An informative exhibition featuring Agatha Christie's life was at The Pointe-à-Callière museum in Montreal. She is known as the "Queen of Crime" with sixty-six mysteries; six novels written as Mary Westmacott; and a hundred and fifty short stories, eighteen plays and two memoirs under her belt. From her sleuthing couple Tommy and Tuppence to her sharply witted Miss Marple to her "greatest detective who ever lived" Hercule Poirot.
I have read only one of her books and despite my love of reading, I enjoy Agatha Christie's stories much more on television. It's easier for me when it comes to mystery novels because seeing the suspects with their unique characteristics helps organize them in my mind.
The museum split the exhibition between two floors. This post will focus on Agatha's life up until her archaeological digs.
When I entered the dimly lit room, a large poster of Agatha herself greeted me. She looked to the future with determination and a craving for adventure in her eyes. At our feet lay a garden of poisons she no doubt used in her many books. Tables lined the walls with photographs and paintings of Agatha and her household taken during her childhood. Dogs were always present in Agatha's life; her first dog was named Scotty. There were many people in this area, so I was unable to view this part of Agatha's life.
The room snaked around a corner and I stopped to view a representation of a nurse's grey, (possibly made of linen), outfit Agatha would have worn during WWI. Opposite were photos of her first husband, Archie Christie, and their daughter, Rosalind. Set before the photos were some of Rosalind's baby possessions with her name engraved on them. Further down this quaint corridor were more posters, bilingual videos and display cases. Old versions of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books were out for us to admire. How different the covers were in style compared to the ones sold in Indigo today! Time had made the colors fade. There was an interview of David Suchet, who played the defining version of Poirot, along with Agatha herself, except we could only listen to her voice. Her voice reminded me of Virginia Woolf's. In the sound bite, Agatha compared Poirot to Marple and how "[h]e would never fit in her world".
In this same area, a display case housed postcards Agatha had kept on her many trips to Canada. A fact that will interest fellow Montrealers is this: "Agatha Christie briefly visited Montréal in 1922, while on a world tour with her first husband, Archie."
Throughout the entire exhibition, visitors could see her actual notebooks. As a writer myself, I looked at one open notebook and couldn't help but smile at the recognition of the hurried scribbles only the author could understand. I think all writers do this for even now, as I write this post, I am consulting my notebook and its chicken scratched notes. However, I could pick out a few words from Agatha's notebooks, such as 'Mr.', 'butler' and specific names. Her notes didn't seem to be in sentence form.
"I myself always found the love interest a terrible bore in
detective stories... However, at that point detective stories always
had to have a love interest ― so there it was."
― Agatha Christie
Curiously, there was a book where Agatha wrote about a Mr. Harley Quin. I know that Agatha had a Poirot story (The Victory Ball) that featured the harlequin figure, but I didn't know she had written a solo book on him. I didn't get a chance to read much about it since there was a large tour group coming up behind me and not too much space in this corridor.
Before I rounded the second corner, my eye caught a display with a skull on it. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was false, but realistically crafted nonetheless. The plaque below it said that Agatha had been part of 'The Detection Club' and had been their president from 1957 until her death in 1976. Initiates had to take an oath on the skull, who was named Eric. There wasn't any back story for his name which was the interesting part, in my opinion.
Round the corner were curtains with the design of the Orient Express opposite a small model of the famous train. I have a soft spot for trains and I have to admit, this was a beautiful setup. The museum staff had also prepared life-sized representations of the dining car and the sleeping car. The tea sets and luxurious china that sparkled in the dimly-lit corridor were complimented with the sound of a train whistling and running on the tracks. The movie of Murder on the Orient Express (with Albert Finney as Poirot) silently played on one of the walls.
Photo credit: Caroline Bergeron