5 Pharmacist Facts About Agatha Christie
FEBRUARY 10, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor
An education in pharmacy not only helped British crime novelist Agatha Christie attend to patients during the First World War, but also aided her creative pursuits in literature.
Known for writing the longest-running play, The Mousetrap, as well as more than 65 detective novels, Christie was inspired by some of the poisons she encountered during her pharmacy studies.
Here are 5 facts about the pharmacy-educated writer.
1. Christie became a pharmacist in 1915.
Christie married her aviator husband, Archibald Christie, on Christmas Eve in 1914. Just 1 day after Christmas, Archibald left to serve in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. Meanwhile, Christie became a nurse, and in 1915, she became a pharmacist in a hospital, where she learned about poisons, according to History.com.
2. Christie felt some anxiety during her time as a hospital pharmacist.
Some people surmise that Christie suffered from anxiety while working as a hospital pharmacist, and that her worried state propelled her into writing. One night, Christie’s anxiety about her work bothered her so much that she got out of bed and went back to the hospital. She wanted to double-check that she had not put a lid used for carbolic acid back onto an ointment jar, according to AgathaChristie.com. Carbolic acid poisoning can cause kidney damage, convulsions, and irritations to the eyes, nose, and throat, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
3. Christie’s first detective novel revolves around a poisoning by strychnine.
Her first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced 1 of her most famous characters, Hercule Poirot, details the death of a woman by strychnine poisoning. The CDC describes strychnine as a white, odorless, bitter powder that is now used as a pesticide to kill rats. Those exposed to the poison will often experience painful muscle spasms, rigid limbs, uncontrollable arching in the neck and back, and jaw tightness, according to the CDC.
Another character in the book also works at a hospital pharmacy during the war, much like Christie did.
4. A pharmacology professor authored a book about poison and Christie.
A Texas pharmacology professor named Michael Gerard penned a book called The Poisonous Pen of Agatha Christie, which delves into the 30 poison-related murders in Christie’s books. Gerard includes a 76-page alphabetical list of all the compounds Christie employed in her plot lines surrounding murder, disease, and addiction. The book also takes a look at Christie’s view on health care professions and the value of medicine in her novels.
5. A pharmacist inspired Christie to use thallium in 1 of her novels, and the author’s description of it had real-life results.
Harold Davis, a pharmacist at the University College Hospital in London, is said to have inspired Christie to use thallium poisoning in her book, The Pale Horse, according to AgathaChristie.com. If ingested in large amounts, thallium can harm the nervous system, lungs, heart, liver, and kidney. According to the CDC, thallium poisoning can cause hair loss, vomiting, and diarrhea, and death. Christie’s in-depth account of thallium poisoning led to the correct diagnosis of thallium poisoning for 2 patients who had read her work, according to AgathaChristie.com.