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Posts Tagged ‘pictures of Agatha Christie’

In the early morning hours of August 6, 1922, crime novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie Christie, sailed into Honolulu, Hawaii, on the Makura and hailed a taxi.

On their drive to the Moana Hotel, they passed between palm trees and hedges of hibiscus, red, pink, and white oleanders, and blue plumbago. At their hotel, the sea washed right up to the courtyard steps on Waikiki Beach.

They checked into their rooms. From their window, they saw surfers catching waves to shore. They hurriedly changed into their swimsuits to rush down, hire surfboards, and plunge into the sea.

Surfers at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu. Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph by Agatha Christie

Surfers at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu. Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from Christie Archive

brit emp exh 1924 stamppThey had been looking forward to that moment since leaving England eight months earlier. In the interim, the Christies had traveled three-quarters around the world as part of a government trade mission to drum up interest in the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. Their travels had taken them from England to South Africa (where they were introduced to surfing), Australia, and New Zealand. They now had a month-long holiday in Hawaii – all to themselves – before they would rejoin the mission in Canada.

Surfing was much different in Hawaii than it had been in South Africa. The most obvious difference was the surfboard. In South Africa, the boards were short, curved, and made of light and thin wood.

Agatha Christie and a young naval attaché named Ashby stand on Muizenberg Beach, South Africa, following surf bathing, Jan.-March 1922

Agatha Christie and a young naval attaché named Ashby stand on Muizenberg Beach, South Africa, following surf bathing, Jan.-March 1922. Photograph from the Christie Archive

In Hawaii, however, they were great slabs of wood, ridiculously long and even more ridiculously heavy, made even heavier by the fact that, to find a decent wave to catch, a person had to paddle the board a long, long way out from shore to a reef where the waves broke.

Agatha Christie with her Hawaiian surfboard. Aug./Sept. 1922

Agatha Christie with her Hawaiian surfboard. Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from the Christie Archive

In South Africa, the waves broke close to shore and were gentle.

Modern day surfing in Muizenberg, South Africa

Modern day surfing in Muizenberg, South Africa

Then there was the matter of what to do when you caught the right wave. In South Africa, surfers rode the wave on their stomachs. In Hawaii, they rode it standing up.

Spotting the right wave to catch was tricky. Agatha recalls:

First you have to recognize the proper wave when it comes, and, secondly, even more important, you have to know the wrong wave when it comes, because if that catches you and forces you down to the bottom, heaven help you….”

On that first day, Agatha indeed caught “the wrong wave.” She and her board were separated and she was forced far underwater. She swallowed “quarts of salt water” and arrived on the surface gasping for breath. A young American retrieved her board for her, saying:

‘Say, sister, if I were you, I wouldn’t come out surfing  today. You take a nasty chance if you do. You take this board and get right into shore now.'”

She took his advice and, in time, Archie joined her. They were bruised, scratched, exhausted, but not defeated. Agatha was determined to become expert at surfing.

The second time she went in the water, the waves tore her long, silk bathing dress off her body. She covered herself and went into the hotel gift shop where she bought a “wonderful, skimpy, emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well. Archie thought I did, too.”

Agatha Christie, sunburned and relaxed. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from Agatha Christie Collection

Agatha Christie, sunburned and relaxed. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Aug./Sept. 1922. Photograph from the Christie Archive

In a few days, they moved to a more economical chalet across the road. They spent all their time on the beach or in town drinking ice cream sodas and buying medicines for sunburn. They learned to wear shirts on the beach as their backs were covered with blisters from sunburn.

Their feet were cut to ribbons from the coral so they bought leather boots to wear in the water.

After ten days, Agatha’s skills on a surfboard were improving. After

starting my run, I would hoist myself carefully to my knees on the board, and then endeavor to stand up. The first six times, I came to grief….[but] Oh, the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!”

Because of such vigorous paddling, Agatha developed a strain in her left arm. The pain was excrutiating and would wake her in the early morning hours. Nevertheless, Agatha continued to surf because there was

Nothing like it. Nothing like that rushing through the water at what seems to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour….until you arrived, gently slowing down, on the beach, and foundered among the soft, flowing waves.”

Researcher Peter Robinson from the Museum of British Surfing says that Agatha Christie is probably one of the first British “stand-up surfers,” along with Edward, the Prince of Wales, who also surfed in Waikiki in 1920 and went on to become King Edward VIII of England for a year. Not to be outdone, let me remind my readers that Agatha Christie is literary royalty, being revered as the Queen of Crime. In 1971, she was made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

For more on Agatha Christie, click here.

Source: Christie, Agatha. The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. United Kingdom: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012

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Agatha at 16 in Paris. 1906

Agatha at 16 in Paris. 1906. Photo from the Christie Archive

Thinking back over her teenage years, English crime novelist Agatha Christie (1890-1976) wasn’t sure how long she had been at her finishing school in Paris. In her autobiography, she wrote:

I am hazy now as to how long I remained at Miss Dryden’s – a year, perhaps eighteen months, I do not think as long as two years.”

Upon one point, however, she was perfectly clear. It was during her stay at Miss Dryden’s that she discovered men:

Something happened to me at the sight of Rudy [an American college boy]….From that moment forward I stepped out of the territory of hero worship….I wanted to meet…lots of real young men – in fact, there couldn’t be too many of them.”

Girls and young women of this period believed, including Agatha, that in these packs of real young men lurked their future husband, commonly referred to as “Fate” or “Mr. Right.” She says:

You were waiting for The Man, and when the man came, he would change your entire life!…In the words of old nurses, nannies, cooks, and housemaids:

‘One day Mr. Right will come along.‘”

Back then, her name was Agatha Miller. When Agatha left finishing school (1907) and returned home to her mother in Torquay, England, her dream of becoming a concert pianist had faded, but not her desire to meet men – and lots of them. She was 17, and, in her own words, good-looking. She was tall and slender with masses of thick, wavy, and  golden hair – hair so long she could sit on it.

Agatha Christie as a child. She had fantastic hair.  Undated photo, ca. 1900

Agatha Christie as a child. She had fantastic hair. Undated photo, ca. 1900. Photo from the Christie Archive

She wore it up now, in the Grecian style, because, at 17, she was ready to “come out,” and that was the proper hairstyle for a girl going from a chrysalis to a butterfly.

Edwardian Era hairstyles had to be big and poufy to hold the enormous hats the Edwardians were so fond of.

Edwardian Era hairstyles had to be big and poufy to hold the enormous hats the Edwardians were so fond of.

This was the Edwardian Era (1901-1910) in England. It was traditional then for a girl of Agatha’s upper middle class status to mark the transition from girlhood to womanhood by “coming out.” A mother gave her daughter a dance. The daughter would “do a season” of parties in London. But as Agatha’s mother Clarissa was a widow and her wealth was a thing of the past,  there could be nothing like that for Agatha. So, the winter of 1910 they decided to go to Cairo, Egypt, where Agatha could ease her way into society (and meet men). Travel was relatively cheap then and they would lease their house out for extra income. They were going Agatha husband-hunting.

Clarissa Miller, Agatha Christie's mother, at her home in Torquay, England, before the start of the First World War (1914)

Clarissa Miller, Agatha Christie’s mother, at her home in Torquay, England, before the start of the First World War (1914). Photo from the Christie Archive

Mother and daughter set sail for Cairo where they would join other mothers and daughters with the same purpose. They were not disappointed. Three or four regiments were stationed in Cairo. There was polo matches to watch every afternoon and, five nights a week, there were dances in the hotels. Cairo was crawling with men – exciting ones, too.

Agatha and Clarissa stayed at the Gezirah Palace Hotel in Cairo for three glorious months. Agatha was so busy that she didn’t get as far as even falling slightly in love. Despite being a poor conversationalist, she had been popular among men of all ages and backgrounds, even an Austrian count, as she was both pretty and a great dancer. In the end, two men proposed marriage to her. (Men proposed very freely back then!) Her first suitor, a Captain Hibberd, never actually proposed marriage to Agatha. He timidly told Clarissa of his interest in Agatha. Clarissa didn’t even tell Agatha about it until they were sailing back to England, which made Agatha mad, as she liked to conduct her own love affairs. Agatha’s second marriage proposal came from a young man who was six-foot-five, a nice enough fellow, she admitted, but she didn’t love him, so she turned him down. Agatha would marry for love, as she was fully romantic.

British tourists pose in about 1910 at Giza outside Cairo, the Sphinx over their shoulders. Agatha Christie, too, visited this spot in 1910 but was not as interested in Egyptology and archaeology then as she would be in later years.

British tourists pose in about 1910 at Giza outside Cairo, the Sphinx over their shoulders. Agatha Christie, too, visited this spot in 1910 but was not as interested in Egyptology and archaeology then as she would be in later years.

Agatha returned to England with newfound confidence in herself – and still looking for “Mr. Right.” Over the next two years, she was courted by a string of eligible bachelors and became engaged to three of them. She spread her wings. She went up in an aeroplane. She visited a friend in Florence. She dreamed of becoming an opera singer but thought better of it. Then, one day, sick with the flu and stuck in bed, bored, she decided “to try her hand at a novel.” She began to write in earnest and, before long, she had formed the habit of writing stories.

Meanwhile, she was engaged to Reggie Lucy (who hated dancing and parties) when, in December of 1912, she was asked by some family friends to attend a dance being given for the members of the Garrison from Exeter. She reluctantly agreed. She traveled the 12 miles distance by train then car to Chudleigh.

Her friend Arthur Griffiths, who was stationed at that same Garrison in Exeter, wrote her to say that, sadly, he was not one of the officers able to attend the dance but to look out for a friend of his who was indeed going,

Christie by name….He’s a good dancer.”

Later, when Agatha was at the dance, she said:

Christie came my way quite soon in the dance. He was a tall, fair young man, with crisp curly hair, a rather interesting nose, turned up, not down, and a great air of careless confidence about  him….We got on together very well; he danced splendidly…I enjoyed the evening thoroughly.”

Ten days later, back in Torquay, Agatha was having tea with the Mellors across the street from her home. She and Max Mellor were practicing the tango. The phone rang. It was Agatha’s mother asking her to “Come home at once, will you, Agatha?” A young man was waiting for her in the parlor. Clarissa didn’t give his name.

Agatha was irritated at having to abandon her fun at the Mellors; she felt sure that her gentleman caller was a “rather dreary young naval lieutenant, the one who used to ask” her to read his poems. She left sulkily for home.

But it wasn’t the dreary young naval lieutenant standing nervously in the family drawing room. It was Archie Christie (1889-1962), the man from the dance.

Archibald_Christie_1915

Archibald Christie, 1915

He made up some lame excuse about having been in the neighborhood and deciding to look her up, but it was clear he was taken with Agatha. They chatted uncomfortably at first, then, after a few minutes, it got better. The afternoon wore on. Clarissa asked Archie to stay for a  “scratch dinner” of cold turkey, cheese, and salad. For the next several weeks it was like that, him arriving unexpectedly on his motorbike, spending the day, then motoring off “in a series of explosive bumps to Exeter.”

Agatha’s interest in fiancé Reggie Lucy was waning. Within a month, she broke that engagement and became engaged to Archie Christie. Now he was “Mr. Right.” They broke the news to Agatha’s mother. Clarissa knew that it would be hard for them, with Archie’s meager salary as a soldier and Agatha’s even more meager allowance of 100  pounds a year from her grandparents’ estate. She counseled then to wait, but did not object to the marriage. She could see that the two of them were terribly in love.

It was Archie’s mother Peg Hemsley who went and spoiled it all.

Agatha recalled the scene when Archie told his mother he was engaged to her:

‘Would she now be one of those girls that’s wearing one of these new-fangled Peter Pan collars?’

Rather uneasily Archie had to admit that I did wear Peter Pan collars. They were rather a feature of the moment.

1914 day dresses featuring Peter Pan collars.

1914 day dresses featuring Peter Pan collars.

We girls had at last abandoned the high collars to our blouses, which were stiffened by little zigzag bones, one up each side and one at the back, so as to leave red, uncomfortable marks on the neck. A day came when people determined to be daring and achieve comfort.

1911 Queen Mary with Ladies in Waiting. These women were not "Go-Ahead Girls"; they still wore the stiff collars of the Edwardians.

1911 Queen Mary with Ladies in Waiting. These women were not “Go-Ahead Girls”; they still wore the stiff collars of the Edwardians.

The Peter Pan collar was designed, presumably, from the turned-down collar worn by Peter Pan in Barrie’s play.

Maude Adams starred as Peter Pan in a 1905 British play. The collar on her costume, known as the Peter Pan collar, became popular.

Maude Adams starred as Peter Pan in a 1905 British play. The collar on her costume, known as the Peter Pan collar, became popular.

It fitted round the bottom of the neck, was of soft material, had nothing like a bone about it, and was heaven to wear.

1914 Dress featuring Peter Pan collar and a more relaxed dress line. Ladies were abandoning rigid clothing and corsets.

1914 Dress featuring Peter Pan collar and a more relaxed dress line. Ladies were abandoning rigid clothing and corsets.

It could hardly have been called daring. When I think of the reputation for possible fastness that we girls incurred, just by showing the four inches of neck from below the chin, it seems incredible….

Anyway, I was one of those go-ahead girls who, in 1912, wore a Peter Pan collar.

‘And she looks lovely in it,’ said the loyal Archie.

‘Ah, she would, no doubt,’ said Peg.”

Agatha Christie ca. 1926

Agatha Christie ca. 1926. Photo from the Christie Archive

Regardless of Peg’s disapproval, Archie and Agatha did marry – two years later. It was at Christmas and England was at war with Germany (1914). Archie was on leave; he was then a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps. They were staying at Bristol with his mother and stepfather. Archie decided that getting married was the only sensible thing to do. They hunted down the vicar and, outside the church, saw a friend of Agatha’s who agreed to witness the wedding. Agatha was wearing an ordinary coat and skirt with a small purple velvet hat, and hadn’t had time even to wash her hands and face. The ceremony was performed with only bride, groom, witness, vicar, and organist present. The newlyweds then had two days together before Archie returned to France and the dangerous business of being a fighter pilot in the First World War (July 1914-November 1918).

It would be six months before Agatha would see her husband again. She resumed volunteer work at the hospital in Torquay – and, more importantly, writing story after story at home, and seeing them published. In good time, Agatha Miller  – now Agatha Christie –  would be regarded as the world’s best-selling novelist, her literary success having been made possible despite “Mr. Right,” not because of him, contrary to what she had been brought up to believe.

Source: Christie, Agatha. Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. New York: Berkley Books, 1977.

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