Agatha Christie? Alec de Montmorency? Sam Farver? Apocryphal? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Agatha Christie remains one of the most popular writers in history. She constructed engagingly clever and innovative mysteries as a novelist and playwright. Would you please research a humorous remark that has often been attributed to her? She was married to an archaeologist from 1930 until her death in 1976, and the jest nicely conformed to this biographical detail. Here were two versions:
- An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.
- One of the joys of being married to an archaeologist is that the older you get the more interest he takes in you.
What do you think?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in multiple U.S. newspapers in January 1952. The story was reprinted from the “Gothenburg Trade and Shipping Journal” of Gothenburg, Sweden. Agatha Christie was visiting London from Baghdad where she lived with her husband who was pursuing archaeological excavations. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2
At a party, a curiosity bitten guest inquired if it were right for such an imaginative person to be married to a student of antiquities.
“An archeologist,” Agatha Christie said with conviction, “is the best husband any woman can get. Just consider: The older she gets, the more he is interested in her.”
Interestingly, a biographical work about Christie published in 1967 asserted that the famous author denied making the quip, and she believed the episode was invented by some pundit. A detailed citation is given further below.
QI has found this topic confusing. The additional selected citations in chronological order below provide a snapshot of current research.
In March 1952 “The Reader’s Digest” printed a briefer version of the story from January 1952 and acknowledged the same periodical. In addition, a specific journalist was named as the reporter of the tale: 3
“An archaeologist,” she says with conviction, “is the best husband any woman can have. The older she gets, the more he is interested in her.”
–Gothenburg Trade and Shipping Journal, quoted by Alec de Montmorency, NANA
The name Alec de Montmorency was apparently a pseudonym. A controversial book about an assassinated military man titled “The Enigma of Admiral Darlan” was published under the name Alec de Montmorency in 1943, and a reviewer stated that the publisher refrained from identifying the author “because of danger to his friends and relatives in France”. 4 Bylines in the 1940s and 1950s indicated that Alec de Montmorency wrote for the North American Newspaper Alliance. His credibility was unclear to QI. 5
In June 1952 a newspaper in Lebanon, Pennsylvania wrote about a local archaeologist named Sam Farver who employed the same quip: 6
He advises eligible young ladies to look around and pick out an archaeologist for a husband. “An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can get,” he says. “Just consider: the older she gets, the more he is interested in her.”
In 1956 “LIFE” magazine published a profile of Christie titled “Genteel Queen of Crime” by Nigel Dennis who was able to obtain one of the relatively rare interviews with the celebrated creator of whodunits. Dennis stated that Christie employed the jest, but was not its originator. Instead, he credited an unnamed “witty wife”: 7
Agatha Christie would be the last person to want to make trouble of this kind because she rates domestic happiness far higher than literary success, and she is fond of quoting the witty wife who once said, “An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have: the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.”
On February 27, 1966 “The Sunday Times” published a lengthy profile titled “The algebra of Agatha Christie” by Francis Wyndham. The article did not contain any discussion of the quotation under examination. QI is sharing this information because some sources have stated that Christie denied using the quotation during an interview with Wyndham in “The Sunday Times”. At this time, QI has been unable to find support for this claim. 8
A denial did appear in the 1967 biographical work “Agatha Christie: Mistress of Mystery” by G. C. Ramsey. But the denial was not presented as a direct quotation from Christie: 9
Furthermore, the remark attributed to Mrs. Christie that “the older you get, the more interesting you become to an archaeologist” was the creation of some pundit whose neck Mrs. Christie would be glad to wring if he would care to identify himself— she neither made the remark nor does she consider it particularly complimentary or amusing.
The author, Ramsey, was an instructor in English at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, and he stated that he was able to meet and interview Christie for the book.
After the death of Christie in 1976 “The Sunday Times” published a piece that reported on her dislike of interviews. This fact has complicated QI’s investigation because articles about Christie often lifted quotations from previously published articles. Yet, those reprinted instances had no independent probative value: 10
She hated being interviewed and was very upset when a woman reporter printed some remarks incautiously made in a powder room to someone Agatha Christie believed was a fellow guest.
In conclusion, two primary hypotheses were suggested by this evidence. Possibility One: The 1952 anecdote may have been a fiction concocted by Alec de Montmorency. Later citations containing the quotation were all based directly or indirectly on the 1952 tale. Christie’s denial was truthful.
Possibility Two: Christie employed the quip, but she did so privately with friends. She was unhappy when the quotation became public, and eventually she decided to deny that the words were hers.
QI does not know which of these scenarios was accurate and recognizes that other explanations for the accumulated data remain possible. Perhaps future researchers will solve the mystery.
(Special thanks to Ben Zimmer and Michael Quinion who accessed the 1966 article by Wyndham in “The Sunday Times”. Additional thanks to Quinion for accessing the 1976 article and sharing his thoughts. Many thanks to Dana Dalrymple for accessing the 1952 issue of “The Reader’s Digest”. Thanks to Professor Donna L. Halper who decoded the NANA initialism and provided information about Alec de Montmorency. Thanks to quotation expert Nigel Rees whose reference “Brewer’s Famous Quotations” pointed to the 1967 citation. Also, thanks to John Baker and Amy West. All errors are the responsibility of QI.)
- 1952 January 10, The Milwaukee Journal, Lighter Side of the News From the World Press, Quote Page 24, Column 5, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1952 January 14, The Decatur Herald, Archeologist Husband, Quote Page 8, Column 7, Decatur, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1952 March, Reader’s Digest, Volume 60, Marriage Matters, Quote Page 109, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1943 April 18, The Indianapolis Star, “Enigma of Admiral Darlan” (Book Review of “The Enigma of Admiral Darlan” by Alec de Montmorency), Quote Page 21, Column 3 and 4, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1946 January 18, The Winnipeg Tribune, Himmler Aide Works for British by Alec de Montmorency, Quote Page 14, Column 5, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1952 June 12, Lebanon Daily News, What’s Right — What’s Wrong, Quote Page 36, Column 4, Lebanon, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1956 May 14, LIFE, Volume 40, Number 20, Genteel Queen of Crime: Agatha Christie Puts Her Zest for Life into Murder by Nigel Dennis, Start Page 87, Quote Page 102, Column 2, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1966 February 27, The Sunday Times, Section: Weekly Review, The algebra of Agatha Christie by Francis Wyndham, Page 25 and 26, London, England. (Gale NewsVault) ↩
- 1967, Agatha Christie: Mistress of Mystery by G. C. Ramsey, Quote Page 20, 23, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1976 January 18, The Sunday Times, The magic of Agatha Christie by Julian Symons, Quote Page 41, London, England. (Gale Cengage Learning) ↩