Agatha Christie and Archaeology.
February 26, 2003 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Agatha Christie and Archaeology. 'Many years ago, when I was once saying sadly to Max it was a pity I couldn't have taken up archaeology when I was a girl, so as to be more knowledgeable on the subject, he said, 'Don't you realize that at this moment you know more about prehistoric pottery than any woman in England?' [more inside]
posted by plep (13 comments total)
A British Museum exhibition about Agatha Christie and her involvement in archaeological excavations in Iraq and Syria, including objects and photographs. Agatha met her future husband, Max in Iraq, and a number of her books have Middle Eastern themes.

This is one of many exhibitions from the British Museum: Compass site, covering subjects as diverse as the Wetwang Chariot Burial in Yorkshire; Annuraaq: Clothing of Arctic North America; the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas in Dunhuang, China; Collecting Souvenirs in Japan; the Queen of Sheba; and British banknotes.
posted by plep at 9:50 AM on February 26, 2003

Hmm, the first link I posted doesn't seem to be working... Agatha Christie and Archaeology should be working here though. Sorry about that.
posted by plep at 9:55 AM on February 26, 2003

One of her well-known quotes is "An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have: the older she gets, the more interested he is in her."
posted by LeLiLo at 9:59 AM on February 26, 2003

Agatha Christie's autobiography, AGATHA, is well-worth seeking out. It's a fascinating look at a life lived in a world that's now gone (I believe her brother fought in the Boer War, which seems as ancient as biblical times these days). She herself was raised on an estate, her father didn't need to work. Yet in her autobiography she captures the life she lived as a mischievous kid who loved playing with family and pets and made up whole worlds in her mind. When she grew up, she was proposed to dozens of times, often at these elaborate house parties that are described in wonderful detail.

Her first marriage ended in a sad divorce--her husband had an affair, and she was blown away by it. She remarried to a man named Max, and that's when archaeology came into her life. She speaks of Cairo, Baghdad and other cities with love, and seeing them through her eyes at that time is a world apart from how we see those places now.
posted by GaelFC at 10:08 AM on February 26, 2003

Pity she didn't become a full-time archaeologist; it might have spared us the legacy of her execrable fiction. The Channel 4 J'Accuse series argued a while back that she single-handedly poisoned British crime fiction genre in the latter half of the 20th century, by establishing a long-standing convention of the crime mystery as an elaborate puzzle worked out among stereotyped cardboard characters. Even Chorion, the new copyright holders, seem to have recognised how crap much of her work was, and have put a moratorium on British performance of some of her plays as part of an attempt to revitalise the brand.
posted by raygirvan at 10:48 AM on February 26, 2003

P.D. James is the real Grand Dame of British mystery novels.

But GaelFC, Agatha sounds like a good read. Must look it up. I bet Christie was intelligent and interesting. It's really too bad her books weren't.
posted by orange swan at 10:54 AM on February 26, 2003

I read her books as a kid, but haven't been compelled to reread them since.

There's a great scene in AGATHA where she tells of working in a pharmacy and figuring out that the pharmacist had made a math mistake--he'd used something like ten times the amount of medicine he was supposed to use--in suppositories, nonetheless.

As a young woman and an assistant, she just couldn't contradict the pharmacist in those days. So she quickly spilled the batch on the floor and loudly proclaimed her clumsiness, tossing them in the trash. When the pharmacist tried to rescue one, she whirled around and stomped on it.

Of course this eventually made its way into a book. Great story.
posted by GaelFC at 12:28 PM on February 26, 2003

archaeological excavations in Iraq

Speaking of which: Oldest Human History Is at Risk
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on February 26, 2003

She speaks of Cairo, Baghdad and other cities with love, and seeing them through her eyes at that time is a world apart from how we see those places now.

So, you're saying she's a neocolonial romantic.
posted by rschram at 2:21 PM on February 26, 2003

The pharmacist story is remarkably similar to the one in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.
posted by raygirvan at 2:31 PM on February 26, 2003

Max ... said, 'Don't you realize that at this moment you know more about prehistoric pottery than any woman in England?

Incidentally, do we know whether this was true? What about her contemporary, the archaeologist Winifred Lamb? There's been a lot of Christie hype since the Chorion takeover.
posted by raygirvan at 10:03 AM on February 27, 2003

Ray - I would have thought it unlikely, actually, as there were female anthropologists and archaeologists in England at the time (the formidable Beatrice Blackwood of the Pitt Rivers Museum springs to mind). This aspect of Agatha Christie is interesting maybe more in terms of shedding some light on the interests of someone who (love her or hate her) was significant in popular culture, rather than as an academic archaeologist.
posted by plep at 1:40 PM on February 27, 2003

I certainly agree that the popularity of her work is interesting as a phenomenon that says something about a particular generation. Chorion have inherited the situation that few people under 60 like Christie any more, and to me it seems to appeal to those who like an intellectual puzzle that contains nothing to unsettle their emotions nor challenge their mindset. There's a Guardian Books article here on the rebranding efforts: it talks about the problem of updating, to modern settings, plots that hinge on long-obsolete social situations and technological fixtures.
posted by raygirvan at 5:18 PM on February 27, 2003

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