Unraveling the Mystery Behind Agatha Christie’s Phenomenal Success: A Closer Look at the Queen of Crime Fiction

Agatha Christie

The Remarkable Journey of Agatha Christie and Her Enduring Legacy

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, DBE was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. Some of her popular collection was Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote the world’s longest-running play, the murder mystery The Mousetrap.

It has been performed in the West End of London since 1952. A writer during the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction”, Christie has been called the “Queen of Crime”—a moniker which is now trademarked by her estate—or the “Queen of Mystery”. She also wrote six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.

Christie was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon. She was largely home-schooled. She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six consecutive rejections, but this changed in 1920 when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, was published.

Her first husband was Archibald Christie; they married in 1914 and had one child before divorcing in 1928. During both World Wars, she served in hospital dispensaries, acquiring a thorough knowledge of the poisons that featured in many of her novels, short stories, and plays.

Following her marriage to archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930, she spent several months each year on digs in the Middle East.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author. Her stage play The Mousetrap holds the world record for the longest initial run.

It opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End on 25 November 1952 and by 2018 there had been more than 27,500 performances. The play was temporarily closed in 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdowns in London before it reopened in 2021.

She was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award in 1955. In 2013, she was voted the best crime writer and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd the best crime novel ever by 600 professional novelists of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Many of Christie’s books and short stories have been adapted for television, radio, video games, and graphic novels. More than 30 feature films are based on her work.

Childhood and upbringing

She was born on 15 September 1890, into a wealthy upper middle class family in Torquay, Devon. She was the youngest of three children born to Frederick Alvah Miller, “a gentleman of substance” and his wife Clarissa Margaret “Clara” Miller, née Boehmer.

According to Christie, Clara believed she should not learn to read until she was eight; thanks to her curiosity, she was reading by the age of four. Her sister had been sent to a boarding school, but their mother insisted that Christie receive her education at home.

As a result, her parents and sister supervised her studies in reading, writing and basic arithmetic, a subject she particularly enjoyed. They also taught her music, and she learned to play the piano and the mandolin.

She was a voracious reader from an early age. Some of her earliest memories were of reading children’s books by Mrs Molesworth and Edith Nesbit. When a little older, she moved on to the surreal verse of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll . In April 1901, aged 10, she wrote her first poem, “The Cow Slip”.

Her father,  Fred died in November 1901 from pneumonia and chronic kidney disease. Christie later said that her father’s death when she was 11 marked the end of her childhood.

The family’s financial situation had, by this time, worsened. Christie now lived alone at Ashfield with her mother. In 1902, she began attending Miss Guyer’s Girls’ School in Torquay but found it difficult to adjust to the disciplined atmosphere. 

In 1905, her mother sent her to Paris, where she was educated in a series of pensionnats (boarding schools), focusing on voice training and piano playing.

Brief overview of Agatha Christie’s significance in literature

After completing her education, she returned to England to find her mother ailing. They stayed for three months at the Gezirah Palace Hotel in Cairo. Christie attended many dances and other social functions; she particularly enjoyed watching amateur polo matches.

While they visited some ancient Egyptian monuments such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, she did not exhibit the great interest in archaeology and Egyptology that developed in her later years.  Returning to Britain, she continued her social activities, writing and performing in amateur theatrics.

She also helped put on a play called The Blue Beard of Unhappiness with female friends. Christie wrote her first short story, “The House of Beauty”, while recovering in bed from an illness. Magazines rejected all her early submissions, made under pseudonyms (including Mac Miller, Nathaniel Miller, and Sydney West); some submissions were later revised and published under her real name, often with new titles.

Pioneering Contributions to Crime Fiction

Around the same time, Christie began work on her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert. Clara suggested that her daughter ask for advice from the successful novelist Eden Phillpotts, a family friend and neighbour, who responded to her enquiry, encouraged her writing, and sent her an introduction to his own literary agent, Hughes Massie, who also rejected Snow Upon the Desert but suggested a second novel.

Meanwhile, her social activities expanded, with country house parties, riding, hunting, dances, and roller skating.  She had short-lived relationships with four men and an engagement to another. The couple quickly fell in love. Three months after their first meeting, Archie proposed marriage, and Agatha accepted.

With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Archie was sent to France to fight. They married on Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church, Clifton, Bristol, close to the home of his mother and stepfather, when Archie was on home leave.

Her war service ended in September 1918 when Archie was reassigned to London, and they rented a flat in St. John’s Wood.

Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and The Moonstone, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. She wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1916.

Her original manuscript was rejected by Hodder & Stoughton and Methuen. After keeping the submission for several months, John Lane at The Bodley Head offered to accept it, provided that Christie change how the solution was revealed.

She did so, and signed a contract committing her next five books to The Bodley Head, which she later felt was exploitative. It was published in 1920.

Christie settled into married life, giving birth to her only child, Rosalind Margaret Clarissa (later Hicks), in August 1919 at Ashfield. Archie left the Air Force at the end of the war and began working in the City financial sector on a relatively low salary.

They still employed a maid. Her second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featuring new detective couple Tommy and Tuppence, was also published by The Bodley Head. It earned her £50 (approximately equivalent to £2,900 in 2021).  She now had no difficulty selling her work.

In 1922, the Christies joined an around-the-world promotional tour for the British Empire Exhibition, led by Major Ernest Belcher. Leaving their daughter with Agatha’s mother and sister, in 10 months they travelled to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Canada.

She is remembered at the British Surfing Museum as having said about surfing, “Oh it was heaven! Nothing like rushing through the water at what seems to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour. It is one of the most perfect physical pleasures I have known.”

When they returned to England, Archie resumed work in the city, and Christie continued to work hard at her writing.

Christie’s mother, Clarissa Miller, died in April 1926. In August 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. Christie’s disappearance made international headlines, including featuring on the front page of The New York Times.

On 4 December, the day after she went missing, it is now known she had tea in London and visited Harrods department store where she marvelled at the spectacle of the store’s Christmas display.

On 14 December 1926, she was located at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, 184 miles (296 km) north of her home in Sunningdale, registered as “Mrs Tressa[d] Neele” (the surname of her husband’s lover) from “Capetown [sic] S.A.” (South Africa. Christie’s autobiography makes no reference to the disappearance.

The author Jared Cade concluded that Christie planned the event to embarrass her husband but did not anticipate the resulting public melodrama. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or an attempt to frame her husband for murder.

In January 1927, Christie, looking “very pale”, sailed with her daughter and secretary to Las Palmas, Canary Islands, to “complete her convalescence”, returning three months later. Christie retained custody of their daughter, Rosalind, and kept the Christie surname for her writing.

In 1928, Christie left England and took the (Simplon) Orient Express to Istanbul and then to Baghdad.  Christie and Mallowan married in Edinburgh in September 1930. Their marriage lasted until Christie’s death in 1976.  Christie drew on her experience of international train travel when writing her 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express.

During World War II, she moved to London and lived in a flat at the Isokon in Hampstead, whilst working in the pharmacy at University College Hospital (UCH), London, where she updated her knowledge of poisons.

International Success and Recognition

Christie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1950. In honour of her many literary works, Christie was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1956 New Year Honours.

She was co-president of the Detection Club from 1958 to her death in 1976. In 1961, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree by the University of Exeter. 

Struggles and Rejections

From 1971 to 1974, Christie’s health began to fail, but she continued to write. Her last novel was Postern of Fate in 1973.  Textual analysis suggested that Christie may have begun to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia at about this time.

Christie died peacefully on 12 January 1976 at age 85 from natural causes at her home at Winterbrook House. Upon her death, two West End theatres – the St. Martin’s, where The Mousetrap was playing, and the Savoy, which was home to a revival of Murder at the Vicarage – dimmed their outside lights in her honour.  

She was buried in the nearby churchyard of St Mary’s, Cholsey, in a plot she had chosen with her husband 10 years previously. The simple funeral service was attended by about 20 newspaper and TV reporters, some having travelled from as far away as South America.

Are you an Entrepreneur or Startup?
Do you have a Success Story to Share?
SugerMint would like to share your success story.
We cover entrepreneur Stories, Startup News, Women entrepreneur stories, and Startup stories

Read more Success stories of Indian entrepreneurs, Women Entrepreneurs & startups stories at SugerMint. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn