Agatha Christie at home
One reason I have always liked Agatha Christie mysteries is that a happy home life seems to shimmer in her pages even when a corpse is lying on the floor.
Christie loved Greenway House, above the River Dart in Devon. She lived there during the early years of the Second World War and her family summered there after the war.
Greenway was known for its hospitality and house parties. The writer’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, recalls 'spirited arguments’ between Christie and Peter Saunders (the theatre impresario and producer of The Mousetrap) on the plausibility of certain plots. 'I remember Allen Lane of Penguin Books, who arrived in a Bentley coupé, and Billy Collins, with great big bushy eyebrows, arriving almost apologetically with a typescript under his arm which, like most publishers, he wanted back the day after tomorrow.’ It was, he says, the English country house at its best.
Saunders was a regular visitor. In his autobiography he wrote, 'There is a delightful informality about staying at Greenway House. The gong goes for breakfast but guests go down whenever they want. After breakfast, Agatha said, “We do exactly what we like in this house. Most of us play cricket in the morning.” It seemed a very odd pastime but it was for the benefit of her eight-year-old grandson. The house had a cricket net and we took turns in bowling at Mathew, excepting Agatha, who declared herself umpire. Every time he was out, Agatha called, “No ball”.’
. . .Mathew remembers 'the chair in the corner where my grandmother used to sit with her reading for the day, which was voluminous.’ . . . 'It was where, after breakfast, life began.’
Mathew donated five thousand of the house's most important items and 5,000 books to the National Trust, which owns the house and has spent quite a bit of money to keep it from tumbling down. (I note that Agatha's contributions to the exchequer far exceed these bills.) Hundreds of volunteers helped, too, and the house is now open for visits.