who has jewels...Someone has got to win the Irish "Sweepstakes...That too is why there are large crowds on the pavements watching film stars as they arrive at the premieres of film shows. To the watchers they are heroines: in wonderful evening dresses, made up to the back teeth: figures of glamour. Who wants a drab world where nobody is rich, or important, or beautiful, or talented? Once one stood for hours to look at kings and queens; nowadays, one if more inclined to gasp at pop stars but the principle is the same. (255, my emphasis)


When I look back over my life, it seems to me that the things that have been most vivid, and which remain most clearly in my mind, are the places I have been to. ("Second Spring," IV)

Christie starts her autobiography, all of Part I, by describing the house of her childhood: Ashfield. I find her fascination with place quite touching. I don't have her flair for houses but place has always had at least as much impact on me as a career in terms of where I reside. And when I dream, I almost always dream about places. Whenever I am stressed, for instance, I dream about moving. Not to new states or countries but to new apartments. It isn't that I dislike the apartment I am currently in, and it isn't--unfortunately (since my dreams are not particularly happy or sad)--because I love the dream apartments, but I do remember them vividly. I could likely create blue prints for some of them. It's very odd. 


Christie discusses the ideology that underscores her murder mysteries:

I have got more interest in my victims than in my criminals. The more passionately alive the victim, the more glorious indignation I have on his behalf. (427)


There is no greater mistake in life than seeing things or hearing them at the wrong time. Shakespeare is ruined for most people by having been made to learn it at school; you should see Shakespeare as it was written to be seen, played on the stage.

Theater People

Christie discusses staying with actors during World War II:

I always found it restful to stay with actors in wartime, because to them, acting and the theatrical world were the real world...any other world was not. The war to them was a long drawn-out nightmare that prevented them from going on with their own lives in the proper way, so their entire talk was of theatrical people, theatrical things, what was going on in the theatrical was wonderfully refreshing. (476)

This passage reminds me of a similar passage in Light Thickens by Ngaoi Marsh about a production of MacBeth in which she describes one of the actors as conservative and one as a socialist and the rest as wholly and helplessly devoted to the theater. 

Like C.S. Lewis--and Christie--I trust people who care about a thing/object/hobby more than all others. A person with a hobby cares about something outside the self. Such individuals are less susceptible to the vagaries and insistent single-mindedness of ideological causes. Their passion for knitting or hamsters or baking or lilacs always pulls them back to a grounded reality. 


Christie echoes Tolkien when she states about writing--

One wonders where these things come from--I mean the [story ideas] that are a must. Sometimes I think that is the moment one feels nearest to God, because you have been allowed to a feel a little of the joy of pure creation. You have been able to make something that is not yourself. You know a kinship with the Almighty, as you might on a seventh day, when you see that what you have is good. (486)

Old Age

Christie wraps up her autobiography, which she wrote at the age of 75, by expressing gratitude for her good life and hoping that when she dies, she'll do so with "dignity and resolution"--

It is, of course, all very well to write these grand words. What will really happen is that I shall probably live to be ninety-three, drive everyone mad by being unable to hear what they say to me, complain bitterly of the latest scientific hearing aids, ask innumerable questions, immediately forget the answers and ask the same questions again. I shall quarrel violently with some patient nurse-attendant and accuse her of poisoning me, or walk out of the latest establishment for genteel old ladies, causing endless trouble to my suffering family... Until then, while I'm still comfortably waiting in Death's antechamber, I am enjoying myself. ("Epilogue")

Christie lived to be 85. 

Christie, Agatha. Autobiography. Dodd, Mead, 1977.


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