Are We the Same Person Throughout Our Lives? Agatha Christie Thought So.

Do you agree? It’s a difficult question.

“We are all the same people as we were at three, six, ten or twenty years old. More noticeably so, perhaps, at six or seven, because we were not pretending so much then, whereas at twenty we put on a show of being someone else, of being in the mode of the moment. If there is an intellectual fashion, you become an intellectual–if girls are fluffy and frivolous, you are fluffy and frivolous. As life goes on, however, it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day. This is sometimes disconcerting for those around you, but a great relief to the person concerned.”

–Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Self-knowledge! In the end, any discussion of happiness always returns to the question of self-knowledge.

Relatedly, what’s your favorite Agatha Christie mystery? I don’t read mysteries, but I loved her autobiography, so want to try the mysteries. She wrote sixty-eight novels, where to start!

  • I love Death Comes As the End, which takes place in ancient Egypt. I think it has a lot more depth than the run-of-the-mill AC mysteries. It has the distinction of being the first full-length historical/detective novel.

  • I love any Agatha Christie mysteries with Tommy and Tuppence. They’re such a fun, loving couple. N or M? is my personal favorite, but I also really enjoyed The Secret Adversary, which is a little less whodunit and a little more action/adventure.

    • Devona Skippy McDoogle Hamm

      I love Tommy and Tuppence!

  • Mimi Gregor

    I think that we are our “true selves” as children, and over the years, we are so busy trying to “fit in” and be accepted that we forget who we really are. Now that I am “of a certain age”, I no longer worry so much about fitting in and don’t try so hard to be liked by everyone all the time.So, yes, I agree with her that we are more “ourselves” at either end of our lives… not so much in the middle.

    • ChrisD

      Eeek, I’d really hope we get to being ourselves by half way. i.e. 40. Too depressing to be putting up a false front for much longer.

      • Mimi Gregor

        Just as we gradually take on characteristics that are not on “the original model” in order to get along, I think that the sloughing off of these alien characteristics is also gradual. In some people, it never happens, and in some people, it may happen while they are still middle-aged. Hell, I’m 60, and I still can be more of a people-pleaser than I would like to be.

  • katybee

    Despite being a huge mystery fan from a young age i never enjoyed Agatha Christie much. Too much puzzle, too little characterization. I did enjoy Joan Hickson’s brilliant portrayal of Miss Marple. Definitely not the sweet or dotty old lady.
    P.D. James is much more my cup of tea. Complicated characters in tangled relationships leading to murder.
    I agree with Christie that our pretense falls away as we get old. And that many of the elements of our personality present at 3 are still there but I also believe we change as well. Experience and I hope a certain wisdom continue to shape our personalities.

  • Catherine

    You might want to try “Cat among the Pigeons,” set largely in a girl’s school. One of my favorites. And few books are scarier, in a quiet way, than “And Then There Were None.”

  • Abby Hatch

    I think my favorite is “Cards on the Table”. Four detectives and four murder suspects are invited to dinner. The host is killed. Whodunit? Everyone had opportunity, but in classic Agatha Christie fashion, it’s all about the psychology of it.

    That said, I enough of a “completist” to say you should start at the beginning! “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” was her first book and introduces Poirot, my favorite of her detectives. 🙂

  • Gillian

    I agree that most of us are basically the same throughout our lives but to what degree varies by person. Although most of us stay pretty constant at our core (as Wordsworth says: “The child is father of the man”), some people do change significantly as a result of their life experiences.

    It is also true for many people that during the teen and early adulthood years, we lose our real selves in the effort to fit in and be what others expect. Shedding that adopted persona and revealing our real selves can be a challenge.

  • TraceyAnn Tokar Smith

    I am a huge Agatha Christie fan, and while I love all her books, those featuring Miss Jane Marple and the inestimable Hercule Poirot are my favorites. Perhaps start with the first of the Poirot novels…The MysteriOur Affair at Styles.

  • ChrisD

    The murder of Roger Akryod is pretty neat. But further to your own advice (re not saying what it is all about), do come to the book with fresh eyes.
    I also like Agatha Christie for the glimpse into a world that’s pretty much gone, e.g. more pervasive class boundaries, servants, cake that’s too expensive to make often because it contains so much butter and eggs…
    The other female detective novelist of the era is Dorothy L Sayers, the other, other female detective novelist of the era is Margery Allingham, the other other other … is Ngaoi Marsh. Turns out Agatha Christie was only the most famous novelist of her type. (all are great fun, again partly due to seeing a world that’s gone, though in a good way).

    • ellen

      The butter and eggs were not too expensive, they were unavailable due to rationing, which continued for many years in Britain after the war was over. The only way to get extra was to break the law and trade on sly with your neighbors.

  • Sarah

    Agatha Christie was my favourite author as a child, I read, re read and collected copies of all her books. I have a dedicated shelf in my library now. I’m hesitant to pick a favourite, but would suggest Parker Pyne investigates, Hercule Poirots Christmas and the Secret Adversary.
    I also love the TV series Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries which gives me the same kind of feeling and is visually stunning (set in 1920s Australia).

  • BKF

    Gretchen, wish you a very Happy Birthday! Hope you have a wonderful day.
    I used to frequent your blog a couple of years ago and then had to take a break for personal reasons. I have been catching up on your podcasts (love them!) etc.- so pleased and proud of your impact and success! Well-done! 🙂

  • Lou Phillips

    I love Agatha nearly as much as Austen. Some Poirots are clearly classics – “Then There Were None” is a spooky set-piece; Murder on The Orient Express is tightly plotted and shows many of the class delineations of the era; *The Murder of Roger Ackroyd caused a furor- she did something that had never been done before in her choice of narrator.
    The archaeological mysteries “They came To Baghdad,” “*Death on the Nile” in particular. show her familiarity with digs and the Middle East. “*Death Comes as the End” set in ancient Egypt, is atypical, but one of her best.
    For me, Miss Jane Marple holds up best – Murder at the Vicarage is a classic & the solution is right there, but no one sees it on the first read. I started reading them in my 20’s, and I just kept on till I read everything she had written – & some are terrible.
    Starting as a well-read person, you might begin with Death Comes as the End (1); or “Roger A” (2), then try the Miss Marple short stories(3) – they really give you the flavor of her writing, plotting & characterizations. The sense of place – Britain between the wars, class-conscious, village life, gardening, what is readily available and what is scarce, who does what jobs, the post coming twice a day & deliveries from the greengrocer and butcher, but going to London for tea towels.

  • Melissa Freer

    I totally agree that we are who we are. I just look at my children, now on their upper 20’s and can see them their 6 year old or even toddler selves every once in a while. When I’m with my childhood friends, we fall into our 10 year old roles– and at 62 that is an amazingly comfortable feeling.

  • Teresa

    The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and A Pocketful of Rye are the two I always recommend for Agatha Christie newbies. In high school, I read nearly 40 of her mysteries (every one the Seattle Public Library had) and I still remember many of the books fondly.

  • Devona Skippy McDoogle Hamm

    The entire Hercule Poirot series is available as a TV show on Netflix. I’ve read the books and this summer worked my way through the show.
    The show is really really good. It gets better as it goes.