|Miss Jane Marple|
Illustration by Gilbert Wilkinson of Miss Marple (December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine)
|First appearance||"The Tuesday Night Club"|
|Last appearance||Sleeping Murder|
|Created by||Agatha Christie|
|Portrayed by||Gracie Fields|
Isabella Parriss (playing young Miss Marple)
Julie Cox (playing Miss Marple as a young woman.)
|Family||Raymond West (nephew)|
David West (great-nephew)
Lionel West (great-nephew)
|Relatives||Joan West (niece-in-law)|
Mabel Denham (niece)
Fanny Godfrey (cousin)
Lady Ethel Merridew (cousin)
Diane "Bunch" Harmon (goddaughter)
|Religion||Church of England (Christian)|
Miss Marple is a fictional character in Agatha Christie's crime novels and short stories. Jane Marple lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur consulting detective. Often characterized as an elderly spinster, she is one of Christie's best-known characters and has been portrayed numerous times on screen. Her first appearance was in a short story published in The Royal Magazine in December 1927, "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, and her last appearance was in Sleeping Murder in 1976.
The character of Miss Marple is based on friends of Christie's step grandmother/aunt (Margaret Miller, née West). Christie attributed the inspiration for the character to a number of sources, stating that Miss Marple was "the sort of old lady who would have been rather like some of my step 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 the novel for the stage, he replaced the character of Caroline 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 a kinder and more modern person.
Miss Marple solves difficult crimes because of her shrewd intelligence, and St. Mary Mead, over her lifetime, has given her seemingly infinite examples of the negative side of human nature. Crimes always remind her of a parallel incident, although acquaintances may be bored by analogies that often lead her to a deeper realization about the true nature of a crime. She also has a remarkable ability to latch onto a casual comment and connect it to the case at hand. In several stories, she is able to rely on her acquaintance with Sir Henry Clithering, a retired commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, for official information when required.
Miss Marple never married and has no close living relatives. Her nephew, the "well-known author" Raymond West, appears in some stories, including The Thirteen Problems, Sleeping Murder and Ingots of Gold (which also feature his wife, Joyce Lemprière). Raymond overestimates himself and underestimates his aunt's mental acuity. Miss Marple employs young women (including Clara, Emily, Alice, Esther, Gwenda, and Amy) from a nearby orphanage, whom she trains for service as general housemaids after the retirement of her long-time maid-housekeeper, faithful Florence. She was briefly looked after by her irritating companion, Miss Knight. In her later years, companion Cherry Baker, first introduced in The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side, lives in.
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 is not from the aristocracy or landed gentry, but is quite at home among them and would probably have been happy to describe herself as "genteel"; indeed, a gentlewoman. Miss Marple may thus be considered a female version of that staple of British detective fiction, the gentleman detective. She demonstrates a remarkably thorough education, including some art courses that involved the study of human anatomy using human cadavers. In They Do It with Mirrors (1952), it is revealed that Miss Marple grew up in a cathedral close, and that she studied at an Italian finishing school with Americans Ruth Van Rydock and Caroline "Carrie" Louise Serrocold.
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 is said she visited the hotel when she was fourteen and almost sixty 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 nephew: in The Murder at the Vicarage, the Reverend Clement's nephew Dennis is a teenager; in The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, it is mentioned that the nephew is now grown and successful and has a career. The effects of ageing are seen on Miss Marple, such as needing a holiday after illness in A Caribbean Mystery but she is if anything more agile in Nemesis, set only sixteen months later.
Miss Marple's background is described in some detail, albeit in glimpses across the novels and short stories in which she appears. She has a very large family, including a sister, the mother of Raymond and Mabel Denham, a young woman who was accused of poisoning her husband Geoffrey (The Thumb Mark of St. Peter).
Miss Marple also appears in "Greenshaw's Folly", a short story 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".
The Autograph edition of Miss Marple's Final Cases includes the eight in the original plus "Greenshaw's Folly".
A stage adaptation of Murder at the Vicarage, by Moie Charles and Barbara Toy, was first seen at Northampton on 17 October 1949; it was directed by Reginald Tate, starred the 35-year-old Barbara Mullen as Miss Marple, and after touring, reached the Playhouse Theatre in London's West End on 14 December. Having run till late March 1950, it then went on tour again.
In July 1974, Mullen (by then 60) returned to the role in another national tour of the same play, culminating 12 months later when the show opened at London's Savoy Theatre on 28 July 1975. At the end of March 1976 the Miss Marple role was taken over by Avril Angers, after which the production transferred to the Fortune Theatre on 5 July. The role then passed to Muriel Pavlow in June 1977 and to Gabrielle Hamilton late the following year; the production finally closed in October 1979.
On 21 September 1977, while Murder at the Vicarage was still running at the Fortune, a stage adaptation by Leslie Darbon of A Murder Is Announced opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, with Dulcie Gray as Miss Marple. The show ran to the end of September 1978 and then went on tour.
Jane Marple had to wait thirty-two years after her first appearance in 1930 for her first big-screen appearance, the first in a sequence of films starring Margaret Rutherford. These were successful light comedies, but were disappointing to Christie herself. Nevertheless, Agatha Christie dedicated the novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to Rutherford.
Rutherford presented the character as a bold and eccentric old lady, different from the prim and birdlike character Christie created in her novels. As penned by Christie, Miss Marple has never worked for a living, but the character as portrayed by Margaret Rutherford briefly works as a cook-housekeeper, a stage actress, a sailor and criminal reformer, and is offered the chance to run a riding establishment-cum-hotel. Her education and genteel background are hinted at when she mentions her awards at marksmanship, fencing, and equestrianism (although these hints are played for comedic value).
Murder, She Said (1961, directed by George Pollock) was the first of four British MGM productions starring Rutherford. This 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 is cut from the plot. 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. Actress Joan Hickson, who played Marple in the 1984-1992 television adaptations, has a role as a housekeeper in Murder, She Said.
The other Rutherford films, all directed by 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 was 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 parodic Hercule Poirot adventure The Alphabet Murders (1965).
The music to all four films was composed and conducted by Ron Goodwin. The same theme is used on all four films with slight variations in each. The main theme has a distinct 1960s feel to it and is known to be a highly complex piece of music due to the quick playing of the violin. The score was written within a couple of weeks by Goodwin who was approached by Pollock after Pollock had heard about him from Stanley Black. Black had worked with Pollock on "Stranger in Town" in 1957 and had previously used Goodwin as his orchestrator.
Rutherford, who was 68 years old when the first film was shot in February 1961, insisted that she wear 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.
In 1980, Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack'd (EMI, directed by Guy Hamilton), based on Christie's 1962 novel. The film featured 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. Lansbury would find later fame in a similar role as Jessica Fletcher.
In 1983, Estonian stage and film actress Ita Ever starred in the Russian language Mosfilm 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. Ever has also portrayed the character of Miss Marple in the Eesti Televisioon (ETV) series Miss Marple Stories in 1990, and onstage at the Tallinn City Theatre in a production of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side in 2005.
American TV was the setting for the first screen portrayal of Miss Marple with Gracie Fields, the British actress and singer, playing her in a 1956 episode of Goodyear TV Playhouse based on A Murder Is Announced, the 1950 Christie novel.
In 2015, CBS planned a "much younger" version of the character, a granddaughter who takes over a California bookstore.
American stage and screen actress Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two American television films near the end of her decades-long acting career, both for CBS: A Caribbean Mystery (1983) and Murder with Mirrors (1985). Sue Grafton contributed to the screenplay of the former. Hayes's Marple was benign and chirpy. She had earlier appeared in a television film adaptation of the non-Marple Christie story Murder Is Easy, playing an elderly lady somewhat similar to Miss Marple.
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. In the 1940s she had appeared on stage in an Agatha Christie play, Appointment with Death, which was seen by Christie who wrote in a note to her, "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple". She portrayed a maid in the 1937 film, Love from a Stranger, which starred Ann Harding and Basil Rathbone, another Agatha Christie play adaptation. As well as portraying Miss Marple on television, Hickson also narrated a number of Miss Marple stories on audio books. In the "Binge!" article of Entertainment Weekly Issue #1343-1344 (26 December 2014 - 3 January 2015), the writers picked Hickson as "Best Marple" in the "Hercule Poirot & Miss Marple" timeline.
Listing of the TV series featuring Joan Hickson:
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 adaptations change the plots and characters of the original books (e.g. incorporating lesbian affairs, changing the identities of some killers, renaming or removing significant characters, and even using stories from other books in which Miss Marple did not originally feature). In the Geraldine McEwan series it is revealed that when she was young (portrayed by Julie Cox in a flashback), Miss Marple had an affair with a married soldier, Captain Ainsworth, who was killed in action in World War I, in December 1915. It is also said (in A Murder Is Announced) that she served as an ambulance driver during World War I.
Listing of the TV series featuring Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie:
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. Episodes adapted both short stories and novels.
The anime series dramatised the following Miss Marple stories:
Three short stories with Whitfield ("Tape-Measure Murder", "The Case of the Perfect Maid" and "Sanctuary") were later broadcast under the collective title Miss Marple's Final Cases weekly 16 - 30 September 2015.
Marple was highlighted in volume 20 of the Case Closed manga's edition of "Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library", a section of the graphic novels (usually the last page) where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from mystery literature, television, or other media.