The Pointe-à-Callière Museum is hosting Investigating Agatha Christie until April 17
Agatha Christie’s first visit to Montreal happened in 1922 as part of a world tour she did with her first husband, Archibald Christie, and now she is back in town. Get to know her at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, where visitors can discover the many unknown aspects of her life that informed her literary process.
The Investigating Agatha Christie exhibit opened in Montreal in early December and marks the 125th anniversary of her birth. Christie is the British author and creator of sleuth characters such as Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Many of her 66 mysteries, six novels, 150 short stories, 18 plays and two memoirs inspired films and television series. Christie has a way of mixing banal, everyday life events with mystery and intrigue by way of relatable characters who happen to be skilled detectives.
Although Christie died in 1976, the exhibit is designed for visitors to experience the tour in her company, almost as if she was holding the visitor by the hand. To create this experience, curator Élisabeth Monast Moreau had to listen to over 15 hours of recordings Christie made during her later years while working on her autobiography. Moreau described this process as similar to spending that time with Christie, which is made precious by the fact that Christie was known to be quite reserved and rarely gave interviews. Moreau described her as a very down to earth, yet practical, a woman who felt that she had to contribute something to the world. Even Christie’s own voice can be heard throughout the exhibit using strategically placed headphones.
In a May 2012 interview with The Guardian, Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard, described her as a “fiercely private” recluse—very little about her private life had been available to the public until now. The Investigating Agatha Christie exhibit reveals Christie’s love for travel and her willingness to embrace the different cultures she encountered, but most importantly it reveals her deep passion for archeology and the key role she played in the discovery and preservation of ancient artifacts found in Mesopotamia, even though she was not an archeologist.
The exhibit is meant to encourage Christie readers’ further appreciation of her work by revealing literary inspirations and to encourage those who haven’t picked up her work to do so, said Moreau. “For years, the museum wanted to present an exhibition that mixed Christie’s work with archeology, because … this part of her life experience is not known as [well as] her novels,” said Moreau.
In fact, Christie spent close to 30 years on her husband’s archeological digs in Iraq and Syria, where she worked as an active member of his team.
Moreau shared that the 320 items on display are the result of a collaborative effort between the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum, John Mallowan, Christie’s nephew, and Prichard. Objects displayed include first editions of Christie’s books, letters and postcards she sent from Canada and a model of the Orient Express she took to Mesopotamia, and later made famous through her work.
The second floor of the exhibit offers a focus on Christie’s activities while on archeological digs and contains many priceless artifacts on loan from the collaborating museums. Of note are the head of a deity that was excavated by Mallowan in 1938, Christie’s cameras and her 1937 Remington typewriter, items of clothing that belonged to Christie and Mallowan, a relief of Nefertiti and Akhnaton and a headdress and necklace made of gold and lapis lazuli. There are also photographs, taken by Christie, of ancient sites and treasures that modern audiences can no longer enjoy as they have recently been destroyed by Daesh.
Exhibit goers can listen to Christie’s voice describe everything from preparations for her ventures into dig sites to her explaining the process of developing photographs in the sweltering heat. Although it appears that Christie was kept busy while at the dig sites, she was most prolific as a writer during these years, according to Moreau. But Christie was known to have fun too; through the headphones, she describes a workman’s foot race she organized to mark the end of the dig season at Tell Arpachiyah, in Syria, in 1933.
Moreau said that working with Prichard on this exhibition was “like a dream, because … [he wants people] to get to know his grandmother and her work.” She added that he attended the exhibit’s opening and said that he was left speechless.
Before visiting the exhibit myself, I reread a few of her short stories to get a reminder of her literary style, rather than drawing from the movie and T.V. adaptations of her work that so readily come to mind. Visiting the Investigating Agatha Christie exhibit truly enhanced my appreciation for her work.
The exhibit continues at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum in the Montreal Museum of Archeology and History Complex until April 17. Student tickets are $13. Every day at 1:30 p.m., the museum offers guided tours in English free of charge.