20 July 2009

Did Agatha Christie change her mind about Miss Marple?

I've just completed reading Agatha Christie's first set of short stories featuring Miss Marple, THE THIRTEEN PROBLEMS.
I asked just recently Who is the best Miss Marple? and a poll asked participants to choose from 7 film/TV actors who have played Jane Marple.
The popular choice was Joan Hickson, but significantly, none of them looked like this, the first known image of Miss Marple, an illustration by Gilbert Wilkinson of Miss Marple from the December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine and the first-known image of the character.

In THE THIRTEEN PROBLEMS there are two very clear descriptions of Miss Marple.
In first story The Tuesday Night Club, Miss Marple's debut appearance, we have
Miss Marple wore a black brocade dress, very much pinched in round the waist. Mechlin lace was arranged in a cascade down the front of the bodice. She had on black mittens, and a black lace cap surmounted the piled-up masses of her snowy hair. She was knitting - something white and soft and fleecy.
And then in a later story, The Blue Geranium, we have
Mrs Bantry... fixed her gaze on the very upright old lady sitting on her husband's right. Miss Marple wore black lace mittens; an old lache fichu was draped around her shoulders and another piece of lace surmounted her white hair. She was talking animatedly...
Elsewhere Miss Marple's age is emphasised by referring to her as "the old lady", and with reference to her faded blue eyes. She herself refers to her failing memory and sight.

Descriptions of Miss Marple are not plentiful in her debut novel THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE. The vicar's wife Griselda refers to her as "that terrible Miss Marple.... the worst cat in the village". The vicar says "Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner - Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous." The Chief Constable calls her the "typical elderly spinster" and then, after he has met her, "that wizened-up old maid."
Physically, Christie obviously has the same description in mind as in the earlier short stories.
"Miss Marple arranged her lace fichu, pushed back the fleecy shawl that draped her shoulders", and in other places the vicar emphasises her fragility and her age.

I'll be watching how Miss Marple develops, what descriptions of her there are in later books.
The Wikipedia article says " 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."

I just have the feeling that Miss Marple of film and television is not as old as the Miss Marple as Agatha Christie first created her.
Any comments?

Miss Marple appeared in 12 novels
and in 20 short stories
  • 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 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.


Bernadette said...

I have no doubt you're right Kerrie. But old age has never been a popular thing to portray on film or TV - much less than in books anyway.

Kerrie said...

She reminded me a lot of my great grandmother Bernadette. I remember old ladies who wore those black lacy fingerless mittens. I even think Margaret Rutherford wore them in one film.

Dorte H said...

I also noticed when I reviewed Murder at the Vicarage, that Miss Marple seemed less kind, understanding and appealing in that one than in the later novels. So perhaps it is small wonder that TV chose the more charming person we meet in later stories.

Kerrie said...

I was a bit surprised at how much Griselda, the vicar's wife, seemed to dislike Miss Marple Dorte. In the short stories and in Murder at the Vicarage, I noticed Christie referring to the old ladies as "cats" - in fact at one stage Miss Marple says she is very pleased to be seen as a cat, and so does Colonel Bantry's wife Dolly.
There are a few words in THE THIRTEEN PROBLEMS that are peculiar to their time I think, and not used in the same sense now that they were then.

BooksPlease said...

The same thoughts struck me when I read The Thirteen Problems - the TV version of Miss M just doesn't match the Miss M in these short stories.

I wish now I was reading the books in the order they were written, instead of reading them when I find them in the library! So I'm going to rely on you to see how Miss M developed as AC wrote about her - many thanks Kerrie.

Kerrie said...

I keep thinking there are so many angles you could study Agatha Christie from, aren't there, Booksplease? The other day I thought of mapping all the people in St Mary Mead, and getting an idea of what the village is like. I think people raeding the books when they came out so infrequently had a better chance of doing that, than those of us reading them all in a bit of a hurry.

Kerrie said...

I think Bernadette is right - really old people don't make good TV viewing. Having said that, I read somewhere that Joan Hickson was in her 80s for all the Miss Marple episodes she made. Of course Agatha Christie was not writing with a film or TV script in mind. She might have been tempted to make Miss Marple more infirm, put her into a wheelchair for example. Which one was it where she had a sprained ankle - I'm not sure whether that was in a book, or just in the tV series.

Brian Kavanagh said...

Christie based Miss Marple on her Grandmother who was very much as MM described in the short stories. Lace shawls, snowy white hair etc., very much a woman of the Victorian period and quite old at the beginning of the twentieth century. Christie, as a child, would read murder cases to her from the newspapers. Christie, once she decided to use MM as a character in novels, realised that she had made the character far too old and so MM became younger although still an older woman and more attuned to the periods that Christie was writing in. In the film version of The Mirror Cracked, Angela Lansbury plays a much older MM.

Kerrie said...

I read soemthing similar to that on Wikipedia Brian. One of the differences I have detected between the short stories and the first books is that the physical description of Miss M seems to be much less. It is something I'll be watching more closely as I read on.


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