Miss Marple is, after Hercule Poirot
, the second of Agatha Christie
's big two detective characters. She was second to Poirot both chronologically, making her debut seven years after him, and in the affections of the public, but it is reported that of the two of them Christie herself much preferred Miss Marple.
She made her first appearance in the short story "The Tuesday Night Club" in 1927, and first featured in a novel in 1930, with The Murder at the Vicarage
. In all, she appeared in 12 novels and 24 short stories.
Miss Jane Marple is a little old spinster lady living in the English village of St Mary Mead, with an occasional tendency to stumble into murder mysteries. Her gently ultra-conventional exterior hides a keen perception and wide-ranging understanding of human nature from which she gains insight that lets her proceed where the official detectives are baffled. The kicker is that this wisdom is derived entirely from her observation of one village's life; confronted with a horrific murder, she invariably can draw the 'village parallel' between the suspects' behaviour and some random schoolboy prank or irregularity with the church funds. ("Human nature is much the same everywhere, I find...") This makes her the Trope Codifier
for Little Old Lady Investigates
Miss Marple's first screen adaptation was in 1961, when she was portrayed by Margaret Rutherford in four films beginning in that year. The films are well regarded as comedies, if not as adaptations. Only the first was even based on one of Christie's Miss Marple novels, and that not very closely. Also, Margaret Rutherford is the polar opposite of the sweet old lady of the novels, playing the character as essentially herself: burly, resolute and outspoken. Miss Marple has also been portrayed on film by Angela Lansbury
, who later went on to feature in another Little Old Lady Investigates
role in Murder, She Wrote
— which itself owes a huge debt to the Marple mythos, in particular the small-town setting.
One of Helen Hayes' last films was a TV adaptation of a Miss Marple novel—one of the few instances in which the actress was the right age, or even a little too
Of several television adaptations, the most faithful and best regarded is the BBC's Miss Marple
series (1984-1992) of telefilms, starring Joan Hickson. More recently, ITV's Marple
starring Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie (2004-present) is a much looser adaptation, as with the Rutherford series frequently sharing only the titles with the original novels.
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Novels in which Miss Marple has appeared
Other stories and novels
- Amateur Sleuth: Miss Marple has no training or professional experience as a detective.
- Big Damn Heroes: Miss Barrow and Miss Cooke in Nemesis.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Fortescues in A Pocket Full of Rye.
- Black Sheep: Lance Fortescue in A Pocket Full of Rye.
- Busman's Holiday: A Caribbean Mystery and At Bertram's Hotel both have Jane being roped into solving a murder while on vacation.
- Character Overlap: The Marple stories are connected to the Hercule Poirot stories and the Tommy and Tuppence stories (and, via Poirot, to the Quin and Satterthwaite stories) through shared supporting characters.
- Close-Knit Community: Saint Mary Mead. Also sometimes the location of the mystery
- Comic Book Time: Miss Marple, originally presented as a subversion of the "Victorian Aunt" stereotype in 1920s fiction, lives on into the 1970s and is described as having had a Victorian Aunt of her own in At Bertram's Hotel (published 1965). The only story in which she's shown to have aged significantly is Sleeping Murder, specifically written to be the end of the series.
- The Ditz: Gladys in A Pocket Full of Rye. It... doesn't end well for her.
- The Dutiful Son: In A Pocket Full of Rye, Percival Fortescue makes a dull, respectable showing against his dashing younger brother Lance, the family Black Sheep who was kicked out of the family business years ago.
- Expy: Miss Marple's initial characterisation owed quite a bit to Caroline Sheppard of the Hercule Poirot novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Caroline's creator enjoyed her so much she revived the type as the star part.
- Gossipy Hens: Several appear over the course of the series, including, by her own admission, Miss Marple herself.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Miss Marple getting described as an "old pussy".
- He Knows Too Much: Why Major Palgrave had to die in A Caribbean Mystery.
- Little Old Lady Investigates: An early and influential example of the subgenre.
- Maiden Aunt: Miss Marple is one of these (as well as being a literal aunt, with her nephew appearing in the series as a supporting character).
- Market-Based Title: 4.50 from Paddington became What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! in the US.
- Mystery Magnet: For a sweet little old lady living in a peaceful small village, Miss Marple stumbles on an awful lot of murders. Lampshaded in one book, with Miss Marple remarking that a lot more goes on in "peaceful" small villages than urban folk tend to assume.
- Never Found the Body: In the short story "The Companion", a character apparently commits suicide by drowning, but the body is never found. It turns out that the character faked their suicide and ran off to live in Australia.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Miss Marple's fluffy, doddering exterior conceals a mind like a bacon slicer.
- Rear Window Witness: The plot of 4.50 From Paddington is kicked off when a character on a train witnesses a murder happening on another train on a parallel track.
- Replacement Goldfish: The victim in The Body in the Library was this to a wealthy "invalid".
- Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: The trope is discussed in Nemesis, concerning the relationship between two characters:
"Verity had lost her real guardians, her parents, she had entered on her new life after their death, at an age when a schoolgirl arrives at having a "crush" on someone. An attractive mistress. Anything from the games mistress to the mathematics mistress, or a prefect or an older girl. A state that does not last for very long, is merely a natural part of life. Then from that you go on to the next stage when you realize that what you want in your life is what complements yourself. A relationship between a man and a woman...I think Verity adored Clotilde in an almost romantic way."
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: When Miss Marple witnesses a man and woman arguing and correctly deduces that they are secretly married.
Margaret Rutherford films
- Adaptation Distillation: In Murder, She Said, Marple takes on the roles of both Elspeth McGillicuddy and Lucy Eyelesbarrow as witness and Amateur Sleuth.
- Bitter Almonds:
- In Murder Most Foul, Miss Marple detects the presence of cyanide because of the smell.
- In Murder Ahoy!, she rules out cyanide because the snuff she suspects someone was poisoned with lacks it.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Alexander in Murder She Said is a pretty obnoxious example.
- Celebrity Paradox: Agatha Christie apparently lives and writes novels in the movieverse, as well.
- Dolled-Up Installment: Of the four Margaret Rutherford films, the second and third were based on Hercule Poirot novels, and the fourth was a completely new plot.
- Same Language Dub: In Murder She Said Alexander's lines seem to have been redubbed by an adult actress doing a "child" voice.
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Quite a lot of it. Miss Marple herself is equipped with a romance backstory where she cast away a man she loved because he was married and she urged him to uphold his responsibilities. A lot of angst is also added to particular stories:
- Body In The Library has a Shell-Shocked Veteran Mike Gaskell agonise about not having the courage to "get a date with a dancer."
- A Murder is Announced turns the happy relationship of Mrs Swettenham and her son into a creepy possessive one, removes the son's mild love story and adds an angsty one between the mother and an alcoholic colonel.
- The Moving Finger has an old military man commit suicide because of his taboo sexual orientation (unclear whether gay or bisexual).
- At Bertram's Hotel turns this Up to Eleven with a band of bored thieves becoming avengers of the Holocaust and a greedy teenager in love with a dashing racing driver becoming a closeted lesbian wrecked with guilt over an accident she caused to her beloved girl.
- Awkward Kiss: Between Jerry Burton and Elsie Holland in "The Moving Finger".
- Bad Habits: Canon Pennyfather in "At Bertram's Hotel" turns out to be a Nazi war criminal.
- Conspicuous Gloves: In the 2006 adaptation of Towards Zero, a character named Thomas Royd (played by Julian Sands) wears a glove on his useless right hand. He's asked about it at a dinner, and he explains that he got caught in a doorway during an earthquake when he was a child.
- Dolled-Up Installment: A significant proportion of episodes of ITV's Marple are derived from Agatha Christie novels that originally contained neither Miss Marple nor Hercule Poirot.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The series began as simply Marple but is now officially Agatha Christie's Marple.
- It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: Lettice in the ITV version of "Murder at the Vicarage" would like to make it clear that her name is not pronounced the same way as the vegetable.
- Large Ham: Just about every suspect in The Pale Horse except the one who actually did it.
- Monochrome Apparition: In the 2006 Marple adaptation of "The Sittaford Mystery", the ghost of murder victim Clive Trevelyan (played by Timothy Dalton) appears in shades of bluish grey at the end of the episode.
- Nobody over 50 Is Gay: Subverted with the Misses Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd in "A Murder is Announced", although the adaptations tend to make their pairing much more explicit than the novel did.
- Psycho Lesbian: Just about every lesbian couple in the adaptations, with a few exceptions, turned out to be this, especially if they were subject to Relationship Reveal.
- Not His Sled: Several episodes of Marple change the identity, motive, etc. of the murderer.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jerry Burton in the recent ITV adaptation of The Moving Finger, to paraphrase his sister, came through the war with flying colours yet seems to find the peace utterly crushing.
- Wacky Cravings: At one point in the 2004 adaptation of The Murder at the Vicarage, Griselda Clement (the vicar's wife) asks for apricot chutney to season her meal, from which Miss Marple deduces that Griselda is pregnant.