AGATHA CHRISTIE NEWSLETTER!
2010 marks the 120th anniversary of Christie's birth year, 1890. To mark this special occasion Christie fans around the world will be taking part in a series of anniversary celebrations and events culminating in Christie Week 2010, in mid September. Watch this space for further announcements and keep your eyes peeled for the official logo (below) in bookstores and magazines.
As part of this anniversary year, every month through this newsletter we'll be taking a closer look at the decades that Christie lived through, beginning this month with 1890 - 1900.
AGATHA CHRISTIE AND THE 1890s
"Difficult to know what one's first memory is. I remember distinctly my third birthday. The sense of my own importance surges up in me... There is a table and it is covered with cakes, with my birthday cake, all sugar icing and with candles in the middle of it. Three candles. And then the exciting occurrence - a tiny red spider, so small that I can hardly see it, runs across the white cloth. And my mother says: 'It's a lucky spider, Agatha, a lucky spider for your birthday...'"
Agatha's early childhood can only be described as a happy and content period, somewhat reflective of the last Victorian decade, a relative calm before the storm of the twentieth century that would herald the end of Victorian Britain and an era of world war.
It would be inaccurate to describe Agatha's early years at Ashfield as lonely, quite the opposite was true thanks largely to her incredible capacity to imagine worlds, friends and stories; she described it as "The lovely, safe, yet exciting world of childhood". She also had the company of pets, which she loved dearly. Her canary, Goldie who she later renamed Master Dickie, the great adventurer who travelled the country (her garden) - and then when she was five, her first dog:
"On my fifth birthday, I was given a dog. It was the most shattering thing that had ever happened to me; such unbelievable joy, that I was unable to say a word... His official name, given him by my father, was George Washington - Tony, for short, was my contribution"
It wasn't long before Master Dickie was joined on his adventures by Lord Tony.
Victorian life, in its final decade, is recalled fondly by Christie, namely Victorian attitudes to childhood and education, which although humorous at first glance aren't without a level of validity:
"I think late Victorian parents were more realistic and had more consideration for their children and for what would make a happy and successful life for them... The Victorians looked dispassionately at their offspring and made up their minds about their capacities. A. was obviously going to be 'the pretty one'. B. was 'the clever one'. C. was going to be plain and was definitely not intellectual."
Attitudes towards schooling (especially for girls) also stand out, not that this stopped a determined Agatha - her passion for books and perseverance to learn saw her teach herself to read, despite her mother's zero tolerance policy on her being allowed to read anything until she was eight.
Another aspect of Victorian life commented on by Christie relates to money and the reasons for her family's departure abroad when she was just six years old, her father was in ill health brought on amongst other things by financial worries:
"The immediate remedy seemed to be that we must economise. The recognised way at that particular time was to go and live abroad for a short while... the cost of living was much less abroad. So the procedure was to let the house with the servants, etc, at a good rent and go abroad to the South of France, staying at a fairly economical hotel."
If only 'to economise' meant the same procedure in the twenty first century - the credit crunch would have been received far more positively!
And so began Christie's love of travel, ignited by her family's tour of France and the Channel Islands.
It was shortly after their return however, at the end of the century that the 'safe', 'exciting' world Agatha Christie had known as a child, would begin to be challenged, by the diminishing state of her family's finances but more so by the deterioration of her father's health...
Read next month's newsletter for Agatha Christie 1900 - 1910.
Excerpts are from Agatha Christie, An Autobiography.