Happy December and welcome to our second Agatha Day! This month’s quote is both lovely and deep.
“I was, I suppose, always over-burdened with imagination. That has served me well in my profession – it must, indeed, be the basis of the novelist’s craft – but it can give you some bad sessions in other respects.”
Context: Agatha’s father died when she was eleven, after slowly declining for some years. Following that loss, her mother began to suffer poor health and, as you can expect, young Agatha started to fear losing her mother.
This quote follows an honest account of her anxiety over her mother’s health, a fear that was particularly strong for a couple years. The anxiety faded once Agatha was able to sleep nearby (in her father’s dressing room) so she could hear her mother if she needed help during the night.
Why I Chose It: I love Agatha’s honesty in sharing her childhood struggles with anxiety. That she recognizes a link with her imagination is particularly insightful. Imagination has two sides. It doesn’t just allow a person to imagine positive things; it can lead someone to see all the negative possibilities as well. So often a trait that seems like a gift, from an external perspective, can be quite a burden as well. In this quote, Agatha acknowledges that reality, recognizing the double-edged sword of her own imagination.
Agatha Christie. If you any interest in mysteries (and probably even if you don’t), you’ve heard that name. Rightly so. Agatha Christie is still the highest selling mystery author of all time (ranking in the top of fiction authors across all genres), and her work continues to amaze and intrigue millions of readers and TV/movie watchers.
So when I saw a documentary about her on Amazon Prime, I was all in. Tell me more about this talented person! It took about two minutes before I was appalled. I watched, horrified, as the narrator/host declared he wanted to know who she was, not as an author, but as a woman.
Apparently this man believed female authors cannot be authors or creative people first and foremost—they must be defined primarily by being women.
(Please note: who I am as a writer is the same person I am as a woman. In fact, I’d rather be referred to as a writer than as a woman because my love of words defines me more than my gender does.)
Did I stop the documentary right there? No. No I did not. Surely it would get better, I thought. Surely the host deserved a chance to improve.
Instead, the host pondered what must’ve happened to Agatha Christie to give her a dark imagination. I don’t know if it even occurred to him that she was simply creative, without some great event or trauma eliciting such a talent.
Then he proceeded to join another man as the two of them flipped through Agatha’s notebooks, providing delightful statements along the lines of “Wow, her books are so easy to read but these notebooks make it seem like she worked hard to write them!” and “She kept notebooks everywhere and was always jotting things down. She must have constantly been having thoughts!”
That woman. Having thoughts. What an idea.
The documentary was like a horrible accident where I just couldn’t look away even though I didn’t want to see (or hear) any more. This talented, prolific author, someone who’d had a massive impact on the genre I love, was being reduced to a handful of facts and assumptions by people who didn’t even know her. And she’s not here to set the record straight.
That’s nothing new. There are more than a dozen biographies written about Agatha Christie, by people who’ve analyzed her work and her life, making assertions about her decisions, dissecting her words to look for hidden meaning.
I love a good analysis. But I’m tired of hearing other people’s opinions about this remarkable woman. I’m tired of seeing her legacy shaped by people who like to pretend they have unique insight into her mind. It scares me to think people will just accept their words as truth.
Authors reveal a lot about themselves in their work. There’s no doubt about that. But too often people see connections that don’t exist. Too often the characters’ words are considered the same as the author’s words. A lovely phrase or idea gets pulled from a book and attributed directly to the author, as if she herself said it instead of the character. Maybe it reflects her own thoughts; maybe it doesn’t. Believe me, I’ve written plenty of characters whose views and statements don’t reflect my own. It scares me to see the ease with which people conflate the two.
So when I discovered that Agatha Christie had written an autobiography, I about tripped over myself to order it. Here she is, telling us about her life in her own words. Why is that not enough for us? Why do we feel we must know about her than she was willing to share?
So I’m starting a new series on my blog. This talented author deserves to have her voice back, and I want to do what I can to provide that.
The first Wednesday of every month, I’ll be sharing my favorite quotes from her autobiography—her words, directly from her, with no assumptions and analysis from me. I’ll provide a bit of context and an explanation of why I chose that quote, what I like about it or why I connect with it. But I’m not going to try to tell you what she was thinking when she wrote it or how that view may have affected her choices as an author or as a woman.
All I want to do is amplify the voice of an incredibly talented author. So if you want to hear Agatha Christie’s words about her life, from her own pen, meet me back here the first Wednesday of every month.