Agatha Christie just doesn’t quit—even though she’s been gone for four decades.
Her best-selling mysteries—as in, there are more than 2 billion copies in circulation—have won multiple awards. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was voted the best crime novel ever by the Crime Writers’ Association, and she’s had one of the longest running theatre shows of all time.
Her name is recognized internationally. But what do we really know about the world’s most famous British novelist?
Here are 10 facts almost as surprising as the plot twists in Murder on the Orient Express (ok, maybe not. But you get what we mean.)
Agatha Christie: 10 Facts As Interesting As Her Fiction
1. She wrote her first novel as a dare.
Agatha’s sister, Margaret, dared her to write a novel-length story because of how much time the young girl spent reading and writing. Agatha accepted, and wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The story, about a soldier who gets caught up in a poisoning mystery at his friend’s estate, introduced the world to Hercule Poirot. It was rejected by six publishers, and finally went to print in 1920. Isn’t that a crazy fact about Agatha Christie?
2. Hercule Poirot was real.
Kind of. The gentleman hero of Christie’s novels was inspired by a Belgian man Christie saw getting off a bus in the early 1900s. He had a sleek mustache and a dapper style that didn’t quite fit in Torquay, England, and he became the inspiration for a character that made an appearance in over 40 best-selling mystery novels.
3. Her mother was … peculiar.
Like many women of the time, Christie was home schooled. Her mother didn’t want her to gain a formal education, and refused to let Agatha take reading lessons until she was eight years old. Clara, Christie’s mother, raised her children to believe she was a psychic, and had the ability to predict the future. One of her predictions, although it hasn’t been revealed specifically what the prediction was, led to her refusal to allow Agatha to read.
Fortunately for the rest of us, Agatha went against her mother’s wishes and taught herself to read long before then, which is an amazing fact about Agatha Christie.
4. She didn’t like violence.
During the First World War, Christie worked in a dispensary and learned a lot about medicines. This knowledge came in handy in many an Agatha Christie crime novel, where she preferred to kill off her characters with poison. She was said to be so against violence, in fact, that she very rarely let Miss Marple or Monsieur Poirot carry weapons of their own.
5. Agatha was a trendsetter.
We hardly ever see photos of a young Agatha Christie, but we have concrete proof that she was a very cool young woman in her day. Her and her husband visited South Africa and Hawaii in the early 1920s—on a surfing holiday. Over the course of their year-long adventure, they became more and more capable. According to experts, the famed crime novelist was the second Briton ever to stand up on a surfboard. The first—because we all want to know the first—was Prince Edward.
6. She tried to become a smoker.
Life was clearly very different in Agatha Christie’s day. Throughout the First World War, smoking was not only accepted—it was encouraged. The Red Cross and YMCA ensured men on the front line received cigarettes as part of their rations, with Red Cross Australia distributing over 250,000 cigarettes per week to Australian soldiers. Civilians smoked to look cool, professionals smoked to relax, and mothers were encouraged to smoke to relieve stress.
Following the end of the war, Christie sadly lamented that she’d been trying to take up smoking, but hadn’t managed it yet. The fact that Agatha Christie tried to smoke is very peculiar.
7. The play she wrote has been going for almost 70 years.
Mousetrap opened in the West End of London in 1952. It has been presented in 25 languages and 50 countries worldwide, and is officially the longest running show of all time. It holds three Guinness Book of Records achievements, and has employed more than 450 actors and 260 understudies in its life so far.
Originally titled Three Blind Mice, Christie wrote it at the request of Queen Mary.
8. Agatha Christie was a missing person.
Already gathering a following for her writing, Christie almost became a tragic character from one of her own stories. In 1926 she left her London home and disappeared. When police began their investigation, they found that her husband, Archie—a serial cheat—had earlier told Agatha that he was in love with someone else.
Christie was found 10 days after her disappearance at a spa in a nearby town. Her husband claimed at the time that Christie had amnesia. Some speculated that it was her way of publicly humiliating her husband over his affair—she checked into the spa under her husband’s mistress’s name—while still others believed it was a publicity stunt.
9. Her second marriage went better than the first.
Following Christie’s 10 day disappearance and subsequent divorce from philandering Archie, Christie married Max Mallowan. Max, an architect, took Agatha through Syria and Iraq as part of his work. Throughout this time, Christie detailed her experience helping Max with excavations. She still continued to write crime stories during that period, including what would later become Murder on the Orient Express. A very fortunate fact about Agatha Christie is that the second marriage was better than her first marriage.
10. You can stay at her house.
Christie’s former digs in Devonshire are available for rent. If visiting her 1950s summer home is on your must-do list, it’ll set you back around $500 per night. Her original piano and furniture are still there.
At a time where we are publishing more than 5,000 new books every day, Agatha Christie remains the best-selling novelist of all time. Outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible, her mystery novels have kept readers up all night for almost a century.
When the creative genius behind some of the world’s most intriguing crime stories died in 1976, a memorial fund was set up to help the two causes she held dear to her heart. In her own words, those causes were: “old people and young children.”
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