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Jane Marple
First appearance The Tuesday Night Club
Last appearance Sleeping Murder
Created by Agatha Christie
Portrayed by Gracie Fields
Margaret Rutherford
Angela Lansbury
Dulcie Gray
Helen Hayes
Joan Hickson
Geraldine McEwan
Julia McKenzie
Information
Specialty Amateur Detective
Address St. Mary Mead
Nationality EnglandBritish

Jane Marple, usually referred to as Miss Marple, is a fictional character appearing in twelve of Agatha Christie's crime novels. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who acts as an amateur detective, and lives in the village of St. Mary Mead. She is one of the most famous of Christie's characters and has been portrayed numerous times on screen. Her first published appearance was in issue 350 of The Royal Magazine for December 1927 with the first printing of the short story "The Tuesday Night Club" which later became the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems (1932). Her first appearance in a full-length novel was in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930.

Contents

Character

Illustration by Gilbert Wilkinson of Miss Marple from the December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine and the first-known image of the character (See The Thirteen Problems)

Miss Jane Marple is an elderly lady who lives in the little English village of St. Mary Mead. Superficially stereotypical, she is dressed neatly in tweed and is frequently seen knitting or pulling weeds in her garden. Miss Marple sometimes comes across as confused or "fluffy", but when it comes to solving mysteries, she has a sharp logical mind, and an almost unmatched understanding of human nature with all its weaknesses, strengths, quirks and foibles. In the detective story tradition, she often embarrasses the local "professional" police by solving mysteries that have them stumped.

Tape recordings Christie made in the mid 1960s reveal that 'Miss Marple' was partly based on Christie's grandmother.[1] However, there is no definitive source for the derivation of the name 'Marple'.[2] The most common explanation suggests that the name was taken from the railway station in Marple, Stockport, through which Christie passed, with the alternative account that Christie took it from the home of a Marple family who lived at Marple Hall, near her sister Madge's home at Abney Hall.[2][3] Agatha Christie attributed the inspiration for the character of Miss Marple to a number of sources: Miss Marple was "the sort of old lady who would have been rather like some of my grandmother's Ealing cronies – old ladies whom I have met in so many villages where I have gone to stay as a girl". Christie also used material from her fictional creation, spinster Caroline Sheppard, who appeared in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. When Michael Morton adapted Roger Ackroyd for the stage, he removed the character of Caroline replacing her with a young girl. This change saddened Christie and she determined to give old maids a voice: Miss Marple was born.

The character of Jane Marple in the first Miss Marple book, The Murder at the Vicarage, is markedly different from how she appears in later books. This early version of Miss Marple is a gleeful gossip and not an especially nice woman. The citizens of St. Mary Mead like her but are often tired by her nosy nature and how she seems to expect the worst of everyone. In later books she becomes more modern and a kinder person.

Miss Marple never married and has no close living relatives. Vicarage introduced Miss Marple's nephew, the "well-known author" Raymond West. His wife Joan (initially called Joyce), a modern artist, was introduced in 1933 in The Thirteen Problems. Raymond tends to be overconfident in himself and underestimates Miss Marple's mental powers. In her later years, Miss Marple has a live-in companion named Cherry Baker, who was first introduced in The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side.

Miss Marple is able to solve difficult crimes not only because of her shrewd intelligence, but because St. Mary Mead, over her lifetime, has given her seemingly infinite examples of the negative side of human nature. No crime can arise without reminding Miss Marple of some parallel incident in the history of her time. Miss Marple's acquaintances are sometimes bored by her frequent analogies to people and events from St. Mary Mead, but these analogies often lead Miss Marple to a deeper realization about the true nature of a crime. Although she looks like a sweet, frail old woman, Miss Marple is not afraid of dead bodies and is not easily intimidated. She also has a remarkable ability to latch onto a casual comment and connect it to the case at hand.

Miss Marple has never worked for her living and is of independent means, although she benefits in her old age from the financial support of Raymond West, her nephew (A Caribbean Mystery,1964). She demonstrates a remarkably thorough education, including some art courses that involved study of human anatomy through the study of human cadavers. In They Do It with Mirrors (1952), it is revealed that, in her distant youth, Miss Marple spent time in Europe at a finishing school. She is not herself from the aristocracy or landed gentry, but is quite at home amongst them; Miss Marple would probably have been happy to describe herself as a gentlewoman. Miss Marple may thus be considered a female version of that staple of British detective fiction, the gentleman detective. This education, history, and background are hinted at in the Margaret Rutherford films (see below), in which Miss Marple mentions her awards at marksmanship, fencing and equestrianism (although these hints are played for comedic value).

Christie wrote a concluding novel to her Marple series, Sleeping Murder, in 1940. She locked it away in a bank vault so it would be safe should she be killed in The Blitz. The novel was not published until shortly after Christie's death in 1976, some thirty-six years after it was originally written.

While Miss Marple is described as 'an old lady' in many of the stories, her age is mentioned in "At Bertram's Hotel", where it's said she visited the hotel when she was 14 and almost 60 years have passed since then. Excluding "Sleeping Murder", forty-one years passed between the first and last-written novels, and many characters grow and age. An example would be the Vicar's son. At the end of The Murder at the Vicarage, the Vicar's wife is pregnant. In The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, it is mentioned that the son is now grown, successful and has a career. The effects of aging are seen on Miss Marple, such as needing vacation after illness in A Caribbean Mystery or finding she can no longer knit due to poor eyesight in The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side.

Novels featuring Miss Marple

Miss Marple short story collections

  • "The Tuesday Night Club" (short story) featured Miss Marple for the first time ever. Written in 1927.
  • The Thirteen Problems (short story collection featuring Miss Marple, also published as The Tuesday Club Murders) (1932)
  • Miss Marple's Final Cases and Two Other Stories (short stories collected posthumously, also published as Miss Marple's Final Cases, but only six of the eight stories actually feature Miss Marple) (written between 1939 and 1954, published 1979)

Miss Marple also appears in Greenshaw's Folly, a short story traditionally included as part of the Poirot collection The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (1960). Four stories in the Three Blind Mice collection (1950) feature Miss Marple: Strange Jest, Tape-Measure Murder, The Case of the Caretaker, and The Case of the Perfect Maid.

Books about Miss Marple

Movies

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Margaret Rutherford

Although popular from her first appearance in 1930, Jane Marple had to wait thirty-two years for her first big-screen appearance. When she made it, the results were found disappointing to Christie purists and Christie herself, nevertheless Agatha Christie dedicated the novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to Margaret Rutherford.

Murder, She Said (1961, directed by George Pollock) was the first of four British MGM productions starring Dame Margaret Rutherford. She presented the character as a bold old lady, different from the prim and birdlike character Christie created in her novels. This first film was based on the 1957 novel 4:50 from Paddington (U.S. title, What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), and the changes made in the plot were typical of the series. In the film, Mrs. McGillicuddy does not see anything because there is no Mrs. McGillicuddy. Miss Marple herself sees an apparent murder committed on a train running alongside hers. Likewise, it is Miss Marple herself who poses as a maid to find out the facts of the case, not a young friend of hers who has made a business of it. Joan Hickson played the part of the home help in this film and can claim to have appeared in two Miss Marple series.

The other Rutherford films (all directed by George Pollock) were Murder at the Gallop (1963), based on the 1953 Hercule Poirot novel After the Funeral (In this film, she is identified as Miss JTV Marple, though there were no indication as to what the extra initials might stand for); Murder Most Foul (1964), based on the 1952 Poirot novel Mrs McGinty's Dead; and Murder Ahoy! (1964). The last film is not based on any Christie work but displays a few plot elements from They Do It With Mirrors (viz., the ship is used as a reform school for wayward boys and one of the teachers uses them as a crime force), and there is a kind of salute to The Mousetrap. Rutherford also appeared briefly as Miss Marple in the spoof Hercule Poirot adventure The Alphabet Murders (1965).

Rutherford, who was 70 years-old when the first film was made, insisted that she wore her own clothes during the filming of the movie, as well as having her real-life husband, Stringer Davis appear alongside her as the character 'Mr Stringer'. The Rutherford films are frequently repeated on television in Germany, and in that country Miss Marple is generally identified with Rutherford's quirky portrayal.

Angela Lansbury

In 1980, Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack'd (EMI, directed by Guy Hamilton), based on Christie's 1962 novel. However, Lansbury is only on screen for a short time, the bulk of the film being taken up with the machinations of an all-star cast that included Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, and Kim Novak. Edward Fox appeared as Inspector Craddock, who did Miss Marple's legwork. Lansbury's Marple was a crisp, intelligent woman who moved stiffly and spoke in clipped tones. Unlike most incarnations of Miss Marple, this one smoked cigarettes.

Ita Ever

In 1983, Estonian stage and film actress Ita Ever starred in the Russian language film adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel A Pocket Full of Rye (using the Russian edition's translated title, The Secret of the Blackbirds) as the character of Miss Marple.[4]

Helen Hayes

American stage and screen legend Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two American made-for-TV movies, both for CBS: A Caribbean Mystery (1983) and Murder with Mirrors (1984). Sue Grafton contributed to the screenplay of the former. Hayes's Marple was benign and chirpy.

Television, stage and radio adaptations

Television

American TV was the setting for the first dramatic portrayal of Miss Marple with Gracie Fields, the legendary British actress, playing her in a 1956 episode of Goodyear TV Playhouse based on A Murder Is Announced, the 1950 Christie novel.

In 1970, the character of Miss Marple was portrayed by Inge Langen in a West German television adaptation of The Murder at the Vicarage (Mord im Pfarrhaus).[4]

From 1984 to 1992, the BBC adapted all of the original Miss Marple novels as a series titled Miss Marple. Joan Hickson played the lead role. (Coincidentally, Hickson had played a cook in the first film in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple.) These programs, which are actually a set of 12 feature-length TV movies rather than a TV series in the usual sense, followed the plots of the original novels more closely than previous film and television adaptations had. Hickson has come to be regarded by many as the definitive Miss Marple (indeed Agatha Christie herself once remarked years earlier that she would like Joan Hickson to play Miss Marple).}[5]

Angela Lansbury, after playing Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack'd, went on to star in the TV series Murder, She Wrote as Jessica Fletcher, a mystery novelist who also solves crimes. The character was based in part on Miss Marple and another Christie character, Ariadne Oliver.

Beginning in 2004, ITV broadcast a series of adaptations of Agatha Christie's books under the title Agatha Christie's Marple, usually referred to as Marple. Geraldine McEwan starred in the first three series. Julia McKenzie took over the role in the fourth season. The adaptions are notable for changing the plots and characters of the original books (e.g. incorporating lesbian affairs, changing killer identities, re-naming or removing significant characters, and even using stories from other books where Miss Marple didn't originally feature).

From 2004 to 2005, Japanese TV network NHK produced a 39 episode anime series titled Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, which features both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Miss Marple's voice is provided by Kaoru Yachigusa.

Stage

In 1974, Barbara Mullen played Miss Marple in "Murder at the Vicarage" at the Savoy Theatre, London. In September 1977, veteran actress and authoress Dulcie Gray played the Miss Marple character in a stage adaptation of A Murder Is Announced at the Vaudeville Theatre in London, England.[6]

Radio

BBC Radio 4 dramatised all of the novels from 1993-2001 with June Whitfield as Miss Marple.[7]

Title Show Episodes Episode Frequency Original airdate
Murder At the Vicarage 5 Daily 26 December - 30 December 1993
A Pocket Full of Rye The Saturday Playhouse 1 11 February 1995
At Bertram's Hotel 5 Daily 25 December - 29 December 1995
The 4:50 From Paddington The Saturday Playhouse 1 29 March 1997
A Caribbean Mystery 5 Weekly 30 October - 27 November 1997
The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side Agatha Christie Special 1 29 August 1998
Nemesis 5 Weekly 9 November - 7 December 1998
The Body In the Library The Saturday Play 1 22 May 1999
A Murder Is Announced 5 Weekly 9 August - 6 September 1999
The Moving Finger The Saturday Play 1 5 May 2001
They Do It With Mirrors 5 Weekly 23 July 2001 - 20 August 2001
Sleeping Murder The Saturday Play 1 8 December 2001

See also

References

  1. ^ "Agatha Christie used her grandmother as a model for Miss Marple, new tapes reveal", Stephen Adams, The Daily Telegraph, 16 September 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Was Miss Marple Born in cheshire?", Cheshire Life, accessed 30 March 2009.
  3. ^ "Marple's Profile", Hercule Poirot Central, accessed 30 March 2009.
  4. ^ a b PBS Mystery. Miss Marple
  5. ^ Haining, Peter. Agatha Christie - Murder in Four Acts (Page 140). 1990. Virgin Books. ISBN 1-85227-273-2
  6. ^ "Mystery! | A murder is announced | Production notes". Pbs.org. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/mystery/announced/notes.html. Retrieved 2009-03-20.  
  7. ^ "Miss Marple on BBC Radio,June Whitfield"". http://www.geocities.com/gregorym101/marple.html. Retrieved 21 July 2009.  

External links


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