Saturday, July 4, 2015

Agatha Christie and Our Independence Day

I recently saw the hashtag #125stories on Twitter, and landed on the hub that the Christie Estate created as lead-up to the celebration of Agatha's Christie's 125th birthday in September.

"Whilst digging through the Agatha Christie archive we stumbled upon something quite special – a huge box full of old fan letters addressed to Agatha Christie. Their envelopes were decorated with stamps from exotic locations from every corner of the world, and their contents was even more diverse. Some even had replies from Christie herself."

The Estate decided to ask we current readers to share our stories.

I thought Independence Day would a fine day to share mine. Sure, we threw off their Imperialist rule, but the cultural bonds between the US and the UK would not be severed. Not even by my Irish-American grandmother, who had no use for the English, but was not so hard-line to forsake being a huge Christie fan.

Another lovely crossover to July 4th is this: Christie wrote a fascinating memoir entitled Come, Tell Me How You Live, which I wrote about last year. Her title is a quote from verse three of the White Knight's poem, Haddocks' Eyes, from chapter eight of Through the Looking-Glass (1871). And it was on July 4, 1862, that Lewis Carroll rowed upon the Isis of Oxford University with Reverend Duckworth and the three daughters of Henry Liddell, including Alice, which lead to the much-loved Adventures in Wonderland (which I wrote about here).

My #125Story for Agatha Christie

The skulls. Those perfect, bright red, cloned-like skulls, all sitting in a row. They fascinated me, tantalized me as a young child.

You know, the ones on the side of mystery novels. 

In my local library they were the only books with symbols on the spine. The other books all had dull Dewey decimal numbers. But the mysteries . . . they got the ominous skulls.

I got focused on the skulls because of my Irish-American grandmother, Mary Walsh O'Neill. She was a voracious reader of mysteries and my father, her son, went to the library every week to pick out books for her. I went with him, and that's when I first saw them. The rows upon rows of the red skulls on the shelf, and then the stack of six or eight my dad would carry out, and off to Grandma's.  It was a  lovely ritual.

Grammy read a wide range of authors, but Agatha Christie was first among equals. My first direct encounter with Christie was the 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express, although I couldn't really follow it. But once I got to college, I was reading through the canon and enjoying every moment of it.

Most recently, I read her fascinating memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live, engaging travel writing of her time on archaeological digs with her second husband, Max Mallowan. What an extraordinary woman to get to know. Thanks for the early introduction, Grandma.


Scribbler50 said...

Thanks for this post, Ellen, as it got me to take down some Agatha paperbacks I forgot I even had. And which I haven't read in years. Just knocked off The Case of the Caretaker and have to share this opening bit of business...
"Well" demanded Doctor Haydock of his patient. "And how goes it today?"
Miss Marple smiled at him wanly from pillows."
("from pillows!!!" Don't those words just paint the most wonderful picture?)

And how about this little pearl from Strange Jest...
She added, looking at them with a beaming, late-Victorian smile.
(I mean I don't even know what the hell a late-Victorian smile is but what a joy to read those long ago words.)

I have to say, Ellen, that after all this time, your blog continues to travel in the most unique and entertaining places!


Ellen O'Neill said...

Well hello there Scribbler. You dipping back into Christie's novels is so wonderful, just great in her anniversary year. And because you are a reader's reader, I highly recommend her memoir of the archeological digs she went to in Syria. Amazing snapshot of the Empire at its height, and so interesting in relation to today.