Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
|First appearance||"The Tuesday Night Club"|
|Last appearance||Sleeping Murder|
|Created by||Agatha Christie|
|Portrayed by||Gracie Fields
Isabella Parriss, playing young Miss Marple.
|Relatives||Raymond West (nephew), Joan West (nephew's wife)|
Jane Marple, usually referred to as Miss Marple, is a fictional character appearing in 12 of Agatha Christie's crime novels and in 20 short stories. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur detective. Alongside Hercule Poirot, she is one of the most loved and famous of Christie's characters and has been portrayed numerous times on screen. Her first appearance was in a short story published in The Sketch magazine in 1926, "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.
The character of Miss Marple is based on Christie's step grandmother/Aunt (Margaret West) and her cronies, but there is no definitive source for the derivation of the name 'Marple'. 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. 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 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 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. Her nephew, the "well-known author" Raymond West appears in Vicarage, his wife Joan (initially Joyce), a modern artist, in The Thirteen Problems. Raymond overestimates himself and underestimates his aunt's mental acuity. Niece Mabel, widow of the mysteriously dead Geoffrey Denham, stars in the 1927 short story "The Thumb Mark of Saint Peter". Miss Marple has many other nieces and nephews. Miss Marple also employs young women from a nearby orphanage, whom she trains for service as general housemaids after the retirement of her long-time maid-housekeeper faithful Florence. In her later years, companion Cherry Baker, first introduced in The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side, lives in.
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. Acquaintances may be bored by analogies that often lead her to a deeper realization about the true nature of a crime. Although she looks sweet, frail, and old, she fears neither dead nor living. 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 (however in the Margaret Rutherford films, she briefly works a cook, a hotelier, a painter, a riding establiment owner, a stage actress, a charity collector, a jury member, a banker, and possibly as a pub landlady, a brewer and an architect. In the the Geraldine McEwan version of A Murder Is Announced, it is revealed that Miss Marple was a nurse during World War II) 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 herself from the aristocracy or landed gentry, but is quite at home among them; Miss Marple 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 study of human anatomy through the study of 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. (Ruth, prevailing on Miss Marple's long affection for them, arranges for Miss Marple to investigate Ruth's belief that Carrie Louise is in danger of her life.) 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). In the Geraldine McEwan series, it is revealed that Miss Marple had an affair with a married soldier when she was young, called Captain Ainsworth who was killed in action, in World War I, in December 1915.
Miss Jane Marple is well-known for gossiping with her oldest and greatest friends, Mrs Dolly Bantry, Mrs Elspeth McGillycuddy, Mrs Martha/Marjorie Price-Ridley, Miss Amanda Hartnell, Mrs Selina Hazy, and Miss Caroline Wetherby.
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", 41 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 and successful and has a career. The effects of ageing are seen on Miss Marple, such as needing a vacation after illness in A Caribbean Mystery or finding in The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side that because of poor eyesight she can no longer knit.
Novels featuring Miss Marple
- The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
- The Body in the Library (1942)
- The Moving Finger (1943)
- A Murder is Announced (1950)
- They Do It with Mirrors, or Murder with Mirrors (1952)
- A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
- 4.50 from Paddington, or What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! (1957)
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, or The Mirror Crack'd (1962)
- A Caribbean Mystery (1964)
- At Bertram's Hotel (1965)
- Nemesis (1971)
- Sleeping Murder (written around 1940, published 1976)
Miss Marple short story collections
- "The Tuesday Night Club" (short story) featured Miss Marple for the first time ever. Written in 1926.
- 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: The Complete Short Stories, Hardcover, 243 pages, Published 1985 by Dodd, Mead NY, ISBN 978-0-396-08747-2 includes 20 from 4 sets: The Tuesday Club Murders, The Regatta Mystery, Three Blind Mice and Other Stories, and Double Sin and Other Stories.
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.
The Autograph edition of Miss Marple's Final Cases includes the 8 in the original plus Greenshaw's Folly.
Books about Miss Marple
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, starring Margaret Rutherford, were popular and 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.
Murder, She Said (1961, directed by George Pollock) was the first of four British MGM productions starring Rutherford. She presented the character as a bold and eccentric 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 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 spoof Hercule Poirot adventure The Alphabet Murders (1965).
The music to all four films was composed and conducted by Ron Goodwin and is still played on radio today. The same theme is used on all four films with slight variations on 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 George Pollock after Pollock had heard about him from Stanley Black. Black had worked with Pollock on "Stranger in Town" in 1957 and years previously Stanley Black had used Ron Goodwin as his orchestrator.
Rutherford, who was 70 years old when the first film was made, 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 went on to star in the TV series Murder, She Wrote as Jessica Fletcher, a mystery novelist who also solves crimes. The character of Jessica Fletcher is thought to be based on a combination of Miss Marple, Agatha Christie herself, and another Christie character, Ariadne Oliver, who often appears in the Hercule Poirot mysteries.
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.
Television, stage and radio adaptations
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.
American stage and screen actress Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two American made-for-TV movies, 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.
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, Joan 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". (Coincidentally, Hickson had played a housekeeper in the first film in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple.)  As well as portraying Miss Marple on television, Hickson also narrated a number of Miss Marple stories on audio books.
Listing of the TV series featuring Joan Hickson:
- The Body in the Library (1984)
- A Murder is Announced (1985)
- A Pocket Full of Rye (1985)
- The Moving Finger (1985)
- The Murder at the Vicarage (1986) - BAFTA nomination
- Sleeping Murder (1987)
- At Bertram's Hotel (1987)
- Nemesis (1987) - BAFTA nomination
- 4.50 from Paddington (1987)
- A Caribbean Mystery (1989)
- They Do It With Mirrors (1991)
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1992)
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, renaming or removing significant characters, and even using stories from other books in which Miss Marple did not originally feature).
Listing of the TV series featuring Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie:
- The Body in the Library (2004)
- The Murder at the Vicarage (2004)
- 4.50 from Paddington (2004)
- A Murder is Announced (2005)
- Sleeping Murder (2005)
- The Moving Finger (2006)
- By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006)
- The Sittaford Mystery (2006)
- At Bertram's Hotel (2007)
- Ordeal by Innocence (2007)
- Towards Zero (2008)
- Nemesis (2008)
- A Pocket Full of Rye (2009)
- Murder is Easy (2009)
- They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
- Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (2009)
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (2010)
- The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
- The Blue Geranium (2010)
- The Pale Horse (2010)
- A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
- Greenshaw's Folly (2013)
- Endless Night (2013)
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.
Listing of the TV series episodes featuring Kaoru Yachigusa:
- Strange Jest (EP 3)
- The Case of the Perfect Maid (EP 4)
- The Tape-Measure Murder (EP 13)
- Ingots of Gold (EP 14)
- The Blue Geranium (EP 15)
- 4.50 from Paddington (EP 21-24)
- Motive versus Opportunity (EP 27)
- Sleeping Murder (EP 30-33)
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 that featured also Dinah Sheridan, Eleanor Summerfield, Patricia Brake and Barbara Flynn.
|Title||Show||Episodes||Episode Frequency||Original airdate|
|Murder At the Vicarage||5||Daily||26–30 December 1993|
|A Pocket Full of Rye||The Saturday Playhouse||1||11 February 1995|
|At Bertram's Hotel||5||Daily||25–29 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|
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.
- "Characters – Miss Marple". Agatha Christie. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Margaret West married Agatha Christie's great grandfather Nathaniel Frary Miller in 1863 in Westbourne, West Sussex. He died in 1869 and she dedicated a stained glass window to his memory in St.John's Church, Main Road, Southbourne, West Sussex. "Agatha Christie used her step grandmother as a model for Miss Marple, new tapes reveal", Stephen Adams, The Daily Telegraph, 16 September 2008.
- "Was Miss Marple Born in Cheshire?", Cheshire Life, accessed 30 March 2009.
- "Marple's Profile", Hercule Poirot Central, accessed 30 March 2009.
- Christie, Agatha (2001). An Autobiography. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-635328-7. p.449
- Ron Goodwin - Biography
- Phil Clymer. "Filling Miss Marple's Shoes". Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- "PBS Mystery. Miss Marple". Pbs.org. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Haining, Peter (1990). Agatha Christie: Murder in four acts : a centenary celebration of 'The Queen of Crime' on stage, films, radio & TV. Carol Pub Group. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-85227-273-9.
- "Mystery! | A murder is announced | Production notes". Pbs.org. Retrieved 20 March 2009.
- Vaudeville Theatre programme, No.29 February 1978
- "Miss Marple on BBC Radio,June Whitfield". Archived from the original on 8 August 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
- Miss Marple at the official Agatha Christie website
- Biography of Miss Marple
- Miss Marple at the Internet Movie Database
- Yahoo Grouplist for Geraldine McEwan
- Shaw, Marion; Vanackere, Sabine (1991). Reflecting on Miss Marple. Taylor & Francis. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-415-01794-7.
- Mary Jean Demarr (1995). In the beginning: first novels in mystery series. Popular Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-87972-674-4.