The first Miss Marple novel is Murder at the Vicarage. It’s narrated by the Vicar Leonard Clement and the entire story centers around a murder that – as the title so elegantly shows – happened at his vicarage (a.k.a his home…talk about a rough night!). The reader is introduced to his family, spends time with his ‘flock’ of neighbors, and goes along with him as he works with the local constables to solve the mystery. It seems that Clement is set to be a main character in much the same way as Hastings in the Poirot novels.
Yet it is Miss Jane Marple, one of a plethora of nosy widows/spinsters in the small village, who gets an entire series. I mentioned before that Clement is a character who had to go – his wife is pregnant, he has a steady job of tending to the misfits in town, and, probably the biggest reason, if murders keep occurring in his small village, he’ll be held responsible. After all, how can a spiritual guide be any good if his villagers keep killing one another?
There’s a pretty large publishing gap between the Murder at the Vicarage and Marple’s second novel appearance in The Thirteen Problems. A little over a decade, though she does appear in short stories along the way.
These things tell me that Miss Marple is probably a character who got away from Christie.
What I mean by that: Imagine Christie sitting there with her notebooks, working out how a vicar will solve the case – and out pops this old lady who snoops and pries and annoys the main character. To top it off, she solves the case before cops and the makeshift sleuth of the vicar. I’m guessing Marple played a bigger part in that case than Christie originally meant and, lo!, she continues to do so through short story after short story and novel after novel.
As a writer, can you see these kinds of characters coming? Agatha Christie wasn’t an old spinster when Miss Marple showed up…so it’s not like with the Ariadne Oliver character – by which I mean there wasn’t some kind of self-referential statement being made about Christie. Who could’ve predicted that such an unexpected character would show such voomph and audacity?
We’ve all read the books that say “Let the characters speak for themselves,” or some author lamenting the way “That character was supposed to be the bartender.” I have no idea if this is the case with Miss Marple – whether or not she was intended to be a very useful side character, or whether she was supposed to take over, only Christie can tell us…but I have my suspicions. If you guys know of a spot where she said “Yes, Miss Marple was to be my piece de resistance!” Please let me know – or vice versa.
In the meantime, has anyone gotten away from you as writer? I’m working on a novel right now and an upstart young doctor has come onto the scene and I’m thinking “Where the heck did this dude come from?” Guess I’ll find out….