Monday, 1 April 2013

Mary Westmacott - The 'Real' Agatha Christie


Just about everyone, the world over,  has heard of Agatha Christie - the legendary Queen of Crime who wrote more than 80 books, plays and short stories. Her play, The Mousetrap has long held the record for the world's longest running  production and is still packing houses in its 61st year.

But there was another Agatha Christie. While weaving her dastardly plots, poisoning her victims, sending her readers up one garden path after another and leaving everyone but Poirot or Miss Marple shaking their heads in confusion, a certain Mary Westmacott was baring her soul in a very different kind of novel.

1930 saw the first of six novels - Giant's Bread - published. Agatha Christie drew on her own experiences and emotions to tell the story of the life and passions of a man obsessed with music. Her own musical training, as a young girl in Paris, helped with the authenticity of her story. 

She followed this, in 1934, with Unfinished Portrait. Her second husband, Max Mallowan, said of the main character, "In Celia we have more nearly than anywhere else a portrait of Agatha." 

Unfinished Portrait is the story of a woman on the verge of suicide, but one night she meets a man who offers her a second chance of happiness. She is scared to take it, frightened it will all go wrong - as had her first marriage. So many echoes of Agatha Christie lie here. Her own first marriage to Archie Christie ended when he left her for another woman. Shortly after this, she famously disappeared for eleven days, in 1926, before being recognised in Harrogate. She then went on to meet archaeologist, Max Mallowan, and dared to take her own second chance at happiness. It was well rewarded.

Absent In The Spring followed ten years later. Here a loyal wife discovers her husband's infidelity. Here again was an opportunity for Christie to draw on her own painful experiences and get them down on paper. 

In 1947, one of her favourite books, The Rose And The Yew Tree, was published.  Described as 'a haunting and beautiful love story'. It is a novel about love across the class divide along with all the conflict and obstacles that naturally follow. Many people regard this is the ultimate Mary Westmacott.

A Daughter's A Daughter tells the story of a daughter bitterly opposed to her mother's plans to remarry, and the final novel The Burden tells of the destructive bond between two jealous sisters.

The Mary Westmacott novels have been described as 'romances'. But this is debatable. Normally, romances have a happy ending. Hers don't. In this persona as in her more familiar guise, Agatha Christie broke out of the mould and made up her own set of rules. They worked.
Agatha with her husband, Max Mallowan

Agatha Christie continued to write her riveting detective novels until Postern of Fate - a Tommy and Tuppence Beresford mystery, published in 1973 (three years before her death). But after 1956, she never wrote another Mary Westmacott. I've often wondered why. Maybe she had used them as a way of laying her own ghosts to rest and, having done so, Mary Westmacott had nothing more to say.

If you would like to know more about Agatha Christie and her alter ego, Mary Westmacott, try visiting the officiaAgatha Christie website

Also, here's an interesting site, concerning Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan's stay in Slovenia in 1967 and other information


  1. Wow, Cat I just love how you dig underneath to get to the to the real story.

    1. Thanks, Shehanne. Just part of my natural nosiness I think!

  2. I had no idea. Thank you for finding all this out and sharing it.

    1. Dame Agatha was always full of surprises. Thanks Sheila!

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  4. I didn't know any of that! Maybe, as you say, she wanted to go onto a different genre and so changed her author's you do :-D