For the love of Marple

WTF Jennifer Garner As Miss Marple?

By Sadie Stein,, March 29, 2011

‘Nihilo sanc­tum estne?’ Miss Cross asked, famously and semi-accurately, in Rushmore. And contemplating the conundrum that is this Miss Marple remake, we’re left wondering the same thing.

Marple devotees are akin to Dr. Who fanatics in their love of debate. Who was the best Marple to grace St. Mary Mead? The caustic Geraldine McEwan? The grandmotherly Julia McKenzie? The venerable Joan Hickson? Here’s an actress whom I’m guessing no one inadvertently left out of the conversation: Jennifer Garner.

I have no problem with Jennifer Garner; I speak as a woman who owns 13 Going on 30 and is an active follower of Violet Affleck’s lifestyle choices. She’s a personable actress, a beautiful woman, and seems to be a nice person. Know what she isn’t? Miss Marple.

Actually, she is. The initial reports were alarming enough:

Disney has made a deal to revive the Agatha Christie mystery series staple character Miss Marple, but with one big difference: instead of the elderly spinster who lives in the English village of St. Mary Mead and solves mysteries as a hobby, the new configuration is for Mark Frost to script a version where Marple is in her 30s or 40s.

And then came the horrifying confirmation.

Jennifer Garner will be the actress who puts a young spin on Miss Marple in Disney’s reboot of the Agatha Christie mystery series sleuth. The character had been portrayed by a long line of actresses who played Marple as an elderly spinster who cracked crimes in her spare time. Garner and her Vandalia Films partner Juliana Janes will produce a film that will be shaped as a star vehicle for Garner, the former Alias star who will next be seen in Arthur.

One word: why? Why take one of the few characters in literature who represents a woman of a certain age, who doesn’t make sexuality any part of her power, and who gives credit to a generally-overlooked segment of the population, and give it a sexy, youthful, utterly generic “spin?” Here’s the thing about Jean Marple: she’s a character who’s consistently underestimated. That’s her power, as an older woman in society, and the key to her ability to observe unobtrusively. She’s about confounding expectation.

Now, I hope I’m wrong. The Sherlock reboot, after all, was fun TV. Maybe Marple is younger, yes, but still a spinster in the classic sense who has decided to build a life without men in it. Maybe she’s consistently overlooked by those around her, and slyly undermines conventional ideals. Maybe. But I’m not holding my breath.


Spinster Hall Of Fame: Miss Marple

by Sadie Stein,, May 20, 2009

In a time when we all need comfort, publishers roll out The Complete Miss Marple — and the stealth sage of St. Mary Mead gets her due.

Miss Marple was reportedly Agatha Christie‘s favorite creation — based partially upon her grandmother – and it’s said that the author conjured her iconic gentlewoman detective when a director changed a character in a Christie adaptation from a genteel spinster to a beautiful young ingenue. Christie clearly wanted someone different to get her due — and made sure that she did, in twelve novels over 40 years. Miss Marple made her debut in a 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine , and in 1930 got her first starring vehicle with Murder at the Vicarage.

Jane Marple is, to the casual observer, the prototypical British spinster, a tweed-sporting, genteel old lady who’s spent her life in the village of St. Mary Mead, devoting herself to her garden, her knitting, and local gossip. And that’s the whole point of the character: she is destined to be underestimated. What people dismiss as a tiresome busybody (in early incarnations) and, later, as a muddle-headed woman past her prime, is in fact sharp and intuitive, unafraid of violence and uncowed by authority figures. What people dismiss as a limited life experience in a small village has in fact given Miss Marple an unusual insight into the human condition, and her long memory for village trivia often provides invaluable in cracking cases that baffle the pros.

Writes Kate Mosse
on the character’s appeal,

Educated and knowledgeable, moral and clear-sighted, Jane Marple is solitary but happy in her own company; she is independent but with a circle of devoted admirers – her nephew, Raymond West, and his wife; old friends such as Dolly Bantry; in later years, grateful clients and, first introduced in The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side, a live-in companion, Cherry. Miss Marple is a certain sort of English Everywoman, enduring and timeless.

While Marple’s status in pop-culture is unquestioned (just check out Facebook) and her many dramatic incarnations have won even more fans, the character is also of literary significance: not only was she a benchmark in mystery fiction – the Underestimated Amateur, if you will — but she was an interesting flip of the familiar gentleman detective trope. The appeal of the novels is obvious, and there’s nothing more comforting than returning to the timeless Saint Mary Mead — but as much as anything, Miss Marple is
a testament to the importance of never underestimating — and how useful it can be when people do.

Related: Dial M for Marple [TimesUK], Old Maids And Spinsters: The Best Female Role Models A Teen Girl Can Have

This entry was posted in anglophilia, heroines, sleuthing, vintage. Bookmark the permalink.

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