Anders on Marple

Guest post from Isabel Anders’ book Miss Marple: Christian Sleuth (London: Circle Books, 2013).

“Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”          Dorothy L. Sayers.

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree. ... In old age they still produce fruit”.   Psalm 92:12a, 14a.

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Agatha Christie’s iconic Miss Marple mysteries usually begin and end with scenes from normal village life, providing a circular flow through chaos to equilibrium that is always dependent on how the principal residents act to and for and against each other. And as one of her housekeepers responds when Miss Marple tells her, “You take very good care of me, Cherry”: “Got to. Good people are scarce.”

Miss Marple’s plain speaking and straightforward acting is also described by another public crime-fighting official as making her “The most frightening woman I ever met.”

Which is she? Simply good or frankly frightening? Are spiritually honed goodness and an other-directed life necessarily a threat to the status quo? If so, then Miss Marple embodies both the gadfly, annoying others into doing the right thing or accepting the consequences—and the overseeing mother figure who wants to see all of the “children” playing fairly.

         As the Rev. Leonard Clement says in The Murder at the Vicarage: “Of all the ladies in my congregation, I consider her by far the shrewdest. Not only does she see and hear practically everything that goes on, but she draws amazingly neat and apposite deductions from the facts that come under her notice. If I were at any time to set out on a career of deceit, it would be of Miss Marple that I should be afraid.”

         With great discipline and intelligence, she seems able to keep the details of any given case before her as she goes about her expected quotidian tasks. Yet she is ready to apply her findings like the turn of a screw to nail villains in the end.  

And, it could be argued, she also operates on a spiritual level, seeing the world, represented by St. Mary Mead in most stories, as a battle ground between the forces of good and evil.

She manages to do good from exactly the point where she is “planted” ...

         She recognizes the God-given value in other people and sees them as her neighbors for whom she bears responsibility ...

         She is a firm believer in truth in both its transcendent and immanent forms ...

         She is sincerely humble and does not act in order to draw attention to herself or to gain worldly reward—besides the fact that staying “under the radar” as a nearly invisible person enables her craft ...

         She is uncannily perceptive at sizing up a situation, discerning clues, working from analogies and past experiences to deduce probabilities. …

         In short, she demonstrates enough Christlike understanding and actions to lead us to conclude that Miss Marple is truly a “woman for others,” worthy of another look.

Isabel Anders