“Agatha Christie – Queen of Crime and Duchess of Death” by Janet Sellick
There was a double bill at the March meeting of West Dartmoor U3A. The launch of a new website was followed by “Agatha Christie, Queen of Crime and Duchess of Death”, a talk by Janet Sellick. Both talks were well received by an enthusiastic and responsive audience.
Jane Whitehead, website editor, began by saying that the website had been designed to inform and attract new members but, more importantly, as a means of communicating with the present membership. Using a large screen, Jane was able to lead the audience through each page of the website and to explain how information could be found about the many activities fostered by the group. This proved to be helpful to members reluctant to use computers. The main message was that to keep the website relevant and vibrant, we need contributions, news and updates from members. It is hoped that an interest group may be formed to help maintain the website.
After a brief interlude, the Chairman introduced Janet Sellick, a well-travelled linguist, who,having come to Devon some forty years ago, stayed. She developed an interest in Agatha Christie. Janet’s talk covered a brief description of Agatha’s life. The writer was born in Torquay and the loss of her father when she was a child of eleven, gave her a sense of the importance of having money. Her first marriage ended and such was the distress caused by the behaviour of her husband, Mrs. Christie disappeared for ten days. By then she was already a well-known writer and this aroused great publicity. She was diagnosed as having been suffering from amnesia but never referred to the matter again. She found happiness and intellectual fulfilment in her second marriage to Max Mallowan, an archaeologist. She accompanied him on digs, took an active part in the expeditions and found ideas for her books. They bought Greenway House, on the River Dart, in 1938. It is now run by the National Trust.
The speaker said that the author’s interest in and knowledge of poisons stemmed from her work in a hospital dispensary in World War 1. She also worked in University College Hospital London, in World War 2. Her descriptions of the effects of being poisoned were so accurate that they were acknowledged by forensic experts and doctors, most notably her use of thallium in, “The Pale Horse”, in 1961. As a true admirer of the woman and her work, Mrs. Sellick defended the writer against criticism that the books are formulaic. Her own view was changed when, during a visit to Greenway, she heard Matthew Pritchard, Agatha’s grandson, read the first chapter of one of the books and realised that there was more to her writing than clever plot planning. Reference was also made to favourable critical comments by academics. Agatha Christie remains the best-selling novelist, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. A set of commemorative stamps was produced in 2016. Displaying these stamps on the screen, Janet pointed out some of the intriguing, hidden secrets, much to the amusement of the audience. Burgh Island, for example, featured on one, is depicted so that a profile may be seen, when it has been pointed out! It was a very enjoyable meeting.
Meeting Reporter: Barbara Schofield