The Grand Tour: Letters and photographs from the British Empire expedition by Agatha Christie and Mathew Prichard (editor)
|The Grand Tour: Letters and photographs from the British Empire expedition by Agatha Christie and Mathew Prichard (editor)|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: A selection of correspondence from Agatha Christie in which she chronicled the ten-month voyage of the British trade mission in 1922, in which she and her first husband Archie took part, for the Empire Exhibition held two years later, generously illustrated with her own photographs and memorabilia.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 376||Date: April 2012|
|Publisher: Harper Collins|
|External links: Author's website|
In 1922 Agatha Christie, already the author of three very successful books, was happily married with a small daughter, and her heart's desire was to continue writing while she led a quiet life in the country. However her husband Archie was becoming increasingly restless and disenchanted with working in the City, and his longing for a change was suddenly to be fulfilled in a most unexpected way. An old friend, Major Belcher, 'blessed with great powers of bluff', presented them both with the opportunity of a lifetime – to join him on a trip to several imperial outposts in preparation for the forthcoming British Empire Exhibition to be staged at Wembley. Archie would be his financial adviser, and Agatha was cordially invited for the trip, as his wife. (Two-year-old Rosalind would have to stay at home, a decision which involved some soul-searching).
This sumptuously-presented book is a celebration of the resulting Grand Tour, of their visits over a ten-month period to South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada. Illustrated in black and white on almost every page with photographs, facsimiles of letters with stamped addressed envelopes, press cuttings, and menus, this tells the story in Agatha's own letters.
At Kimberley they went to see the De Beers diamond mines, where they watched rough specimens being graded and some show ones cut. At Wellington they had the good fortune to visit on 'a perfect day', something which according to the residents rarely happened (presumably to do with the weather, although she does not elaborate), where they found the countryside unusually beautiful. At Honolulu they went surfing, and marked the occasion with an amusing photograph of her in her bathing dress standing against her hired surfboard. By the time they reached Banff, Canada, towards journey's end, she was in so much pain with her neuritis that she decided to take everyone's advice and try the hot sulphur waters which she was assured would help, and within four days the pain in her neck and shoulder had completely gone.
It was not only neuritis which had made the tour less than a total pleasure. While they were in Canada Archie suffered a severe sinus reaction after visiting a grain elevator, which was followed by a few days of being laid low with bronchitis and an attack of nettle rash. This was not the only cross they had to bear. Major Belcher, who was known behind his back as 'the wild man', could be the most entertaining company when he tried, but a good person to avoid the rest of the time – rude, overbearing, bad-tempered, a borrower of small sums of money who never paid them back, and a bad loser at the bridge table. To give him his due, he was aware of his shortcomings, and after their return when they dined together Agatha and Archie reminded him that he 'really did behave atrociously'. He acknowledged as much, explaining unapologetically that he 'had a lot' to try him. Another problem she had to cope with was the occasional bout of homesickness, especially in Australia when they arrived at Launceston, up the river Tamar (yes, this is Australia, not Cornwall), which reminded her exactly of a rather bigger river Dart, with similar wooded hills sloping down either side.
The book opens and closes with an introduction and an epilogue written by Mathew Prichard, son of Rosalind Christie and the Chairman of Agatha Christie Limited. He notes that his grandmother's letters from the Grand Tour were the only part of the archive that his mother genuinely wanted to share with her public, and observes that the confident, carefree wife who accompanied her husband in 1922 was 'lost forever' after the events of four years later when she suddenly suffered the loss of her mother and divorce from her husband, 'disappeared' and was found in Harrogate after several days of national headlines speculating on where, why and how she had apparently vanished.
There is also a note on the exhibition itself, at which Belcher was the Controller of General Services, although we can only guess as to how important a part the Grand Tour played in its preparation and success; it cost over two and a quarter million pounds to put on and lost one and a half million. A facsimile plan of the exhibition is reproduced on the endpapers.
Although it lacks an index, a full chronology of the tour can be found at the end.
Anybody who is interested in the life of Agatha Christie – whose life, as an astonishingly prolific writer, was not dominated by major adventures for the most part – or in travel during the inter-war years will love this book. The presentation is first-rate, the editing is comprehensive yet unobtrusive, and as a gifted novelist, the text makes for a good read. The quality of the paper is very good and it makes an extremely attractive volume to handle.
If this book appeals then Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson might interest you.
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