Agatha Christie's Detectives/Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple/Jane Marple
|Agatha Christie's Detectives|
|Year of Birth|
|Year of Death|
|Distinctive features||spinster, likes to knit, gentle voice|
When you think of an elderly lady with no family, you will probably assume that she is a nosy woman who is just waiting for the new gossip from the neighbourhood. It is commonly assumed that old spinsters have nothing better to do than poke their noses into somebody else`s affairs. In literature, however, anything may happen even when it is in contradiction with the commonly accepted truth. Agatha Christie showed that in her literary works presenting Miss Jane Marple, who according to Robert Barnard changes from a nosy parker into a woman interested in the affairs of St Mary Mead (107 – 108). However, the short stories “The Tuesday Night Club” (1927), “Miss Marple Tells a Story” (1934) and the novel A Murder is Announced (1950) discussed in this chapter in most part present Miss Marple after the change.
Miss Jane Marple is an elderly woman living in the village of St Mary Mead. The character of Miss Marple was created as a 74-year-old woman and was probably based on Agatha Christie`s grandmother. During her career, Miss Marple grows older to the age of over the hundred (Brand 195-196). The old spinster is interested in mysteries and crimes. We can say that solving mysteries is her hobby. Apart from that she also likes knitting “She was knitting – something white and soft and fleecy” (“The Tuesday Night Club” 10).
Jane Marple is a tall, thin old lady (Brand 195) with “piled up [...] snowy hair”, blue eyes (“The Tuesday Night Club” 10) and gentle voice (A Murder is Announced 354). Her old, pink face is covered with wrinkles (A Murder is Announced 122). Her outfit consists of a brocade dress, black lace mittens and a black laced cap (“The Tuesday Night Club” 9 – 10). Apart from that she is sometimes muffled with a woollen cape (A Murder is Announced 122).
As an elderly woman, Miss Marple suffers from certain ailments. One of them is rheumatism. She complains about it when she meets her old friend, Sir Henry Clithering after a long time: “So long I have seen you...Yes, my rheumatism. Very bad of late” (A Murder is Announced 122). Her other problem is that she tends to lose the thread of what she was talking about a bit earlier: “Now let me see, what was I saying?” (“Miss Marple Tells a Story” 221).
Her character is calm. She is timid and not self confident about her cleverness in the field of solving mysteries. When the guests of her nephew, Raymond West, invite her to join The Tuesday Night Club – a group of 6 people meeting every week when each member has to tell a mystery to which only he or she knows the solution, she shows these characteristics by saying: “I think it would be very interesting [...] especially with so many clever gentlemen present. I am afraid I am not clever myself [...]” (“The Tuesday Night Club” 14). The old lady also modestly denies having any skill in solving crimes when George Rydesdale (the Chief Constable of Middleshire) accedes to the Sir Henry Clithering`s (the ex-Commissioner of Scotland Yard) request to let her read the notes of the interviews after the death of Rudi Scherz – the gunman from Little Paddocks: “Sir Henry is always too kind. He thinks too much of any little observations I may have made in the past. Really, I have no gifts – no gifts at all – except perhaps a certain knowledge of human nature” (A Murder is Announced 128). However, in “Miss Marple Tells a Story,” when she writes a letter to her nephew and his wife, Miss Marple admits that she had solved the case which was a problem to people considered to be more adroit in the field: “I believe I really did solve a problem that had baffled cleverer heads than mine” (221).
Yet, in spite of her professed shyness, Miss Marple eagerly joins the club as she is interested in solving crimes, which is clearly visible when she drops stitches of knitting during listening to the first mystery of The Tuesday Night Club: “Dear, dear [...] I have dropped another stitch. I`ve been so interested in the story” (“The Tuesday Night Club” 24). She also very emotionally experiences cases analysed by her. We can observe that in her internal reactions, for example when she recounts a story of her neighbour`s missing picked shrimps “‘There are of course all kinds of possible explanations,’ said Miss Marple, her cheeks growing slightly pinker with excitement” (“The Tuesday Night Club” 11).
Miss Marple also tends to show her excitement about the felony when she gets to the place of the crime, as happened in Little Paddocks (the home of Letitia Blacklock in the village of Chipping Cleghorn), where Rudi Scherz was trying to kill Miss Blacklock during the hold-up stage announced in the local newspaper in the morning of the day of the incident: “Did it really happen in this room then? [...] I`m afraid you must think me sadly curious, Miss Blacklock – but it really is so very exciting – just like something one reads about in the paper – I`m just longing to hear all about it and to picture it all” (A Murder is Announced 172). It also shows her desire to know all the details of the hold-up.
Jane Marple's attitude towards other characters
Jane Marple is a polite lady. She always says “dear” to people she is talking with “I know, dear, [...] that your books are very clever.” (“The Tuesday Night Club” 12). She also politely avoids disturbing people, who have lost their friends, so she is very apologetic to Letitia Blacklock after Dora Bunner`s, (her close friend) death: “I`m very sorry, disturbing you like this. But [...] the Vicar wrote you a note.” (A Murder is Announced 254). She also gives Letitia condolences on the day when Dora Bunner was found dead: “I am only a stranger, but I am so very very sorry” (A Murder is Announced 254).
Jane Marple is also a careful and responsible person. She is probably aware of the fact that as an old lady, she may make mistakes in business. That is why she hires a solicitor, who takes care of her affairs “I don`t know whether you remember Mr. Petherick? He [...] had been [...] attending to all my legal business. [...] His son does my business for me now” (“Miss Marple Tells a Story” 222). Secondly, she is very careful about her expenses. She has a habit of filling cheques only for round sums or for £7, never for £17 (the sum was altered on one of her cheques filled in the Royal Spa Hotel – where she was spending her holiday). Thanks to her scrupulousness in checking her documents, she noticed the altered cheque for £17 which was changed by Rudi Scherz, who was working in the hotel she was staying in (A Murder is Announced 123 – 124).
Jane Marple also does not want to make any guesses about what happened at Little Paddocks, when Rudi Scherz was murdered, because she does not have sufficient knowledge about the incident. She is aware that if she made any suggestions, the innocent people would be exposed to being misjudged by others “But how should I know what happened? There was an account in the paper – but it says so little. One can make conjectures, but one has no accurate information” (A Murder is Announced 128).
Her carefulness is also visible when she closely observes people in order to estimate whether she has to be careful with them or not “Well, the very first week I was here, there was a mistake in my bill. I pointed it out to the young man and he apologized very nicely and looked very much upset, but I thought to myself then: ‘You`ve got a shifty eye, young man.’ ‘[...] the kind that looks very straight at you and never looks away or blinks” (A Murder is Announced 125).
Other characters' attitude towards Marple
Jane Marple is also a modest woman. When the mystery in A Murder is Announced is going to be presented to all the listeners and Inspector Craddock says “I think it`s your story, Miss Marple,” she does not feel like the person who carried the case through and to whom the success should be attributed “Oh no, my dear boy. I only just helped a little, here and there. You were in charge of the whole thing, and conducted it all, and you know so much that I don`t” (343). However, Craddock claims that the case was not closed until the solution was discovered due to Jane Marple. Again she denies and says it was Craddock who wanted to find the solution to this mystery (A Murder is Announced 359).
Friends of Miss Marple feel that she is trustworthy. That is why they ask her to advise them in different situations. For example, in “Miss Marple Tells a Story” Mr Petherick (Jane Marple`s former solicitor) comes to ask her what she thinks about his client`s case (the murder of Mr. Rhodes` wife) “What I have come here for is a consultation” (“Miss Marple Tells a Story” 222). He also compares Marple to a family physician, who in spite of having less knowledge is of greater value as he is more experienced: “In a case of illness one likes two points of view – that of the specialist and that of the family physician. [...] The specialist has experience only in his own subject – the family doctor has, perhaps, less knowledge – but a wider experience” (“Miss Marple Tells a Story 222).
Moreover, the police officers believe that an amateur, who does not follow the case in so much detailed manner as they do, may notice some important elements which they might have overlooked. That is why, Miss Marple is allowed to read the documents about the murder of Rudi Scherz “You may be able to spot something that we haven`t. [...] Let`s have an amateur opinion on it before we shut up the files” (A Murder is Announced 128).
Marple's cooperation with professionals
Miss Marple also gives some hints to Inspector Craddock. She suggests that he should gain more information about Rudi Scherz from a waitress working with him in the Royal Spa Hotel. Marple embarrasses Craddock by implying that his physical appearance will definitely help him achieve the goal: ‘Has she told you all she knows?’ [...] ‘I`m not absolutely sure,’ said Craddock cautiously. [...] ‘But I expect’ – her [Miss Marple`s] candid blue eyes swept over the manly proportions and handsome face of Detective-Inspector Cradock with truly feminine Victorian appreciation – ‘that you will be able to persuade her to tell you all she knows.’ Detective-Inspector Craddock blushed and Sir Henry chuckled (A Murder is Announced 126).
Another hint given to Inspector Craddock was that he should pay more attention to the letter written by Letitia Blacklock to her sister and compare it with Miss Blacklock`s note to one of her neighbours with a request to collect butter for her from a farm (A Murder is Announced 276 -277). Marple wanted him to notice that both papers included word inquiries, one spelled with e and the other with i. Marple believes that people do not change the way they spell words when they get older, and that made her aware to the fact that the letter and the note were not written by one person.
Despite the lack of sympathy for Miss Marple, Inspector Craddock turns up to ask her for help. The problem is with the letters from Letitia Blacklock to her sister Charlotte, who is assumed to have died of consumption in Switzerland during their stay in the sanatorium before the war began (A Murder is Announced 155). Inspector Craddock has difficulties in understanding the sense of those letters and assumes that Miss Marple, as one of the older generation would help him understand it “I want you to read it because I think that that generation is more easily understood by you than by me. I don`t know really quite how these people`s minds worked” (A Murder is Announced 272).
Marple's private/family life
Jane Marple is a sentimental lady. She becomes attached to photographs and souvenirs connected with her family. She says these things are valuable to her because of the memories behind them “[...] my own few possessions are very dear to me, [...] so many memories, you know. It`s the same with photographs. [...] Now I like to keep all the pictures of my nephews and nieces as babies – and then as children – and so on” (A Murder is Announced 173).
Although Marple has a family, she often feels alone. It is caused by the lack of people who would remember her from the time of her youth and with whom she could recollect the old times “I have nephews and nieces and kind friends – but there`s no one who knew me as a young girl – no one who belongs to the old days. I`ve been alone for quite a long time now” (A Murder is Announced 255).
She thinks that she is like all other old women who watch other people`s behaviour and are constantly interested in their friends` affairs. She claims that these are inherent characteristics of all elderly women and that these characteristics are useful in checking whether people are saying the truth: "But I`m afraid, [...] that we old women always do snoop. It would be very odd and much more noticeable if I didn`t. Questions about mutual friends [...] and whether they remember so and so, and do they remember who it was that Lady Somebody`s daughter married? All that helps [...] to find out if people are who they say they are,’ said Miss Marple" (A Murder is Announced 163).
Moreover, Miss Marple describes herself as a chattering person. When she meets Sir Henry after a long break, she starts to talk about her nephew`s and his wife`s occupation and then turns to talk about her interests in arts. At this point she realizes that she talks too much: “Oh, but I`m chattering” (A Murder is Announced 123).
Unfortunately, this characteristic of Marple is the cause of antipathy of Inspector Craddock towards her. When Marple was deep in her monologue, Detective Inspector Craddock thought to himself with disgust “Completely ga-ga” (A Murder is Announced 123). Apart from that, when he comes to Miss Blacklock the day her friend Dora Bunner was found dead and he sees Miss Marple there, he becomes angry and very unpleasant for the old woman. He ‘greets’ her with words “Oh, so you`re here” (A Murder is Announced 255). In addition, after getting to know that Miss Marple was not present at the birthday party for Dora Buner the preceding day, he shows her the door and when she is out, he describes her as a nosy parker (A Murder is Announced 256).
Marple's skill in processing information
Marple is quick in processing the information given to her and she finds it easy. She does not need too much time to think about the elements of the puzzle or to make notes to come up with the solution to the mystery as she proved in “Miss Marple Tells a Story.” The quickness of giving the answer to the problem is astonishing to Mr. Petherick and Mr. Rhodes: “‘In that case,’ I said, ‘the whole thing seems to me remarkably simple.’ And really, you know, it did...The simplest thing in the world. And yet no one seemed to have seen it that way. Both Mr. Petherick and Mr. Rhodes were staring at me so that I felt quite embarrassed” (228).
Jane Marple and her investigations
During Jane Marple`s investigations we can see some typical elements of her technique of solving crimes and mysteries. First of all, like the police, Miss Marple talks with the witnesses but in an informal way. That is a more effective way of getting information, because people are not under pressure of a talk with an official. Moreover, during a talk with Inspector Craddock, Miss Marple claims that people do not feel comfortable about talking with the police about everything they would like to say: “‘After all,’ said Miss Marple. ‘you are the Police, aren`t you? People can`t say everything they`d like to say to the Police, can they?’” (A Murder is Announced 276).
In “The Tuesday Night Club” Marple uses her knowledge of people`s behaviour, which she gained through her life by the observations. She claims that “coarse and jovial” men are fond of young and pretty girls, even though these men are already married “[...] you don`t know as much of life as I do. As soon as I heard there was a pretty young girl in the house I felt sure that he would not have left her alone” (“Tuesday Night Club” 27). It helps her to explain the mystery of Mrs Jones` death because Mr Jones is to marry Gladys Linch – his maid – when his wife is dead. As he wants to get rid of his wife, he gives Gladys a poison and instructs her, how to use it in order to kill Mrs Jones (“The Tuesday Night Club” 26).
She also asks questions to the witnesses. A good example is the question asked to Miss Hinchcliffe about what type of emphasis, her friend Murgatroyd, put on words in a sentence “she wasn`t there...” when she realized who was not in the drawing-room during the hold-up at Little Paddocks (A Murder is Announced 299). In “Miss Marple Tells a Story” she asks Mr. Petherick about the chambermaid who had entered Mr. Rhodes` wife`s room in the hotel in order to check whether the maid could have killed Mrs. Rhodes (225).
Miss Marple puts together the facts collected with Inspector Craddock and comes up with the conclusion how the murder of Rudi Scherz was organized by Miss Blacklock and why. The first thing explained to the audience was that the person known to everybody as Letitia Blacklock is in fact Charlotte Blacklock. They learnt it thanks to several details noticed by Miss Marple. These were different spelling of the word inquiries in a letter which Craddock consulted with Marple and in a note written by Letitia Blacklock.
From the other letters written by Letitia to her sister, they learn that Charlotte is suffering from enlargement of the goitre. Her parents do not want her to have the surgery and because of that Charlotte begins to live like a recluse. After their father`s death, Letitia takes Charlotte to Switzerland to have the operation and they have to stay there because of the beginning of the war. In the meantime, Letitia gets the information that her former employer and friend`s wife, Belle Goedler, is dying and that she will inherit the Goedlers` money. Unfortunately, Letitia dies of pneumonia before Belle, and the whole money will go to Randall` s sister`s children. As Charlotte sees the prospects of redress for her childhood as a recluse, she does not want to give the money away. That is why she buries her sister as Charlotte Blacklock and she herself assumes the name Letitia and comes to live in England at Little Paddocks (A Murder is Announced 345 – 350).
Together with Craddock, Miss Marple gains the information that Charlotte after coming to live in England as Letitia, receives a letter from Dora Bunner with the request of help. “The new” Letitia accidentally responds as Charlotte and agrees to have Dora living with her. Since then it is no use in acting as Letitia in front of Dora, so Charlotte takes Dora into her confidence (A Murder is Announced 351).
The first danger for “the new” Letitia is Rudi Scherz, who worked as an orderly in the Swiss hospital where Charlotte had the operation. In England he recognizes her and she becomes scared that her secret will see the light of day (A Murder is Announced 344 – 345). That is why she arranges the hold-up in her home. Charlotte convinces Rudi to act as the gunman and offers him money for that. He also has to put the announcement about the murder into the local paper (A Murder is Announced 354).
The second danger to Charlotte is her friend, Dora Bunner. Marple pays attention to how Dora addresses Letitia Blacklock (Charlotte in fact). Miss Bunner uses abbreviations of full names, so Letitia becomes Letty. However, sometimes Dora calls her friend Lotty, which is an abbreviation for Charlotte (A Murder is Announced 352). Because of that Charlotte starts to fear that Dora may unravel her secret to others and decides to get rid of her friend “She [Miss Blacklock] loved Dora – she didn`t want to kill Dora – but she couldn`t see any other way” (A Murder is Announced 362).
Marple also examines the place of the crime. When she comes to Letitia Blackclock with a note from the Vicar after Dora Bunner`s death, she looks for the lamp in the drawing-room by the time Lettia comes in (A Murder is Announced 251). Marple remembers that Dora Bunner said that the day after the hold-up, on the table in the drawing-room there was a lamp with the shepherd not the shepherdess. Dora claimed that it must have been Patrick (Letitia`s nephew) who incidentally “tampered” with the lamp in order to make the lights go out during the hold-up (A Murder is Announced 204).
The mystery of the lamp is solved by Marple when at the vicarage the cat damages the wire of a lamp with its claw. There is some spilt water on the table and when Marple tries to turn the lamp on, there is a short circuit and all lights in the room go off. At this moment she realizes that during the hold-up it must have been Miss Blacklock who fused the lights (A Murder is Announced 283 - 284). She is the only person who stands by the table, near the ‘dummy door’, in the drawing-room with a lamp and a vase of flowers on it and it is very convenient to spill the water on the wire just at the time when the clock chimes 6.30 p.m. – the hour when the hold-up is to begin. It is even simpler because all the guests look at the clock, not around the room. The lamp is changed for the one with shepherd probably during the night (A Murder is Announced 356 – 357).
Marple also uses some unconventional methods of unravelling the truth. One of them is visible when she persuades Mitzi – Miss Blacklock`s maid, to tell everybody that she saw, through the keyhole of the room, Letitia with a revolver in her hand standing behind Rudi Scherz (A Murder is Announced 369). In consequence Letitia tries to kill Mitzi, in the kitchen, in the sink full of water. This proves that Mitzi was telling the truth (A Murder is Announced 334).
However, the murder of Mitzi was prevented by Miss Marple who affected Miss Blacklock`s feelings and psyche by imitating Dora`s voice saying: “Oh Lotty – Lotty- don`t do it...Lotty.” After that Miss Blacklock breaks down and admits to the murder of Dora and Miss Amy Murgatroyd. The latter was murdered because she realized that it was Miss Blacklock who slipped through the ‘dummy door’ in the drawing-room and pretended the attempt on herself. When the lights in the drawing-room go off, Miss Blacklock slips through the dummy door to shoot from behind Rudi Scherz in the direction of the place she was standing a minute earlier. Scherz scared by the shots, tries to escape the room and then Miss Blacklock shoots at him. Then she quickly returns to her place and cuts her ear in order to prove that Scherz was shooting at her (A Murder is Announced 158).
Jane Marple also tries to check whether the witnesses may have overlooked any important evidence. In order to do that, in “Miss Marple Tells a Story,” she makes a simple test of their perceptiveness. She asks Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Petherick to describe her parlourmaid who let them in but they are not able to do so. Marple then claims that Mr. Rhodes must have been too busy with his affairs to notice the person who stabbed his wife enter the room: “‘Don`t you see what that means?’ I said. ‘You both came here full of your own affairs and the person who let you in was only a parlourmaid. The same applies to Mr. Rhodes at the Hotel’” (229).
Jane Marple as a nosy parker
However the process of Miss Marple`s change might have been in progress during the events in A Murder is Announced, some of her behaviour may still be perceived as nosiness. One example is her sudden interest in the case, expressed by the letter written to the police in charge (121). By the time the letter is delivered, no one has communicated with Marple to ask for help.
Marple`s visit at Little Paddocks after the hold-up may also be regarded as an action of a nosy parker. She was not invited in fact, and it may be assumed that she intended to come there in order to gain some information for Inspector Craddock. It would be in response to his wonderings about when Miss Blacklock last saw her nephew and niece living with her at the time of the hold-up. Marple eagerly wants to get some information for him:”I`ll find out for you, shall I?” (A Murder is Announced 166).
Moreover, the presumed visit to give Letitia the note from the Vicar after Dora Bunner`s death, is also seen as another attempt of obtaining more information. Craddock expresses it clearly during the talk with Miss Blacklock by calling Miss Marple a nosy parker (A Murder is Announced 256).
Another example of Marple`s nosiness can be found in her strong desire to know what is going on in her village of St Mary Mead. In “Miss Marple Tells a Story” she admits that the local events are much more interesting for her that the more serious goings-on in other places: “[...] we had been having a lot of excitement in the village about our district nurse, and outside occurrences like an earthquake in India and a murder in Barnchester, although of course far more important really – had given way to our own little local excitements” (223). That is why she knew little about the case of Mr. Rhode`s wife`s death.
Even though the gossipy attitude of Miss Marple may be irritating, it is an important element of her character as an amateur-detective. There is no doubt that her nosiness is the feature which makes her successful. Thanks to that she gains the important information which later on she consults with the police or reflects on it herself. Her politeness is also an important factor because thanks to that she commands the trust of others. In consequence people are willing to give her the necessary information.
For those readers who would like to familiarize themselves with the plots of books alanysed in the project I include internal Wikipedia links to the pages summarizing book plots:
Watch on YouTube
You can also watch filmings or listen to audiobooks uploaded on YouTube:
Barnard, Robert. “A Note about Detectives.” A Talent to Deceive. An Appreciation of Agatha Christie. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, 1980. 104-111
Christie, Agatha. A Murder is Announced. London: Harper Collins Publishers UK, 2002.
Christie, Agatha. “Miss Marple Tells a Story.” Agatha Christie Complete Short Stories of Miss Marple. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc, 1985. 221-231
Christie, Agatha. “The Tuesday Night Club.” The Thirteen Problems. London: Harper Collins Publishers UK, 2002. 9-27