Young Agatha Miller had a happy adolescence. She enjoyed swimming, horse riding, dancing, reading and roller-skating. She used to go to Devon’s Princess Pier in Torquay, where she ran or skated down the length of the pier. This pleasure pier had lovely wrought iron and timber seats, and ornate lamps, running the full length on both sides. When the Islander Amusement Centre was built, young Agatha enjoyed being in the concert room at the end of the pier in the wintertime. Next to the Princess Gardens stood the beautiful Georgian building, The Pavilion, where Agatha regularly attended concerts. Life was good.
In Jan 1913 Agatha went to the Pavilion with a young man who she had met a few months earlier, Colonel Archie Christie. After the concert they went back to Ashfield, and Archie proposed to Agatha. Despite it not quite being the love affair Agatha had hoped for, they married Christmas 1914. The Grand Hotel was the splendid location of their honeymoon; just one night with her aviator husband. He had come home on leave from his war work in the Royal Flying Corps in France, and returned the next day.
Agatha and Archie Christie on their wedding day, 1914
During WW1, Agatha worked at a hospital as a nurse and loved the work. She later worked at a pharmacy, a job that might have influenced her later stories, as many of her murders were carried out with poison.
The couple had one beloved child, a daughter called Rosalind (later Hicks). The family lived in Sunningdale Berkshire in the 1920s and then moved to Styles. The decade was very productive, starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920. This was the novel that introduced the long-running character detective Hercule Poirot, who appeared in dozens of her novels and short stories. In 1924, she published some mystery and ghost stories, The Golden Ball. Her other well known character, Miss Marple, was introduced in a short story The Tuesday Night Club in 1927, and life for the writer seemed both creative and financially rewarding.
Then the wheels fell off. In late 1926 Archie told Agatha that he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce. In Dec 1926 the couple had a huge argument and Archie left their Berkshire home to spend a hot and sweaty weekend with his mistress in Surrey. That same evening Agatha disappeared from her home, talking to noone and leaving her staff with the skimpiest of notes.
The next morning her car was found abandoned several kilometers away, with some of her clothes and documents scattered and disordered in the car. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public, particularly from her novels’ fans. The police, who were half expecting either suicide or murder, got thousands of volunteers to search the land and dredge the lake in the area she loved most.
The Daily News of 11th Dec 1926 had three photos of Mrs Christie, showing the public how she might have disguised herself to avoid detection. The handsome but shifty Archie Christie, who forgot to tell reporters that he was having it off on the side, wrote “my wife stated that she could disappear at will if she liked. And, in view of the fact that she was a writer of detective stories, it would be very natural for her to adopt some form of disguise to carry out that idea”. Phantoms & Monsters blog reported that Archie told the newspapers "I would gladly give 500 pounds if I could only learn where my wife is."
Swan Hydropathic Hotel, Harrogate (now the Old Swan Hotel)
A nationwide manhunt followed that even drew in the talents of fellow crime
writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers. Despite her face being very well known, it took 11 days to find the author. Agatha Christie was located in the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire where she was signed in as a South African tourist who wanted to use the hotel’s health care facilities and Turkish baths. Christie could not, or would not explain what happened. Was she truly amnesiac?
Personally speaking, if my beloved mother had died and my husband had been bonking a bimbo in the same year, I too might have run away to a Yorkshire health resort hotel in secrecy, or worse. But the public did not know about either source of sadness. The public reaction did not seem to be very supportive of Agatha Christie, assuming it was some sort of elaborate publicity stunt to sell more detective novels.
Appropriately Agatha and Archie were divorced in 1928.
Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, published in 1977 by Collins
Agatha Christie: An Autobiography (published after her death) certainly discussed some of her painful life experiences, so it fascinates me that the author wrote almost nothing of these events. She briefly mentioned the death of her mother, her slow breakdown, her husband’s adultery and the end of her marriage, saying “The next year of my life is one I hate recalling” and “So, after illness, came sorrow, despair, and heartbreak. There is no need to dwell on it. I stood out for a year, hoping he would change. But he did not. So ended my first married life.”