I am so thrilled to have with us today the lovely Terrie Farlay Moran! I got to meet her this year at Malice and she is a wonderful person!
Welcome Terrie, so glad you can be here today!!
The Invisible Miss Marple
In the genteel drawing room, elderly Miss Jane Marple sits in her chair, hands encased in black lace, her fingers working knitting needles on a dull colored yarn. She barely participates in the conversation around her, except perhaps to ask a seemingly unimportant question. How often have you read that exact scene or one very like it?
Since her first introduction to mystery readers in the short story, “The Tuesday Night Club” published nearly ninety years ago, the amiable and omniscient Miss Marple is forever underestimated by the characters surrounding her. The dozen or so novels which demonstrate her cunning methods of crime solving, beginning with Murder in the Vicarage, (1930) have been read in numerous languages during the ensuing decades. Even today Miss Marple books are likely available in every bookstore and library around the globe, as well as in most e-reader formats.
So what is it about Miss Marple? Why does she live forever on our bookshelves, on film and in our minds, even as gun-slinging women with exceptional physical prowess have come to prominence in the mystery world?
It is likely that Miss Marple’s near invisibility lets the reader identify in an “if she can solve the puzzle, so can I” kind of way. I know I’d be hard pressed to chase criminals around town and it isn’t likely that I could force a confession out of a villain. Miss Marple is proof that an attentive and rational intellect can be more effective than actual pugnacity. People differ extensively in degrees of brawn and physical skills but every reader has a brain and while we may not like to repeat gossip, we often listen when it comes our way. I once wrote that Miss Marple has staying power because every reader knows that within the events and conversations of each novel or short story are the subtle hints to the resolution of the mystery, and yet, no one sees the clues except, of course, the deceptively unassuming Miss Marple who infers the worst and is frequently correct.
In describing Jane Marple, her creator, Agatha Christie, wrote, “There was no unkindness in Miss Marple, she just did not trust people. Though she expected the worst, she often accepted people kindly in spite of what they were.”
Miss Marple’s quiet, almost timid, nature, peppered with clever observations, translates beautifully to video. Besides motion pictures, we viewers are fortunate to have the BBC and PBS bring Miss Marple to life, portrayed by a number of fine actresses. The ones I best remember are Margaret Rutherford who played the role in several movies when I was a child and Helen Hayes who starred in two movies in the mid-eighties. I have heard that Gracie Fields, the top grossing British actress of the 1930s was the very first to play Miss Marple, starring in a Goodyear Playhouse version of “A Murder is Announced” in 1956. On the BBC and PBS at various times over the past twenty years, Joan Hickson played the elderly, amateur sleuth as did Geraldine McEwen and Julia McKenzie. And let’s not forget that before Angela Lansbury solved many a mystery as J.B. Fletcher, she was also Miss Marple a time or two.
Take a look at this video showing how each actress took on the modest and reticent look of the venerable Miss Marple. The final screen is a blank face with a question mark and asks who will be the
next Miss Marple. Any suggestions?
Twice short-listed for Best American Mystery Stories, Terrie Farley Moran’s cozy mystery novel, Well Read, Then Dead http://berkleysignetmysteries.com/book3011 released by Berkley Prime Crime in 2014 will be followed by Caught Read Handed in 2015. Website www.terriefarleymoran.com