What we can learn from Christie (the British one)

By Phyllis Martino-Nugent

The second week of September is celebrated throughout the British Isles to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of a Devonshire housewife who, despite the lack of any formal education, managed to turn the world of publishing on its collective head. Beginning in 1920 with the publication of her first novel, she went on to pen over 80 novels, short stories, and plays.

Have you guessed the identity of this most beloved author?

Her first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles was moderately successful, but it was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (published in 1926) that started her wild success and made her a household name. If you’ve never read it, just what have you been doing for 84 years? It’s as fresh and devilishly mysterious a read now as it was then.

Our British cousins have every right to celebrate the great and enduring Agatha Christie, excuse me, that’s Dame Agatha Christie, O.B.E, who was born on September 15, 1890.

Her books have been translated into 103 languages and continue to be read and enjoyed by millions. They have been adapted and produced for the stage, radio, television, the movies, and now, there’s even a video game of And Then There Were None.

Agatha Christie has to be my all-time favorite author, and I think I’ve read just about every one of her novels.

Her autobiography, written ten years before her death at age 85, is a peek through a window at a world long gone. What touched me most in reading the account of her extraordinary life is her humility and self-deprecating humor. She paints a vivid picture of her family, her times and the profound success that seemed to surprise her endlessly.

She was born during the Victorian Age and saw every bit of the rapid changes of the 20th Century; she was an intrepid and hardy traveler at a time when travel was not only uncomfortable but could be, and often was, dangerous. As a girl, she traveled by horse and carriage, then an automobile, then trains and ships and finally air travel. Through it all, she rolled with the punches, kept her humor intact and retained an unfailing curiosity about everything life had to offer.

In our own time, which many see as full of fear and anxiety, we would do well to follow the example of this remarkable woman of achievement who saw the outbreak of World War I and then suffered through World War II (her London home was bombed to smithereens by the Nazis). She maintained a home in Baghdad between the Wars during the years her husband worked on the excavation of the ancient city of Ur. She helped out with the cataloging of finds and used the setting to pen two of her most popular books, Death on the Nile and Murder in Mesopotamia.

The lesson is clear. Every age has its challenges, wars, and upheavals. Our age is not so different from any that have gone before.

And for those who despair of ever seeing anything on television worth watching, pick up one of Agatha Christie’s novels instead. I guarantee you will have a great time traveling on the Orient Express with Hercule Poirot.

Nugent is a junior history major at the College and the author of The Duke’s Amulet.