Recently I was surprised when I discovered that I had not yet included Agatha Christie’s Poirot in my posts about the the Most Popular and Recommended Series that I have been compiling. So, I corrected that oversight in this entry. At the same time, I also saw that I had not yet included the Miss Marple Mysteries in that list. When I first discovered this oversight, I had a hard time deciding which of Christie’s characters to write about first. The first Poirot book was written over ten years earlier than the first Miss Marple book so I did the Poirot series first. But, although I have enjoyed reading the Poirot books and I believe he is a great character, I have to admit that Miss Marple is my favorite of the two.
I have written about Miss Marple several times before. Mostly when discussing the different television versions of Miss Marple. Such this post, this one, and this one where I talk about my favorite actress portraying Miss Marple >> Joan Hickson.
The first book in the Miss Marple Mysteries series is Murder at the Vicarage. As the book begins, in Miss Marple’s small home town of St. Mary Mead, we meet the narrator, the Vicar, his wife and his nephew, and a number of other local characters, including Miss Marple. Before long, there is, as the title suggests, a murder at the Vicarage. The Vicar takes a particular interest in solving the murder, so we gain much insight into what the police (including Inspector Slack and the Chief Constable, Colonel Melchett) are doing to solve the mystery.
Upon re-reading this book in order to write this blog, I was surprised to see how small a part Miss Marple plays until fairly near the end. She is introduced to us in a scene near the beginning of the book, but then we don’t see her again until about the 20% mark of the book. After that, we only meet her sporadically. Until very near the end, it would be fair to say that Miss Marple is not the main character of the book.
Miss Marple is introduced as an elderly spinster who takes a very strong interest in human nature. In fact, she declares that the study of human nature is her hobby:
You see,” she began at last, “living alone, as I do, in a rather out-of-the-way part of the world, one has to have a hobby. There is, of course, woolwork, and Guides, and Welfare, and sketching, but my hobby is— and always has been— Human Nature. So varied— and so very fascinating. And, of course, in a small village, with nothing to distract one, one has such ample opportunity for becoming what I might call proficient in one’s study. One begins to class people, quite definitely, just as though they were birds or flowers, group so-and-so, genus this, species that. Sometimes, of course, one makes mistakes, but less and less as time goes on.
Miss Marple has solved some local mysteries in the past, but she has never tackled something as large as murder before — and she jumps at the chance to test herself:
But I have always wondered whether, if some day a really big mystery came along, I should be able to do the same thing. I mean— just solve it correctly. Logically, it ought to be exactly the same thing. After all, a tiny working model of a torpedo is just the same as a real torpedo.
Needless to say, Miss Marple passes the test with flying colors!
Miss Marple is a truly great and interesting character. Her knowledge of human nature helps here to solve this murder (and many others in the future). She draws on a vast experience gained by observing human behavior, and she solves her mysteries by starting from the point of view that almost anyone is capable of almost anything. I was particularly struck by this passage wherein she talks about something she learned from her Aunt Fanny:
I remember a saying of my Great Aunt Fanny’s. I was sixteen at the time and thought it particularly foolish…. She used to say: ‘The young people think the old people are fools; but the old people know the young people are fools!’
How can you not enjoy a sleuth who speaks such wisdom?