Miss Marple

Miss Jane Marple doesn’t look like your average detective. Quite frankly, she doesn’t look like a detective at all. But looks can be deceiving... For a woman who has spent her life in the small village of St Mary Mead, Miss Marple is surprisingly worldly. But as she often points out she has had every opportunity to observe human nature.

Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner — Miss Weatherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much more dangerous.

The Murder at the Vicarage

About Miss Marple

A Surprising Detective

For a woman who has spent her life in the small village of St Mary Mead, Miss Marple is surprisingly worldly. She has every opportunity to observe human nature – as she often points out, “There is a great deal of wickedness in village life.”

What makes Miss Marple so effective as a detective is her ability to blend into the background, and for her shrewd intelligence to be hidden behind her love of knitting, gardening and gossip; unassuming and often overlooked, she has the freedom to pursue the truth . Criminals and murderers fail to realise that with every stitch she is not only making a cardigan, but solving a crime. “The finest detective God ever made. Natural genius cultivated in suitable soil." (Sir Henry Clithering, The Body in the Library)

The Creation

Miss Marple first came into being in 1927 in The Tuesday Night Club, a short story pulled together into the collection The Thirteen Problems, serialised in the Sketch Magazine. Christie never expected Miss Marple to rival Poirot in the public’s affections but since the publication of The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, Marple's first full length novel, readers were hooked.

While Agatha Christie acknowledged that her grandmother had been a huge influence on the character, she writes that Miss Marple was "far more fussy and spinsterish than my grandmother ever was. But one thing she did have in common with her – though a cheerful person, she always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right." Mellowing with appearances (if not with age) Miss Marple graced twelve novels and twenty short stories during her career as an amateur detective, never paid and not always thanked. The Miss Marple of The Thirteen Problems is decidedly more shrewish and Victorian than the later character, who is often more forgiving. She certainly changes with the times, even down to wearing plimsolls in 1964’s A Caribbean Mystery.

Miss Marple never married and her closest living relatives are her nephews and nieces. Her nephew, the well-known author Raymond West and his wife Joan (initially Joyce) crop up most commonly in her stories. Marple also employs a selection of maids, all young women from the nearby orphanage, training them in her Victorian way.

Playing Marple

Many great actors have taken on the role of Marple, the first being Gracie Fields in a (now lost) US TV adaptation of A Murder is Announced in 1956. The 1960s saw four MGM film adaptations starring friend of the family Margaret Rutherford, although many of these were only loosely based on Agatha Christie’s novels (and two originally involved Poirot). Christie wasn’t too keen on Rutherford's comic version of Marple, who even had a cameo in the 1965 Poirot spoof The Alphabet Murders. The more austere representation of Marple by Angela Lansbury in the 1980 adaptation, The Mirror Crack’d, might have been more to Christie’s tastes. The 1980s also saw Helen Hayes in three Miss Marple TV films, as a sprightlier sleuth.

Joan Hickson’s portrayal in the BBC series from 1984 to 1992 is often considered most faithful to the original character, and Hickson also reads many of the audiobooks. June Whitfield starred as the BBC Radio 4 Marple, from 1993 to 2001, and it was in 2004 that Geraldine McEwan reprised the role for the ITV adaptations, with Julia McKenzie taking over in 2009.

Did you know?

  1. Miss Marple is a development of the Caroline Sheppard character in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

  2. The fictional village of St Mary Mead is about 25 miles from London and 12 miles from the coast. The main train station is in “Much Benham” two miles away. Although Murder at the Vicarage (1930) is the first novel set in St Mary Mead, the village itself was mentioned several times in her Poirot novel, The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928).

  3. The US TV series Murder She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury was heavily inspired by the character of Miss Marple.

  4. Margeret Rutherford was 70 years old when her first Marple film was made, and insisted that she wear her own clothes during the filming of the movie.

  5. Joan Hickson received two BAFTA nominations for her Miss Marple, but had the even greater honour of being written to by Agatha Christie, long before she was old enough to take on the role of Marple. Christie had seen her performance in a stage version of Appointment with Death and wrote, “I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple”.

Featured Miss Marple stories

The Murder at the Vicarage
Miss Marple
The Body in the Library
Miss Marple
Sleeping Murder
Miss Marple

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