This has been a highly anticipated title for me and definitely in order given that Christie’s other famous sleuth, Poirot got his own outing in Little Grey Cells: The Quotable Poirot (2015); which I enjoyed. Both books share a similar structure. The title begins with an introduction about Miss Marple, written by Tony Medawar, followed by a series of thematic chapters with handpicked quotes for each theme.
In the introduction the myth that Miss Marple was exactly like Christie’s grandmother is debunked in Christie’s own words:
‘Miss Marple was not in any way a picture of my grandmother […] but one thing she did have in common with her – though a cheerful person, she always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.’
We also get Christie’s views on Caroline Sheppard; the spinster sister of the narrator of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), with Caroline in fact being Christie’s ‘favourite character in the book – an acidulated spinster full of curiosity, knowing everything, hearing everything: the complete detective service in the home.’ Tony also weaves together what the stories tell us about Miss Marple’s past, into a compelling narrative. One sentence which stays with me is: ‘And while she never married, there were certainly men in her life, such as a young man she met at a croquet party who had seemed eligible but turned out to be very, very dull.’ Not least because I partially wonder what spin Phelps would add to that…
There are 8 themed chapters in the book: The Art of Conversation, Men and Women, Crime and Detection, The Young, Murder, Miss Marple on Miss Marple, Human Nature and Life. In keeping with my review of Little Grey Cells… I have also included below some of my favourite quotes from the collection:
‘If people do not choose to lower their voices, one must assume that they are prepared to be overheard.’
(At Bertram’s Hotel)
‘We old women always do snoop. It would be very odd and much more noticeable if I didn’t’
(A Murder is Announced)
‘Gentlemen, when they’ve had a disappointment, want something stronger than tea.’
(The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side)
‘So like men – quite unable to see what’s going on under their eyes.’
(4:50 from Paddington)
‘Gentlemen… are frequently not as level-headed as they seem.’
(The Body in the Library)
‘Gentlemen always make such excellent memoranda.’
(The Murder at the Vicarage)
‘A very nice woman. The kind that would so easily marry a bad lot. In fact the sort of woman that would marry a murderer if she were given half a chance.’
(Nemesis) (A classic compliment which is not a compliment!)
‘I know that in books it is always the most unlikely person. But I never find that rule applies in real life.’
(The Murder at the Vicarage) (Was this a critique on her Poirot novels which often used the most unlikely person as culprit?)
‘Children feel things, you know… They feel things more than the people around them ever imagine. The sense of hurt, of being rejected, of not belonging. It’s a thing that you don’t get over, just because of advantages.’
(The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side) (This quote made me think of an earlier title by Christie, Ordeal by Innocence, as this sentiment would work for that text as well)
‘Most people – and I don’t exclude policemen – are far too trusting for this wicked world. They believe what is told them. I never do. I’m afraid I always like to prove a thing for myself.’
(The Body in the Library)
The Quotable Miss Marple then concludes with an essay, not previously reprinted before: ‘Does a woman’s instinct make her a good detective?,’ which was published in The Star on 14th May 1928, coinciding with the 6th Miss Marple short story which was published in the Royal magazine. The date of this article is very important to keep in mind, as it was written before any of the Miss Marple novels, which makes it interesting when you compare the perhaps derogatory-but-of-its-time way Christie describes what is meant by a woman’s instinct: ‘women prefer short cuts […] they prefer the inspired guess to the more laborious process of solid reasoning. And, of course, the inspired guess is often right,’ with the way Miss Marple is presented in her novels. For instance, Miss Marple doesn’t approve of guessing, advising against it in 4:50 from Paddington and in The Murder at the Vicarage, Miss Marple has a different take on a woman’s instinct:
‘It’s really what people call intuition and make such a fuss about. Intuition is like reading a word without having to spell it out. A child can’t do that because it has had so little experience. But a grown-up person knows the word because they’ve seen it often before.’
In this description intuition is not initially a ‘short cut,’ as it has to be built upon and developed over a period of time and through a number of experiences. It is a process involving work and honing skills.
Christie goes on to say that ‘women are not methodical; they are tidy quite often, but methodical – no.’ Again, Miss Marple does not really fit this category either, often jotting down important clues and in ‘Strange Jest,’ Miss Marple is said to ‘methodically worked through the sheaf of documents.’ Christie’s opinions conclude on the idea that ‘women are not really interested in crime,’ unless it involves someone they know and that women wouldn’t be good in the police, as they are only good at being detectives in a ‘personal capacity’ about people they know. I appreciate that we can’t make huge generalisations about the way Christie viewed women, based on one short article and I would be really interested to know whether the ideas she puts down in this article were ones she held on to over the years or whether during the passing of time they changed at all.
If you want to ponder Miss Marple and gender roles a little further, I wrote this piece on the topic a while ago, which may be of interest.
So all in all a very entertaining and thought provoking title. It’s a great idea for a gift and due to its size and design, a perfect stocking filler.