Katherine Woolley (née Menke) (1888-1945) was a British military nurse and archaeologist. She was married to the archaeologist Leonard Woolley, and may have been the inspiration for the character Louise Leidner in Agatha Christie's novel Murder in Mesopotamia.

Katharine and Agatha[edit | edit source]

Woolley was the inspiration for the murder victim Louise Leidner in the novel Murder in Mesopotamia by Dame Agatha Christie. The novel has been described as "a study of the persona of Katharine Woolley." Max Mallowan claimed that "Katharine did not recognize certain traits which might have been taken as applicable to herself, and took no umbrage" [18], though in a 2012 lecture at the British Museum Henrietta McCall said that Katharine was aware Leidner was based on her and apparently enjoyed the notoriety, despite the character's portrayal as difficult.

Christie's second marriage in 1930 was to Max Mallowan, Sir Leonard Woolley's assistant at Ur. In her autobiography, Christie refers to Woolley:

"Katharine Woolley, who was to become one of my great friends in the years to come, was an extraordinary character. People have been divided always between disliking her with a fierce and vengeful hatred, and being entranced by her possibly because she switched from one mood to another so easily that you never knew where you were with her. People would declare that she was impossible, that they would have no more to do with her, that it was insupportable the way she treated you; and then, suddenly, once again they would be fascinated. Of one thing I am quite positive, and that is if one had to choose one woman to be a companion on a desert island, or some place where you would have no one else to entertain you, she would hold your interest as practically no one else could. The things she wanted to talk about were never banal. She stimulated your mind into thinking along some pathway that had not before suggested itself to you. She was capable of rudeness in fact she had an insolent rudeness, when she wanted to, that was unbelievable but if she wished to charm you she would succeed every time."

Katharine and Max Mallowan[edit | edit source]

Max Mallowan initially appeared to have a civil relationship with Katharine. In 1926, Mallowan helped build an extension to the expedition house at Ur to include a women's restroom for her use.

However, Mallowan noted that Katharine "...had the power of entrancing those associated with her when she was in the mood or on the contrary of creating a charged poisonous atmosphere; to live with her was to walk on a tightrope.” He likewise referred to her as “poisonous” with a “dominating and powerful personality.”

While Agatha and Katharine were good friends, it is said that their friendship subsided after Mallowan and Agatha married, assumedly due to Mallowan's poor opinion of Katharine. Conversely, an account by author Henrietta McCall notes that Agatha Christie felt that Mallowan was too close with Katharine, and that he was actually quite keen of her. After Mallowan and Christie were coupled, both were unwelcome at Ur.

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

Apart from her connection with the Louise Leidner character in Murder in Mesopotamia, Katharine Woolley (played by Katherine Kingsley) appears as a character in the 2019 TV movie Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar. The relationship between the Woolleys in the television version does not appear to reflect the circumstances of their marriage.

Katharine also appears as a character in Death in a Desert Land a fictional account of the life of Agatha Christie, by Andrew Wilson.

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