Agatha Christie (1890–1976) was a modernist, an iconoclast, and a groundbreaker, according to this excellent biography from historian Worsley (The Austen Girls). Worsley argues that Christie’s public image as a quiet Edwardian lady who happens to scribble mysteries was a “carefully crafted” persona, made in order to “conceal her real self” and her unconventional and oft-daring life: she threw herself into nursing work and archeological digs, was a divorced single mother, married a much younger man, loved fast cars, and built an extraordinary career. Born into a well-off family, Christie was a child full of joy who grew up to create a “character in which she could do what she wanted” and rally against the “restrictive social customs” forced upon upper-middle-class women. Worsley offers close readings of Christie’s work, including the spinster character Miss Marple, who may have “stood for Agatha’s own self.” As well, she presents a careful reframe of the novelist’s famous 1926 disappearance, positioning it as a turning point in which she “lost her way of life and her sense of self,” rather than the media-constructed narrative that it was a “jealous... attention-seeking” move. Drawing on personal letters and modern criticism, Worsley manages to make her subject feel fresh and new. This is a must-read for Christie fans. Photos. (Sept.)
"This is a warm, intelligent book that does justice both to Agatha Christie's character and to her distinctive genius as a writer of plays and novels. Someone once said that the greatest character Agatha Christie ever invented was Agatha Christie herself. If that's true, she was waiting for the perfect biographer to bring her back to life, and she has found her in Dr. Lucy Worsley."
"Lucy Worsley brings Agatha Christie back to life, revealing a strong, pioneering, highly intelligent woman whose detective novels rank among the best ever written. Worsley shows us Christie's faults and flaws in the context of her time; she evokes her houses, clothes and the central mystery of her life in spritely sentences with a sharp ear for dialogue. Reading Worsley is as enjoyable as reading Christie herself."
"In the best biography of Agatha Christie ever written, Lucy Worsley gets to the soul—the complex, troubled, but big soul—of our greatest whodunnit writer with laser-like precision. There will not now need to be another biography of the queen of the detective story written for decades."
"Lucy Worsley's biography of Agatha Christie is as unputdownable as any of the novels by the Queen of Crime herself. Gripping, revealing, and ultimately extremely moving, Agatha Christie is a wonderful tribute to one of the best-loved writers of the twentieth century."
"One brilliant woman writing about another: an irresistible combination."
Presenting Christie as living a ‘modern life,’ firmly in and ‘of her time’ is Dr. Worsley’s key aim: neither nostalgic nor part of the heritage industry. She succeeds brilliantly, for the Agatha Chirstie (woman and author) that emerges from this astute and, at times, justifiably compassionate book is anything but cosy.
Advance Praise for Agatha Christie: A Hidden Life:
Who was the real Agatha Christie? While hugely prolific and successful—she is considered to be one of the world's most-read authors—Christie would often describe herself as a housewife. British historian and BBC presenter Worsley (Jane Austen at Home), in this careful consideration of Christie's life, argues that few truly knew her. Born into a privileged family that later fell into straitened circumstances, Christie was a true product of her social class. However, Worsley argues, the expected trajectory of Christie's life was disrupted several times—by World War I; by a job in a pharmacy (which informed the novelist's encyclopedic knowledge of poisons); and by an impulsive marriage to war hero Archie Christie—culminating in Agatha's 10-day disappearance in 1926. In the ensuing media storm, speculation regarding her motives—much of it salacious—was rife. Worsley provides a welcome and objective addition to the Christie record; her conscientious examination of previous Christie studies, especially regarding the events of 1926, reveals much of the earlier reporting to have been inaccurate and unfair. Worsley argues that the real Christie is in the text. VERDICT Worsley's thoughtful and generous contribution to the Christie biographical canon will be welcomed and enjoyed by Agatha Christie fans.—Penelope J.M. Klein
The queen of suspense gets the royal treatment.
British historian Worsley comes up with another winner in this sprightly, endearing biography. Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was elusive, Worsley argues, because she “deliberately played upon the fact that she seemed so ordinary.” In 1914, she married Archibald Christie and wrote while raising her daughter. Her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, starred a Belgian refugee, the “egg-headed Hercule Poirot with his ridiculous moustache.” Worsley also shows how Christie took care to create narratives that put “the lives of women centre stage” as well as how her personal experiences informed her work: “Everything Agatha experienced became copy.” For example, she worked at a hospital pharmacy and learned about poisons, which she used to great effect in her books. A smart and savvy author, she wrote in various genres to learn which sold best. One of Christie’s gifts, writes Worsley, was to “democratise the Gothic, making it appealing to the mass market.” While building a devoted audience, she was also breaking new ground. The revolutionary Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Worsley writes, is “one of the greatest detective novels of all time.” After 1926, when she disappeared for days following her discovery of her husband’s infidelity, her novels “would firmly address dark, uncomfortable feelings.” Vacationing in Iraq after her divorce, she met young archaeologist Max Mallowan and married him. Worsley argues convincingly that the 1930s were Christie’s most productive years. During that time, she introduced new characters, including Miss Marple, and wrote plays. In 1946, she contributed a new play, Three Blind Mice (later reworked as The Mousetrap), for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday. Despite her massive popularity, she remained an “unusually publicity-shy celebrity” even as her stories, which often became films, began to reach new audiences. Throughout, Worsley takes us behind the scenes to reveal classic “Christie tricks” from her books.
With great affection, Worsley masterfully maneuvers her way through Christie’s life and prolific oeuvre.