Dame Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple makes for an auspicious start to a series on famous women detectives, decides Mini Anthikad-Chhibber
Though there are great many women writing crime fiction, there are not as many women detectives in fiction. One would have thought the reasons for women practitioners in the genre (an eye for detail in character and conversation) would be cause enough for popular culture to be bursting at the seams with sharp-eyed, super intelligent, sexy women detectives. While Wiki threw up quite a few, there doesn’t seem to be enough. But of those there are, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple would get many Likes including an emphatic one from her creator. Jane Marple lives in a little village of St Mary Mead, which looks like a regular English village but seems to be the backdrop for every kind of nefarious crime, including several murders most foul. A genteel woman with a well-rounded education, Miss Marple never married and hasn’t worked for a living. Marple’s nephew is the well-known writer Raymond West, who has a very high opinion of himself and writes awfully grim novels. He and his wife, Joan who is a modern artist, live in London but come visiting often and also have Aunt Jane over.
Unlike Poirot who never went across the ocean (his stomach would have not taken it) Marple goes on a holiday to the Caribbean to recuperate from an illness (A Caribbean Mystery, 1964). That she also solves a particularly nasty murder is an added bonus. Marple solves crimes by comparing them to similar occurrences or people in St. Mary Mead. She gets official help from Sir Henry Clithering who is retired from the Met.
Marple appeared in 12 novels starting with The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930 to Sleeping Murder in 1976. She also appeared in 20 short stories. Unlike Poirot, Marple and other characters such as the vicar and his wife, Leonard and Griselda Clement age through the novels. Griselda is pregnant at the end of Vicarage, her baby is a toddler in Body in the Library (1942) and quite grown up by the time of The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (1962). Dolly’s husband, Colonel Arthur Bantry who we meet in Body in the Library is dead in The Mirror Crack’d… and Dolly has moved out of Gossington Hall to a cottage on the grounds.
Christie had other women characters who did some amount of detecting. There was Tuppence who with Tommy Beresford is featured in four novels and a collection of short stories. The crime busting couple also age through the books, starting with being in their 20s in The Secret Adversary (1922) to their 70s in the last book, the creepy, Postern of Fate (1973).
Through the course of the books they get married and have twins Deborah and Derek. The Tommy and Tuppence (her real name is Prudence!) series are more adventure novels rather than strictly crime fiction.
There is also Ariadne Oliver, who is supposed to be Christie’s alter ego.
When Oliver curses her creation, the vegetarian detective Sven Hjerson from Finland, one wonders if Oliver is echoing Christie and her Belgian creation.
Oliver with her feminine intuition and the dramatic changes if only Scotland Yard were headed by a woman, assists Poirot’s investigations or sometimes introduces him to a case—(Hallowe’en Party, 1969 and Dead Man’s Folly, 1956).
Just like David Suchet is considered the definitive Poirot, Joan Hickson’s Marple for the BBC series is simply marvellous. Faithful to the books, starting with the title sequence where menace lurks in a pretty English village, to Hickson, the series is a pleasure to watch.
As long as we have Jane Marple training a succession of girls on the proper way to polish silver, having long discussions with the gardener on the right time for geraniums and solving a murder or two on the side wrapped in her pink woolly shawl, much to the disgust of Inspector Slack, all is well with the world.