Agatha Christie was one of the most famous and popular authors to come out of the Golden Age of mystery fiction during the 1920s. She wrote more than 80 novels over a span of fifty years, and introduced Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple to the public. The Miss Marple stories defined the cozy mystery genre.
Miss Jane Marple was introduced in a short story in the December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine, titled The Tuesday Night Club. The article was later the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems (1932). Miss Marple’s first novel was The Murder at the Vicarage (1930). There were twelve Miss Marple novels in all.
Miss Marple, an unmarried woman and amateur detective, lived in the village of St. Mary Mead. She was considered a woman of independent means, although in a later book it was noted her nephew, well-known author Raymond West provided her with additional income.
Many of the characters aged during the series as opposed to the Hercule Poirot books where everyone stayed about the same age. In an early novel, the vicar’s wife was pregnant and later the vicar had a grown son with a successful career of his own. Also affected by the aging process, in one book Miss Marple needed a vacation after an illness, and in another, she could no longer knit due to poor eyesight.
In early stories, she was characterized as an unpleasant old woman prone to gossip, but later she was modernized and given the more pleasant demeanor of a sweet elderly woman. She was known for dressing in tweed, and was often seen knitting or tending her garden.
Although she often appeared flighty, she had a keen mind and vivid insight into the foibles and weaknesses of human nature. She had a thorough education including art courses, and an understanding of human anatomy due to study of human cadavers. For a time, she also attended a finishing school in Europe. Her education and travels, plus her sharp observational skills relating to the inhabitants of St. Mary Meade, provided Miss Marple with the tools to solve mysteries the local police were unable to solve.
Although The Murder at the Vicarage was written in 1930, the next Miss Marple novel was not published until The Body in the Library in 1942. Sometime during the early 1940s, the final Miss Marple book, Sleeping Murder, was written and stored in a bank vault until the end of the series. The novel was published shortly after Agatha Christie’s death in 1976.
Miss Marple helped solidify Agatha Christie’s place in literary history as the most popular mystery author of all time.