Tuesday, 20 October 2015
Tuesday Night Bloggers: Christie on a Dig
The Tuesday Night Bloggers is an international blogging club consisting of The Passing Tramp, Bev Hankins, Brad Friedman, Helen Szamuely, Jeffrey Marks Moira Redmond [that’s me, Clothes in Books] and Noah Stewart.
We are named after an Agatha Christie collection, and our first project is to do a Christie-related post every Tuesday for six weeks. Curt at Passing Tramp is masterminding this, and this month he is providing a clearing house for links to the different pieces.
Today’s entry looks at Agatha Christie’s life and one of her memoirs.
Come Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie
[Agatha Christie is living on an archaeological dig in Syria with her husband Max in the 1930s]
Our washerwoman having been unaccountably slow in delivering my cotton frocks, I venture to put on the Empire Builder’s wife’s shantung coat and skirt, which I have previously not had the courage to wear.
Max takes one look at me.
‘What on earth have you got on?’
I say defensively that it is nice and cool.
‘You can’t wear that,’ says Max. ‘Go and take it off.’
‘I must wear it. I’ve bought it.’
‘It’s too frightful. You look like the most offensive kind of memsahib – straight from Poonah!’
I admit sadly that I have had a suspicion to that effect.
Max says encouragingly: ‘Put on the greenish buff with the Tell Halaf running lozenge pattern.’
‘I wish,’ I say crossly, ‘that you would not use pottery terms for describing my clothes. It’s lime-green! And a running lozenge is a disgusting term - like something half-sucked and left by a child on a village shop counter. How you can think up such disgusting descriptions for pottery patterns I cannot think!’
‘What an imagination you have,’ says Max. ‘And the running lozenge is an extremely attractive Tell Halaf pattern.
He draws it for me on a piece of paper, and I say that I know all about it, and that it is a most attractive pattern. It’s the description that’s so revolting.
Max looks at me sadly and shakes his head.
commentary: This charming little book is a memoir of Agatha Christie’s trips accompanying her husband on archaeological digs during the 1930s. It’s entertaining and informative, with very funny anecdotes and a feel for the area they visited and the history they uncovered. At the beginning of the book, Christie describes shopping for her trip to an archaeological dig in Syria, and the difficulties of finding the right clothes. The outfit above is described as ‘plainly-cut – no girlish nonsense here – bulk is accommodated as well as scragginess!’
Conditions on the dig were quite rough and ready, she had to put up with a primitive living style – but on the other hand she got on with writing her books, was in close proximity to her much-loved husband, and was out of reach of importuning publishers, editors, publicists and agents. She was also out of reach of her daughter Rosalind, who must have been around 15 when her mother first started going off on these long trips every year. Rosalind was at boarding school, and was entrusted to Christie’s much-loved and reliable sister Madge – but still, there’s not much doubt that Christie chose new husband over child.
Laura Thompson’s biography, Agatha Christie: an English Mystery, takes a fairly untrusting line on Max, and her theory is that Christie wrote this memoir solely to please him. She feared she had lost her first husband by leaving him alone too much, and that is why she went off on digs with Max every year. Max comes over very well in the book (the anecdote above may make him seem bossy and controlling, but in context he is obviously being funny and complimentary), and she may have a subtext, but she certainly sounds as though she enjoyed herself. But you do wonder about how Rosalind saw it, and how she got on with her stepfather…
You cannot doubt the interest that Christie takes in all the people they meet, and particularly the locals who work for them. Some of it makes a modern reader wince – she cannot understand why the workers won’t see that Western ways are better – but she is a lot more tolerant and interested than many of the famed travel writers of the era, for example Robert Byron.
It’s a pity that someone didn’t disable her ‘!’ key when she was writing – they are scattered far too liberally all over the book. But otherwise, it’s a delightful read.
The picture shows Agatha Christie ‘in a field in the Middle East’, date unknown. All the photographs of Agatha Christie, above and in previous entries , are used with the kind permission of the Christie Archive Trust. There is a small but wonderful exhibition of her personal photos which has just closed after delighting fans in London and Torquay. Click on the labels below for endless more blogposts on Christie.