The character of Miss Marple is based on Christie's step grandmother, or her Aunt (Margaret West), and her cronies. Agatha Christie attributed the inspiration for the character of Miss Marple to a number of sources, stating that Miss Marple was "the sort of old lady who would have been rather like some of my step grandmother's Ealing cronies – old ladies whom I have met in so many villages where I have gone to stay as a girl". Christie also used material from her fictional creation, spinster Caroline Sheppard, who appeared in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. When Michael Morton adapted the novel for the stage, he replaced the character of Caroline with a young girl. This change saddened Christie and she determined to give old maids a voice: Miss Marple was born.
There is no definitive source for the derivation of the name 'Marple'. The most common explanation is that the name was taken from Marple railway station in Stockport, through which Christie passed. Alternatively, Christie may have taken the name from a family named Marple, who lived at Marple Hall near her sister Madge's home at Abney Hall.
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.
Miss Marple solves difficult crimes because of her shrewd intelligence, and St. Mary Mead, over her lifetime, has given her seemingly infinite examples of the negative side of human nature. Crimes always remind her of a parallel incident, although acquaintances may be bored by analogies that often lead her to a deeper realization about the true nature of a crime. She also has a remarkable ability to latch onto a casual comment and connect it to the case at hand. In several stories, she is able to rely on her acquaintance with Sir Henry Clithering, a retired commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, for official information when required.
Miss Marple never married and has no close living relatives. Her nephew, the "well-known author" Raymond West appears in some stories including Sleeping Murder and Ingots of Gold, which also feature his wife Joan, a modern artist (though prior to their marriage she is referred to as "Joyce Lemprière", in the The Thirteen Problems stories). Raymond overestimates himself and underestimates his aunt's mental acuity. Miss Marple employs young women (Clara, Emily, Alice, Esther, Gwenda and Amy) from a nearby orphanage, whom she trains for service as general housemaids after the retirement of her long-time maid-housekeeper faithful Florence. She was briefly looked after by her irritating maid, Miss Knight. In her later years, companion Cherry Baker, first introduced in The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side, lives in.
Miss Marple has never worked for her living and is of independent means, although she benefits in her old age from the financial support of Raymond West, her nephew (A Caribbean Mystery, 1964). She is not herself from the aristocracy or landed gentry, but is quite at home among them and would probably have been happy to describe herself as "genteel"; indeed, a gentlewoman. Miss Marple may thus be considered a female version of that staple of British detective fiction, the gentleman detective. She demonstrates a remarkably thorough education, including some art courses that involved study of human anatomy through the study of human cadavers. In They Do It with Mirrors (1952), it is revealed that Miss Marple grew up in a cathedral close, and that she studied at an Italian finishing school with Americans Ruth Van Rydock and Caroline "Carrie" Louise Serrocold.
While Miss Marple is described as 'an old lady' in many of the stories, her age is mentioned in "At Bertram's Hotel", where it is said she visited the hotel when she was fourteen and almost sixty years have passed since then. Excluding "Sleeping Murder", 41 years passed between the first and last-written novels, and many characters grow and age. An example would be the Vicar's nephew: in The Murder at the Vicarage, the Reverend Clement's nephew Dennis is a teenager; in The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, it is mentioned that the nephew is now grown and successful and has a career. The effects of ageing are seen on Miss Marple, such as needing a holiday after illness in A Caribbean Mystery.
Little is known about Marple's background, except that she has two younger sisters. One of them is the mother of Raymond, and the other is mother to Mabel Denham, a young woman who was accused of poisoning her husband Geoffrey (The Thumb Mark of St. Peter).
The Thirteen Problems (1932 short story collection featuring Miss Marple, also published as The Tuesday Club Murders)
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: The Complete Short Stories, published 1985, includes 20 from 4 sets: The Tuesday Club Murders, The Regatta Mystery, Three Blind Mice and Other Stories, and Double Sin and Other Stories.
- The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
- The Body in the Library (1942)
- The Moving Finger (1943)
- A Murder is Announced (1950)
- They Do It with Mirrors, or Murder with Mirrors (1952)
- A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
- 4.50 from Paddington, or What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! (1957)
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, or The Mirror Crack'd (1962)
- A Caribbean Mystery (1964)
- At Bertram's Hotel (1965)
- Nemesis (1971)
- Sleeping Murder (written around 1940, published 1976)
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.
The Autograph edition of Miss Marple's Final Cases includes the 8 in the original plus Greenshaw's Folly.The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple – a biography by Anne Hart
Although popular from her first appearance in 1930, Jane Marple had to wait thirty-two years for her first big-screen appearance, starring Margaret Rutherford. These were popular and successful light comedies, but were disappointing to Christie herself. Nevertheless, Agatha Christie dedicated the novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to Rutherford.
Rutherford presented the character as a bold and eccentric old lady, different from the prim and birdlike character Christie created in her novels. As penned by Christie, Miss Marple has never worked for a living, but the character as portrayed by Margaret Rutherford briefly works as a cook, a stage actress, a sailor and is offered the chance to run a riding establishment-cum-hotel. Her education and genteel background are hinted at when she mentions her awards at marksmanship, fencing and equestrianism (although these hints are played for comedic value).
Murder, She Said (1961, directed by George Pollock) was the first of four British MGM productions starring Rutherford. This first film was based on the 1957 novel 4:50 from Paddington (U.S. title, What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), and the changes made in the plot were typical of the series. In the film, Mrs. McGillicuddy is cut from the plot. Miss Marple herself sees an apparent murder committed on a train running alongside hers. Likewise, it is Miss Marple herself who poses as a maid to find out the facts of the case, not a young friend of hers who has made a business of it.
The other Rutherford films, all directed by Pollock, were Murder at the Gallop (1963), based on the 1953 Hercule Poirot novel After the Funeral (in this film, she is identified as Miss JTV Marple, though there was no indication as to what the extra initials might stand for); Murder Most Foul (1964), based on the 1952 Poirot novel Mrs McGinty's Dead; and Murder Ahoy! (1964). The last film is not based on any Christie work but displays a few plot elements from They Do It With Mirrors (viz., the ship is used as a reform school for wayward boys and one of the teachers uses them as a crime force), and there is a kind of salute to The Mousetrap. Rutherford also appeared briefly as Miss Marple in the spoof Hercule Poirot adventure The Alphabet Murders (1965).
The music to all four films was composed and conducted by Ron Goodwin and is still played on radio today. The same theme is used on all four films with slight variations on each. The main theme has a distinct 1960s feel to it and is known to be a highly complex piece of music due to the quick playing of the violin. The score was written within a couple of weeks by Goodwin who was approached by Pollock after Pollock had heard about him from Stanley Black. Black had worked with Pollock on "Stranger in Town" in 1957 and had previously used Goodwin as his orchestrator.
Rutherford, who was 70 years old when the first film was made, insisted that she wear her own clothes during the filming of the movie, as well as having her real-life husband, Stringer Davis, appear alongside her as the character 'Mr Stringer'. The Rutherford films are frequently repeated on television in Germany, and in that country Miss Marple is generally identified with Rutherford's quirky portrayal.
In 1980, Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack'd (EMI, directed by Guy Hamilton), based on Christie's 1962 novel. The film featured an all-star cast that included Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, and Kim Novak. Edward Fox appeared as Inspector Craddock, who did Miss Marple's legwork. Lansbury's Marple was a crisp, intelligent woman who moved stiffly and spoke in clipped tones. Unlike most incarnations of Miss Marple, this one smoked cigarettes.
Lansbury later starred in the TV series Murder, She Wrote as Jessica Fletcher, a mystery novelist who also solves crimes. The character of Jessica Fletcher is thought to be based on a combination of Miss Marple, Agatha Christie herself, and another Christie character, Ariadne Oliver, who often appears in the Hercule Poirot mysteries.
Helen Hayes starred in two Miss Marple films for television: A Caribbean Mystery (1983) and Murder with Mirrors (1985), near the end of her decades long acting career. She had earlier appeared in a TV movie adaptation of the non-Marple Christie story Murder Is Easy, playing an elderly lady somewhat similar to Miss Marple.
In 1983, Estonian stage and film actress Ita Ever starred in the Russian language film adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel A Pocket Full of Rye (using the Russian edition's translated title, The Secret of the Blackbirds) as the character of Miss Marple.
American TV was the setting for the first dramatic portrayal of Miss Marple with Gracie Fields, the legendary British actress, playing her in a 1956 episode of Goodyear TV Playhouse based on A Murder Is Announced, the 1950 Christie novel.
In 1970, the character of Miss Marple was portrayed by Inge Langen in a West German television adaptation of The Murder at the Vicarage (Mord im Pfarrhaus).
American stage and screen actress Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two American made-for-TV movies, both for CBS: A Caribbean Mystery (1983) and Murder with Mirrors (1985). Sue Grafton contributed to the screenplay of the former. Hayes's Marple was benign and chirpy.
In 2015, CBS plans a "much younger" version of the character, a granddaughter who takes over a California bookstore.
From 1984 to 1992, the BBC adapted all of the original Miss Marple novels as a series titled Miss Marple. Joan Hickson played the lead role. In the 1940s, Joan appeared on-stage in an Agatha Christie play, Appointment with Death, which was seen by Christie who wrote in a note to her, "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple". (Coincidentally, Hickson had played a housekeeper in Murder, She Said, the first film in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple.) In addition she portrayed a maid in the 1937 film, Love from a Stranger, which starred Ann Harding and Basil Rathbone, another Agatha Christie play adaptation. As well as portraying Miss Marple on television, Hickson also narrated a number of Miss Marple stories on audio books. In the "Binge!" article of Entertainment Weekly Issue #1343-44 (26 December 2014–3 January 2015), the writers picked Hickson as "Best Marple" in the "Hercule Poirot & Miss Marple" timeline.
Listing of the TV series featuring Joan Hickson:The Body in the Library (1984)
A Murder is Announced (1985)
A Pocket Full of Rye (1985)
The Moving Finger (1985)
The Murder at the Vicarage (1986) – BAFTA nomination
Sleeping Murder (1987)
At Bertram's Hotel (1987)
Nemesis (1987) – BAFTA nomination
4.50 from Paddington (1987)
A Caribbean Mystery (1989)
They Do It With Mirrors (1991)
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1992)
Beginning in 2004, ITV broadcast a series of adaptations of Agatha Christie's books under the title Agatha Christie's Marple, usually referred to as Marple. Geraldine McEwan starred in the first three series. Julia McKenzie took over the role in the fourth season.
The adaptations are notable for changing the plots and characters of the original books (e.g. incorporating lesbian affairs, changing the identities of some killers, renaming or removing significant characters, and even using stories from other books in which Miss Marple did not originally feature). In the Geraldine McEwan series it is revealed that when she was young, Miss Marple had an affair with a married soldier, Captain Ainsworth, who was killed in action in World War I, in December 1915. It is also said (in A Murder Is Announced) that she served as a nurse during World War II.
Listing of the TV series featuring Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie:The Body in the Library (2004)
The Murder at the Vicarage (2004)
4.50 from Paddington (2004)
A Murder is Announced (2005)
Sleeping Murder (2005)
The Moving Finger (2006)
By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006)
The Sittaford Mystery (2006)
At Bertram's Hotel (2007)
Ordeal by Innocence (2007)
Towards Zero (2008)
A Pocket Full of Rye (2009)
Murder is Easy (2009)
They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (2009)
The Pale Horse (2010)
The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
The Blue Geranium (2010)
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (2010)
A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Greenshaw's Folly (2013)
Endless Night (2013)
From 2004 to 2005, Japanese TV network NHK produced a 39 episode anime series titled Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, which features both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Miss Marple's voice is provided by Kaoru Yachigusa. Episodes adapted both short stories and novels.
The anime series dramatised the following Miss Marple stories:Strange Jest (EP 3)
The Case of the Perfect Maid (EP 4)
The Tape-Measure Murder (EP 13)
Ingots of Gold (EP 14)
The Blue Geranium (EP 15)
4.50 from Paddington (EP 21–24)
Motive versus Opportunity (EP 27)
Sleeping Murder (EP 30–33)
In 1974, Barbara Mullen played Miss Marple in Murder at the Vicarage at the Savoy Theatre, London.
In September 1977, veteran actress and author Dulcie Gray played the Miss Marple character in a stage adaptation of A Murder Is Announced at the Vaudeville Theatre in London, England that also featured Dinah Sheridan, Eleanor Summerfield, Patricia Brake and Barbara Flynn.
BBC Radio 4 dramatised all of the novels from 1993 to 2001 with June Whitfield as Miss Marple.
Miss Marple was also referred to several times in the episode "Paris" of the BBC Radio 4 comedy programme Cabin Pressure.
Marple was highlighted in volume 20 of the Case Closed manga's edition of "Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library", a section of the graphic novels (usually the last page) where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from mystery literature, television, or other media.
In the 1976 Neil Simon spoof Murder By Death, Miss Marple is parodied as "Miss Marbles" by Elsa Lanchester.