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Wednesday 11 September 2019

Solent University recently hosted the 5th International Agatha Christie Conference. We spoke to conference co-organiser Dr Mark Aldridge, Senior Lecturer in Film, about the event.

An Agatha Christie conference sounds intriguing! How did it go?

I'm pleased to say the two day event was a great success. We had delegates come from across the world to join us at Solent University, with people travelling from countries including the United States, Canada, Italy and Ireland.

The conference continues to evolve and surprise as more areas of Agatha Christie's life and work are explored. The first conference took place at the University of Exeter in 2014 and was put together by Dr Jamie Bernthal. This year there were four of us on the committee, with Dr Mia Dormer and Sarah Martin joining Jamie, as well as myself. I was keen to bring the event to Solent as I knew we had the support of the University and had great facilities in The Spark, which was a huge hit with the delegates.

Can you tell us more about the major themes and discussions?

One of the great things about the conference was that, as well as its international element, it was interdisciplinary. We had papers looking at Agatha Christie in relation to such areas as education, information sciences, theatre and fashion, as well as literary theory and film. We were also thrilled to welcome a speaker who knew Agatha Christie personally, having first met her as a child in Baghdad in the late 1940s, and it was fantastic to have her personal perspective.

By the conclusion of the event it was clear that what might seem like a limited field - study of a single author - can lead to almost endless perspectives, research and debate.

The delegates attending the Agatha Christie Conference

Your work has previously focused on film and television adaptations of Christie’s work. Can you tell us more about how research in this area contributes to wider understanding of recent social history?

What is interesting about the screen adaptations is that they reflect the perspectives of Agatha Christie and the world when the mystery was first written, alongside the context of the film or television production itself. These relationships can alter with trends in film and television as well as the intentions of the producers themselves - some may emphasise the puzzle nature of the original story, while others give greater prominence to characters and relationships. It's impossible to preserve the entirety of the original stories when adapting them and so the choices made tell us something about contemporary perspectives. For example, the star-studded heritage films such Murder on the Orient Express in 1974 and Death on the Nile in 1978 indicate tastes of the time, as well as demonstrating what was then a formula for success in the British film industry. More recently, the BBC adaptation of The ABC Murders instead used a 1930s novel to say something about the politics of 2018, drawing parallels between ideologies of the two eras, which underpinned the motivation of characters and even Poirot's character.

Agatha Christie is a giant of 20th century popular culture. Why is it important to research her work and life?

Agatha Christie led a fascinating life and became not only the world's best-selling novelist, but also theatre's most successful female playwright. There is no 'secret' to her success beyond the fact she was an extremely talented writer whose work was met with great popular success, and her influence remains considerable. From a historical perspective we can learn a lot about changes in society and its perspectives from her books, which demand close textual analysis; but many academic studies also try to untangle the relationships between Christie and wider contexts, such as the development of the mystery novel or the evolution of the 'whodunnit' on screen or stage. This not only means we can gain a greater understanding of these relationships, but also ensures Christie is given proper credit for the popular and academic impact of her work. In the past Christie has been dismissed or ignored by many scholars, but recent history has seen her treated with increasing respect, something this conference contributes to.

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