“A complete egoist,” Agatha Christie said of Hercule Poirot, her brilliant, diminutive, impeccably dressed Belgian detective.
“Puffy and spinsterish,” she quipped of Miss Marple, her other famous sleuth. “The old spinster lady living in a village.”
Uttered in the reedy voice of Christie herself, these withering descriptions are contained on a cache of audiotapes, recently discovered in a dusty cardboard box in one of her former houses by her only grandson, Mathew Prichard.
The tapes — 27 reels running a total of more than 13 hours — are filled with Christie’s painstaking dictation of her life story, rough material recorded in the early 1960s that eventually made up her autobiography, published posthumously in 1977. It stands as one of only a handful of recordings of Christie, the British mystery writer, who rarely agreed to be interviewed.
Christie’s estate is expected to announce its discovery on Monday, the 118th anniversary of her birth, calling the tapes a rare find and a significant addition to the collection of memorabilia related to Christie.
In Britain the appetite for all things Agatha Christie is still fierce. Devoted fans still mark her birthday with a weeklong festival of theater performances, treasure hunts, teas and murder-mystery parties. And while her books have never been considered high literary art, more than 500,000 copies of them are sold in Britain each year. She has been outsold in volume only by Shakespeare and the Bible.
Taking into account such strong interest, Christie’s estate is considering releasing part of the tapes or publishing a new, updated version of her autobiography.
“These are very personal tapes,” said Tamsen Harward, a manager at Chorion, the company that controls Christie’s literary properties. “There are bits and pieces of the autobiography that could be reviewed, in light of listening to the tapes.”
And in a mystery that might have piqued the interest of one of Christie’s fictional sleuths, only the final third of her life story can be heard on the recordings.
“We believe that, being a frugal woman, she reused the tapes,” Ms. Harward said, adding that Christie “clearly” did not feel the recordings had any historical value.
Her modern-day admirers may disagree. The tapes were dictated on a reel-to-reel recorder that was abandoned in the same box with the 27 reels of tape. With an occasional crackle in the background Christie can be heard talking about writing, about her characters and how she conceived them, with her tone varying from casual and meandering to crisp and professional.
“They’re extraordinary,” said Laura Thompson, Christie’s biographer. “Nobody sounds like that anymore. She’s old England. She sounds like an Edwardian, like a gentlewoman, like a lady. It’s as though she’s suspended in an early-20th-century world where the social order is intact, and murder is only conducted in a socially acceptable arena — arsenic in the crumpets, or something.”
In one tape Christie recalls how she conjured the character of Miss Marple, who was originally mentioned in short stories but made her first significant appearance in a novel, “The Murder at the Vicarage.”
“I have now no recollection at all of writing ‘Murder at the Vicarage,’ ” Christie said in the recording. “That is to say, I cannot remember where, when, how I wrote it, why I came to write it. And I don’t even remember why it was that I selected a new character, Miss Marple, to act as a sleuth in the case. Certainly at the time I had no intention of continuing her for the rest of my natural life.”
In another recording she ponders the repeated suggestion that Miss Marple and Poirot, two of her most prominent characters, should be introduced to each other.
“People never stop writing to me nowadays to suggest that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot should meet,” Christie said. “But why should they meet? I’m sure they would not like meeting at all. I shall not let them meet unless I feel a really sudden and unexpected urge to do so.”
Her grandson, Mr. Prichard, who is also the chairman of Agatha Christie Limited, said he does not intend to make every minute of the tapes public. “One thing we probably won’t do is release in its entirety the discovery we’ve made,” he said. “There are quite extensive parts that are confused and slightly rambling and obviously had to be quite seriously edited for the autobiography.”
After all, it is possible that Christie never intended the tapes to be heard. She left them in a storeroom in one of her former houses, in Devon, outside Torquay, among piles of other memorabilia.
When Mr. Prichard discovered them, he had intended to begin cleaning out his grandmother’s former house. “There was literally almost a house full of archives, paraphernalia, rubbish, everything,” he said.
After discovering the tapes he took them to a friend, who managed, with some difficulty, to operate the recorder and transfer the sound to a digital file.
Among the few other recordings of Christie’s voice are a BBC interview from 1955 and a 1974 recording in which she recalled her experience in a World War I medical dispensary, where she gained a working knowledge of poisons.
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on Sept. 15, 1890, to a wealthy American father and British mother. She married twice and kept a low profile, sometimes refusing to allow publishers to put an author photo on her books.
She wrote 66 detective novels (including “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile”), 163 short stories, 19 plays, 4 nonfiction works (including her self-titled autobiography) and 6 romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.
She killed off Poirot in her 1975 novel, “Curtain,” a death reported in a front-page obituary for Poirot in The New York Times on Aug. 6, 1975. The next year Christie died at 85.
Ms. Thompson, her biographer, said that throughout Christie’s half-century of writing she remained fiercely protective of her characters.
“She had a very definite sense of their worth,” Ms. Thompson said. “I don’t think she would have cared to hear people talk about those characters in the way that she did.”
Ouça Agatha publicado em 17 de setembro de 2008.