(Note: Quotes are from The Tuesday Club Murders unless otherwise indicated.)
One of Agatha Christie’s most beloved characters is an old lady—Miss Jane Marple. But an old lady who is sharp as a tack and applies her years of experience to solving some very unique murders.
Christie in her autobiography stated in hindsight she wished she had made both Poirot
and Miss Marple younger.
“Miss Marple was born at the age of sixty-five to seventy–which as with Poirot, proved
unfortunate, because she was going to have to last a long time in my life. If I had had any second sight I would have provided myself with a precocious schoolboy as my first detective; then he could have grown old with me”
In addition to being elderly, Miss Marple is initially described in her first book,
The Murder at the Vicarage, as a village busybody who knows everyone’s business.
“She’s the worst cat in the village,” said Griselda. “And she always knows every single thing that happens—and draws the worst influences from it.”
As her character develops in subsequent books her “nosy parker nature” changes to simply being curious and takes a secondary position to her interest in human nature. She becomes kinder and gentler and a little more modern as the books progress. Let’s take closer look at Miss Marple and learn through quotes from her and about her.
Miss Marple’s Description
Over the years several different actresses have played Miss Marple so we may all have
different impressions of what she looks like. But here is Christie’s description of her.
“Miss Marple wore a black brocade dress, very much pinched in around the waist. Mechlin lace was arranged in a cascade down the front of the bodice. She had on lace mittens, and a black lace cap surmounted the piled-up masses of her snowy hair. She was knitting—something white and soft and fleecy.”
We get a different view when the description of two dinner guests is presented in The
Murder at the Vicarage.
“Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner—Miss
Weatherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much more
Has your mental picture changed of what she looks like? Do we have an accurate
picture of this elderly lady? Let’s see what else we can learn about her.
Miss Marple is Often Ignored
Because of her age it is assumed she is not up with the times and therefore she is often ignored. However, while people are ignoring her she is carefully observing them. Even Miss Marple mentions her ability of observation– Now fortunately I am in the habit of observing closely.
Eventually others become aware of her. Here is a quote from Henry Clithering concerning Miss Marple’s role in the Tuesday Night Club. The club consists of a group of friends who meet every week where one member presents a mystery for the others to solve.
“—we hardly realized that Miss Marple was playing; but we were polite about it—didn’t want to hurt the old dear’s feelings. And now comes the cream of the jest. The old lady out did us every time.”
Knitting Helps Solve Crimes
After all when discussing something as intense as murder why would anyone pay any attention to someone quietly knitting in a corner? This is how Miss Marple views her knitting: Sitting here with one’s knitting one just sees the facts. Don’t you be fooled–she is making mental notes of how the characters/suspects mirror someone or some incident in her village of St. Mary Mead
Miss Marple has rarely left her village during her entire lifetime. What could she
possibly know about the wicked world outside St. Mary Mead?
“The only thing I ever said was that human nature is much the same in a village as
anywhere else, only one has opportunities and leisure for seeing it at closer quarters.”
“There is a great deal of wickedness in village life.”
She goes on to say that the same types of people and behaviors she observes in a
village repeat themselves outside the village. People tend to be the same everywhere.
“Human nature is always interesting, Sir Henry. And it’s curious to see how certain types always tend to act in exactly the same way.”
Often others find her stories about an incident in the village totally unrelated to the topic under discussion. So while they indulge her little ramblings, they are suddenly surprised that her little tale is the clue that solves the crime.
The Value of Gossip
Even though Miss Marple has been called a busy body, meddlesome, a nosy-parker, etc,
she defends the value of gossip especially in village life.
“I’m afraid observing human nature for as long as I have done, one gets not to
expect very much from it. I dare say the idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn’t it?”
“Surely the whole crux of the matter is this: How often is tittle-tattle, as you call
it true! And I think if, as I say, they really examined the facts they would find that it was true nine times out of ten! That’s really what makes people so annoyed about it.” (The Murder at the Vicarage)
Criminals Must Be Brought to Justice
While Miss Marple might be knitting something soft and fleecy, she is no “softie”
when it comes to bringing criminals to justice.
“Sanders was hanged,” said Miss Marple crisply. “And a good job too. I have never regretted my part in bringing that man to justice. I’ve no patience with modern humanitarian scruples about capital punishments.”
So what can we say in summary of this elderly detective who always seems to find the truth among all the facts and clues presented. It seems that while others, including the police, fumble and are mislead this dear, sweet woman ultimately solves the crime. Here are two more quotes from The Murder at the Vicarage.
“For all her fragile appearance, Miss Marple is capable of holding her own with any policeman or Chief Constable in existence.”
“There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”
There is no detective anywhere quite like Miss Marple. She continues to entertain mystery enthusiast today and no doubt for a long time to come.