Literary daybook, Nov. 25

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published November 26, 2002 1:00AM (UTC)
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Today in fiction

On Nov. 25, Christopher attends a Job Club.
-- "Ghost Children" (1997)
by Sue Townsend

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in literary history
On this day in 2002 Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" begins its second half-century of continuous presentation. Christie wrote the first version of the play as a half-hour drama called "Three Blind Mice," offered as a birthday present for Queen Mary. She was nearly halfway through her prolific, 56-year career at this point, and Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple had been puzzling things out with such popularity that she told her grandson, Mathew, that he could have the royalties. Mathew is now president of Agatha Christie Ltd. In her autobiography, Christie tells the story of steeling herself to attend and even speak at the 10th anniversary publicity party for the London production, despite her "miserable, horrible, inevitable shyness." She arrived to this alone and a half-hour beforehand as requested, only to be told by an usher, "No admission yet, madam. Another twenty minutes before anyone is allowed to go in." Until rescued, Christie "wandered miserably round the corridors of the Savoy, trying to get up my courage to go back."

Christie's most famous unwanted publicity came decades earlier, in a personal whodunit that was never quite solved. In December of 1926 she suddenly disappeared, her car found abandoned with its lights still on near her Berkshire home, her packed suitcase and driver's license inside. Though only 35 Christie was already famous, and heir-apparent to Conan Doyle. The mystery had made headlines for a week, and foiled all attempts at solution -- tracker dogs, spotter planes, underwater divers, civilian search (one searcher being the other heir-apparent, Dorothy Sayers) -- when Conan Doyle himself took action, or rather brought in a psychic to do so. Upon putting one of Mrs. Christie's gloves to his forehead, the psychic said, "Agatha." Pressed for more, he expressed optimism: "There is trouble connected with this article. The person who owns it is half dazed and half purposeful. She is not dead, as many think. She is alive. You will hear of her, I think, next Wednesday." He further indicated an impression of water.

And all this was true, or as provable as anything ever was about the bizarre case. Distraught over her husband's announcement that he was in love with another, Christie had found her way to a luxury spa called the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel. Here, by design or confusion, she registered as Teresa Neele -- Nancy Neele being the name of her husband's girlfriend. The husband later reported her as extremely ill, with a three-year memory loss; the Happy Hydro Boys reported her dancing the Charleston to "Yes, We Have No Bananas." Conan Doyle, a determined believer in such people, reported his psychic to be correct on all counts: Christie was alive, near water, and though found on a Tuesday, revealed as so in the Wednesday papers.


-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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