AGE: In her 70's & 80's
RESIDENCE: The High Street, village of St. Mary Mead
The village is about 25 miles south from London and about 12 miles from the coast. It is also just 2 miles west of Much Benham. St. Mary Mead resides in the county of Radfordshire, with its police force based in Much Benham. The town of Market Basing, which appears in numerous Poirot stories, is west of St. Mary Mead, by about 12 miles.
DIED: Still living at the end of last novel Sleeping Murder, as chronicled by Dame Agatha Christie
MARITAL STATUS: Never married
FAMILY: "Numerous relatives"
Primary relative is nephew Raymond West, celebrated author & poet of "unpleasant people leading lives of surpassing dullness." His wife is Joan (originally named Joyce Lempriere in The Thirteen Problems), an artist and mother of two boys. She is cousin to Giles Reed, who along with his newly married wife Gwenda, appears in the final Marple novel Sleeping Murder.
LIVE-IN COMPANION: Cherry Baker, replacing nurse-companion Miss Knight
DOCTOR: Dr. Haydock; police surgeon and also next-door neighbor
Raymond and Joan West
Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry
Chief Inspector Dermot Craddock
Vicar Leonard and Griselda Clement
Sir Henry Clithering
Reverend Caleb and Maud Dane Calthorp
Miss Jane Marple was first introduced in 1928 in the Sketch magazine. In fact, the first six short stories in the collection The Thirteen Problems were published in said magazine, two years before appearing in novel form with The Murder at the Vicarage (1930). Jane Marple was first described as wearing "a black brocade dress, very much pinched in round the waist. Mechlin lace was arranged in a cascade down the front of the bodice. She had on black lace mittens, and a black lace cap surmounted the piled-up masses of her snowy hair. She was knitting--something white and soft and fleecy. Her faded blue eyes benignant and kindly, surveyed her nephew and her nephew's guests with gentle pleasure." Agatha Christie described in her autobiography that Marple "was born at the age of sixty-five to seventy" and was born from the character of Caroline Sheppard from the famous Poirot novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Christie described Caroline Sheppard as "an acidulated spinster, full of curiosity, knowing everything, hearing everything--the complete detective service in the home." Miss Marple did not share resemblance to Christie's grandmother Margaret Miller (or nicknamed "Auntie-Grannie") except for their tendency to expect "the worst of everyone and everything--and was with almost frightening accuracy usually proved right." Christie based more of Marple on the old "cronies" (old-lady friends) of Auntie-Grannie's. There are two accounts of the origin of Marple's surname. One story is that Christie "borrowed" it from the home of a Marple family, Marple Hall, that was near her sister Madge's home at Abney Hall. The other account says that the name came from the large village of Marple, in the county of Greater Manchester, England. The story says that Agatha Christie was at a railway station there long enough to observe its posted sign.
We already learn much about Jane Marple's ability to solve crime when she early on says (in "The Tuesday Night Club"): "Very painful and distressing things happen in villages sometimes" and "I am afraid I am not clever myself, but living all these years in St. Mary Mead does give one an insight into human nature." And that right there is the key to her ability to solve crimes. Her methods of crime-solving are based on the belief that "human nature is much the same everywhere"--and certainly easy to study people in a small village such as St. Mary Mead. In her stories, Marple draws parallels with someone she knows in the village to someone involved with the crime. She can always know how someone reacted in any crime because of what the village- counterpart did. When not gossiping and solving mystery, her pastimes were gardening, birdwatching, and knitting.
Miss Marple has evolved through the years. The Marple of 1930's The Murder at the Vicarage is not the same Marple in Nemesis, from 1971. In Vicarage, she's described as "the worst cat in the village" who spends plenty of time gossiping. She's a meddling busybody who uses binoculars to "spy" on the residents of St. Mary Mead, pretending to go birdwatching. She spends time in the garden, listening in on conversations of the folks passing by. She's shrewd, too, and has "an uncanny knack of being always right." Of course, the Marple in the subsequent books is still shrewd, but she changes into a more kind and gentle "fluffy" lady. People label Marple as a "dithery old maid"--but that is in fact essential! Like Hercule Poirot, Marple has methods and manners that put people off their guard and so they underestimate her. Being in the background (as it were) and being chatty enables her to learn of people. What's hilarious is that people might think that her wool and knitting needles are part of the act, when in reality, that is who she really is: a fuddy-duddy with old age.
Is age important to the character of Jane Marple? Absolutely. She had to be old if her methods were to work. Her age allows her to form analogies/parallels between village and city life, past and present. All with the study of human nature, of course. How else can Marple draw parallels of village and city life, explain the "why" and "how" of village life, and provide anecdotes to explain human reaction and feelings (especially if from the past)? Certainly a young woman would not be able to accomplish this. Agatha Christie could have started off Marple younger like the Beresford couple and to have her age naturally through the course of the books (Chrisite admitted that she didn't know that Marple would endure for so many years: 48 years!). But, if Christie were to create Marple younger, then that character could not have solved the crimes that she did.